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The 'anti-science' side of the political divide

Rick Santorum made the transition yesterday from theology, pre-natal care, and WWII, to rhetoric that's arguably even more ridiculous: accusing his
Santorum points to his elusive thinking cap.
Santorum points to his elusive thinking cap.

Rick Santorum made the transition yesterday from theology, pre-natal care, and WWII, to rhetoric that's arguably even more ridiculous: accusing his opponents of being "anti-science."

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum charged on Monday that President Barack Obama and Democrats were "anti-science" because they refused to exploit the Earth's natural resources to the limits of technology. [...]"It's so funny that this party that criticizes the right for being anti-science, but when it comes to the management of the Earth, they are the anti-science ones!" the candidate declared. "We're the ones who stand for science and technology and using the resources we have to make sure we have a quality of life in this country and maintain a good and stable environment."Santorum added that there was "obviously a role for government to play" in environmental regulation, but it was best left to state and local government."Freedom isn't to do whatever you want to do, it's to do what you ought to do," he opined.

Oh my.

First, that's an odd definition of "freedom." Second, leaving environmental regulations to state and local governments is, at a fundamental level, absurd -- air pollution in one state affects how people breathe in another; waste dumped in rivers, lakes, and oceans does not simply stay near the state of origin. This is one of those classic "why we have a federal government" areas of public policy.

But it's the notion that Rick Santorum feels comfortable labeling others "anti-science" that truly rankles. As the Raw Story report noted, this is the same former senator who crusaded against potentially life-saving stem-cell research and fought to require science teachers to include religious instruction in their lesson plans.

Indeed, while Santorum seems offended that the left "criticizes the right for being anti-science," reality is stubborn.

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks put it, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

In the Bush/Cheney era, there was an effective “war on science,” in which scientific research was either rejected or manipulated to suit political ends. The integrity of the scientific process itself came under attack, to the delight of the party and its base.

In the Obama era, this has only intensified. As Chris Mooney explained very well a while back, “The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans — but not anymore.”

Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise — with much more of it residing among liberals and Democrats, and with liberals and Democrats much more aligned with the views of scientists and scholars. More fundamentally, the parties are increasingly divided over reality itself….The expertise gap itself is becoming dramatic. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of American professors, sociologists Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason found that 51 percent described themselves as Democrats, and 35.3 percent described themselves as independents — with the bulk of those independents distinctly Democrat-leaning, rather than straddling the center. Just 13.7 percent were Republicans. Academia has long been a liberal bastion, but it hasn’t always been this lopsided….The Democratic Party has thus become the chosen party of what you might call “empirical professionals” and Americans with advanced degrees…. In recent decades, the Republican Party’s rightward shift alienated many academics, scientists, and intellectuals.

Republican strategist John Weaver warned last year, "We're not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party." With Santorum leading the way, it may already be too late.