People are taking to the streets to defend science – but it could come at a cost

April 21, 2017 by Joseph Roche, The Conversation
Scientists protest against proposed cuts against science in the UK in 2010. Credit: Shane/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Scientists around the world are facing a dilemma. A March for Science will be taking place in Washington DC on 22 April, with solidarity marches in more than 500 other locations around the world. Scientists in cities from London in the UK to Tokyo in Japan, Accra in Ghana and Hyderabad in India are all looking to defend the vital role that science plays in society.

The campaign – which calls for to be robustly funded and publicly communicated as a "pillar of human freedom and prosperity" – is likely to be the largest ever mass demonstration by the scientific community. But every scientist who decides to march will know that, while they are taking part in a powerful movement to protect their discipline, they could also be helping to politicise a field that might be better off remaining as apolitical as possible.

The idea for the march was first raised on a Reddit thread in reaction to the White House deleting references to climate change from its website in late January. The administration's decision to prohibit Environmental Protection Agency staff from communicating with the media contributed to the general feeling that expertise is being taken less seriously, with Oxford Dictionaries declaring "post-truth" to be its international word of 2016.

Events such as these led to the March for Science idea rapidly becoming a global movement, inspired by the Women's March in Washington. The organisation is calling for scientists to stand up against what it interprets as being a threat to academic freedom, evidence-based policy and inclusivity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the whirlwind growth of the initiative has led to some organisational difficulties. Sometimes the march appears to be focused on safeguarding science and evidence-based policy. But at other times, it aspires to tackle the wider challenges facing science – such as issues of equality and diversity. This has resulted in the committee of organisers struggling to present a united front. It has also led to uncertainty surrounding the actual goals of the march.

Strong opposition

The concept of a march for science has become a divisive topic among scientists. The sheer number of solidarity marches and supporters highlight the widespread support for the grassroots movement. There is a danger, however, that the march could see scientists portrayed as an interest group with their own agenda.

This has led to warnings about the repercussions of political activism – that science itself could be reduced to just another policy issue. If that were to happen, scientific topics could be pushed to one side of a partisan divide rather than being an overarching concern for all political parties.

Women’s March on Washington. Credit: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Others argue that science has deeper problems, such as the shortcomings of the peer review process, that they deem outweigh those caused by the current US administration. They feel that activism would be better placed trying to overhaul the foundations of modern science itself.

Scientific progress relies on varied ideas and perspectives, and at its core it has a simple rule – inclusive science is better science. Any discrimination over race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background is a threat to scientific progress. Although safeguarding the future of science has already been the motivation for open letters, ralliesand pledges to become more involved in politics, scientists have also been engaging in to object to discrimination.

Last year, the Citizen Science Association, which represents the largest group of nonprofessional scientists in the world, pulled its annual conference from North Carolina in protest against a law that removed nondiscrimination protections. House Bill 2, as it came to be known, effectively legalised gender discrimination by stating that individuals may only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates in government buildings.

Scientists also protested against the US president's attempts to launch a "travel ban" on immigration from from certain Muslim-majority countries. This ban would have had a direct impact on the ability of scientists to travel and work, as well as depriving the US of the contributions of immigrants. While this shows that scientists in the US are already engaging in the type of advocacy that will politicise science, the March for Science will likely speed up that process.

Predicting the consequences

It is hard to know exactly what the repercussions will be. A new study, published in February in the journal Environmental Communication, has suggested that engaging in advocacy might not compromise scientists' credibility. The researchers tested public reactions to a range of different advocacy statements and found that advocacy won't necessarily harm general trust in the .

Nevertheless, the dilemma of marching for science is down to the challenge of determining an appropriate level of political activism. This will be harder for some people than others. In a letter published in the Journal of Science Communication recently, I noted that, while senior scientists with secure jobs may be willing to engage in some degree of activism, it may be more difficult for early career scientists.

The date of the march is also significant. April 22 is "Earth Day" which, since 1970, has marked an annual celebration of support for environmental protection. It is our yearly reminder that, despite our differences, we all have to share this planet and its resources. Trying to keep that bigger picture in mind might be something that many find themselves doing as they make their decision on whether or not to march for science.

My research area is the role of science in society so, for me, it is not a difficult decision. On Saturday, I will take the risk of further politicising my field because the stakes are too high to do nothing. I believe that the continued survival of our species is dependent on science and, as long as it is under threat, we must march for it.

Explore further: March participants interested in both promoting, defending science

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1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 21, 2017

We have fallen into the Political Dark Ages. It threatens to take us into short-tempered actions based on ignorance and emotion.

Our leaders are emotional adolescents, steeped in ego and bereft of knowledge of how the world works.

Will the Trump Wars be nuclear?
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2017
"There is a danger, however, that the march could see scientists portrayed as an interest group with their own agenda."

Too late. Way too late. The march will be widely seen as merely pouring fuel onto an already-blazing pyre.
2.2 / 5 (10) Apr 21, 2017
Remember that it has been announced that as many as 90 percent of all articles actually printed in "scientific" journals turn out to make claims that cannot be reproduced. It's being mentioned that many forensic tests once considered unquestionable and infallible, in reality, are unreliable. Among other things, there have never been any authoritative, valid "experiments" done to verify that blacks and whites are equal at least ethically, intellectually, but the "scientists" insist that we believe it without evidence. And "science" is forever tainted as a lie because no "scientists' has condemned Christopher Hitchens' depraved assertion that, if a person makes a claim and a second person makes the exact opposite claim, if the first person fails to provide proof or evidence of their claim top the second person's satisfaction, that automatically makes the first claim untrue and the second claim true, so no proof is needed for the second claim.
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 21, 2017
Sorry, Julian, but we are not talking theory, we are talking effects.

Go get a thermometer.
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 21, 2017
" . . where the simple facts don't matter and where the data can be twisted to support any view or agenda."

That is not modern-day science, it is modern-day Republicanism.

Have you tried to count the lies of Trump? You can look them up.
3.9 / 5 (8) Apr 21, 2017
Remember that it has been announced that as many as 90 percent of all articles actually printed in "scientific" journals turn out to make claims that cannot be reproduced

By whom has this been 'announced' (other than by you)?

You are exactly the sort iof person why this march has to happen.

It appears these scientists subscribe to the gender identities

It just means that scientists believe these things don't make you a better or worse human. Telling lies, however, does.
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 21, 2017
Have you tried to count the lies of Trump?

I loathe Trump, but the list of lies by Obama would dwarf Trump's. There's the one that earned Obama "Lie of the Year" from the left wing WaPo, that resulted in an attempt to take control of over 1/6th of the US economy - "If you like your doctor, or your health plan..."? There is an entry slipped into the Congressional Record w/o fanfare that shows his own analysts estimated 85,000,000 people would lose their insurance under O'Care, long before he publicly lied three dozen times. He's still using discredited, laughable "studies" that "prove" 90% of the drug cartels arms are purchased from US gun shops and that every 4th female will be raped on college campuses. He lied about the Iran deal, the cash ransom paid to Tehran, the video that killed the ambassador, his reign was scandal-free...puke.

You are probably the most vile, dishonest Marxist hack I've ever encountered on the internet. But those are points of pride for leftlings
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2017
Your hate affords you no credibility.

Go pay for your Republican Wars, and come back, and we'll talk.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2017

that resulted in an attempt to take control of over 1/6th of the US economy - "If you like your doctor, or your health plan..."?

SETTING MINIMUM STANDARDS in order to address millions folks dropped from insurance, millions of medical catastrophic bills & Bankruptcies & Divorces & Split families and kids living in poverty...and SETTING UP COMPETITIVE MARKET places
is not a take over.

Dr.s & Hospitals support Affordable Care Act - Obama Care.
2 / 5 (4) Apr 21, 2017

"There is an entry slipped into the Congressional Record w/o fanfare that shows his own analysts estimated 85,000,000 people would lose their insurance under O'Care, long before he publicly lied three dozen times...."

Curiously how you would quote that with no source and PARTICULARLY when it is OBVIOUSLY so STUPIDLY INACCURATE......over 20,000,000++ MORE HAVE INSURANCE.....
Insurance Millionaires are no long DROPPING Millions from insurance pools because those families are TOO EXPENSIVE TO INSURE....translation we are not getting rich enough.

Look what Trump / Ryan / Republicans are trying to do...TAKE $1 TRILLION IN COVERAGE DOLLARS out of the HEALTH CARE order to give a TAX CUT to the PARTY BASE......MILLIONAIRES AND BILLIONAIRES.

And with this NEW policies....they can see their own Doctor without taking food off the table and away from their children.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2017

" "studies" that "prove" 90% of the drug cartels arms are purchased from US gun shops "
If anyone at Academy sports shop in Houston was suspicious as John Hernandez pushed $2,600 in cash across the counter, they kept it to themselves.
The 25 year-old unemployed machinist in dark glasses walked out of the gun shop clutching three powerful assault rifles modelled on the US army's M-16.

A few weeks later, Hernandez bought five similar weapons at another Houston gun shop, Carter's Country. There were few questions on that occasion, either, or as he visited other weapons stores ... the following months ... a total of 14 assault rifles and nine other weapons for nearly $25,000.
...all the law required was that Hernandez prove he lived in Texas & wait a few minutes while the store checked he had no criminal record.

" US Government Accountability Office, 87% of firearms seized by Mexico over the previous five years were traced to the US. Texas was #1
1 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2017

no to Obama quote: "every 4th female will be raped on college campuses."

>>US universities
"One in four US women have had unwanted sexual contact at college New survey at 27 US colleges comes at a time of heightened public awareness and increased scrutiny of what schools are doing to combat sexual assault...."
1 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2017
obama " lied about the Iran deal "

Yet former Reagan Era negotiators with the old Soviet Union
said that THIS "IRAN NUCLEAR AGREEMENT is the MOST INTRUSIVE and comprehensive and verifiable agreement EVER negotiated between military powers without a shot ever being fired !"
While we were on the verge of an ISRAELI ATTACK and the outbreak of war years, even Israeli Generals agree, WAR had been averted
that IRAN is obeying the 10 year, 15 year and permanent parts of the agreement with a near religious fervor.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2017
Upon coming to power,
Obama & Clinton negotiated with the Saudi Royal Family...&
Decided on a long range foreign policy...JOINTLY.t
Increase sanctions & pump oil to drop the price of oil world wide:
1. That will stimulate the world economy.
2. Increased Sanctions & Cheap oil,
on the oil dependent Venezuelan Economy is right now threatening the SOCIALIST & INTERVENTIONIST government of Venezuela.
3. The economic threat to Venezuela forced the Government there, to stop subsidizing guerilla groups in South & Central America.
Notice the agreement signed in Columbia to END a 50 year blood bath.
4. The Castro Brothers of Cuba have signed an agreement with their favorite kicking boy, THE US. and has begun the process to open up and allow for regime change .
5. Increased Sanctions & Cheap Oil,on the oil dependent economy of Iran forced Iran to bargain with the Entire UN &
sign an agreement . No WAR WITH ISRAEL, years later.
Reagan Era negotiators with the Soviets, en
3 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2017
People are taking to the streets to "defend science." FIFY
1 / 5 (4) Apr 23, 2017
That is because they are not welcome in the White House.

And they do not have the $200,000 to meet with Trump in Florida.

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