About twenty eight years ago there was a poll taken of journalists,
supposedly, that right wingers howled showed a “librul bias” on the part
of the media. The poll, taken mostly of editors and publishers and
commissioned by the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute,
revealed such horrors as “'U.S. exploits Third World, causes poverty'
(56%) and 'U.S. use of resources immoral' (57%)”.
Yes, you read that right. Slightly over half of newspaper people agreed
with that, and almost thirty years later, the right still hasn't gotten
over it. They're still howling, and I see the poll cited as “proof” that
journalists are just a pack of liberals, communists and Democrats.
So I'm waiting to see how loud the howling gets over the latest Pew
Survey, which interviewed about 240 American scientists and gathered
their opinions on religion, politics, personal philosophy, and, oddly
On science, it came as no surprise that 87% of the scientists were of
the opinion that evolution was a natural process. Another 9% believed
they discerned the hand of God working behind the scenes to create
exactly the same process. Two percent didn't believe in evolution at all.
Similarly, on global warming, there is strong consensus. Again, 87% of
the scientists surveyed believe unequivocally that climate change is
being caused by human activities. Eleven percent think the jury is still
out on that, but say the planet is warming. Two percent didn't believe
in global warming at all.
Well, in any group you're going to get that two percent who just don't
seem to fit in. It has been said that Hitler got 3% of the Jewish vote
in 1934. Two percent, you're really kissing the lip of the bell-shaped
There's nothing surprising about these numbers. The evidence for both
evolution and global warming is overwhelming, and outside the cults of
the fundamentalists of the far right, the public accepts the validity of
On religion, while a majority of scientists believe in “a god or some
other higher power,” only 38% believe in the Biblical God, and 41% don't
believe in higher powers.
OK, I admit that I'm firmly in the knowledge-trumps-religion camp, but I
was surprised by that finding. In nearly all societies, atheists make up
between 13 and 15% of the general population, regardless of the levels
of religious fervor any given society imposes. There's another 30-40% of
the population that will go with the flow: in a religious society,
they'll go to church. In a more secular society, they'll watch football
instead. And people have an absolute genius, when it comes to
dovetailing their religion with their surroundings, for
compartmentalizing and rationalizing everything. So if you had asked me
before the poll was taken, I might have guessed that 25% of scientists
would stipulate no belief in a higher being at all. Certainly
religionists can have just as keen an intelligence as a physicist or a
microbiologist, so I can only conclude that there is a different TYPE of
intelligence functioning between scientists and the control group, the
general population, and while the type of intelligence can traverse the
two groups, it reveals a proclivity.
It's in the realm of politics where the results are the most
interesting, and this is where the decades-long chorus of screams from
the right will begin.
It shouldn't surprise readers to know that only six percent of
scientists identify themselves as Republican. While the public at large
remains unaware of it, in the scientific community the Republican
hostility to science is keenly felt, and a majority of scientists were
aware of and alarmed by the willingness of the Bush administration to
suppress, edit, and alter scientific findings for political purposes.
Nearly all of the political posturing and vilification of the scientific
community comes from the Republican party, so it's not very surprising
that few scientists support it, just as very few blacks support the GOP,
or very few liberals, or very few gays. The GOP likes to piss on groups
of people for purposes of expediency and demagoguery, and then wonders
why they don't get any support from their victims. Slightly over half of
the scientists surveyed (55%) were Democratic, with the balance
describing themselves as independents.
The GOP has positioned itself as the party of creationism, against stem
cell research, and for putting disclaimers in biology texts saying that
evolution is “just a theory.” Few self-respecting scientists are going
to want to identify with that bunch, no matter what their opinions on
federalism or the budget might be.
A larger surprise is the breakdown of liberals vs. conservatives among
scientists. According to Pew, “Slightly more than half of scientists
(52%) describe their own political views as liberal, including 14% who
describe themselves as very liberal.” Only 9% of scientists describe
themselves as conservative.
And THAT is the finding that right wingers are going to be screaming
about incessantly for the next half century or more. There's nothing
they love more than discovering a Great Liberal Conspiracy, whether it
was the conspiracy to cause the crash in '29 that allowed FDR to get
elected, or the one where liberals convinced the GOP to make utter fools
of themselves and have George W. Bush as a two-term president. Insidious
and invidious bunch, us liberals. We get to scheming, and those poor
dumb right wingers don't stand a chance.
Never mind that the chances are most of the respondents didn't even
consider “liberal” and “conservative” as political stances, but rather
as personal worldviews and philosophies.
Part of the problem is that the same people who have so alienated the
scientific community (and most other sensible people) describe
themselves as conservatives. They are fascists, reactionaries, religious
whack-jobs and tinhorn authoritarians, mostly not conservative in either
the philosophical or political sense of the word, and their viciousness
and antics have made the word “conservative” poisonous to educated people.
Part of it is that the same sort of mind that lends itself to scientific
inquiry tends to be liberal. You need an open and flexible intelligence
to be a good scientist, and while conservatives – actual conservatives –
often possess those traits, the types of people who are loudly bellowing
that THEY are the “true conservatives” do not.
So the right wingers are going to scream. After all, they spent 40 years
screaming that the media was “liberal” and between intimidating
reporters and simply buying up most of the media, turned America's
once-mighty independent press into a mere shadow of itself. They'll try
the same with the scientific community, using political stances, real
and imagined, to try and rid science of “judenphysick,” or whatever the
American right wing equivalent phrase will be: “atheistic lib-science,”
or some such. It will be the same as “judenphysick” even if Jews aren't
a target, and it would work out about as well as it did for Hitler if it
were pushed through.
But I'm guessing it won't be. Right wing minds aren't capable of good
science, and the results of compromised science are usually more
immediate and dramatic than the results of compromised journalism, and
just as poisonous in the end.
Also, the right wing has lost much of its power. The public won't be
willing to watch a McCarthyist witchhunt for “librul scientists,”
especially since the public recognizes the importance of science to America.
But they will scream, and scream loudly and constantly.
Personally, I'm going to enjoy watching it.