September 13, 2013
From ScienceInsider: US Science Laureate Bill Hits Roadblock
- Climate science skeptics have derailed a congressional proposal to create the honorary position of U.S. science laureate. (Republicans put House vote on hold after complaints from the likes of Larry Hart of the American Conservative Union.)
Seriously, though, why are we allowing ludicrously backward and destructive thinking to hogtie public policy? It’s easy to blame the politicians. But what if it’s because a significant number of Americans really are this ignorant and suspicious of science?
As far as public knowledge goes, in a recent Pew science and technology quiz poll, 77% of Americans understood that overusing antibiotics may lead to resistant bacteria. The same percentage knew about continental drift. Fifty eight percent answered that carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas believed to raise atmospheric temperatures. While this performance may not be stellar, it’s apparently not abysmal, compared with the rest of the world’s. We know something, if not much.
However proficient we are or aren’t, though, how much do Americans say we value science? National Science Foundation surveys indicate that American attitudes toward science—ie, does it make our lives better, do the benefits outweigh the risks—are at least equal to or somewhat more positive than those of Europeans, Russians, and Japanese. Furthermore, in 2010, 82% of us agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the federal government.” A 2009 Harris Poll found scientist to be a very prestigious occupation, second only to fireman. It seems we at least like the idea of science.
Possibly conscious of how ignorant we are, ourselves, Americans definitely want to encourage our children to learn more about science and technology. When Pew asked which subjects merit greater emphasis in grades K-12, Math + Science accounted for 42% of the responses.
Notice, this chart breaks the responses down by party. Interestingly, the Republican combined Math and Science percentages are almost identical to the Democratic combined Math and Science—42 and 41% respectively. However, while 17% of Democrats favored more Science, only 7% of Republicans did. For some reason, it appears that Republicans are shying away from Science.
At the same time, scientists are shying away from Republicans. According to another 2009 Pew poll, only 6% of American scientists now consider themselves Republicans. This percentage has fallen drastically over the past 50 years. Why?
I would imagine, it’s because scientists see the Republican party as not helping. Some will argue, the left-leaning press has smeared the Republicans’ image. I would argue two things: one is that Rupert Murdoch can hold his own, just fine. The second is that scientists operate in a research-driven, evidence-based, logical realm; if anyone can sift through the BS and find out the facts, they will. If the question is, who supported and who cut funding for basic science, and who is advancing vs. hindering science education, they know.
Why would Republicans dislike science? The fascinating article “Why Conservatives Turned Against Science” in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that the reasons are as much economic as anything. For one thing, science leads to efforts at conservation, which lead to major financial headaches for industry. If you are for free enterprise, maybe you are against free science.
The Education section of the 2012 Republican Party of Texas platform puts on a blatant display of Republican anti-science. The following two sections are particularly telling:
- Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.
- Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Does this platform represent the entire party? No, of course not. But the thing is, the Republican leadership is full of educated people who know better. How are they not mortified by this kind of idiocy? How can they keep catering to the minority in their party who insist on being so vocal and so regressive? Larry Hart squawks, and the Republican knee-jerk is to CANCEL THE VOTE to create a lousy science laureate! All I can think is that the Republican leadership actually finds this downward-spiraling attitude toward science useful, and hopes to encourage it.