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The Tea Party’s disturbing views about science

I know many scientists who aren’t politically active because they feel that many political issues don’t apply to them. I strongly disagree. If the upcoming midterm elections proceed as pundits claim, it may have disastrous consequences for American science policy. We all have a stake in this.

One reason for the Republican party’s expected gains in the upcoming election is the so-called “Enthusiasm Gap”. Even though the country is relatively split on certain issues, those who are against President Obama’s policies feel more strongly than supporters and are therefore more likely to vote. Conservative enthusiasm, as reported by CNN, is largely driven by the TEA Party (an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already” that pays patriotic homage to the Boston tea party). They claim to be protesting “out of control” government spending by the Obama administration. For more details on why their views are less valid than they appear on the surface, see Matt Taibbi’s article from a recent Rolling Stone. This post, however, is about the Tea Party’s views concerning science policy.

First, let’s look at Tea Party endorsed candidate Christine O’Donnell, who is running for Senate in Delaware. The Conservation Report has a great post about her scientific views, which I will borrow two YouTube videos from.

The first focuses on her views on evolution. The good bit starts at 17 seconds in:

The second showcases her understanding of genetic research:

It is worth noting that Christine O’Donnell defeated Mike Castle in the Republican primary. Until that point, according to the Guardian, Mike Castle was the only Republican candidate who was not a global warming denier. Let me repeat that- only one Republican candidate was not a global warming denier. He lost, largely due to Tea Party “enthusiasm”, to someone who believes both that evolution is false because we still have monkeys and that scientists have created a half-mouse half-human hybrid.

It is arguable that President Obama’s proposed solution to climate change (a cap and trade policy) is big government, and therefore it is possible to oppose it because you’re against big government and not because you are anti-science. However, these candidates (and their supporters) are not claiming “yes, climate change is happening, but cap and trade is an overreach of government authority”.  They are denying that climate change is happening at all.

A member of the Albuquerque Tea Party. Photo credit: Frugal-Cafe.com

While O’Donnell is one of the more ridiculous examples of the far right fringe’s views concerning scince, she is far from the only example. According to the latest Nature:

“Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative ‘Tea Party movement’, called his opponent’s acknowledgment of the reality of global warming “exhibit ‘A’ for why she needs to go”.”

Yet another relatively-moderate Republican (i.e. one of the few who doesn’t deny the overwhelming amount of scientific data supporting climate change) was ousted by a Tea Party backed challenger. This time, the moderates views concerning climate change were actively used against her.

According to the New York Times, Tea Party backed Sharron Angle, who is running against current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, doesn’t “buy into the whole … man-caused global warming, man-caused climate change mantra of the left. I believe that there’s not sound science to back that up.”

Climate change issues aren’t the only scientific policies that Tea Party members are involved in. Many are also religious conservatives who have long held anti-science beliefs.

A recent USA today article has more on this issue:

“Christian conservatives, a key element of the Republican coalition for more than three decades, are actively seeking reassurance that they are not going to be displaced. Last week, one key Tea Party strategist, Matt Kibbe, felt compelled to tell reporters at a breakfast meeting that “the Tea Party movement is not anti-religion”….

…Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., argued, “You can’t be a real fiscal conservative if you do not understand the value of a culture that’s based on values.” Many summit participants endorsed those sentiments. Elaine Tornero of Columbus, Ohio, said she believes most people in the Tea Party movement share her socially conservative values. “I’ve been to several Tea Party meetings. We seem to be on the same page,” she said.”

Nature agrees with the assessment that many Tea Party beliefs are not just based on opposition to big government:

“The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research. ..The movement is also averse to science-based regulation”

The Tea Party movement is anti-science. They believe global warming to be a hoax. They believe that evolution isn’t real. They are against stem cell research. They are against science-based regulation.

In our political system, decisions are made by those who show up. The outcome of the 2010 midterm election will affect United States science policy. Regardless of your views on government spending, people who care about science policy should reject the Tea Party.