Industrial money and religious foot soldiers

Shawn Otto makes several interesting historical observations in the November 2012 Scientific American article, “America’s Science Problem“. First:

The steady flow of federal funding [for science after WWII] had an unanticipated side effect. Scientists no longer needed to reach out to the public or participate in the civic conversation to raise money for research. […] University tenure systems… provided strong disincentives to public outreach, and scientists came to view civics and political involvement as a professional liability.

Second: While scientists were disappearing from public view, their growing knowledge of technological problems (such as DDT poisoning) increasingly “led to new health and environmental regulatory science. The growing restrictions drove the older industries… to protect their business interests by opposing new regulations.”

It turned out that a powerful way to undermine environmental regulations was to deny the legitimacy of environmental science. This stance aligned industrialists with “religious fundamentalists who opposed the teaching of evolution” and were skeptical of science more broadly. Together, “industrial money and religious foot soldiers” not only proved effective in blocking regulations, but also “gave fundamentalism renewed power in the public debate.”

This antiregulatory-antiscience alliance largely defines the political parties today and helps to explain why, according to a 2009 survey, 9 out of 10 scientists who identified with a major political party said they were Democrats.

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