Tragic consequences of the politicization of science in the USA

Exactly when the Republican Party became anti-science is difficult to determine, but the process likely began in the 1980s, when the Christian right first emerged as a major force in American conservative politics.

Since then, the journey has been smooth and fast. In 1982, 50 percent of self-proclaimed Republicans told the US General Social Survey they had “great faith” in the scientific community. Twenty years later, 50 percent had become 40 percent, and last year only a third of Republicans held that view, compared to two-thirds of Democrats.

Chart showing Republicans have become anti-science party

It would be easy to dismiss this trend as merely annoying — an impediment to climate change progress and a source of irritation at extended family gatherings — but over the past 18 months, politicizing attitudes toward science has directly cost as many as 60,000 American lives.

This is the clear implication of a new study from the Yale School of Public Healthwhich found that since Covid vaccines became widely available in the US, the death rate of registered Republicans in Ohio and Florida rose 33 percent during America’s winter Covid wave last year, compared to a rise of just 10 percent in the United States the democrats.

The chart shows that since the availability of Covid vaccines, Republicans are dying at a much higher rate than Democrats

The two groups’ mortality trends had tracked each other closely prior to the pandemic, and both surged together in 2020, but when science presented the world with a protective shield, Republicans were reluctant to accept it.

To be clear, anti-vaccine sentiment is hardly the sole preserve of the American right, but the breadth and depth of politicization and polarization in the US far surpasses what we see elsewhere in the developed world. By May 2021, with all U.S. adults eligible for vaccination, less than half of Republicans accepted the offer, compared to 82 percent of Democrats. Across the Atlantic, Britain was much more united: Labor and Conservative voters alike turned out in droves, with 90 per cent of eligible adults vaccinated. Even among supporters of the populist, anti-establishment Reform Party, 70 percent spoke out.

French and German politics could not escape politicization. According to the latest data, 40 per cent of people in the areas most supportive of Germany’s alternative have yet to be vaccinated, compared with a third of people in the areas most supportive of French populist parties – but these pale in comparison to the Core countries of the GOP, where more than 55 percent are still vaccine refusers.

Chart showing mortality gradient between areas of high and low populist support steepened after Covid vaccines became available, particularly in the US

Since vaccines became available, Covid death rates are almost three times higher in Republican areas than in Democrat-dominated ones.

As pandemics are likely to be a recurring part of our future, anti-vaccination attitudes and the populist movements they sustain will continue to stymie public health campaigns around the world. But no developed country has a problem as entrenched and deadly as the US., @jburnmurdoch Tragic consequences of the politicization of science in the USA

Adam Bradshaw

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