Thursday, December 9, 2010

Damned, dirty scientists

A recent Pew survey finds that 55 percent of scientists consider themselves Democrats, 32 percent call themselves independents, and only six percent claim to be Republicans.  Thus it's not terribly surprising that the GOP would occasionally demonize scientists, although it's not clear whether GOP hostility to science causes scientists to leave the party or whether the GOP just feels safe demonizing them because so few of them are in the party in the first place.

For a prime example of this sort of demonization, please refer back to Bush White House spokesman Tony Fratto's response to a study by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz suggesting that the Iraq War would ultimately cost $3 trillion:
People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can’t even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9/11.... Three trillion dollars? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn’t his slide rule work that way?

Update: On further reflection, I'm questioning just how representative this survey is.  Pew surveyed 2,533 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Who are they?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, "Triple A-S" (AAAS), is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.
The AAAS claims to be "open to all," meaning, presumably, that one does not need a PhD or an MD or any other advanced degree to join.  And from the description above, they sound like an advocacy group on behalf of scientific research.  It's entirely possible that the membership is somewhat more inclined toward, say, government-funded research than the entire population of scientists.  Thus the survey sample would probably appear more Democratic than a truly representative sample of American scientists.

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