Commentary, Opinion

No party is the ‘science party:’ The problem with politicizing science

The concept of the “anti-science” right isn’t new to political discussion; conservatives are consistently seen as the major perpetrators of anti-science rhetoric. A 2009 Pew Research poll described a mere six per cent of scientists in the U.S. as identifying with Republican views. According to the two-party political system, this leaves the majority of the scientific population within the liberal spectrum and leads one to conclude that Democrats are pro-science and Republicans are anti-science.

Recent post-election discourse in the U.S. seems to support this, where President-elect Donald Trump has been described as the first “anti-science” president in the country’s history. Fears of funding cuts to scientific research are emerging, prompting some researchers to consider leaving the U.S. in search of an environment more supportive of research and respectful of science. These fears are warranted; Trump’s anti-climate change, anti-vaccination, and anti-stem cell research stances are anything but scientific.

However, Republicans aren’t the only reservoir for anti-scientific views. Not all ‘left-wing science’ is necessarily true science, as is indicated by evidence concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the organic food industry, and vaccination.

According to an survey conducted in June 2016, Republicans are divided evenly on whether GMOs are safe. Democrats rate them unsafe by a 26-point margin, despite a 2013 literature review of the past 10 years of GMO safety research finding no evidence that GMOs pose any hazards to human health. Surveys estimate that labelling GMO foods would cause roughly 57 per cent of Americans to avoid buying these products due to unwarranted safety concerns. Similarly, a Gallup poll concluded that more organic food shoppers identify as Democrats, even though a 2012 systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found no evidence that organic food is safer to consume than non-organic food.

Science has no understanding of left-wing and right-wing politics; the laws of nature and the universe are not compartmentalized to fit the views of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

On some scientific research, such as vaccination, Democrats are reported to be equally as skeptical as Republicans. Largely propagated by the fraudulent science of the infamous Andrew Wakefield, the misguided belief that vaccines are unsafe continues to be spread by anti-vaccine celebrities such as self-identified Democrat Jenny McCarthy. The results of such anti-scientific principles can reach heartbreaking levels, as hundreds of cases of deadly, vaccine-preventable measles infections occur in the U.S. each year.

There is no doubt that Republicans generally represent a larger proportion of the evolution skeptics and climate change deniers, and that the results of such beliefs may be catastrophic to attempts to ameliorate the current climate crisis. Trump’s complete disregard for science is shocking, frightening, and incredibly disheartening to researchers worldwide. Trump himself has declared climate change “politicized science,” claiming that research supporting evidence of the human influence on the climate is skewed to suit the political agenda of the opposition. His election threatens the effectiveness of global climate change cooperation, which Canada is a part of.

This notion of politicization inaccurately portrays debates in science as adhering to a certain political paradigm. Science has no understanding of left-wing and right-wing politics; the laws of nature and the universe are not compartmentalized to fit the views of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Science is a philosophy—a systematic enterprise of empirical knowledge whereby consensus is the closest form of ‘truth’ that can be reached.

The problem with politicized science isn’t necessarily that fewer right-wing policy makers are needed in order to better support science, but that science doesn’t correspond definitively with one set of political views. More scientists are needed in policy-making, and politicians without scientific background should admit their lack of knowledge rather than disseminate false information that suits their agenda. In order for scientific truth to reach the public, conversations on issues such as climate change and GMOs must stay out of political discussion and within the sphere of science.



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