Right or left

When Barack Obama promised in his 2009 inaugural address that “we will restore science to its rightful place,” he invoked not so much a debate as a set of widely shared assumptions. According to conventional wisdom, liberals and Democrats are the party of reason and science; conservatives and Republicans are the party of religion and patriotic symbols. As Drew Westen, a psychotherapist, recently expressed it in a New York Times op-ed, “Whereas Democrats have carried forward the belief in the role of science and knowledge in improving our lives, Republicans have moved in increasingly anti-intellectual directions.” This way of stating the division, needless to say, is itself liberal and Democratic. While many conservatives (with notable exceptions) agree that religion is an important source of beliefs and public policies, probably few consider themselves anti-intellectual. Yet the impression that the physical and social sciences are to liberalism what religion is to conservatism goes mostly unquestioned on either side.