The Stupidest Column in Slate Ever? Maybe.

(Photo: Why is it ASU isn’t known for its Pedagogy?)

Daniel Sarewitz co-directs the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University. He also writes a monthly column on science and technology policy for Nature. He’s written himself a little article for Slate. Here’s a paragraph from it to sniff at:

Most scientists in this country are Democrats. That’s a problem.


During the Bush administration, Democrats discovered that they could score political points by accusing Bush of being anti-science. In the process, they seem to have convinced themselves that they are the keepers of the Enlightenment spirit, and that those who disagree with them on issues like climate change are fundamentally irrational. Meanwhile, many Republicans have come to believe that mainstream science is corrupted by ideology and amounts to no more than politics by another name. Attracted to fringe scientists like the small and vocal group of climate skeptics, Republicans appear to be alienated from a mainstream scientific community that by and large doesn’t share their political beliefs. The climate debacle is only the most conspicuous example of these debilitating tendencies, which play out in issues as diverse as nuclear waste disposal, protection of endangered species, and regulation of pharmaceuticals.


You’ll have to follow the link and read the whole (not very long) article, and then think to yourself, “Hmmm. What word or idea seems conspicuously absent from this presentation?”

Have you thought of it yet?

Try hitting Ctrl+F in your browser window and typing e – v – o … What’s that? Phrase not found? No word starting with the letters e – v – o on the entire page? How could that be? An article about how Republicans are estranged from Science fails to mention evolution at all? Why, an article that fails to understand the basic reality of the connection between Republicans and the Religious Right seems like it must have been written by someone with no grasp on Reality at all.

And wait a minute… Ctrl+F … r – e – l … the word religion isn’t mentioned in the article, either?

It doesn’t seem plausible that the dearth of Republican scientists has the same causes as the under-representation of women or minorities in science. I doubt that teachers are telling young Republicans that math is too hard for them, as they sometimes do with girls; or that socioeconomic factors are making it difficult for Republican students to succeed in science, as is the case for some ethnic minority groups.

No, there aren’t teachers telling young Republicans not to trust science and scientists, you idiot. There are pastors, reverends, priests, and their fundamentalist religious friends and family telling them that! The divide between Republicans and Democrats is one of Religious Literalism, and it’s flabbergasting that this article pretends that this isn’t the central issue.

But, totally ignoring the actual issues involved, and the actual causal dynamics at issue, let’s Worry, shall we?

For example, survey data show that the scientific community enjoys the trust of 90 percent of Americans—more than for any other institution, including the Supreme Court and the military. Yet this exceptional status could well be forfeit in the escalating fervor of national politics, given that most scientists are on one side of the partisan divide. If that public confidence is lost, it would be a huge and perhaps unrecoverable loss for a democratic society.

Hmm, 90% respect. No data suggesting that’s falling. Let’s just speculate an “If,” though, to create a problem.

What solutions for this “problem” would a person who fails to mention Evolution as a disconnect between Science and Politics suggest, do you suppose?

How would a more politically diverse scientific community improve this situation? First, it could foster greater confidence among Republican politicians about the legitimacy of mainstream science. Second, it would cultivate more informed, creative, and challenging debates about the policy implications of scientific knowledge. This could help keep difficult problems like climate change from getting prematurely straitjacketed by ideology. A more politically diverse scientific community would, overall, support a healthier relationship between science and politics.

Oh, accomodationism. If Scientists could only listen, and be willing to compromise, they’d surely convince politicians from the Religious Right that there were innumerable facts supporting Evolution, and none at all supporting Creationism. All would be well! That this hasn’t happened in the past 150 years is no reason to keep hoping and trying. Maybe they’ll come around next year.

And if only there were more Religious Right scientists, then there would, ipso facto, be a healthier relationship between Religious Right Scientists and Religious Right Politicians. They’d even be able to Bond at the same Church Picnics.

In lieu of any real effort to understand and grapple with the politics of science, we can expect calls for more “science literacy” as public confidence begins to wane.

Yes, from your own stipulated 90%, and with no suggestion of any actual change, “begins to” is surely the right way to phrase that.

But the issue here is legitimacy, not literacy. A democratic society needs Republican scientists.

According, then, to Mr Sarewitz: to be Legitimate, and keep the public from worrying about Ideology infecting science policy, science must be practiced by ideologues– Ideologues from both parties, of course (to be fair).

It’s like David Broder had a son.


About dilaceratus

Encaustic Artist
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