1) "The theory of evolution is a myth." 2) "The government should not fund stem cell research." 3) "Vaccinations cause autism." 4) "Funding for the NSF does not belong in a stimulus bill." 5) "We should repeal the Clean Air Act." 6) "Climate Change is a hoax."
Let's start with the easy question: What is similar about all of these statements?
Answer: They are beliefs commonly touted by many conservatives, and are mocked, in turn, by liberals- (although some liberals also agree with statement "3").
Ok, now what is a major difference among these statements?
Answer: Statements 1, 3, and 6 (Group A) are all contradicted by scientific evidence and are not factual. People who believe in them, either don't know or don't care about the empirical findings of scientific research. Statements 2, 4, and 5 (Group B), however, are merely political arguments. There is perhaps a strong correlation between belief in 1, 3, and 6 AND advocacy for 2, 4, and 5, but this does not mean that the two categories are equivalent.
And I believe that this distinction is essential.
If you've read the "Republican War on Science" or many of the posts on Scienceblogs, people will blithely cite, within the same post or sentence, statements from both categories A and B as evidence of the shear philistinism of conservatives or Republicans.
The problem is, people who understand both the possibilities and limitations of science should know better than to conflate these two categories. A true empiricist ought to realize that a fellow empiricist, no matter how seemingly unsuitable his political beliefs, can, at least theoretically, reject Group A while accepting Group B. For example, one might oppose government funding of stem cell research on moral grounds. Or he may not be morally opposed to stem cell research, but believes that public policy should defer to the opinions those who oppose such research. Or perhaps such funding simply conflicts with his views about the proper role of government. The notion that "Legitimate human life morally starts only starts after 'such and such' time," is non-falsifiable, as "legitimate human life" is personally, rather than scientifically, defined. Thus, there is no reason to believe that someone's opinions about the ethics of abortion, stem cell research, and arguably even birth control has anything to do with science, so long as one does not justify such beliefs with unscientific claims.
Some people, for whatever reason, might not believe that the Clean Air Act was a good law. I am reluctant to list such reasons, for one, because I know nothing about the law, but, more importantly, because heated counter-arguments would obfuscate my main point, which is: One's political beliefs, no matter how objectionable, are not necessarily related to one's recognition of the value of the scientific method, empirically-derived knowledge, Reason, or objective standards of evidence. Information derived from Science might help inform our opinions about morality or politics, but our conclusions are ultimately based on personally-formulated ethical "first principles" (i.e. "Do no harm," "Government is a good/bad tool for solving social problems" etc.).
So eager are some scientists to denounce their ideological foes, such scientists betray the public by implying that "science says" that certain legislation ought to be passed, or that certain moral opinions ought to be espoused by all defenders of Reason. They do a disservice to their readers, making it seem as if non-falsifiable statements fall under the purview of science. Thus, the public's understanding of the way science works diminishes. "Politicizing" science can exist on both sides of the aisle.
I can think of one circumstance for which the political is inextricably linked to the scientific, in which case the liberal scientist politicos have a legitimate argument. This involves the issue of advancing false statements within the public sphere to gain a preferred political resolution. In this case, the only moral first principle is "Do not lie"- a principle so nearly equivalent to "Embrace science," that I would concede liberal scientists' stances in applicable cases. Such a situation might include advocacy of the teaching of creationism in biology class, within the public schools. Additionally, while there is nothing "unscientific" about opposing a cap-and-trade policy, if one advertises against such a policy by using bogus data to "show" that "climate change doesn't exist," he would be making unscientific, non-factual statements. The same principle applies to someone who conjures up false epidemiological data to "prove" a purported link between abortion and breast cancer. As a "social liberal," I would usually agree with the liberal scientists, in these cases. However, my opinion is that the relationship between scientific reality and political expediency is, nevertheless, quite messy. When otherwise-empirically-sound scientists leave academia and enter think tank headquarters, they occasionally "skew" or "pick and choose" facts and figures, perhaps out of a political or moral belief that the "ends justify the means," or simply due to plain, old cognitive dissonance. In other words, in politics, much more than in science, (nearly) "everybody lies."
The bottom line is- If someone espouses counterfactual information, call him anti-science. However, if he simply opposes your science-related political opinions, call him something else.
I am a medical student in California. Disclaimer: I take patient privacy very seriously. When I talk about a 22-year-old, 5"5, 125 lb. African-American female with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, please understand that my real patient might be a 65-year-old, 6"2, 220 lb. Caucasian patient with lung cancer. In other words, I have completely distorted the facts about my patients, and sometimes even completely made up stories. Additionally, I am not a licensed physician, and you should trust your grandma's shaman for medical advice before you trust this blog.