Between my original post about how to punish creationist politicians and ScienceBlogling Greg’s discussion, several readers commented that I was making this a political issue. Quite simply, I am not the only doing that: the Republican theopolitical conservative base is. The issue is, do we fight back, or lose due to their political power?
The creationists might not be able to defeat the reality of the existence of evolution, but they can defeat every effort to teach and study that reality. So, like it or not, evolution has become a political issue, and it must not only be taught in classroom but defended in the corridors of power. I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but there’s no choice in the matter–that’s why we need to develop strategies, including legislative ones, that reward pro-science legislators and punish anti-science ones.
That brings me to another point, and one that I think subtly underlies the complaint: politics is not inherently bad. Politics is how we decide things. Forget about creationism for a minute. Suppose there were a new funding initiative that would fund research on E. coli and Drosophila, but the amounts spent on each organism had not been decided. Ultimately, this would be decided by a political process. Hopefully, the process would be informed by scientific arguments, but many arguments, taken at face value, would be equivalent (my colleagues are very, very tricksy). One person might decide to be Solomonic, and split the funding 50-50. Someone else might argue that the funding should reflect the frequency of proposals for each organism. Others would argue that the ‘underrepresented’ organism should receive disproportionately more money to encourage research on that organism. No doubt, opponents would argue that the ‘predominant’ organism should receive even more money in order to capitalize on the critical mass in that field.
To anyone who has ever been involved in funding decisions and battles, this will sound painfully familiar. While part of the decision will be based on science, another part will be based on pure politicking: a scientist knows an influential decision maker, someone’s district has an infectious disease center (i.e., works on E. coli), or organizes other scientists (and non-scientists) to exert more effective pressure.
The reason I use this example is because it doesn’t contain trigger words (except for the microbiologists and drosophilists). And, honestly, in the hypothetical example, all of the arguments could be legitimate ones (although I’m biased towards E. coli). Now, apply it to the evolution ‘controversy’, and it becomes painfully obvious just how important politics are.
There’s no science fairy–most of the research discussed on ScienceBlogs involves federal funding. That means politics. That’s not a necessarily a bad thing, unless scientists (and other pro-science citizens) choose to ignore the political process.