Becoming ‘the anti-science party’

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry believes the entirety of climate science is a conspiracy cooked up by greedy scientists. At least one of his rivals today had the nerve to call out Perry’s nonsense.

The campaign of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. seized on Perry’s comments to portray the Texas governor as outside the mainstream with his climate change views. Huntsman himself does believe in the science behind global warming.

“We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party,” John Weaver, Huntsman’s chief strategist, said in an interview Wednesday. “The American people are looking for someone who lives in reality and is a truth teller because that’s the only way that the significant problems this country faces can be solved. It appears that the only science that Mitt Romney believes in is the science of polling, and that science clearly was not a mandatory course for Governor Perry.”

I give the Huntsman campaign a lot of credit for taking a reality-based position on this. In Republican circles, this isn’t a popular line to take — indeed, by criticizing Perry on an issue conservative feel strongly about, Huntsman’s team is only reinforcing why its campaign is likely doomed — which only makes this more admirable.

(I’d note for context that Huntsman believes the climate crisis is real, but doesn’t actually want to do anything about it, at least not anytime soon. That, obviously, isn’t admirable at all.)

But what struck me about this was Weaver’s line of criticism: Republicans, he said, shouldn’t “become the anti-science party.”

Um, John? I’m afraid it’s a little late for that.

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks recently noted, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

In the Bush/Cheney era, there was an effective “war on science,” in which scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends. The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.

In the Obama era, this has only intensified. As Chris Mooney recently explained very well, “The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans — but not anymore.”

Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise — with much more of it residing among liberals and Democrats, and with liberals and Democrats much more aligned with the views of scientists and scholars. More fundamentally, the parties are increasingly divided over reality itself….

The expertise gap itself is becoming dramatic. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of American professors, sociologists Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that 51 percent described themselves as Democrats, and 35.3 percent described themselves as independents — with the bulk of those independents distinctly Democrat-leaning, rather than straddling the center. Just 13.7 percent were Republicans. Academia has long been a liberal bastion, but it hasn’t always been this lopsided….

The Democratic Party has thus become the chosen party of what you might call “empirical professionals” and Americans with advanced degrees…. In recent decades, the Republican Party’s rightward shift alienated many academics, scientists, and intellectuals.

“We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party”? John Weaver, that’s a battle you’ve already lost.