Recently, the Washington Post reported new data showing something most of us already sense: that increased polarization on Capitol Hill is due to the way the Republican Party has lurched to the right. The authors of the study use Sen. John McCain to illustrate the point. McCain’s political odyssey is, in some dismaying sense, close to my own heart, since it highlights the Republican turn against science.
As unlikely as it might seem today, in the first half of the 20th century the Republicans were the party that most strongly supported scientific work, as they recognized the diverse ways in which it could undergird economic activity and national security. The Democrats were more dubious, tending to see science as elitist and worrying that new federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health would concentrate resources in elite East Coast universities.
In recent decades, of course, the Republicans have lurched rightward on many topics and now regularly attack scientific findings that threaten their political platforms. In the 1980s, they generally questioned evidence of acid rain; in the 1990s, they went after ozone s... Read more