Monday, December 30, 2013

GOP antievolution regression

I guess I'm not all that strict about not blogging before 2014. Here's some somber news about the state of antiscience in America today. The political divide over evolution has gotten worse.

I drew on the 2009 figures in my PhACT presentation on science and politics over a year ago. Those figures were bad enough, with 39% of Republicans saying humans had not evolved but rather existed in their present form since the beginning of time (presumably a few thousand years ago). For that number now to go up to 48% should dampen those arguments that left and right are equally bad when it comes to science. At the present phase in the evolution of the political parties, it just isn't true.

Some time ago, I gave a not-very-positive review to Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left. In retrospect, I could've taken a less snarky tone toward the book, as it has some legitimate points to make about left-wing antiscience. (In saying this, I am influenced both by subsequent Twitter dialogue with one of the authors, Alex Berezow, who seems like a nice guy, and by Megan McArdle's valid point that aggressive negativism in book reviews is too common these days; though I don't forswear it entirely.) But still, the data in the Pew poll rather forcefully make the point that something's changed, and for the worse, in the Republican Party in the last few years.

A couple of additional points: First, the poll also asked people (who accepted evolution) whether they thought it was "guided by a supreme being" or "due to natural processes." I have no quarrel with either answer to that question, which is a philosophical and not a scientific one; I would have given the latter answer to a pollster but I am not sure that the sharp dichotomy between the two answers would stand up to close scrutiny (why not a supreme being who is compatible with, perhaps the ultimate author of, or another way of describing, the natural processes?).

Second, I am not so naive as to think that the 67% of Democrats who think humans evolved over time are all knowledgeable about biology and have weighed the various lines of evidence carefully. Surely, much of their stance has to do with cultural affinity--feeling good about being on the side of smart, progressive people, or such. Whatever the limits of that, it's a lot better than proudly embracing ignorance, which is what many Republicans have done on this subject, and not only on this subject.


Ray Haupt said...

This is terribly depressing.
I generally favor the Republican tribe and do not see this as reason enough to switch my loyalties, but there is a disturbing amount of anti-science running through the party. Bah!!
It was depressing when you introduced the topic at the PhACT lecture, and unfortunately it seems to have gotten worse. It was astonishing that in the presidential primary debates all the candidates on the stage, about 8 or 9, claimed to believe in Creation when that question was asked. That was preposterous. I have a strong feeling that some lied in order to pander to the religious right, but who knows what is actually in their heart and mind?

Kenneth Silber said...

Yes. I really wish I had better news on this subject.

Ray Haupt said...

Worse than science blindness in matters of Evolution it also seems that too many Republicans dispute scientists in the matter of Climate Change. There does seem to be plenty of pro and con arguments based on science so there is plenty of room for skepticism. But that is not the problem. Climate change denial based on some fuzzy ideological thinking is hardly a way to approach what may or may be a huge upcoming problem.

Prsonally I am somewhat skeptical of Global Warming predictions and of the resultant disaster, but does it not make sense to allow scientists to methodically study the situation and then form educated onclusions? I think that is the way to go but sadly a lot of politicians, mainly Republicans, do not seem to endorse such a notion.

Government study of Climate Change which may or not be disasterous would be in reality a cheap deal when compared to many, perhaps most, government projects. I find it maddening that a research program of such potential high stakes is not better funded and scientific opinions well considered.

In defense of Republicans on this matter it does appear that there is considerable "end-of-the-world" fear mongering on this matter, largely at the hands of Democrats and a willing Media. The Republicans are not entirely without a point in their opposition.