This morning, Paul Krugman wrote, Anti-Intellectualism That Dares Not Speak Its Name. It’s about the anti-intellectual bent of the modern conservative movement. In particular, he’s interested in National Review‘s really offensive cover story, “Smarter than Thou.” The subtitle is, “Neil deGrasse Tyson and America’s Nerd Problem. Of all sources, it is particularly sad coming from National Review, because whatever else you can say about its founder, William F Buckley Jr was not anti-intellectual. But while I would agree that in terms of dog whistle racial appeals, this is your father’s Republican Party—in terms of facts, this is not your father’s Republican Party. It is now a postmodern party where things like facts and competence don’t matter and reality is whatever we (they) say it is.
Krugman pointed me to a 2009 Pew Research poll of the politics of scientists. And they found that as a group, scientists are quite liberal. The report says:
Majorities of scientists working in academia (60%), for non-profits (55%) and in government (52%) call themselves Democrats, as do nearly half of those working in private industry (47%).
That’s very interesting in a number of ways. One is that the “independents” break 81% (26÷32) to the Democrats. Also: this isn’t just a question of scientists working in academia or government. The numbers for scientists working in private industry are 47% Democrat, 10% Republican, and 37% independent. If we assume the overall partitioning of private industry scientists is the same as it is for the independents (as it was for scientists overall), the independents break 80 percentage points (87%) for the Democrats. That gives a total of private industry scientists of 82% Democrats and 16% Republicans. So no matter how you slice it, scientists are overwhelmingly Democratic.
The question is why this would be. Krugman offers, “One simple explanation would be that current Republican doctrine really is anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that scientists are responding to that.” But I actually think this is only a small part of it. Everyone knows the John Stuart Mill quote, “I did not mean that conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any honorable gentleman will question it.” This implies what we see in the polling data. Scientists are on average smarter and given that the overall population breaks about 50-50 conservative-liberal, scientists would break liberal.
But I think it is even more fundamental than that. It’s about the way that scientists (and for that matter, artists) look at the world. They are, in the broadest sense of the word, liberal. They are open to new ideas. They want to be able to see things from different perspectives and this makes them value empathy if not making them actually empathic. On a policy level there isn’t that much difference between Democrats and Republicans. What is really different is the way the two parties talk about the world and the Democratic way is far more open minded and empathic.
Regardless, if I were a conservative, I would be embarrassed about this. I wouldn’t be mocking scientists. And of course, in the past, they have not. It is just that now, the conservative movement is utterly dependent on conservative Christians—so dependent that they wouldn’t even be as competitive as the Green Party without them. And, of course, the conservative movement is now committed to denying the well establish facts of climate science. So I guess they feel the need to lash out at science. But like most acts of the conservative movement generally and the Republican Party in particular, what they are doing is shortsighted. Not only is it not good for themselves—it is not good for the country. Conservatives claim to be very concerned about American hegemony. But the greatest threat to it is not that taxes are too high (they aren’t) or that welfare is too generous (it isn’t). The greatest threat is their campaign to vilify the most creative forces in our country for their short-term political and economic benefit.
 It is just a little algebra. Assume D is the percentage of Democrats, R the percentage of Republicans, and I the percentage of independents. Furthermore, ID is the Democratic leaning independents and IR are the Republican leaning independents. Thus, we get the following equation:
Everything is known but ID, so we get:
Note that there is a question of percentages and percentage points. The percentage of answers actually makes the Democratic tilt look even more extreme.