Monday, January 4, 2016

Rethinking the 6% scientists are Republicans meme

I used to be more impressed by these figures, which were cited today by Paul Krugman.

I cited the "6% of scientists are Republicans" figure in various discussions and articles a few years ago. At the time, I also noted that there was some uncertainty as to how accurate the figure was, given that it was based on a sampling of AAAS members. That concern has grown in recent months, precisely because I lately have become an AAAS member in order to subscribe to the journal Science. I already knew that becoming a member does not require being a scientist (I am a part-time science journalist) but the distinction between "AAAS member" and "scientist" has been underscored for me by (a) actually attaining membership for the price of a magazine subscription and (b) receiving subsequent mailings inviting me to further professional memberships, such as in a chemical society, and even being told I was "specially selected" as an AAAS member or some such.

Lest I be misunderstood, I continue to believe that the 6% figure, though clearly not a precise measurement, points to a real problem of heightened alienation between scientists and Republicans. But seeing it repeated now, years later, with no qualifications, does not much incline me toward Krugman's argument, to wit that there's no sign of academia moving left, it's just that crazy Republicans moved right. The current GOP overall is indeed too right-wing for me, as I've made clear, but craziness at one end of the political spectrum often begets and is abetted by craziness at the opposite terminus, and pretending that's not so is a sign you may be succumbing to it yourself.

BTW I came across Krugman's piece via this tweet, with which I sympathize greatly,  by Jonathan Haidt:


Ray Haupt said...

I have seen those statistics before and question them. I do believe that those numbers are likely accurate in academia since being perceived as conservative may well be an impediment to employment and if ever detected be a career ender at many institutions.

Science is not the only occupation or characteristic worthy of measure. No doubt statistics will be similar for journalists. How about a similar study for prison inmates and welfare recipients? I suspect the picture will be quite different.

Kenneth Silber said...

Ray, you're fortunate that I'm so busy right now that looking up such info is the perfect diversion from real work. Here are some data points:

Jail survey: 7 in 10 felons register as Democrats

The politics and demographics of food stamp recipients

A Bipartisan Nation of Beneficiaries

Only 7 percent of journalists are Republicans

The American Journalist

Ray Haupt said...

Thanks for the research, Ken. Interesting stuff.

I take exception to the article that lists Social Security and Medicare as entitlements. Those two programs are paid for over a lifetime of work by most recipients and are not in a class with welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment benefits..
The two Pew reports reflect poorly on the Critical Thinking skills and perhaps the ethics of that institution. They are badly skewed in a clumsy partisan appearing manner.

Kenneth Silber said...

I gather there is some debate about that...

Medicare and Social Security: What you paid compared with what you get

Most Senior Citizens Haven’t Fully Paid for Their Medicare, Social Security Benefits

The research never ends here at Quicksilber. Actually it probably should now.