McCain's Biggest Contributor Also Leading Science Advocate

To say that Republicans are anti-science has always been an extreme over-simplification, the type of characterization that carries weight at liberal blogs but doesn't really match up well with political reality. The facts are that science has always enjoyed strong bi-partisan support. Only on a few issues such as stem cell research, climate change, and evolution has bi-partisan consensus broken down, and in these cases Republican positions have been far from uniform.

A leading example of the diversity of views about science among leading Republicans is reported on today in the New York Times. As the article details, billionaire Robert Wood Johnson IV raised more than $200,000 for Bush in the last two elections, has been John McCain's leading fund raiser, and solicited friends in a personal effort to bankroll this year's GOP convention to the tune of $10 million dollars.

Yet Johnson is also a major fundraiser and advocate for biomedical research. He used his personal connections with former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to help pass $750 million in diabetes research funding and met personally with President Bush to advocate for the funding of embryonic stem cell research, a meeting that helped prevent Bush from completely banning funding in 2001.

The point is that to dismiss Republicans and the GOP as anti-science is not only inaccurate it also risks a strategic mistake. For every flat earth Sarah Palin or James Inhofe, there are also prominent Republicans who believe strongly in scientific research, its promise to grow the economy, and its ability to improve Americans' quality of life.

More like this

Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin might dispute the human contribution to climate change, oppose embryonic stem cell research, and promote creationism, but in other ways she has been an advocate for science. As I wrote last week, while on a few issues bi-partisan support for science breaks down, on…
When pundits like Richard Dawkins use the trust and authority granted them as scientists to denigrate religious publics, is it unethical? On issues such as climate change, nanotechnology, and evolution, research in the area of framing is being used to design and plan communication initiatives and…
I just thought I'd pass on this letter from Rush Holt to Nancy Pelozi and Steny Hoyer: Dear Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer: In light of the troubling ruling this week that blocks federal funding for stem cell research, I am writing to request respectfully that you bring the bipartisan…
Now that Obama has his science and environmental policy team in place, there's great optimism for important new directions in policy. Yet it will take smart and effective communication to meaningfully engage Americans on these policies, especially in the context of an overwhelming public focus on…

[from the "Last 24 Hours" blurb for this post:] Can we agree to retire the "anti-science" label as applied to Republicans?

Mooney? Mooney? Anyone?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 05 Sep 2008 #permalink

but has anyone wondered why the *fuck* anyone so well intentioned would contribute so much money to someone so inimical to the causes that they putatively support?

what else does Robert Wood Johnson IV support that outweighs his support for the various sciences that you indicate?

and has it occurred that the only reason that he supported otherwise anti-science people is that they supported that which he desired because he gave them lots of money. and that he gave them lots of money because they happened to be in power when the question came up?

the political reality seems to be that when faced with the possibility of garnering a substantial amount of funding, the politicians in question voted with where the money came from, not that they were pro or anti science.

where is Robert Wood Johnson IV's money now that there is an election on the line that may dictate the next 4+ years of policy making?

"...Only on a few issues such as stem cell research, climate change, and evolution..."

Only? What's left? Military R&D?

"...For every flat earth Sarah Palin or James Inhofe, there are also prominent Republicans who believe strongly in scientific research..."

...except that those people are hushed and the Inhofe carries the day unless blocked by Democrats in Congress if there is enough of them there at the time.

Of the four prominent republicans named in your post, three are demonstrably anti-science (as of this election cycle, anyway).

At any rate, the anti-science characterization generally isn't made or perceived in a vacuum. It's made to contrast the Republicans to the Democrats; a party where for every prominent member who believes strongly in scientific research, its promise to grow the economy, and its ability to improve Americans' quality of life, there generally ISN'T a flat earth Sarah Palin.

True, but you also need to take into account the Republican themes of anti-intellectualism and reliance on on gut-feelings over research. These are prominent aspects of the Republican narrative, which embeds a disdain for science at the core of the party.

This is evident, for example, in the famous attacks on the "reality based community."

Donating some money to medical research isn't enough to make a party pro-science, in my book. (Nor is throwing lots of money into military research.)

By Physicalist (not verified) on 05 Sep 2008 #permalink

>>For every flat earth Sarah Palin or James Inhofe...<<

True, but I'm having trouble thinking of a Democrat who's comparably reactionary on science-based issues. The Republican Party actively courts the flat-earthers.

There have always been very, very pro-science Republicans (including McCain himself - one of the few areas I really like him). Just as there have been hopelessly anti-science Democrats. (Part of me wants Obama to win just to change the discourse so that it's Democrats in the defensive)

If McCain wins (and I think it unlikely but more possible since this weekend) then one big positive will be changing the Republican view on science. McCain is pro-stem cell research, acknowledges global warming etc. Of course his VP is far less attractive on those fronts. (She accepts global warming but is skeptical about the man-made part; appears open to teaching Creationism in science class alongside evolution; and opposes stem cell research)

But as you note, it always was a complex issue well beyond what most bloggers portrayed. I know my representative who was a Republican was extremely pro-Science although we'll have a new one next year.

Nisbet says: "For every flat earth Sarah Palin or James Inhofe, there are also prominent Republicans who believe strongly in scientific research, its promise to grow the economy, and its ability to improve Americans' quality of life."

Then those Republicans ought to be shouting the top of their lungs and throw the anti-science bums out of their party. If this is a few-bad-apples argument, then why aren't they denouncing them and getting rid of them? While the anti-science label might be unfair to the larger numbers of rational Republicans, it seems the ones with the most power are the most anti-science, which is why the party gets the label.

"Only" stem cell research, climate change and evolution? Only one of the potentially most important methods for finding solutions to devastating illnesses like diabetes, and the huge threat to millions of peoples' lives in low lying, third world areas, and the basis of science?

No, we can't ignore these issues when the party supports politicians who are too ignorant or politically ambitious to risk lives by ignoring the science. That's like saying that a group that tolerates a lot of vocal racists shouldn't be branded as racist.

By Texas Reader (not verified) on 05 Sep 2008 #permalink

This is one of the most conservative blogs I have found on science blog entries, and I am glad.

I should also point out that those who believe in creationism, or those who believe ID should also be taught in the schools, are not anti-science.

For example, they might be pro hard science like physics and chemistry, and have some issues with aspects of some biology (e.g., theory of evolution).

Nice to see somebody who understands that.

One is know by one's fruits. Where are the GOP science fruits? Unless a large corporation profits from our tax dollars?

By Old Bogus (not verified) on 05 Sep 2008 #permalink

Umm...yeah, and there are Democrats who don't believe in global warming. The point is, which party is overwhelmingly against science?

And, surprise, this doesn't change hooey; the Republican party, generally, doesn't know sound science if it bites it in the ass.

And that applies to everything you mentioned plus every kind of applied and widely accepted science that disagrees with their beliefs, from Alternative Fuel and Peak Oil to transit, economics, etc. Pick your topic.

The problem is that anti-science attitudes are mainstream in the Republican party. Palin would be second in line for the presidency, and she denies both evolution and global warming. It's simply unacceptable to have people that profoundly ignorant leading our country.

(Luckily McCain's a bit better, but that doesn't change the fact that he chose a denialist for VP.)

By Peter Borah (not verified) on 06 Sep 2008 #permalink

Only on a few issues such as stem cell research, climate change, and evolution has bi-partisan consensus broken down, and in these cases Republican positions have been far from uniform.

The positions of individual Republicans no doubt span quite a range. It was Republican S. Boehlert (NY) who made a good response to Barton's harassment of Mann, Bradley, and Hughes. On the other hand, it's memorable because it is so extraordinarily rare at the national scene. And Boehlert is now retired while Barton is still (iirc) there.

But the Republican Party is a Party, with official positions, a strong record of voting the party line, and including antiscientific positions in its state and national party platforms.

To your grossly short list, add meteorology, oceanography, ecology, geology, at the minimum. All four, for instance, use satellite observation of the earth. The party has been cutting and 'redirecting' funds away from doing that since the 90s. While you compartmentalize to just 'climate', the truth is that any satellite that can be used for climate can be used for at least one of those four fields. So there are fewer data to study these things, and the science is weakened.

You can't attack one science or area of science without attacking all. Even if your short list were right, which it is drastically far from being, the efforts to undermine 'just' those areas will eventually undermine all others. Hence the Kansas board of education removing sections of astronomy and geology along with evolution. (First round of the story, second round they stayed more focused.)

By penguindreams (not verified) on 06 Sep 2008 #permalink

Only on a few issue? Explain why the cut in basic human health science funding at the National Institutes of Health, especially the National Cancer Institute, during the Bush presidency and republican lead congress.

One is know by one's fruits. Where are the GOP science fruits? Unless a large corporation profits from our tax dollars?

MEMS based technology, star wars, GPS... Whether a large corporation benefits, or a CPUSA biologist who tithes to the NCSE benefits, I don't know what that matters. But this leads down a path I don't personally agree with anyway. Advancements in science and technology should be largely left to the private sector, in my view, as I am a small government conservative, where the government is sized and empowered per principles described by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

But, some fields related to science, like engineering and computer science, are either dominated by Republicans, or include a substantial number of Republicans, and these Republicans often teach their children science, pay for their kids' advanced science based degrees, and teach them about God, Christianity, and, sometimes, *gasp*, creationism.

Indeed, as I have been discussing recently at my blog, Copernican theory was not a scientific theory for a number of decades, in that it defied experimental confirmation. Even so, it was taught along side the emperically verified Ptolemy system, by teachers who themselves beleved the Copernican system to be incorrect based on scientific/emperical data available at that time, in what would be equivalent to today's science classes. And, fortunately, both sides (Geocentricism and heliocentricism) were taught, because Kepler was able to learn about Copernican theory, and confirm and extend it using data gatherd after Copernicus's death by the preeminent emperical astronmer Tycho Brahe (who himself disavowed Copernican theory). This according to Dr. Steven Goldman (history of science and philosophy) at Lehigh University.

The point this diatrive: It is an an analogy. Intelligent design *should* be objectively described in the *science* class, and not by partisans at either DI or the NCSE or the AAAS.

William Wallace says: "I should also point out that ... those who believe ID should also be taught in the schools, are not anti-science."

Are you trying to parse the definition of 'anti-science' here? If advocating teaching complete and utter non-science isn't anti-science then what is? How far do we have to go down that path until it is labeled anti-science? Where is the threshold for you?

Science is a process, a methodology ... ID fits nowhere within that framework and you know it. To advocate teaching non-science in a science class is certainly anti-science.

You must have skimmed over the recent issue of SEED talking about the pressure of the White House to bury NSF research regarding climate change during this administration. That hardly sounds like an open-minded scientific policy of the Republican party. Where was the Republican outcry?

@Wallace: troll.

your right, the republicans don't, as an aspect of thier platform, dissuade science. However the Neo-Cons and the Religious Right do, and sadly the GOP base is overrun with the attitudes of these two groups. While they have a seat at the republican table science flounders.

Only on a few issues such as stem cell research, climate change, and evolution has bi-partisan consensus broken down ...

You forgot to include the Big Bang. One of Bush's political appointees was re-writing NASA reports to water down references to the Big Bang and the age of the universe, at least until the scientists finally revolted.

Do you serious think, as you post seems to imply, that these areas are just a trivial part of the scientific understanding of our world and it doesn't really matter that it is predominantly Republicans who deny them?

Biomedical science is an area few could argue against supporting because of potential health benefits and profits from biomedical inventions and discoveries. Unfortunately, withholding support for stem-cell research puts a big dent in some of biomedicine's modern potential. Moreover, funds for biomedicine are often not matched with blue-sky investigatory science, including physics. Witness the U.S.'s defunding of the large Hadron Supercollider in 1993, leading the way for European preeminence in high-energy physics. We are also slipping in space exploration, alternative energy studies (witness the European consortium on break-even fusion) and other fields in science. We need more public investment. People like Johnson won't fill in these gaps.

There's no doubt anti-science attitudes are in the mainstream of the Republican party. There are some in the Democratic party albeit in different areas. (Most anti-vaccine people I meet are liberals, for instance; ditto with most alternative medicine although I've met plenty of Republicans into that as well) With regards to the environment it used to be that a lot of environmentalists went well beyond science although you just don't hear about that as much anymore.

I suspect that when Obama wins in November things will change and we'll start to notice all the liberal special interest groups that are anti-science.

The reason we've noticed so many the past few years is the inexplicable politicization of global warming. (And frankly I think many global warming proponents hurt themselves hereby making it political which spiralled it out of control. Yes it's irrational but when the main spokesman is a former Democratic Presidential hopeful...) Then there are the issues attractive to the Evangelicals (who still are primarily voting Republican). That includes Creationism and Abstinence only education. Given that Obama's fairly strong outreach to Evangelicals isn't working as well as hoped I suspect that won't change.

What I will say though is that if we politicize science (i.e. make it seem like science is a Democratic issue rather than an issue for all of us) then bad things will happen. You intrinsically make it a one party issue. While I'm not a fan of McCain it is a great thing that he's the top Republican and is so pro-science. We need more Republicans like this so that science isn't politicized but is accepted by both parties! If Republicans who are pro-science aren't successful then chances are that half the time you'll not have good pro-science policies since Democrats aren't always going to win and are, to many people, wrong on many other issues outside of science.


You're already at the "troll dismissal" block of the TalkOrgins debate tactics flowchart (TODTF)? The reverse engineering of said flowchart should be at least as interesting as the Wedge document. Sad that you have such contempt for others' abilities to reason.

Tex, nice framing. Referring to the big bang and the "big bang theory" is now anti-science. LOL. Do you want have Obama author a bill requiring it to be referred to as the "Big Bang natural law"?

Rob Keys, while I disagree, I do wonder, even if true, for the sake of argument, why you're so concerned?

Sorry, BrianR, I forgot to respond to you. Anti- means to oppose. Even assuming you're correct, getting something wrong is not opposed.

For example, advocating socialism (getting it wrong) doesn't mean one is opposed to government.

William Wallace ... you can dissect the wording all you want ... advocating teaching non-science in science class is a giant step backwards. If you don't want to label it 'anti-science' and want to haggle over definitions, fine, I neither have the time nor energy for that. Bottom line: ID is NOT science and does not belong in science class. Why is this so difficult to understand?