Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Over in The Atlantic, Mischa Fisher has ignited a teapot tempest with her article: “The Republican Party Isn't Really the Anti-Science Party.” Partisans from both side have been sniping at each other in what quickly became an expansive comments section, while other internet commentators have taken to critiquing the piece in other online outlets.

But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse.(As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)

But it came off that way, in part because I think that it was, at its heart, the wrong argument. To cast the Republicans as not-being “anti-science,” all that's really needed is to point out that the Democrats, while many of them are at least as nominally Christian as anyone else in the United States, tend to be strongly against initiatives that openly code Christianity into law. And while they are considered by some to be “anti-religion” for that tendency, this is generally understood to be a partisan criticism. It's really the same with Republicans, although there is the added wrinkle that among science boosters, it seems to be common to believe that science should, in effect, openly be coded into law.

Most of this is simply the nature of partisanship. There is a “shadow polarization” at work, with factions of the right and the left looking to forestall criticism of their chosen policies by looking for something greater than mere mortals as justification. A “greater Truth,” as it were. For the right, it's (generally) Biblical morality and/or tradition and for the left, it's scientific fact. And it's not really that either side completely discounts the other; rather, they disagree on what public values should be - and to the degree that each side bases its public values on different ideas, they set those ideas against one another.

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