As Scientists Leave GOP, Utah State Climatologist Warns, ‘Ignoring Science Comes With Risk’


The Salt Lake Tribune has a must-read piece, “Scientists leave GOP due to attitudes toward science.” The article notes that a 2009 Pew poll “found that just 6 percent of scientists call themselves part of the GOP now.”

Yet just a few decades ago, “Scientists used to be well represented among the nearly half of Americans who voted Republican.” The piece links to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes, which points out:

In the 1968 election, Richard Nixon won the votes of 31 percent of physicists, 42 percent of biologists, 52 percent of geologists, and 62 percent of agricultural scientists (compared with 43.4 percent of the popular vote).

So, what happened? The Utah paper quotes, Barry Bickmore, a Brigham Young University professor of geology and “onetime Republican caucus delegate in crimson-red Utah County in the nation’s reddest state”:

He contends his party is increasingly ruled by zealots and a demand for “ideological purity” that turns off scientists.

He says most examples are in the environmental sciences. And he points to the time in 2009 when majority-party Republicans in the Utah Capitol put climate-science doubters on a pedestal — while rejecting the mainstream scientist view about the danger global warming poses and even taking a beef about a Utah State University physicist to the university president.

“Scientists just don’t get those people,” he says of Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy about scientific questions on climate change, evolution and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”

Conway and Naomi Oreskes offer a similar answer: “the Republican Party has spurned science.” They note Mitt Romney’s flip flop on the issue:

As governor of Massachusetts in 2004, he laid out a plan for protecting the state’s climate. As presidential candidate, he has said that climate change is real, but has questioned whether humans are causing it.

But he wasn’t alone. Tim Pawlenty said back in March 2011, “Every one of us” running for president has flip-flopped on climate change. It was, famously, a former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, who attempted to inject some reality into the climate science debate during the GOP presidential primaries back in 2011, most notably with the tweet above. He was the guy who slammed Texas governor Rick Perry and the GOP for its anti-science denial: We Are “On the Wrong Side of Science and Therefore in a Losing Position.”


Of course he flat-lined in the polls and, briefly flirted with denial, and when he flopped back to the pro-science side, he still embraced his policy of climate inaction.

Even worse than the anti-science denial has been the anti-scientist witchhunts, which generally come from red-state politicians — see, for instance, “VA conservatives persist in bogus ‘Climategate’ witch-hunt against Michael Mann,” and “Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists.”

The Salt Lake Tribune quotes State Climatologist Rob Gillies about the dangers of rejecting science:

At the Utah Climate Center based at Utah State University, he sees invaluable solutions in research for everyday problems, such as how ski areas will survive the shrinking snow seasons and how to plan water supplies in the nation’s second-driest state.

“Ignoring science,” he says, “comes with risk.”

Texas climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure making clear just what kind of risk is posed by 2100 if we keep taking no serious action (derived from the NOAA-led report):

That would give a whole new meaning to the term “red state.”