Republicans in recent years have often been portrayed as antiscience. In that regard, their front-runner for the 2012 presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, seems straight out of central casting.

The prominent reasons are his high-profile refusals to accept the scientific consensus on human evolution and global warming. He also leads one of the nation's worst-performing states in terms of elementary- and secondary-school achievement, and has questioned basic rationales for a robust public-university system.

And yet for university researchers wondering what the Perry approach would mean on a national scale, there's at least some cause for guarded optimism. Cancer researchers are chief among the pockets of Texas researchers enjoying flush times. Scientists at midsize research institutions are also getting positive attention. And Mr. Perry stood with scientists, and against some in his own party, in promoting a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

Even the many Texas scientists who oppose their governor's stances on evolution and climate change agree that—unlike the Republican state leaders investigating climate research at the University of Virginia, or the Georgia governor who fired the state climatologist at the University of Georgia—Mr. Perry largely leaves them alone.

"I am unaware of any direct interference from Governor Perry with scientists at state universities," said David M. Hillis, a professor of natural sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who has criticized Mr. Perry for his skepticism toward evolution.

"As far as they're concerned," Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, said of Mr. Perry and his administration, "we don't exist."

Mr. Perry, who became governor in December 2000, when George W. Bush resigned to become president, announced his own presidential candidacy last month. Nationwide polls since then have shown him to be the top choice among Republicans, and in a close matchup with President Obama.

The country's economic troubles have brought an end to years of steady and sometimes strong increases in federally financed scientific research, and that trend may continue regardless of whether Mr. Obama or a Republican nominee wins the presidency next year.

Still, a replacement of Mr. Obama by Mr. Perry could have important implications for how hard the White House presses to rebuild the federal commitment to science, and under what conditions. In the overall need to cut the federal budget, Mr. Obama has repeatedly called for protecting scientific research spending

'Prayer for Rain'

Mr. Perry, like Mr. Bush, is known for unimpressive grades in college and is reputed to have little curiosity about the world of scientific exploration. In response to record drought conditions this year in Texas, Mr. Perry issued a proclamation calling for three days of "prayer for rain," but has not consulted with his state climatologist, John W. Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University who believes man-made climate change to be a contributing factor.

"The things of nature cause nothing" under such a philosophy, said Gerald D. Skoog, a professor emeritus and co-director of the Center for the Integration of Science Education & Research at Texas Tech University, "and the need to study science is reduced or eliminated."

The last three people selected by Mr. Perry to serve as chairs of the State Board of Education—Don McLeroy, Gail Lowe, and Barbara Cargill—have all made statements critical of the theory of evolution. The chairmanships of Dr. McLeroy and Ms. Lowe ended after the State Senate refused to support their appointments; Ms. Cargill won't be subject to the confirmation process until 2013.

Dr. McLeroy is a dentist. Ms. Lowe is a co-publisher of a semiweekly newspaper. Ms. Cargill is the founder of a science camp for children run by the United Methodist Church. Their selection by Governor Perry for the leadership of the education board, which sets statewide curriculum standards, "may not have been made on the basis of the selected person's view on science and evolution in particular, but it is difficult to perceive otherwise," Mr. Skoog said.

Led by gubernatorial appointees whose qualifications are political rather than educational, the board has "done a very poor job of promoting sound, modern science" in Texas classrooms, said Mr. Hillis, who was appointed by the Board of Education in 2008 to help review science-curriculum standards. "As a result," he said, "many Texas students are arriving at college very poorly prepared to major in the sciences." Texas students rank 49th in the nation in average verbal SAT scores, 46th in mathematics SAT scores, 47th in literacy, and 36th in high-school graduation rates.

At the university level, faculty are concerned by Governor Perry's questioning of the role of research, Mr. Skoog and others said. One recent high-profile example was the controversial hiring by the University of Texas system of Rick O'Donnell, a consultant from a foundation with close ties to the governor, who challenged the usefulness of much of the research conducted in universities. Mr. O'Donnell was dismissed after six weeks.

Valuing Science

Clearly, however, Mr. Perry sees some value in science. He pushed for creation of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which since 2005 has given more than $360-million to private companies and more than a dozen universities. He also established the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which began giving awards for cancer research in 2010, with plans to spend $3-billion in state money over 10 years.
He also championed the approval by Texas voters in November 2009 of a ballot initiative to spend $500-million trying to turn seven Texas universities into top-level research institutions comparable to the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

A spokeswoman for the governor, asked whether his record reflected support for scientific discovery, gave a written response that did not deal with matters of evolution and climate change. Lucy Nashed, the spokeswoman, instead emphasized Mr. Perry's work to align public-school curricula with the needs of colleges and employers, and his record of support for "hundreds of millions of dollars in the development of cutting-edge technologies" to reinforce Texas' status as a global research leader.

"As Governor Perry has said, he believes Texas has the potential to become the next Silicon Valley," Ms. Nashed said.

In terms of its financial commitment to high-tech research, Texas is clearly a leader, said Dan Berglund, president and chief executive of the State Science and Technology Institute, which tracks state spending on technology-based economic development.

"Texas is where Texas likes to be, which is either leading the nation or at the front of the pack," Mr. Berg­lund said.

Money, in fact, lurks as a central factor in much of Mr. Perry's attitude toward science and education. While a sharp critic of federal spending, the governor has criticized cuts in the U.S. space program, through which NASA's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, supports some 3,000 civilian employees and 12,000 contract workers at outside companies.

And his controversial support for mandatory vaccinations of girls against the human papillomavirus, despite his and his party's general advocacy of individual freedoms, has been overshadowed by suggestions that he may have been largely motivated by political and financial support from the drug maker ­Merck, which has exclusive rights to the HPV vaccine.

In the end, that emphasis on the financial benefits of science and education, along with the governor's tendency to question research that doesn't fit his political agenda, is part of an attitude that university researchers in Texas see as statewide and deeply troubling.

Outside of areas where research is believed to drive economic growth, public education at all levels in Texas labors under a tight-budget approach. In this year's State of the State address, Mr. Perry pressed colleges to create programs through which students could earn bachelor's degrees for no more than $10,000.

And while Texas is one of the top-ranked states in overall research support, its activity is less impressive when adjusted for its size. Data compiled by the National Science Foundation show Texas near the bottom when its research-and-development expenditures are measured as a share of gross domestic product.

A jobs-based approach to science spending also has its limits if not accompanied by strong support for basic research, experts said. Some of the most successful states, in terms of converting science spending into economic growth, were led by governors such as Richard F. Celeste of Ohio, John M. Engler and Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan, Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, and James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, Mr. Berglund said. "None of those people are scientists," he said, "but that doesn't stop them from appreciating the importance of science in higher education."

Mr. Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, who was appointed by Mr. Bush late in his final term as governor, said he is grateful that during 10 years of the Perry administration, he hasn't been pressured to change his position on the burning of fossil fuels, which he believes contributes to climate change.

Seasonal occurrences like El Niño and La Niña clearly bear the largest share of responsibility for cycles of floods and drought in Texas, including this year's especially dry conditions through much of the state, Mr. Nielsen-Gammon said. But man-made climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme wet and dry conditions, and it's likely to become an even stronger factor in the future, he said. The Perry administration, so far, has chosen not to listen to his advice.

"I'm puzzled," Mr. Nielsen-Gammon said. "I would think that with climate change being an important issue, that he'd want to consult with the best scientists available. I'm not saying I'm the best, but I've been appointed for that purpose."