Reading through the comments on Richard’s post, I noticed one from Brian Clegg that touched on an issue I raised in the comments section stemming from one of my sillier posts. Here is Brian’s comment:
I add my ‘Yipeee!’ – I hope however, the fact that no one at all seems to have said on NN ’I’m sad, I wanted McCain to win’ doesn’t mean that any Republicans out there are intimidated by the overwhelming support for the other side.
I understand why many scientists are happier with the Democrats, but I hope NN is a broad enough place not to be politically segregationalist.
We can easily broaden this to include all of the biological sciences in academia, which is exactly what I did.
Much of the beginning of my comment was tongue-in-cheek for the tighter among you, and I would now like to narrow the scope to include only the broad discipline I know best (biological sciences; I was called out for lumping physics and economics with biology and it is true that I have no idea what the academic political environment is like for those fields). Anyway, here is what I said:
I do have to say that in my experience, the academic environment can be quite harsh and unforgiving to those who do not tend to wear their tree-hugging, dolphin-saving, peace-loving, rich-bashing, gun-hating, religion-mocking, Michael Moore-reveling tendencies on their sleeves.
I like to consider myself more of a “skeptic”, with left-leaning views in general. Social issues, the environment, and guns – Go Democrats! I’m more in the middle on foreign policy and economically/financially, I have to say that I am more conservative. So when I played “devil’s advocate” at times with flaming lefties out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, I came quite under fire.
Right-wing evangelical conservatives[eds. note: no intention here to equate right-wing with evangelical. I am specifically referring to “right-wing evangelicals”; strike-through is added here] certainly do not have the “crazy” market cornered, in my experience.
I think this causes many scientists to come out hard left to simply not sound uneducated around their colleagues; call this the scientific Bradley effect. This may be especially true amongst younger academic scientists who feel they have to carefully control the overall impression they convey to those with power over their future (like graduate advisers, postdoc advisers, senior scientists on tenure boards, etc…).
And just to clarify, these statements mainly refer to the students, post-docs and investigators rather than the support staff, who tend to better reflect the political viewpoints of the region in which the academic institution is situated. I think that I am now done (hopefully) with all of the necessary qualifiers to quell the immediate corrective responses to my original fast-and-loose comment, allowing us to move into the substance of the issue.
Although the topic gained some traction in the comments, I feel that it is interesting enough to open it up again to a broader audience and get some additional opinions. Or perhaps you could share your experience with the tidal wave of democratic support in the world of academic biologists.
In addition, does anyone have any experience with the political environment of a drug company or biotech firm? James Aach gave an account of his time with the nuclear power industry and shared this:
I’d say a very high percentage of nuclear power workers are very conservative politically. Many come in that way, but a second factor is that some of the views expressed by the less-conservative US party are not only “against” nuclear as an energy source (fine, that’s a judgment call) but also embrace open hostility and some extreme positions that are scientifically unsustainable. I think that pushes nuclear people toward “conservative” politics. (When a political party goes directly after your job, it gets your attention. Especially if you think the reasoning is dubious.) I can think of a few other technical and science jobs where the effect would be the same, but headed in the other political direction
Extrapolating, James’ comment makes me believe that in “Big Pharma” and perhaps even in “Small Biotech Upstart”, the atmosphere may not be so republican-challenged as academia is.