Tag Archives: partisanship

Same sh|t, different year

Image courtesy of Flickr user “epSos.de”, used under Creative Commons.

Hey, look!

It’s Daniel Sarewitz recycling a column from back in 2010 about how Republicans and science don’t mix and how it’s everyone’s fault but Republicans‘.

Sarewitz wrings his hands:

That President Barack Obama chose to mention “technology, discovery and innovation” in his passionate victory speech in November shows just how strongly science has come, over the past decade or so, to be a part of the identity of one political party, the Democrats, in the United States.


President George W. Bush, according to his own scientific advisor, “included science and technology topics in his State of the Union speeches to an unprecedented extent.”

Does that mean during the Bush presidency “science was part of the identity of one political party” namely the Republicans? Would anyone make such an idiotic claim? Yet, this is the quality of “evidence” Sarewitz marshals for his “argument”.

Sarewitz seems to really love telling science what it “must” do, and it’s all rubbish. Science “must” bow down to religion for no particular reason other than Sarewitz’s own deficit of imagination. Science “must” cater to the hostile desires of Republicans for the tautological reason that Republicans are hostile to science.

As I have mentioned previously, I don’t think Democrats have some sort of special relationship with science. Far from it. I emphatically do not wish to see science as a whole become associated with any one political party, purely based on hostility from an opposition.

There are good arguments to make about how we can go about increasing Republican acceptance of science. But those arguments involve changing the way Republicans relate to science, rather than changing the institution of science itself. The only thing science “must” do is continue to get results. How people make use of the process is a vital but secondary concern.

Mainstream American Republican/conservative political ideology and self-identification has to a large extent become inextricably linked to the belief systems of unfettered industrial capitalism and to a somewhat lesser extent fundamentalist Christian religion. Both of these worldviews are hostile to scientifically-demonstrated phenomena because of the perception that said phenomena contradict their underpinnings. This is not a problem for science. It’s a problem for those ideologies, or at least the way their adherents approach science.

Berating science and scientists for problems that lie elsewhere is an easy, Slate-y piece of contrarianism and hippie-punching, but it will do nothing to fix the conflict.

How do the Sarewitz’s of the world imagine science can be even more accomodating to religion on the topic of evolution? How many other originally Republican/conservative solutions (pigovian taxation, cap and trade, etc.) to environmental problems need be proffered to Republicans?

As Alex Pareene put it, “Maybe scientists should just declare that climate change can be fixed by eliminating the estate tax, or bombing Iran. That should do it.”

At what point does the hippie-punching give way to addressing the roots of the problem where they actually lay?

“Public” opinion on global warming and solutions is not declining- conservative opinion is

Shocking, I know.

Denialism on the political right is becoming increasingly entrenched. When it comes to the basic issues of causation and general solutions there isn’t a “public acceptance” problem. There is a “right wing rejection of science incompatible with dominant conservative (anti-regulation, evangelical) ideologies” problem.

The solution is not to demonize the right wing, of course. But we can stop pretending that this is some sort of general failing of science communication and at least acknowledge where the problem audiences are. Moreover, once we all are willing to recognize this partisan divide for what it is, we need to reconsider the way we are going about seeking to change it. We can convince every “skeptic”, “lukewarmer”, what have you, and it won’t make a difference. I’ve been saying this for quite some time:

[The focus on winning them over on this narrow issue] misses the point… the short and sweet of it is that getting people to accept the mainstream… take on the science will do practically nothing to push the US (or Canada or Oz) towards meaningful policy action. This is due to the demographics of those who are unaccepting of the science, who they vote for, and the institutions that shape the type of politician these people vote for. Unless we can not only convince these people of the science and the necessity of mitigation and convince them that it’s important enough to be a top tier voting issue, such outreach is pointless.

Unfortunately being laughably wrong about science has no (or at least not nearly enough of a) social downside. Mainstream politicians can talk about literally believing in a talking snake or that the planet is “CO2 starved” and nothing bad happens to them.

… The idea that successful communication training and outreach by the scientific community will be sufficient to rollback these forces is… naive. As long as there are religious, political, and economic interests threatened by the conclusions of science, science will be under attack…

Convincing the people is not enough if the politicians they will vote for are persuaded to do nothing. Convincing politicians is not enough if they will be replaced by politicians who are persuaded to do nothing.

Even if you can overcome denialism in a constituency, that constituency may not convince their legislative representatives. Even if you convince the representatives, their larger intraparty dynamics may prevent them from acting on it. Even if these representatives are convinced to vote on it, they can and likely will still be challenged in primaries by Club for Growth, Koch Bros approved and funded candidates until they lose or change their position. There are significant institutional barriers to overcoming the partisan divide on climate at virtually every level of the political process.

And, bad news for the “breakthrough” boys and their journalistic cheerleaders, it applies to clean energy miracle funding as well:

Republican support for increased federal funding for wind, solar and hydrogen technology dropped 20 points from 2008, the survey found. There was a 13-point drop in the same time frame among GOP respondents favoring “better fuel efficiency” for vehicles.

Democratic views on the same questions changed little over the past two years, the poll found. Among independents, there was a decline, but less pronounced than with Republicans. The partisan difference likely is a result of increasing suspicion among Republicans about government spending, rather than disdain for renewable energy, said Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College, who did not conduct the Pew poll. Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center echoed his comments about government funding.

“Anything that smacks of expansion of government budgets is unlikely to score very well with Republicans right now,” said Borick, who has studied public opinion on climate change.