For some time, at least certain “liberal” commentators have insisted that Republicans are scientifically “challenged” and that Republicans consistently ignore well-established science. According to some recent surveys, those commentators are only half-right. In general, those individuals who identify as Republicans are more scientifically knowledgeable than are those who identify as Democrats, yet they tend to ignore the science behind climate change, evolution, and other areas.
So why do Republican office-holders espouse so many positions at odds with established science? The most obvious answer would seem to be that such politicians are appealing to their political base, but if their base is actually more scientifically knowledgeable than Democrats, this wouldn’t seem to make much sense.
Another possibility is that Republicans are conservative in their understanding of science as well as conservative politically. In some ways, this makes more sense. Science proceeds from what is “known” to what is theorized… and then such new theories are tested against the evidence and either discarded, modified, accepted… or put on hold for lack of sufficient proof either way.
“New” theories often take a great deal of time to be proved and accepted. The idea of “continental drift” was first proposed Alfred Wegener in 1915 in the first edition of The Origin of Continents and Oceans, a theory which was viciously attacked, despite the evidence that Wegener presented, but, partly because certain parts of Wegener’s theory were wrong, it was not truly accepted until after World War II, when even more evidence was discovered about plate tectonics. Despite a huge amount of evidence, it took decades for the scientific community as a whole to accept Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution. Black holes were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, but the first black hole wasn’t discovered until 1971.
Another possibility is that Republicans simply only accept those aspects of science that they can “use,” like tools, while rejecting any aspect of science that isn’t in accord with what they wish to believe.
That may be the most likely explanation, given that, for example, liberal Democrats tend to reject aspects of science that conflict with their beliefs. For example, although human beings have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years, the term “genetic modification” is far more of an anathema to Democrats than to Republicans. Likewise, those opposing vaccination tend to be more Democrats than Republicans.
If that’s so, it’s certainly understandable, but deplorable, that what science is “acceptable” to people depends not on the facts, but upon personal beliefs.