Skepchick Quickies 12.10


Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. “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.”

    Wow, this must have been written by a Republican. Social engineering? Redistribution of wealth? These are things that Republicans love just as much as Democrats if it goes in the direction that they favor.

    The truth is, it’s hard to become a scientist and remain a Republican. I work with two Republican scientists and they have very high cognitive dissonance and compartmentalized thinking. They grasp at straws to deny climate change while still managing to do actual science. My boss’s excuse for denying climate change is based on some obscure belief about the absorbance properties of CO2. He could easily set up an experiment in our lab to prove or disprove his hypothesis, but he refuses to do it. He doesn’t want to know the actual answer because it might turn out differently than he wants.

  2. The “problem” of most scientists being Democrats is only a real problem if the Democratic scientists are keeping out the Republicans solely because of their politics. I see no evidence that this is happening, instead I see about what I would expect; conservative thinkers tend to work toward a known conclusion while liberal thinker tend to follow the work to its conclusion. Both approaches can be flawed but the latter approach is closer to that of the scientific method while the former is closer to what you would expect from theology. For this reason I find it not only not surprising that scientists tend to be Democrats (and clergy of all kinds Republican) but I am actually surprised that there isn’t a bigger difference.

  3. I agree with @mrmisconception: that there is a self-selection of liberal thinkers in science but I also see, as @catgirl: that working in science tends to move one toward the left. Science really goes nowhere without publicly-funded, curiosity-driven research. Industry would have nothing to work with in science and technologly without the foundation laid by basic science research, which is overwhelmingly publicly-funded. The time horizon in scientific endeavors from initial basic science to marketable application is much too long for most investors so science is one area where you cannot expect market forces to sufficiently drive progress.

  4. @benjamenjohnson

    I see no problem with, when being asked, identifying ones political party or leanings.

    Using it as a dogma that overrides your every thought is quite another thing. I am not a registered Democrat but do tend to strongly favor candidates that are followed by (D) and have no qualms in saying so and I begrudge no one that same privilege.

    If, however, I find that a candidate is ignoring the science, logic, or facts of a situation for strictly ideological reasons they will seriously need to fight for my vote regardless of party. I suspect all but the most rigid among us to be about the same. That would include scientists. And why shouldn’t it?

  5. Most, if not all of contemporary republicans seem to be entirely ideologically driven. If the facts, as researched by the scientific community, don’t match or support the ideological position, they are discarded, discredited, ignored, unfunded. I find this Wikipedia entry referencing this well known quote to be representative:

    “Reality-based community is an informal term in the United States. In the fall of 2004, the phrase “proud member of the reality-based community” was first used to suggest the commentator’s opinions are based more on observation than on faith, assumption, or ideology. The term has been defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality.” Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest that there is an overarching conflict in society between the reality-based community and the “faith-based community” as a whole. It can be seen as an example of political framing.
    The source of the term is a quotation in an October 17, 2004, The New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush (later attributed to Karl Rove[1]):
    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[2]

    In addition, Jerry Falwell’s “moral majority” aligned itself with Reagan in the 1980’s, and ever since the republicans have counted the religious right as an important part of their base.

    I am not saying that Democrats are not also ideologically driven, just that they are less so, or at the very least, in ways that are less at odds with a scientific/rationalist outlook. In todays political climate you can hold views that are not in lockstep with the democratic party and still declare yourself a democrat, whereas the republicans seem to feel if you don’t back ALL of their ideological positions, you are a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and likely to be replaced by someone who will toe the party line. After reading some Wikipedia entries on the presidencies of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford, I think those presidents would be deemed socialists by the metric of todays republicans, reviled, castigated, and campaigned against.

    So, I think it boils down to natural selection. You are a scientist, and as yet apolitical. During a campaign you note that one candidate holds numerous unscientific views, and is willing to translate those views into policy. As a person who has dedicated your life to a scientific way of thought, this is untenable. You vote for the other guy. Over a period of time you vote more often than not for the democratic party, while still maintaining yourself as an independent. Because you are evaluating each candidate on their particular views and policies, and not an ideology, you are identified by pollsters and pundits as a democrat.

  6. @davew: I have to comment on this. That may be true for you, and yay if it is. However, it’s pretty irrelevant. The fact is, the problem is there, men do get raised like this, and it does cause problems for everyone, men and women.

    I would argue that even if you’re not misogynistic, it doesn’t absolve you or anyone of getting rid of misogyny. (I know you didn’t say that, and it looks like I’m putting words in your mouth, but I read your comment as being rather dismissive, and this is a problem that you can’t dismiss.)

    I wish more men would take these problems, misogyny, patriarchy, and so forth more seriously.

  7. The figures on the % of scientists who are Democrats vs Republicans come from a survey of the membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Some commenters on the Slate article are suggesting that this might not be representative of scientists in general. I don’t know much about the association, but it seems plausible that a group dedicating to promoting science to the public might attract scientists of a certain political bent.

    Assuming it is representative, the writer of that article doesn’t consider the possibility that, if the majority of scientists don’t support a particular political party or ideology, it might just be a problem with that party/ideology, not with the scientists.

  8. @BlackCat: That may be true for you, and yay if it is. However, it’s pretty irrelevant. The fact is, the problem is there, men do get raised like this, and it does cause problems for everyone, men and women.

    It’s not irrelevant. It was a speech that was filled with much generalization, anecdote, and appeal to emotion with very few facts. It also wasn’t a bad candidate for a round of “spot that logical fallacy.” I agree with all the things he said in that talk that are bad, but he made no attempt to scope the problem or offer many suggestions other than don’t raise boys to be misogynistic bastards and don’t raise girls to tolerate it. Duh? I usually expect to learn something from a TED talk. This one was a disappointment.

  9. Anyone who proclaims not to understand why there are few conservatives in the sciences is an idiot. The entire process of doing science requires an open, flexible mindset that is incompatible with the bulk of the membership of the Republican party. I have been a practicing scientist for almost 20 years and the number of self-identified Republicans I have known in the field is vanishingly small. In fact, it is almost shocking to find myself talking to a Republican scientist these days.

    One point to note is that the Republican Party has moved far to the right in the last 20 years. My wife (also a scientist) was a Republican 20 years ago, but feels that she was “kicked out” of the party long ago. She hasn’t voted for more than a handful of Republicans in recent memory.

  10. This is anecdotal so take it for what it is worth. When a Republican politician takes the scientific view it is newsworthy. When a Democratic politician takes the non-scientific view it is newsworthy. I think that is because it is out of the norm from what is expected. When a Republican politician makes some absurdly idiotic comment that is in direct opposition to evidence and reality it barely makes a ripple.

  11. @Gabrielbrawley: I am a Materials Scientist. Materials Science is a very broad field with a lot of variety in what you can work on with the same basic training. There’s a lot of room to innovate around new materials, so it will hopefully continue to be a field that companies value. Genetics may not be quite as broad, but it seems like something that would be fairly employable. Is your eldest in college? If so, he should ask people in the Genetics department there about job prospects for graduates in the field.

  12. I have worked as a scientist at universities or in the private sector for 12 years. Every day when I come into work there is a risk that an email or an article shows up, completely disproving what I have been working on for weeks/months/years.

    Because these new *facts* show that *I* have been wrong I cannot argue, but must accept, learn, and adjust to the facts, giving up (some of) my former ideas and try to develop new ones. It seems obvious to me that this is completely impossible to align with a republican mindset. This was taken to the extreme by Limbaugh at CPAC in 2009: ‘Conservatism is what it is and will be forever. It is not something you can bend and shape’.

    If this is the kind of world you believe in, then you simply cannot be a scientist.

  13. Errr…do I get stoned if I think there’s a lotta “we’d NEVER” and mutual masterbation in this thread? :P

    The point (as I explain it to people who ask me) of science is nothing ever gets comfortable. No ideology, no conclusions, no nothing…every concept is fair game, and there’s data to support all that.

  14. 1) I agree with most here concerning republicans and science. Ideology that refuses to bend is not compatible with science.

    2) In that otter story video, there is (apparently) a person who has a job that entails playing Frisbee with sea mammals. Can you imagine anything more awesome?

  15. @ davew
    While it may seem like a duh situation, the fact remains that males and females are treated differently in childhood and this plays a role in how all of us behave as adults. If you would like a cursory example just look at the toys that are marketed to either gender. Feminists are frequently accused of hating men when the reality is that strict gender binaries are damaging to everyone. This talk may have been short on actual statistics and references, but the sentiments have been supported by social research.

  16. @Lizzy
    A good talk but I think unfair to put porn in the Man Box. Women view and enjoy porn and any skeptic will acknowledge that they don’t become violent towards women or men. If you think porn is wrong, then the Skepchick calendar I guess is an example of misogyny. I think Tony Porter should replace porn with the following that is far more responsible for violence against women:


  17. @ ragdish
    I don’t think that porn is inherently wrong, and I certainly consume porn myself. I do think that mainstream porn is frequently misogynistic and sex negative. Porn that treats women as deserving of respect and as equal partners in sex is certainly out there, but much of what one encounters is exploitative and objectifying. That porn IS part of the problem and certainly belongs in the man box.

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