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The Sciences

Sarewitz: Don't Make More Republicans Science Friendly, Make More Scientists Republican!


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That's what he argues over at Slate. Pretty tough to swallow--but I'll try to be respectful to Sarewitz, even though he wasn't to my book The Republican War on Science ("a tiresome polemic masquerading as a defense of scientific purity"; "Mooney's polemical fervor blinds him..." etc). There are some points in Sarewitz's argument that are similar to ones that I often make myself. For instance, politics really is driving the lack of acceptance of climate science on much of the U.S. political right, and it has nothing to do with intelligence or levels of education. Many U.S. Republicans feel that climate science isn't for them. It's a matter of identity. I also concur that U.S. scientists today tilt liberal. That's just a fact and there's no point denying it. But at the end of the day, ideological blinders are ideological blinders, and on some of the most critical science-centered issues of the day (like climate change), one side is wearing them. You simply can't get around that fact. Reality is reality, and you either accept it or you don't. Full stop. Now, I fully concur that if there were more Republican climate scientists out there, they could then convince other Republicans to become more accepting of the science--and would be better and more effective messengers to their fellow party members. But I'm hard pressed to imagine any realistic way to change the politics of scientists en masse. (Would Sarewitz himself like to become a Republican? In his review of my book in 2005, he says he's an "unapologetic critic of the Bush administration," and he previously worked for the late Democratic congressman George Brown--so presumably he isn't one. Will he be changing parties to lead by example?) What's far more important is to have moderate Republican statesmen like Sherwood Boehlert trying to change the direction their party is turning. But there are all too few Boehlerts around now--for grand historical and political reasons that I have explained in detail (short version here), and that go right to the heart of the polarization of US politics today. In this context, Sarewitz's suggestion that we need to shift the politics of scientists is a conversation starter, perhaps--but hardly a serious way to cut back the polarization.

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