Will a March Help Science?

As scientists and science advocates plan demonstrations in Washington, DC, and around the world, some question the ability of such activism to enact change. 

By | February 2, 2017

WIKIMEDIA

Over the last several days, as President Donald Trump signed one executive order after another, scientists across the U.S. were connecting to prepare a March for Science on Washington, DC. Yesterday, the organizers announced an official date for the demonstration—April 22, Earth Day. But amidst the excitement surrounding the event, some scientists have argued that a march may not be the best way to effect change.  

In a widely circulated New York Times opinion article, coastal geologist Robert Young of Western Carolina University argued that the march is “a terrible idea,” as it could deepen the divide between conservatives and liberals, reinforce the idea that scientists are a political interest group, and ultimately increase the size of an existing echo chamber within the community.

“There’s a section of the American electorate—whether we like to acknowledge it or not—that has become skeptical of science. . . . I don’t think that scientists standing in Washington, giving speeches and holding signs, is going to convince those people that they need to pay attention to our concerns,” Young told The Scientist. “Somehow, as a community, those of us who care about science need to find a way to communicate with those folks,” he continued. “It has to be direct communication or ways that . . . we have not imagined yet.”

Young’s article was met with significant backlash on Twitter, as critics emphasized that science is—and has always been—political. “Science is not politicized because scientists are citizens or have political preferences. They always have been and do,” NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt tweeted.

“Science is already politicized on the left and right over certain issues,” biologist Danielle Lee, a visiting assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, told The Scientist.

“I don’t think that by having a march we’re creating that connection between science and politics,” said Jacqueline Gill, an assistant professor of ecology and biology at the University of Maine and a founding organizer of the March for Science. “That connection has always been there.”

“I think [the march] is a tremendous way of building what I see as solidarity and unity around the celebration of science and that in and of itself is not divisive, it’s unity,” Gill added. “There will absolutely be anger and frustration, as well, but the idea is that this is meant to be a pro-science event, not an anti-Trump event.”

However, Young said he worries that the march will “reinforce the narrative . . . that scientists do, in fact, have it in for the administration already—that scientists are predisposed to have a political bias against a new party being in power in Washington.”

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist New York University, expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter. “I’d join a scientists’ march on Washington. But this one aims for diversity in everything except politics,” he wrote.

“This is not the most effective strategy for convincing Congress that science is nonpartisan,” Haidt wrote in a later tweet. He instead said to “make a direct statement,” citing the Academics Against Immigration Executive Order petition, which he and more than 14,000 other scientists have signed to date. Haidt said he was unavailable for comment by press time.

See “US Immigration Ban Affects Scientists

See “Scientists Offer Lab Space for Stranded Peers

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tweeted that the march “compromises its goals with anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric.” This concern, he explained, centered on an early description of the event posted to the March of Science webpage, which has since been updated.

The now-replaced description read: “many issues about which scientists as a group have largely remained silent—attacks on black & brown lives, oil pipelines through indigenous lands, sexual harassment and assault, ADA access in our communities, immigration policy, lack of clean water in several cities across the country, poverty wages, LGBTQIA rights, and mass shootings are scientific issues. Science has historically—and generally continues to support discrimination. In order to move forward as a scientific community, we must address and actively work to unlearn our problematic past and present, to make science available to everyone.” (A full archived version can be viewed here.)

“You take science, which is a unified toolkit that spans all ethnicities, genders, religions, races, et cetera, and we have a common cause,” said evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago. “Then you split it up by using the social justice agenda, which divides people, and I think that's going to eliminate a lot of scientists from wanting to march.”

“I adhere to that agenda by and large,” Coyne told The Scientist, “but I want to march for [scientific] truth.”

The March for Science website’s revised statement endorses diversity and solidarity with minority and oppressed groups more generally. “The current [description] is different and I support it wholeheartedly,” Pinker wrote in an email.

“People need to acknowledge there is going to be diversity of messages because there is a diversity of scientists and science-lovers that will be participating. I think that is a feature, not a bug,” Gill said. “We have been aware from the beginning that there have been concerns about diversity and there has been pushback against us talking about it, but it has remained a core mission of the central organizing team.”

“I haven’t come out for or against [the march] yet, I just made it perfectly clear that if it wasn’t intentionally inclusive, I wouldn’t be a part of it,” said Lee. “In other words, seeing how they’re handling the critics and the pushback is important for me to know.”

Both march skeptics and advocates agreed, however, that additional action is needed to resist the current administration’s anti-science rhetoric and proposals. “There are lots of things you can do to support science—call your elected officials, especially when scientific issues come out,” said Gill. However they choose to do so, she added, scientists “need to become more visible.”

Further reading

Q&A: Marching for Science in San Francisco,” The Scientist, February 15, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Houston,” The Scientist, February 13, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Lansing,” The Scientist, February 8, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Anchorage,” The Scientist, February 6, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Cleveland,” The Scientist, February 2, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Eugene,” The Scientist, February 2, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Buffalo,” The Scientist, February 1, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Atlanta,” The Scientist, January 30, 2017

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Avatar of: wctopp

wctopp

Posts: 110

February 2, 2017

All of the plusses and minuses above r.e. a march take it as a given that the march will be successful.  For all the sound and fury, what I see is a big danger is that the march largely fizzles, turnout limited to a few hundred graduate students and post-docs.  If that happens it would allow Trump to boast that 'see, most scientists actually agree with me' and shut his mind further.  Worse, he could use a fizzled march as an excuse to selectively cut funding along the lines of his mistaken beliefs, secure that most of 'us' share those beliefs.  We're not dealing here with someone who listens to advice from anyone not a close associate.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

February 2, 2017

Its obvious that the relationship of government to science and education has already been heavily politicized by right wing politicians and other interest groups that view science and scientists as a problem that needs to be controlled by government.  Its been building and gathering force for decades with only muted and limited interest from the scientific community in countering it.  Example: teaching creationism in grade school biology classes is much more wide spread and common in US public, as well as private, schools than most seem to realize. The unifying principle of the wide spread teaching of "alternative science", and its use in government policy, is that the scientific community is biased, not to be trusted, and even said to be part of a left wing conspiracy.  A mass protest of the use of "alternative science" by the party in power can not possibly make the problem worse. 

My suspicion is that the push back against the protest orginates from the proponents of alternative science as well as from administrators whose own job will be complicated by the scientific community taking sides in a political struggle.  Their objections are not legitimate.  If we don't stand up for peer reviewed science no one else will.

Avatar of: Rick Brick

Rick Brick

Posts: 3

February 2, 2017

"There’s a section of the American electorate...that has become skeptical of science. . . ."  I agree somewhat because some scientists are so ingrained with the government hand-outs that they will do "bad science."  When our government is 30 trillion in debt, will we support science or support social handouts?

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from wctopp made on February 2, 2017

February 2, 2017

I believe you're overlooking the fact that the march has already drawn a large amount of interest from the wider public.  Even among those without an honest interest in science, education, and policy, the opportunity to join another march protesting the Narcissist and the alt-right has wide appeal.

Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 435

February 2, 2017

This concern, he explained, centered on an early description of the event posted to the March of Science webpage, which has since been updated.

The earliest description appeared after this directive from NIH:

Good Clinical Practice for Social and Behavioral Research eLearning Course

Excerpt: Effective January 1, 2017, all NIH-funded investigators and staff who are involved in applying for, conducting, overseeing, or managing clinical trials should be trained in good clinical practice and may be required to show documentation of training completion. Investigators and others are expected to refresh their training every three years.

If all scienists get the continuing education they need to stay current, there will be no need for the March. Anyone who learns what is known about how chirality and autophagy must be linked from the National Microbiome Initiative to the Precision Medicine Initiative, will help others who are Combating Evolution to Fight Disease

That appears to be the goal of the Trump administration, whether or not scientists like it.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from Rick Brick made on February 2, 2017

February 2, 2017

Please pay attention to comments like those of "Rick Brick".  They're easy to find in comments sections and social media.  These people are EXACTLY the reason why this protest is needed.  They can not be successfully countered without publicly standing up to them.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from James V. Kohl made on February 2, 2017

February 2, 2017

And comments like James Kohl's, accusing scientists and physicians of using the march to coverup their laziness and incompetence, are also common.  

Avatar of: Lorna Salzman

Lorna Salzman

Posts: 1

February 2, 2017

The problem of science and education manifests itself on both right and left:

free market neo cons denying climate change, and post modern social scientists claiming that facts and truth are "socially constructed" and thus denying evolution and biology. The former won't join the march of course but already the latter's fingerprint found its way onto the March's site and had to be rebutted. Even so, a Diversity committee remains, an absurd and pointless idea since any march for a cause wants to get broad support from as many people and groups as possible. One other desirable objective of the march would be to counteract the growing influence of superstition, irrationality and overal distrust of science and medicine. But one undesirable strain persists: Caroline Weinberg's injection of her personal support for GMOs and suggesting that skeptics of this technology are as uninformed as vaccine opponents. In the spirit of free inquiry and dissent, scientists should accept credible opposition to some technologies and apply their own criteria of skepticism, the very basis for the scientific methodology and protocols.

Avatar of: Kathy Barker

Kathy Barker

Posts: 41

February 2, 2017

The "social justice agenda divides people?" Really? 

There are always some scientists who don't believe this or that kind of activism is not good- science is very conservative, and actions that don't look "professional" are looked down on. 

The great thing is- no one needs permission. The potential for change is great. There will be a variety of opinions. It's fantastic.

I will march in the hope that scientists will add anti-war work to their social justice agenda. 

 

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

February 2, 2017

Those pro march writings do confirm a fact that there are way too many people with a lot of free time on their hands sitting at their desks paid by grants with generous salaries fantasizing about presumable climate change and similar topics. Their concern about possible worsening their living conditions are rather understable. But what does it have to do with real Science? What is this march against? What it is pro? Seems like everybody involved forgot to formulate it in the moment of excitement of a chance to expess their grunge against most honest and straighforward man who made us honor to elect him as a President of this country that got a real chance to be great again (it is not science with its logic based on established facts, so why bother?). If Science as a whole is shaken to the grounds and is at the verge for falling apart (as it is claimed) because of the ban for three months on visits from six Muslim countries, then this Science is in really deep troubles...

Avatar of: issan

issan

Posts: 1

February 2, 2017

A so called "True Scientist" spouts the nonsense meme of "too many people with a lot of free time on their hands sitting at their desks paid by grants". Anyone who feels need to pick a user name of "True Scientist"is most likely not.

Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 435

Replied to a comment from Mike Holloway made on February 2, 2017

February 2, 2017

Thanks, Mike.

See: Gene Essentiality Profiling Reveals Gene Networks and Synthetic Lethal Interactions with Oncogenic Ras

Our findings suggest general strategies for defining mammalian gene networks and synthetic lethal interactions by exploiting the natural genetic and epigenetic diversity of human cancer cells.

Only pseudoscientists report energy-dependent de novo gene creation in terms like "gene essentiality profiling." Metabolic networks and genetic networks link ecological variation to ecological adaptation via the physiology of reproduction and supercoiled DNA, which protects all organized genomes from virus-driven energy theft and all pathology.

Lazy researchers and incompetent physicians are being replaced by people who can link angstroms to ecosystems via chirality and autophagy. Those people have done that by linking the National Microbiome Initiative to the Precision Medicine Initiative. The Trump administration knows that potential marchers have not done much besides link mutations to evolution.

Any marcher identified among the few participants is likely to be targeted for loss of funding and those who taught the marchers to believe in pseudoscintific nonsense will also be identified. For example, expect to see anyone taught by PZ Myers to believe in something besides chromosomal inheritance to be removed from their position in academia and ridiculed.

Avatar of: FrancisBacon

FrancisBacon

Posts: 7

February 3, 2017

Science has always been political but some science is more political than others, to paraphrase George Orwell. Big science - lets admit most of it is big these days - big data etc - has been hugely corrupted by the current funding models.

The thoughtful public (Club Sensible if you like with a robust lay understanding of physics, chemistry and logical processes around falsification, evidence and appropriate experimental controls) have every reason to be skeptical of science. Much of it was highjacked by scientific illiterates for the political ideals of the last administration.

I will continue to publish my work in the better journalsbut I for one would never march with you lot.

Avatar of: FrancisBacon

FrancisBacon

Posts: 7

February 3, 2017

Science has always been political but some science is more political than others, to paraphrase George Orwell. Big science - lets admit most of it is big these days - big data etc - has been hugely corrupted by the current funding models.

The thoughtful public (Club Sensible if you like with a robust lay understanding of physics, chemistry and logical processes around falsification, evidence and appropriate experimental controls) have every reason to be skeptical of science. Much of it was highjacked by scientific illiterates for the political ideals of the last administration.

I will continue to publish my work in the better journals but I for one would never march with you lot.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from True Scientist made on February 2, 2017

February 3, 2017

True Scientist:

"Their concern about possible worsening their living conditions..."

"...the moment of excitement of a chance to expess their grunge against most honest and straighforward man who made us honor to elect him as a President..."

"Their concern about possible worsening their living conditions..."

You honor us comrade with your attention.  Chairman Putin will learn of your loyal efforts.

Avatar of: Lizzz

Lizzz

Posts: 12

Replied to a comment from Mike Holloway made on February 2, 2017

February 3, 2017

It's obvious that the Left has been equally guilty of politicizing science, and far more successfully, if the billions of dollars spent on "climate change", and green power subsidies is any indicator.

One non-climate example would be the Satanic child abuse panic of the 1990s, where a significant number of social psychologists supported legal overreach from the Reno DoJ, with devastating consequences to people innocent of any crime.

Less devastating examples include the Larry Summer's ouster, the attack on Tim Hunt, and other examples of social justice attempts to influence open, honest science for spurious ideological reasons.

Few remember that after the famous military-industrial complex warning, the following paragraphs in Eisenhower's Farewell Address warned explicitly about  a second threat. http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

"The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded."

We're here now, and it's drawn a long-overdue backlash. The risk of "alternative science" gaining significant ground is minuscule compared to the current domination of "Science" by a rigid left-wing worldview that has captured academia, nearly all peer-reviewed publications, NGOs and the establisment media (fiction and non-fiction).

In the humble opinion of this libertarian skeptic, positioning yourselves as the Voice of Science under attack by the Right and publicizing that position widely via TV and social media only makes "Science's" affiliation with one party, that of the elite, globalist establishment, more attractive as a target for defunding and deligitimization by the current administration.

An increasing number of voting Americans no longer believe the big media outlets, who are increasingly perceived as propaganda outlets for the elite establishment left. "Science under siege" is not a narrative that will gain your party votes outside the blue enclaves of academia and tech and their surrounding affluent communities.

A March for Science may make you feel self-righteously activist, but it will not advance your cause where it matters.

See what happened at UC Berkeley this week.

 

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from Lizzz made on February 3, 2017

February 3, 2017

One of the major problems to be protested, if not The major problem, is the prevalent ignorance of what science is, as displayed above.  Misunderstanding of this basic fact permits the success of the kind of misrepresentation of science and scientists that has permitted political considerations and aspirations to "trump" the scientific enterprise in the US that used to be the envy of the world.  In this disingenuous narrative there is no objective reality, no empirical observation, no scientific method, no peer review.  There is only a struggle between the "world view" of the righteous and the non-righteous accompanied by assertions.  

In an attempt to head off some straw men, sure, left leaning politics is as guilty as right leaning politics in holding real science hostage, but the right not only does much more of it, but they're frankly better at it with a much longer history to draw from.

Avatar of: Lizzz

Lizzz

Posts: 12

Replied to a comment from Mike Holloway made on February 3, 2017

February 7, 2017

"Misunderstanding of this basic fact permits the success of the kind of misrepresentation of science and scientists that has permitted political considerations and aspirations to "trump" the scientific enterprise in the US that used to be the envy of the world.  In this disingenuous narrative there is no objective reality, no empirical observation, no scientific method, no peer review.  There is only a struggle between the "world view" of the righteous and the non-righteous accompanied by assertions."

This applies to the current climate alarmist enterprise at least as well as any strawmen you are attacking on the right. If you think otherwise, I think you need to go re-read your Popper and Kuhn.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 23

Replied to a comment from Lizzz made on February 7, 2017

February 8, 2017

" climate alarmist enterprise ... you need to go re-read your Popper and Kuhn"

Which is just another case in point of holding science hostage to right wing politics.  Climate change denial fits neither Popper's nor Kuhn's definition of science.  It fits Sean Hannity's definition of science, assuming he could articulate one.

Avatar of: factotum666

factotum666

Posts: 25

February 10, 2017

Conservative: 

Adjective

1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.   Noun a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Now bear in mind that almost all republicans are conservatives.  If you look at the above definitions it seems pretty clear to me that you are describing a world view that is the antithesis of what science is about.   This would explain why less than 10% of scientists identify as either conservative or republican.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/only-six-percent-of-scien_n_229382.html

So yes, almost by definition the scientific community is not "diverse" in the area of politics.   Scientists are aware at their core that, as Feynman said in his last sentence in his minority report on the Challenger Explosion " Nature can not be fooled"  This is very different than how almost all conservatives live which is in a humpty dumpty world:  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”

Pretending that this is not the case --- Well that is not scientific.   What scientists need to do is to figure out how to make conservatives aware of the nature of the actual physical world, and take them out of humpty dumpty land.

 

Avatar of: factotum666

factotum666

Posts: 25

February 10, 2017

Conservative:

Adjective
1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.   

Noun a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Now bear in mind that almost all republicans are conservatives.  If you look at the above definitions it seems pretty clear to me that you are describing a world view that is the antithesis of what science is about.   This would explain why less than 10% of scientists identify as either conservative or republican.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/only-six-percent-of-scien_n_229382.html

So yes, almost by definition the scientific community is not "diverse" in the area of politics.   Scientists are aware at their core that, as Feynman said in his last sentence in his minority report on the Challenger Explosion " Nature can not be fooled"  This is very different than how almost all conservatives live which is in a humpty dumpty world:  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”

Pretending that this is not the case --- Well that is not scientific.   What scientists need to do is to figure out how to make conservatives aware of the nature of the actual physical world, and take them out of humpty dumpty land.

Avatar of: tjfergus5

tjfergus5

Posts: 4

Replied to a comment from FrancisBacon made on February 3, 2017

February 15, 2017

here, here!

Avatar of: tjfergus5

tjfergus5

Posts: 4

Replied to a comment from factotum666 made on February 10, 2017

February 15, 2017

Didn't HuffPo also have Hillary by a large margin?

Avatar of: Lopez Syndra

Lopez Syndra

Posts: 1

March 21, 2017

If you care about Science March Earth Day 2017, you can buy official march for science march t-shirt at: https://www.gearbubble.com/official-march-for-science and go out the lab, walk the street on this day. Thank you

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