Among a sample of 2,533 scientists who took a Pew Research Center survey in July of 2009, 55% self-identified as Democrats, 32% as Independents, and a paltry 6% as Republicans.
Daniel Sarewitz writing at Slate believes these statistics indicate the growing politicization of science, a major threat to a free and democratic society. Take the national debate over climate change, for example:
[C]ould it be that disagreements over climate change are essentially political—and that science is just carried along for the ride? For 20 years, evidence about global warming has been directly and explicitly linked to a set of policy responses demanding international governance regimes, large-scale social engineering, and the redistribution of wealth. These are the sort of things that most Democrats welcome, and most Republicans hate. No wonder the Republicans are suspicious of the science.
Think about it: The results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats. Coincidence—or causation?
Americans, by and large, tend to trust the institution of science, Sarewitz asserts, but the increasingly partisan nature of scientists could have calamitous effects on the public’s confidence down the road.
If that public confidence [in science] is lost, it would be a huge and perhaps unrecoverable loss for a democratic society…[T]he issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.
So how do we get more Republicans to enter scientific fields? Before we can answer that question, we must first address why there are so few Republican scientists to begin with. The Economist blog “Democracy in America” offers three hypotheses:
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.
Do one or more of these hypotheses explain the phenomenon of the virtually non-existent Republican scientist, or is there something else going on here? And what, if anything, should be done about it? Do we need affirmative action for Republicans?