In a little-noticed 2012 interview, Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the front-runner in Montana's open 2014 Senate race, expressed support for teaching creationism in public schools. In an interview that aired on November 2, 2012, Sally Mauk, news director for Montana Public Radio, asked Daines, who was then running for Montana's lone House seat, whether public schools should teach creationism. Daines responded, "What the schools should teach is, as it relates to biology and science is that they have, um, there's evolution theory, there's creation theory, and so forth. I think we should teach students to think critically, and teach students that there are evolutionary theories, there's intelligent-design theories, and allow the students to make up their minds. But I think those kinds of decisions should be decided at the local school board level." He added, "Personally I'd like to teach my kids both sides of the equation there and let them come up to their own conclusion on it."
A few years ago, during the race for the Republicans' 2012 presidential nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) suggested climate science was an elaborate hoax cooked up by greedy scientists. John Weaver, the chief strategist for former Gov. John Huntsman's campaign, responded with a sensible declaration: "We're not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party."
Three years later, it's probably too late to worry about whether the GOP is becoming the anti-science party.
It's been a rough week for Republicans and their support for science. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, struggled badly to defend his opposition to climate science, only to make matters worse by saying odd things about reproductive science.
And away from Capitol Hill, two GOP Senate candidates said they too have a problem with climate science, while Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature are balking at new science standards because they treat climate change as true.
It's against this backdrop that the Pew Forum found late last year that the number of self-identified Republican voters who believe in evolutionary biology has dropped considerably in the Obama era.
To reiterate a point we've discussed before, none of this is healthy. There are already so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans; scientific truths don't have to be among them. And yet, we're quickly approaching the point -- if we haven't arrived there already -- at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a "Democratic issue."
Is it any wonder the Pew Research Center found a few years ago that only 6% of scientists say they support Republican candidates?
Asked to explain the phenomenon, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, told the Salt Lake Tribune last fall, "Scientists just don't get those people," referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. "They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me."