Daily Archives: October 21, 2005

Science, right and left

An anonymous commenter on my post about left-wing bias in academia offers this explanation for the preponderance of liberals in science departments:

[I]n some fields, like biology, you can watch evolution happen in a lab. You can manipulate and measure the process. It is hard to come out of that experience and relate to social conservatives who take the bible literally.

As I said in my response, I think this is a bit of a red herring. True, according to a Harris poll taken earlier this year, only about 16 to 25% of self-identified conservatives in the population at large fully accept Darwinian evolution as the explanation for human origins, compared to 32 to 56% of self-identified liberals (the disparity in the numbers is due to oddly contradictory answers to different questions in the poll). But that leaves a large pool of political conservatives from which to draw prospective scientists.

At the same time, I do think that in recent years the increasing indentification of conservative Republicans with the anti-Darwinist backlash has made political conservatism less attractive to the scientifically literate.

Also in the comments, Jason H. Bowden, a graduate student in physics at the University of Illinois, writes:

The GOP used to be the pro-science party even as late at the 1950s, obtaining the majority of votes from scientists. Republican efforts to politicize science, either for the benefit of corporate donors or the evangelical base, have made many scientists think twice about voting Republican, even if they are conservative on a lot of issues like myself.

In fact, conservatives were also the pro-science faction in the “science wars” of the 1990s, when it was the academic left that rejected the ideals of scientific objectivity and dispassionate search for truth, regarded all scholarship as essentially political, and assailed mainstream science as guilty of sexism, racism, Western ethnocentrism and assorted other sins against political correctness. The 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, which championed traditional science against assaults from radical feminism, radical environmentalism, Afrocentrism, postmodernism and other far-left ideologies, received positive responses from the major conservative magazines — National Review, Commentary, First Things. In a preface to the 1998 softcover edition of the book, however, Gross and Levitt noted the reemergence of creationism as a major influence on the right and stated that if they were writing the book at that point, “the ‘academic right’ would have to join the academic left in its subtitle and there would have to be a chapter on ‘Intelligent Design Theory'” as one of the pseudo-scientific ideologies threatening science.

Alas, these days it’s not unusual to find anti-science claptrap in a respectable, intellectual conservative magazine such as The Weekly Standard. The latest issue features a review by Charmaine Yoest of the book, Does God belong in the Public Schools by Ken Greenawalt. (The link is subscriber-only.) Accusing Greenawalt of an ideological bias, Yoest writes:

He similarly dismisses creationism and intelligent design. Those opposing Darwinian evolution do so out of “distress” because it “threatens the grounds of religious belief and of morality.” Although Greenawalt notes that no less a figure than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his 1987 dissent to Edwards v. Aguillard recognized a scientific basis for creationism, he himself only allocates one footnote for evidence. Breezily, he states that “whatever the possible misapprehensions of not very well informed legislators, teaching scientific creationism is teaching religion, and that is not permitted.”

Oh, well — if that noted scientific luminary, Justice Scalia, said that creationism has a scientific basis, then obviously it must be true!

This is a good way to alienate not only scientists but anyone who cares about the integrity of science.

For more on the topic, see also:

The evolution wars are here again

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