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North Jersey Record


Are Republicans Anti-Science?

September 06, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

The attitude is more like “anti-empirical knowledge.”

Too often, liberals fall prey to the same vice they impute to conservatives and mix science with religion.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines recently with a pair of statements on scientific topics—one declaring that evolution theory has “got some gaps in it” and that man-made climate change is a “theory that remains unproven.”

The scientific consensus disagrees on both counts. Perry rival Jon Huntsman responded: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” But Huntsman seems highly unlikely to capture his party’s nomination, and critics say Perry’s comments signal the GOP has rejected science itself.

Are Republicans against science? Does it matter? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, columnists for, argue the question.

Is the Republican Party anti-science? Undoubtedly. A recent poll of GOP voters in Iowa showed that only 35 percent of respondents believe in evolution—and a mere 21 percent believe in climate change. You won’t be surprised to learn that 32 percent of those same voters incorrectly believe that President Obama was born outside America.

Corn grows fine in the state of Iowa, but reality has a difficult time putting down roots among the state’s Republicans.

With its first-in-the-nation caucuses in 2012, Iowa’s “Know Nothing” voters have a fair shot at determining the next president of the United States. So Rick Perry and his fellow candidates have little choice but to pander to ignorance. The rest of us are stuck with the consequences.

Even worse, those candidates are being urged on by the conservative movement’s leading intellectual lights! National Review editor Rich Lowry this week defended Perry’s anti-science statements, saying they were understandable because most Americans believe in God and, anyway, liberals use the threat of global warming to advocate policies—like a carbon tax—that Republicans hate.

So: If liberals said something like, “The sky is blue, therefore we must raise taxes,” Perry would be forced to assert that the sky is pink. And conservatives would approve.

Why should this matter? Because Perry’s comments signal an overall approach of ignoring actual facts and settled knowledge if those facts and knowledge suggest policy actions he doesn’t like. Rather than come up with counterproposals or argue about cost-benefit analyses, Perry and his ilk simply tell voters that reality isn’t real.

It might be too narrow to suggest that such an attitude is “anti-science.” It’s more like “anti-empirical knowledge.” That’s a form of relativism—something hardheaded conservatives usually like to decry.

Strictly speaking, “the sky is blue, therefore we must raise taxes” is a non sequitur. But it’s also an apt metaphor. Tax rates may rise and fall, but the sky will remain basically blue.

Instead of saying “the sky is blue,” say, “the Earth is warming” or “the Earth is cooling.” Therefore...what? We must raise taxes on carbon.

Or we must place caps on carbon output. Or we must ban cheap, incandescent light bulbs.

We must? Why? Are you sure that raising the cost of fossil fuels will reduce emissions enough to reverse the effects of what scientists claim is a man-made problem? Are you sure that spending trillions of tax dollars will prevent oceans from rising an inch?

Why not work instead to make non-carbon-based energy sources cheaper? Those are political questions, not scientific ones. Scientists cannot say with certainty that higher taxes or prohibitively expensive energy prices will prevent the globe from warming by one or two degrees. And we wouldn’t want them to.

Too often, liberals fall prey to the same vice they impute to conservatives and mix science with religion. “The climate crisis is not a political issue,” former vice president Al Gore said in 2007 upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. “It is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”

Compare Gore’s hyperbole—or, really, the claims of most any climate alarmist—with what Rick Perry said the other day. “I don’t think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still (sic) a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question,” he said.

Arguable, but “anti-science”? Please.

Fact is, Republicans are no more anti-science than they are against blue skies. But this isn’t about science. This is simply politics.

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