The Republican War on Science Returns

As author of the 2005 book The Republican War on ScienceI’ve watched recent developments in the presidential race with fascination.

It is not exactly news that many candidates on the GOP side take “war on science” positions, e.g., denying that global warming is human caused, or that human evolution explains who and what we are. Climate and evolution have long been the “big two” issues in the “war,” but I would expect that many of the GOP candidates reject modern scientific knowledge on a variety of other subjects as well. (Just ask them about, say, reproductive health and contraception.)

The standard “war on science” saga has droned on—usually in the background–for years and years. But somehow, it all exploded into political consciousness last week with Texas governor Rick Perry’s attacks on the integrity of climate researchers, and his claim that his own state teaches creationism–which if true would violate a Supreme Court ruling. (Actually, this is not state policy, though I suspect much creationism is being taught in many schools in Texas, in defiance of the law of the land.)

At that point, former Utah governor and outsider GOP candidate Jon Huntsman Tweeted some simple words, which ended up nevertheless serving as a shot heard round the political world:

”To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”

Huntsman then followed up on ABC News:

I think there’s a serious problem.  The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem.  We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.  When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science – Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.

I agree, as do moderate Republicans like David Frum and Kenneth Silber. But presumably most of the GOP (or at least its most influential elements) does not, or else this problem would not exist. Which probably means that Huntsman is simultaneously destined to be a media darling, and also an unsuccessful candidate.

He’s correct, though: We do have evidence that the GOP’s anti-science behavior is pushing former followers away, like atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel, whose political deconversion away from the GOP ranks I described here. But the attacks on science may also be drawing in others, and certainly it appeals to the base—particularly the authoritarian Tea Party.

So what follows? Well, a lot.

It’s now six years since the “Republican War on Science” thesis was published, and while much has stayed the same during that time, much has also changed. I want to highlight three main developments, or differences, in particular:

1.      Bottom Up v. Top Down Anti-Science Attacks. Clearly, the U.S. Republican right has remained at “war” with science—at least on the most hot button issues. Were this not the case, Huntsman’s claim would not resonate, as it so obviously does.

If anything, however, I believe matters have gotten worse. Why? Largely because we’ve swapped the relatively genteel “war on science” of the George W. Bush administration (which was prosecuted in top-down fashion from the White House and administration, largely in service of what various staff believed that the president wanted, or what should or shouldn’t be on the public agenda or in the media) for a more populist and bottom-up strain associated with the rise of the Tea Party. This is partly a function of the fact that the GOP is in the opposition right now, rather than running the country; and partly a function of the right moving further to, uh, the right; and partly also, I think, a function of the increasing influence of the blogosphere.

Either way, there are lots of consequences. For instance, the attacks on science are now nastier, aimed at individual scientists and presenting direct assaults on their integrity and their work. This goes far beyond Bush vaguely mumbling that scientists don’t have a consensus on climate change, or that it might be natural; or some aide at NOAA or NASA blocking a scientist’s media interview.

2.      It’s Not Just About Science, It’s About Reality. Whatever you may have thought of Bush, I don’t think he approached the full construction of an alternate reality that we see in the Tea Party (although Bush went quite a way towards constructing an alternate reality around the Iraq war). And this leads to the second really important thing that is different now: Even as everybody revives the “war on science” meme, we now realize that the war isn’t really on science at all, but on reality. People who can say that the government banned incandescent light bulbs when it didn’t, who can claim that the U.S. can fail to raise the debt ceiling and it won’t be any problem, or who assert that the 2009 health care bill created government “death panels” are in denial about a lot more than science.

3.      We Need Psychology To Explain This. The major new development, to my mind, has been the application of psychological and neuroscientific approaches to try to understand how people can actually behave and think like this. In particular, more and more attention focuses on motivated reasoning, a subconscious and often automatic emotional process in which people rationalize pre-existing views that are important to their identities, including in the face of direct factual refutation. So we are beginning to be able to understand the Republican denial of science as part of a motivated process in which certain scientific claims are seen as so threatening to self-identity and group affiliations that they must be rejected in order to preserve a sense of self.

What does all this mean? It means that even as the war on science has gotten broader and worse, we are at least beginning to understand how this could happen. 

Unfortunately, though, we are not very far along on the road of actually figuring out–and agreeing on–a way to address this problem. Based on what we know about motivated reasoning, though, we know that if science is seen as an attack on people’s identities, it will be rejected. So any solution is going to have to make facts themselves seem a whole lot less threatening.

Tall order.


“”Flora and fauna moving their ranges upwards in altitude, and pole-wards in latitude”

thats a plus

“The glaciers in Alaska?”

might not be bad”

So advertise for AGW and don’t deny that reality (no, non-existent cycles don’t help either).

Howdy, sorry it took me so long to reply, I was busy.

About the flu and evolution vs natural selection, What is the difference to you? For me I am taking Evolution as evolving from one life form to another, while natural selection is the natural evolution of a life form to be able to survive.
“We’re not even sure if viruses are alive — can they evolve? Definitely! To evolve by natural selection, all an entity needs is genetic variation, inheritance, selection, and time, all of which viruses have in spades. And this is the concern. The avian flu virus evolves rapidly and could easily evolve into a form that can be passed from human to human.”
this is evolution in Natural Selection.

About Global Climate Change.
There are differing opinions, ie:
Your Carbon Footprint Doesn’t Matter
by Jonathan DuHamel on Jun. 04, 2009, under Climate change;
Climate myths: Human CO2 emissions are too tiny to matter
Both use scientific data.
What do you say about the mini ice age of the 1700s?
This kind of thing goes on in a cycle. I agree we need to take care of the Earth, so that we may use it. I am disgusted though the way the Extremist Environmentalists are going about it. In my home state, there is a national forest that was beautiful back 15 years ago when it was logged. the trees thinned out, the ones with disease cut down and essentially it was taken care of. Now it is a disease ridden half dead ugly forest. I do believe that we can make a difference on a short term basis and in a small area. What do you feel on this matter?

“Is it not an affront against their rights to shove your religion down their throats?” is that not what is being done by mandating that the theory of Evolution be taught in school? I believe that both should be taught, and any other theory out there.
“By the way, I doubt you will let your kids *choose* what to believe. You just want to choose for everyone else’s kids.”
By making me teach and be taught the theory of evolution, you are choosing and doing just what you are accusing me of.
Can the theories of Evolution, Big Bang, Expanding Universe, Shrinking Universe, String Theory be proven? parts can yes, but the entirety of them- no, that’s why they are theories. People believe in them through faith, just like the Divine Creation Theory. There are theories from Math, Physics, Religion, Biology, and Tradition, why aren’t they all taught in school? Read up on string theory it is very interesting.

Yes, Pres. Bush overspent, but does that make it right for Pres. Obama to not just overspend, but not even have a budget?
Budget 2011: Past Deficits vs. Obama’s Deficits in Pictures
here is a chart and article proving that you are right, Bush overspent. So please explain why Obama had to not only overspend but beat Bush, I hope that the projected numbers are not correct.

How do you know that the Glaciers are melting in these regions? I was up to Mount Reiner this summer and there was snow down lower then normal. The Glaciers there are not melting, so why would the ones further north be?
What food shortages? there is enough food grown, it is how it is partitioned.
Farmlands turning into dustbowls, in Australia, and China this is happening, the deserts are moving and taking land that was used to grow crops. It can be slowed but not stopped.
Thank you for your comments, they were great to read.

@Skyler K Zaleski: “There is evidence in Natural Selection, not Evolution.
There is evidence that what man does has a small effect on the environment, but to blame mankind for climate-change is irrational.”

The fact that you have simply stated your opinion, which runs counter to the scientific evidence, proves the point that Chris Mooney was making. However, the fact that you chose to state your opinion here shows that you actually know you are on shaky ground and your only hope of winning the argument is by drowning out blogs like this with pseudo-science and white noise. It’s called astroturfing and it stinks.

“There is evidence that what man does has a small effect on the environment,…”
- Big effects, really.

“…but to blame mankind for climate-change is irrational.”
- Rational, really, whereas mere belief in non-existent entities is by definition: irrational.

“…Look at the history of the earth and you will see that there have been many cycles of climate-change, not man made,…”
- So what? So you will see there have been many forest fires, not man made…

“…and whatever man does we cannot change the cycle.”
- Humiliating. You really want to be that small, that insigificant? Do you wish back for babytime’s total naiveté and… Irresponsibility for anything? Hm. Wait for senility, it’s just round the corner, no?

“I believe that both creationism and evolution should be taught in school so that kids can choose which to believe, or do you not believe in the freedom to choose”
Yeah, let’s believe. I believe from seeing them clearly there’s two cars driving up the street. You believe in God and there’s only one coming up. Right, cross the street then! Or do you still want a discussion?

More white noise to distract attention from the point Chris Mooney was making. You’ll have to go back to the drawing board, because that strategy is far too blatant.

Hey anonymous. I like your new pseudonym “Ethan Greenhart “. You’re getting quite a collection. Sooo didn’t notice. Completely fooled.

Hey, Brainiac. Arent you supposed to protesting the “convoy of no confidence” so your economy killing carbon tax can pass this fall? Or are you content to be an anonymous poseur on the internet?

In a hundred years they will look back and laugh at our understanding of science.

If you want a laugh about “climategate”, watch this:

I hope it’s not too long for your concentration span!

“why wait that long? Read up on Climategate and start laughing now.”

I can’t decide which bit to laugh harder at. The fact that Jones & Mann were vindicated…or that the deniers didn’t actually know enough of what they were talking about to understand what they were reading.

The Dunning-Kruger effect in full flight.

“Just in this thread Filluhm has been found to be math challenged, analysis challenged, an alarmist (the implications of …), catastrophist (more of the implications of…), and I have found perhaps even a liar.”

Ahahaha! Oh A2, you have really whipped yourself into a fervor. You sure you haven’t got your threads mixed up? Please point to where on this thread I talked about math’s, what analysis I did & how I was being alarmist? Haha. Get a towel for the froth on your mouth, lol.

… resorting to anonymous ad hominem attacks, rather than attempt to refute the point that was being made. It really does show you’ve lost the argument.

The mother of all deniers….

Sample some Shenton…

“Whole World Deceived… Except the Very Elect” (Dec. 1977)
“Australia Not Down Under” (May 1978)
“Sun Is a Light 32 Miles Across” (Dec. 1978)
“The Earth Has No Motion” (Jun. 1979)
“Nikita Krushchev Father of NASA” (Mar. 1980)
“Galileo Was a Liar” (Dec. 1980)
“Science Insults Your Intelligence” (Sep. 1980)
“World IS Flat, and That’s That” (Sep. 1980)
“The Earth Is Not a Ball; Gravity Does Not Exist” (Mar. 1981)

OMG.. Tell me this isnt Republican reading material…It sure sounds familiar though… sigh.