The War On Science, Republican Version (UPDATED)

Categories: Evolution, Politics, Science
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Published on: 2015.01.13

(In case you missed it, I haven’t blogged here much in the past couple of weeks. Partly this is due to being tired of outrage. I exhausted myself a bit last year being outraged. Also, because I did a ton of research for some of my entries, and I grew tired of that too. Also, I’m working on something else, cryptically referred to in a few of last year’s poems.)

Today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted: “MUST-READ: ‘No, the GOP Is Not at War With Science'” and then linked to an op-ed he co-wrote.


Your author, standing next to a science thingy in Montreal
(Copyright © 2009 by Marline Fry.)

And the op-ed goes on to say why the GOP is at war with science.

(Hey, if Bill O’Reilly can fictitiously claim there’s a war on Christmas, I can imagine a war on science, right?)

“But to remain a world leader, the United States must ensure that our investments are funding not just any science but the best science,” say Paul and his writing partner Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Further down, the articles explains what the “best science” is, according to Republicans: “scientific research that can yield technological breakthroughs and opportunities for economic growth.” Everything else is a “wasted grant”.

Science is okay with Paul and Smith if its “breakthroughs can cure diseases, create millions of jobs, and transform society.”

I do agree with Paul when he says “The first step toward eliminating wasteful spending should be increased transparency.” That is true of every type of government spending, not just science research grants. And, to Paul’s credit, he consistently votes for greater transparency, less waste, and less spending overall in most areas, including defense. This makes him perhaps the only Republican I’d consider lending my vote in 2016. (Not Smith, though. He wants to spend more on warrantless wiretaps of American citizens, spend more money attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, and all kinds of other things.)

Not only does the position miss the point of science: discovery and knowledge, but the op-ed itself is a straw man. It purports to refute an earlier article on the same site: “Next battle in the war on science: The GOP Congress is ready to attack science agency funding in 2015”, but instead focuses only on a few grants that Paul and Smith (and most people, I’m sure) deem “frivolous”.

The accusation that the Republican Party is at war with science is a much broader charge than just these few grants they’re attacking.

It was reported recently that 72% of Republican Senators deny the science behind climate change, not to mention 56% of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. This includes the new chairperson of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

Further, a large majority of Republicans don’t think the EPA should be allowed to protect the environment (its eponymous and only job).

Despite their pretense of believing in personal property rights (.pdf, 2.5MB, party platform document), Republicans in the House voted overwhelmingly to build a giant pipeline across the lands of sovereign Native American tribes who don’t want it. And this in the face of recent studies showing we need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground to avoid global catastrophe.

(Actually, on that last one, I can’t tell if it’s an anti-science stance, or just a racist one. Or I guess it could be a “paid off by big corporations” stance.)

And they’ve gotten worse. As recently as 2008, the party platform included language about addressing climate change and industry’s “impact on the environment.” But in the 2012 version of the party platform, that language has been replaced with the now infamous “I’m not a scientist” denial.

Recent Republican budget proposals have proposed cutting a billion dollars from NASA and $260 million from the National Science Foundation. Senator Paul, that’s not “greater transparency” to reduce waste, that’s just blind cutting from science.

Paul and Smith mentioned research that can cure diseases as part of the “good” science, yet Republicans oppose research that could possibly cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, among others.

Among the contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are men who don’t agree with science or pretend they can’t understand it. “I’m not a scientist, man”, said Marco Rubio when asked about the age of the Earth in 2012. And he added that it’s “one of the great mysteries”. Republicans in Louisiana, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, signed into law the teaching of non-science in state-funded schools. Rand Paul wouldn’t answer a question about the age of the Earth.

And those are just the elected Republicans. The party’s base of voters lies strongly in that direction too, as you might imagine. According to Public Policy Polling in a February 2015 survey (.pdf, 267kb), 66% of Republicans don’t believe in global warming, only 37% are convinced of evolution, and a full 57% support abandoning the Constitution to establish Christianity as the national religion.

Supporters of Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz were least likely to believe in global warming, and supporters of Cruz and Huckabee were least likely to believe in evolution. (Huckabee and Rick Perry supporters were most likely to favor ignoring the First Amendment and establishing a national religion.)

Perhaps with all their emphasis on what the Founding Fathers would have done, Republicans could take a note from George Washington’s first State of the Union Address in 1790:

“…there is nothing, which can better deserve your patrionage (sic), than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every Country the surest basis of public happiness.”

(This entry originally published 2015.01.13.)

UPDATED, 2015.04.07: Added link to the fictitious “War on Christmas”, and added two paragraphs listing results from a PPP survey.


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