Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without scientists? Ask the Republican Party. It lives in such a world. Republicans have been so successful in driving out of their party anyone who endeavors in scientific inquiry that pretty soon there won't be anyone left who can distinguish a periodic table from a kitchen table.
It is no wonder the Republican throngs showing up to disrupt town hall meetings on health care reform are so gullible, willing to believe absurd claims like the coming of "death panels." Their party is nearly devoid of neuroscientists, astrophysicists, marine biologists or any other scientific professional who would insist on intellectual rigor, objective evidence and sound reasoning as the basis for public policy development. The people left don't have that kind of discipline and don't expect it from their leaders. They are willing to believe anything some right-wing demagogue with a cable show or pulpit tells them, no matter how outlandish.
Since the Sonia Sotomayor nomination we've been hearing about the GOP's Hispanic deficit. Only 26 percent of Latino registered voters now say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. But that's a full house compared with scientists. Only 12 percent of scientists in a poll issued last month by the Pew Research Center say they are Republican or lean toward the GOP, while fully 81 percent of scientists say they are Democrats or lean Democratic.
We shouldn't be surprised that people who are open to evidence-based thinking have abandoned the Republican Party. The GOP has proudly adopted the mantle of the "Terri Schiavo, global warming shwarming" party with the Bush administration helping cement the image by persistently subverting science to serve a religious agenda or corporate greed.
But what worries me is not the shrunken relevancy of the GOP, a party in which 56 percent of its members oppose funding of embryonic stem cell research, 39 percent believe humans have always existed on Earth in their present form, and in which only 30 percent say human activity is warming the planet. It is that this nation's future depends upon people who don't think that way and the Republican Party is closing the door to them.
Every hope we have to invent our way out of this economic malaise and create enough Information Age jobs to maintain a stable and prosperous middle class sits on the shoulders of people who understand and practice the scientific method. Every hope we have of advancing human understanding of the physical universe and bettering our lives in it, is tied to professionals now represented by only one of our nation's two major political parties — while the other party attempts to obstruct them.
Global warming is a prime example.
Earth is under siege by CO2 emissions to a point that the Pentagon is warning that our national security is at risk if climate change is not arrested. All Americans and politicians should be united for collective action. Yet George Bush spent essentially his entire presidency ignoring and suppressing scientific concerns.
Even today, with the effects of global warming evident, Republicans in Congress are trying to bury the cap-and-trade energy bill, the nation's first attempt (albeit not strong enough) to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Their alternative is to offer nothing.
Why are they so blind to the looming crisis? Because to embrace what scientists are saying about global warming would give political liberals a win, something the GOP leadership is not wont to do. Republicans build their political careers disdaining "elitists" with a good education, complex charts and empirical data. They see it to their political advantage to rally people to distrust science.
That means our nation is only likely to advance to meet the heady scientific challenges of the future, on health and the environment — advancements that translate directly into economic progress and rising living standards — if the Democrats remain in power with substantial majorities.
But if the nation's economic situation doesn't turn around soon, a GOP resurgence could very well come. Then scientists will once again be on the defensive against a Republican Party that left them behind in favor of the Tea Party crowd, the birthers, and the people who shout at town halls that government better keep its hands off their Medicare.
Theirs is a world without scientists, and scary doesn't begin to describe it.