[UPDATED: I originally mentioned this poll several months ago but did not discuss these numbers.]
[Via The Intersection]
I hardly want to lend ammo to those on the other side of the political scientific debates that I so frequently cover. But the new data from Pew are pretty stark: Only 6 percent of scientists describe themselves as Republican. 55 percent describe themselves as Democrats, and 32 percent as independents; which means that scientists skew Dem by a considerable margin when compared to the general population (which claims to be 23 percent GOP, 35 percent DEM).
I think these figures are unsurprising and even justifiable, in that so much anti-science comes from Republicans. I had to deal with one just last night who was attacking both climate science and evolutionary science. And of course, it is not just that Republicans are often anti-science, but that they are often driven by religious motivations to be so. Scientists, by contrast, are a very, very strongly secular group.
WHile I am not surprised by the small number of scientists who self-identify as republican, I am surprised that so many go all the way to Democrat rather than Independent. I mean 9 times as many scientists call themselves Democrats as do Republicans while it is only 1.5 times in the general population.
In fact, if leaners are counted, 81% fall in the Democratic side vs 11% for the Republican. This compares with 52% and 35% for the public, respectively.
I guess nothing wishy-washy here. Simply because when it comes to scientific issues there really is little room to move. Climate change, evolution, stem cell research, etc. are all areas where science is often diametrically opposed to conservative opinions.
The poll suggests that this is because of the perception of scientists that the Bush administration controlled what scientists could say. 55% of scientists had heard about the muzzling of researchers by the Bush Administration (vs. 10% of the public) and 71% of them believed that this was true (vs. 20% of the public).
Another surprising part of the poll dealt with US scientific endeavors.. Only 17% of the public sees US scientific achievement as the best in the world, with 31% seeing it as average or below average. In contrast, 49% of the scientists, who should be a better judges, say we are the best with only 6% putting us at average or below average.
Some other things are very intriguing. 83% of the scientists believe we have NOT gone far enough in pushing equal rights in this country while 41% of the public does thing we have gone far enough. Only a third of the scientists believe that peace is best assured through military strength, compared to 53% of the public.
A big problem for for people like Chris Mooney is that while 95% of the American public either believes in God or a higher power, only 51% of scientists do. In fact, 41% do not believe in either. It can be very hard to carry on a conversation about science when it conflicts with people’ religious beliefs, since so few scientists actually can empathize with that belief.
And there is a huge divide on a couple of the areas that are not too surprising. Like evolution. 53% of the public believes that humans have either existed in their present form since the beginning of time or have evolved through the actions of a higher being. Just 10% of the scientists feel this way, with 87% saying that we evolved through natural processes.
Hope may spring from the numbers that indicate that only 36% of the public feels that science directly conflicts with their personal beliefs. This is a little higher for Republicans but not too much. Only white evangelicals had a majority who felt that science directly conflicted with their beliefs (52%).
There are a lot of people who would be willing to hear but it will be hard, particularly if it pushes people into a corner. Scientists are making a reasonable start, with some real room to improve.
But we have a long, long way to go!