Political Polarization

Elkanah Tisdale, 1812 (Public Domain)

The current levels of political polarization and partisanship, which we are keenly aware of in the wake of the US Federal Government shutdown, get blamed on many factors, especially the bogeyman of new technology, the internet and social media.

Political critic Dan Carlin makes the point in his most recent Common Sense podcast (“The Shutdown Sideshow” at about 8:30) that increased political polarization should be an expected consequence of increased gerrymandering. In gerrymandered voting districts engineered to effectively guarantee the victory of a particular party, the winner of the election is primarily determined by the party primary elections. The winner of the party primaries is determined by each party’s “base” voters.

The inevitable result of such a system is the election of progressively more extreme politicians selected by gerrymandered districts, which effectively cut the majority of moderate voters out of the process. Responses to the activity of these politicians would then drive polarization among voters.

Is Dan Carlin right on this one? I cannot say for certain, but after five minutes of thought, it seems like increased political polarization is the expected consequence of an increasingly gerrymandered system, with or without modern communication technology. The burden of proof, therefore, falls more heavily on those arguing that it is the result of some other factor (eg, internet) or that political polarization has not increased.

For Sale; 1 Vote, Price: “Science” or Best Offer

This was originally a guest post at Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Culture of ScienceIn light of Romney’s “defeat” of Obama in the Science Debate, I thought it was worth revisiting, as some of the points may help explain why Obama’s responses seemed to reflect minimal time, effort, and concern with the debate.

Perhaps my earliest political memory came from presidential election coverage in, let’s call it 1988. I distinctly recall a portion of a news segment on voting experiences in which a Catholic priest described the ghosts of his ancestors compelling him to vote a straight Democratic ticket.

I think about that priest when I hear the “why is the Republican party anti-science?” discussion and I wonder. While we can debate whether Republicans are more anti-science than Democrats[1], the rhetoric of Republican politicians is certainly more hostile toward science and the scientific establishment. When confronted with such statements about your colleagues, yourself, and your field of work, it is natural to wonder “why?”. Continue reading “For Sale; 1 Vote, Price: “Science” or Best Offer”

Linkonomicon V

from Nerdist


To my American eyes, the media reporting and political discussion around the Bailey[1] Sexualization Report pretty much looks like this:

Which is pretty much the same way the US media and politicians treat issues that don’t involve making hard decisions about national direction and goals.


  1. Who knew that mothers were unionized here in the UK? Shhh, don’t tell Dr. Mrs. Rugbyologist.