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How Did Republicans Become The "Anti-Science Party"?


A great question, and four-part answer:
Consider an entrepreneur I know who has a deep reverence for science and enjoys seeing the fruits of chemistry emerge in the products he sells. Yet whenever climate change comes up, he throws up his arms, insults Al Gore, and despite knowing that there’s near-universal agreement among scientists about global warming, dismisses it as yet another fabrication of liberals trying to impose government on the rest of us.

He should know better, yet somehow he subordinates his scientific judgment to his partisan identity.

So why are so many otherwise rational Republicans so seemingly irrational when matters of science enter the political arena? Four factors might explain.

Factor one is a driving force behind so much of what the Republican Party does today, hatred of liberalism. Insofar as environmental and evolutionary sciences are associated with liberal causes, they generate a visceral distrust among Republicans.

This disdain for liberalism has an interesting genesis given that so many red states have benefited from liberal governance in the form of rural electrification, water projects, and transportation infrastructure, and indeed many white southern and Great Plains politicians were once ardent New Dealers.

That all changed, of course, with civil rights, which turned many white Americans from friends of liberalism to its most ardent foes. By enforcing civil rights, liberalism became a literal enemy of their way of life and a figurative threat to anyone who didn’t want to accept the reality of a plural, diverse, and cosmopolitan America.

Add to that the Silent Majority pedigree of today’s GOP – those who recoiled at liberalism’s association with Vietnam protests, campus upheavals, and the generation gap that tore apart the country in the 1960s.

Thus to many Republicans, liberalism ceased to be merely an alternative governing creed – it came to symbolize an alien culture, an America they no longer recognized or controlled, making anything connected with it, no matter how rational or evidence-based, sinister and suspect. “Quite frankly,” wrote Rick Perry in his 2010 book Fed Up!, “when science gets hijacked by the political Left, we should all be concerned.”

Factor two in the Republican denial of science is the anti-intellectual populism that pervades much of the GOP. Republicans routinely deride university culture, describe professors with a sneer, and toss around words like “pinheads” or “pointy heads” to describe intellectuals.

Rick Perry recently gave a speech joking about his poor academic performance in college, as if that were a badge of defiance and honor. The moment Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren announced her plans to run against Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, Republicans immediately started calling her “Professor Warren” as if that title deserved mockery and scorn.

Among intellectuals it’s an article of faith to think critically, yet this is precisely what bothers Republicans who mistake this culture of critical thinking for an assault on American life, which they then take very personally. So in this insular GOP world intellectuals become elitists, people who think they’re too good for everyone else, and therefore no one should trust what they say.

“What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals,” writes conservative columnist David Brooks about Republicans, “slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Or as some Republicans say, the only climate that should worry America is the intellectual climate.

So to these anti-intellectual Republicans, every mention of science becomes yet another boast among the educated, a sign of their arrogance and sense of superiority. Thus scientific evidence becomes secondary to the perceived elitism of the educated class and the scientists who belong to it. Reject science and strike a blow for the little people.
Continue reading this supremely interesting column here.