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Republicans Have It Backwards When It Comes to Science

Climate change, alongside income inequality, rates as the greatest challenge of our time.

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Unfortunately, “Thou shall understand scientific facts” is found nowhere in the Bible. More troubling still is that the Christian Right provides the foot soldiers for the Republican Party, which has profound implications for not only the GOP’s ideological agenda, but also the nation’s efforts to deal intelligently with complex economic, social, and environmental problems.

While many of us may be a little foggy on the details, most are aware that when it comes to science and modernity, things are pretty bad in the Republican controlled states of the Bible belt. If you’re looking for laugh-out-loud-cry-on-the-inside specifics, consider that in the state of Mississippi, more than 60 percent of school districts have adopted a “sex-ed” curriculum that instructs teachers to conduct purity preservation exercises, like one that asks students to unwrap a piece of chocolate, pass it around class and observe how dirty it becomes.

Marie Barnard, a Mississippi public health worker and parent, told the Los Angeles Times: “They're using the Peppermint Pattie to show that a girl is no longer clean or valuable after she's had sex—that she's been used. That shouldn't be the lesson we send kids about sex.” In Mississippi, abstinence-only is taught instead of contraception use. Unsurprisingly, Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, followed by a swathe of red states that include New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

California’s teen birth rate has dropped nearly 60 percent since the expansion of sex education programs, but blue states tend turn towards science rather than Leviticus when it comes dealing intelligently with their problems. In fact, the states with the lowest rates of teen pregnancy include liberal bastions New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

Last week, the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire released new polling data to demonstrate how ever apparent the “science gap” is widening between those who live in reality (Democrats mostly) versus those who live in the alternative universe (Republicans mostly), and the results are more shocking than even the most ardent conservative basher (i.e. me) would’ve dared to predict.

The survey asked 568 New Hampshire resident a variety of questions including the following: "Would you say that you trust, don't trust, or are unsure about scientists as a source of information about environmental issues?" The report then broke down the responses by party, separating out members of the Tea Party from more mainstream or establishment Republicans. The result is startling:

Climate change, alongside income inequality, rates as the greatest challenge of our time, but whereas 83 percent of Democrats trust scientists on the environment, only 28 percent of Tea Partiers do likewise.

Lawrence Hamilton, the head researcher for the survey, says he's surprised by the strength of these results. "I didn't realize it would be at the level of division that it was," says Hamilton. While he acknowledges that New Hampshire is not all of America, Hamilton says he “would expect similar gaps to show up” across all states.

That only 28 percent of the far right trust scientists on the subject of, well, you know, SCIENCE is extraordinary. Hamilton thinks that the right-wing echo chamber is leading climate deniers to break up with scientists in general. "Climate change is sort of bleeding over into a lower trust in science across a range of issues," says Hamilton. That means the consequences are not limited to the climate issue. "The critiques of climate science work by often arguing that science is corrupt, and then that spills over to other kinds of science," Hamilton observes. His observation is supported by a study that found regular watching of Fox News, in particular, leads to a declining trust in climate scientists.

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