The Trump War on Science: Is the March for Science too political or not political enough?

Is the March for Science (and all it's satellite marches) too political or not political enough?

The text on their website gives a sense of where the organizers are coming from:


The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.


We are scientists and science enthusiasts. We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.

Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels - from local schools to federal agencies - throughout the world.

In other words, not explicitly political in the sense of taking one political party's (the Democrats) side versus the other (the Republicans and President Trump). But political implicitly in the sense that there is an indirect acknowledgement ("Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists") that if Hilary Clinton had won the election, there would be no talk of a March for Science.

Personally, I'm not sure if I know exactly where I fall on that original question, but I'll quote my own blog post, More on what US scientists can learn from the Canadian War on Science, to give a sense of where my thinking is headed:

My advice? Don't bring a test tube to a Bunsen burner fight. Mobilize, protest, form partnerships, wrote op-eds and blog posts and books and articles, speak about science at every public event you get a chance, run for office, help out someone who's a science supporter run for office.

Don't want your science to be seen as political or for your "objectivity" to be compromised? Too late, the other side made it political while you weren't looking. And you're the only one that thinks you're objective. What difference will it make?

Don't worry about changing the other side's mind. Worry about mobilizing and energizing your side so they'll turn out to protest and vote and send letters and all those other good things.

Worried that you will ruin your reputation and that when the good guys come back into power your "objectivity" will be forever compromised? Worry first about getting the good guys back in power. They will understand what you went through and why you had to mobilize. And they never thought your were "objective" to begin with.

Proof? The Canadian experience. After all, even the Guardian wants to talk about How science helped to swing the Canadian election? Two or four years from now, you want them to be writing articles about how science swung the US mid-term or presidential elections.

So, yes, I'm definitely tending towards more rather than less direct, explicit acknowledgement of the subtext of the march: People who favour evidence-based decision making are terrified that the Trump regime will "Make American Great Again" by turning back the clock to an era when industry called all the shots in terms of environmental protection. Not only that, but it will also "turn back the clock" to a situation that has never really existed: government by random fiat rather than any even vague pretense about what the truth is or what the evidence shows, scientific or otherwise.

But it's fair to say that organizers fear that being too explicit about the implicit will turn people off. Better to be vague and "Yay! Science!" rather than explicitly anti-Trump.

Some of the explicit messages that have already presented themselves?

  • Don't deny climate change
  • Don't muzzle scientists
  • Don't restrict EPA scientists ability to communicate their research
  • Don't deregulate environmental protection
  • The Muslim and refugee bans are horrible for lots of reasons, and bad for science is one of them
  • Net neutrality is a good thing
  • Don't put incompetent people in charge of science-based departments

And those are the explicit messages that the Marchers could glean from the first week or so of the Trump era.

At the end of the day, it's hard to know which way to go. Will a less explicitly political message result in a larger march due to its positive messaging and naturally bigger tent approach? Or a smaller march due to having not so much to rally around or get really worked up over? There's no way to know. The only hints from the Canadian experience is that the advocacy was pretty explicitly anti-Harper from the beginning and at the end of the day, it was able to give the anti-Harper forces one more thing to rally around. One way or another, I'll definitely be participating in the Science March Toronto. If you have a march near you, you should consider taking part. Staying on the sidelines seems like the worst option at this point.

The question: Non-partisan and "Yay! Science!" Or explicitly political and pointedly going directly and specifically after President Trump, his policies and his administration. (if not necessarily in the name of a particular political party)?

I'm including a quick and dirty, fairly random assortment of readings on the March for Science below, coming from both sides. If I've missed anything really important, let me know in the comments or at dupuisj at gmail dot com.



Previous Donald Trump War on Science Related Posts

The posts are all tagged here.


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