Field of Science

Scientists and Political Leanings

The only news magazine worth reading is The Economist, and in particular the outsider observations made about the good ol’ USA are amusingly on target in a sense that would send most of our “we’re the greatest” citizens into a tizzy. In this small commentary, the author is musing about why only 6% of scientists in the USA self-identify with the Republican party, and then offers three suggested answers.
"The first is that scientists are hostile towards Republicans, which scares young Republicans away from careers in science. The second is that Republicans are hostile towards science, and don't want to go into careers in science. The third is that young people who go into the sciences tend to end up becoming Democrats, due to factors inherent in the practice of science or to peer-group identification with other scientists."
None of these strike me as the most fundamental reason, but Balloon-Juice (very uncertain what that stands for, and so this is a bit scary) offers a reason that seems way more correct based upon this insider’s perspective, especially of my own discipline.
“… anyone who’s thought about this for more than a few minutes knows a very specific answer to the question of why there are no Republican scientists: it’s because contemporary science is an empirical, reality-based intellectual enterprise [my emphasis added] and all such enterprises are inherently non-conservative, unless they involve making a lot of money (there are probably some forms of business that fit the above description and I would not be surprised if some of the people who do them are conservative). If contemporary science was based on reasoning from principles (like the sort of “science” Aristotle liked to do), it might be of interest to conservatives. But it’s not. This is of course the same reason why there are no good conservative journalists.”
And of course this is also why so few are religious fundamentalists too. Scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone, but they love and respect data, and if you want them to changes their minds about something, present them with really good data and you’ll be surprised how quickly even the most hard-headed will change their perspective. Conversely, anyone who rejects data-based ideas out of hand, and offers no data-based alternatives just doesn’t inspire any confidence. Anyone who misinterprets, misrepresents, and misuses science regularly, and further, anyone who scoffs at real experts and their informed opinions, is not going to be seen as a leader, even if they become the media darlings of many citizens. But it's great fun to register as a Republican voter so you can mess with their telephone polls.

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