Scientific Mind 8/23/21

Opinion by Richard Bleil

On my social media page, yesterday (as of the writing of this blog) a friend had posted a meme that read, “Six percent of scientists are Republican. Scientists cannot explain why the number is so large.”

Funny post, but as it turns out, it’s true. According to a new Pew survey, a significantly lower percentage of scientists are Republican when compared with the general population. When you account for conservative leaning scientists, the percentage jumps to about twelve percent, which is still significantly lower than the general population. What surprised me more is how many scientists (roughly 55%) are Democratic (compared to 45% of the general Public). Personally, I find this surprising as they are not Independents (32%, even lower than the general public at 34%). I myself am independent because I won’t align myself with the thinking of a party, but to be fair, it’s possible that more scientists are registered as democratic in order to vote in the primaries which I do not.

Scientists are a fascinating lot. I (try) to play music, dabble in art (sketch and acrylic painting although it has been quite a while), and cook. If you walk into a scientist’s office, you’re far more likely to find books on history, art, music and other liberal arts than you are likely to find science books in a liberal artist’s office. Historically scientists are often fabulous artists because they would sketch out things that they find in the field or laboratory for their notes, often in great and beautiful detail. One of the premiere anatomy books was written by Gray (“Gray’s Anatomy”, after which a television series was named) and it is still widely referenced today. It did not contain pictures, but rather sketches of anatomical structures, which has the advantage over photographs of being able to play with shadowing and ignoring things like blood and fluids making it easier to see the finer and more important details. You’ll find several of these gray scale sketches available in other books, posters, and even online.

Personally, I think the reason that scientists are much more likely to engage in liberal arts is because the scientist is more interested in the world in general. Pure artists often try to reflect the world in their art, but will rarely ask “why?” They’re more interested in aesthetics (in my humble opinion) than finding the underlying reality.

In one of his autobiography, Richard Feynman (a physicist) related the story of a time he was being “chided” in a museum by a friend, who, as they admired a painting, said how sorry she felt for him. On inquiry, she explained that as a scientists, all he sees is the chemistry and physics, and he cannot possibly appreciate the skills, the brushstrokes, the techniques of the artist. Richard, rightly, explained that he very much appreciates those things, but he also appreciates the dancing of the electrons that give rise to the colors, and the chemistry of the paint holding the pigments in place. Yes, scientists see beauty just as much as anybody else, but we also have an appreciation for the underlying mechanisms of that beauty.

Political science is no different. I believe that scientists are more likely to see and recognize the actions of the parties, and how they harm or hurt other people. Scientists are less likely to be concerned about personal wealth, and more concerned about the state of the people. They will be less swayed by the promise of great wealth through tax reform (which, by the way, have only really helped the super wealthy since Reagan, although the Republican party has continued with his “trickle-down” economic theory despite the fact that it has been disproved multiple times). They are, however, more likely to watch the statistics and be influenced by those who are harmed by funding cuts to public health, the arts, the environment and such.

The reality is that the world is a fascinating place. The laws that govern the world are elegant, and just as looking at that painting elicit imagery of dancing electrons, listening to music gives rise to thoughts of patterns of frequencies, watching performances deepens appreciation of interrelationships of people, and political actions makes connections of cause and effect. We’re all people. I am watching my cat on her tree, and thinking about what she must be wanting, why it is so joyful for her, and the coordination of mind and muscle that allowed her to climb up there in the first place.

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