In the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, one thing has become absolutely clear, the fact that far too many people do not trust science. This is not surprising as distrust in science has been growing for years.
This unfortunate turn to the dark ages forced scientists in 2017 to get off the sidelines and into the political arena, famously with the March for Science, and then more directly with groups like 314 Action, which recruits and supports STEM professionals for political campaigns.
While noble in purpose, this has been disastrous in practice.
The reason is because instead of being a nonpartisan movement to promote scientific expertise and inquiry in politics, the movement has made the lazy decision to simply align with the left; the political wing that already was mostly in agreement with the scientific community.
Therefore, it has resulted in no real benefit for science or for society, and at exorbitant cost to both.
Let’s focus on the single biggest scientific issue prior to the pandemic (and what will again become the biggest issue after): climate change.
The Democratic party already has accepted the realities of climate change and promotes policies to address it. On the other hand, the Republican party has moved away from the science of climate change towards denialism. In 1997, about equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats thought climate change had begun. Over the next decade, the percentage of Republicans believing in climate change began to decrease while among the Democrats, it increased.
If you were a scientist who wanted to build a consensus to address climate change, you should work on changing the minds of those Republican voters.
But instead, the science activists have decided to focus on running STEM professionals in races as Democrats. This serves no purpose. They are preaching to the choir. It doesn’t even really help if you are a liberal, because while STEM professionals would be good voices on science debates like climate change, you are taking out other candidates that already agree with you on science, and might actually be of more use for you for other liberal causes. I don’t get it, but if liberals want to cut themselves at the knees, so be it; that’s on them.
Where it does bother me though is that it injects partisanship into science. The right wing misinformation ecosystem sees the scientific community in league with the Democratic party and it makes it easier for them to dismiss science as having a political agenda. People rarely vote based on scientific issues anyway, so it is not like right-leaning voters are going to change their support because of a group of scientists are running on the left. Consequently, most people who normally vote Republican will still vote Republican anyway, but now they will be even more suspicious of scientists and their “liberal agenda.”
When Joshua Morrow, the Executive Director of 314 Action, was asked if the group would support a physicist running as a Republican, his response was: “Find that person, and we’ll have that discussion. Find that unicorn.”
That condescending attitude has been on display for decades by the academic left, and it has pushed right-leaning voters into the arms of charlatans that bring snowballs onto the floor of the Senate as “evidence” against climate change or that claim certain physical ailments are caused by dream sex with demons.
If Joshua Morrow and the 314 Action group really want to change the direction of this country regarding science, instead of virtue signaling and pushing a liberal agenda, they should be scouring the land for those “unicorns.” Because that’s how things will change.
They need to find any right-leaning scientists they can and help them run in Republican primaries. Even if those primary candidacies are Quixotic endeavors, they will at least add a scientific voice to those primary debates and hopefully begin to gradually enlighten some voters on the right.
They should be partnering with groups like RepublicEN and the American Conservative Coalition. These are right-leaning groups that accept the realities of climate change and are trying to pull conservatives in that direction.
Because if and when these groups and actions can convince more and more Republican voters of these realities, then we can begin to have actual reasoned debates on how to address climate change (left-leaning government interventions vs. right-leaning market-based solutions) rather than the surreal and farcical debate on whether or not man-made climate change is even real.
For being supposed scientists, these activists don’t seem to understand basic psychology. People are hesitant to believe outsiders over their in-group. If you want to convince them, you need to ally with and become part of their in-group.
I readily (and with shame) admit that the Republican party is the anti-intellectual and anti-science party, and will be resistant to pro-science voices for a while. This will not be easy. But simply allowing science to ally with the left, while seemingly easier, will not work and will only hurt in the long run.
We need to do the hard work of partnering activist science groups with willing Republican groups and candidates, not opposing them just because they are Republicans. As those voices become more established in the Republican party, then they can hopefully counteract the voices of ignorance on the right and start pulling the party and its voters back towards science and reason.
Because if science chooses sides in politics, it’s going to lose. And if science loses, we all lose.