MARCH IN APRIL
The scientists’ march on Washington, discussed here at On Science Blogs a couple weeks ago, is now definitely a Thing. Here’s the March for Science web site. Hashtags #ScienceMarch and #marchforscience; Twitter @sciencemarchdc although several marches elsewhere are being planned too. The March in Washington is scheduled for Earth Day, April 22.
But becoming a Thing has also made the March a target. Some in science oppose it, and a great many others are unsure whether they approve or not. Will a March accomplish anything good? Or will it be bad for science public relations–and perhaps provoke the TrumPets to (horrors!) cut science funding?
“We rarely get the opportunity to watch a chilling effect in action, but you can almost see the breath of researchers caught up in a debate over the proper role of scientists in the crisis,” retort Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, founders of Retraction Watch, at The Conversation. “[S]cientists who accept funding with the tacit agreement that they keep their mouths shut about the government are far more threatening to an independent academy than those who speak their minds.”
At Watt’s Up With That, the climate denialist blog, Willis Eschenbach tells scientists not to march. “Why is this a bad idea? Three reasons. There’s no clarity on what they are marching for. There’s no clarity on what they are marching against. And they are marching on Earth Day.” About the organizers’ timing, he argues, “Do they truly think that hanging out with people who advocate “de-development” and forced population reduction and who think that humans are a “plague on the earth” will burnish their scientific credentials?”
He may have a point, though, in arguing that the goals of the March are somewhat fuzzy. At Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne was worried over what he termed “the increasing politicization of the March, which is fast changing from a pro-science march to a pro-social justice march.” He was particularly indignant over the declaration that science supports discrimination. The statement outlining those aims for the March has now been withdrawn, leading Coyne to declare “perhaps the March will develop decent aims in the end.”
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt tweeted, “I’d join a scientists’ march on Washington. But this one aims for diversity in everything except politics.”
Opposition to Trump does emerge as one strong theme for the March. NeuroDojo says “There has never been an American administration with spokespeople proposing “alternative facts” over simple and verifiable information. There has never been an administration threatening to abolish federal science agencies.” And Skeptical OB Amy Tuteur says the goal of the March is to speak truth to power, to stand against a President who’s subverting science by censoring scientists.
Some scientists are taking a direct approach, running for office. The very high-profile Michael Eisen, who runs a high-profile genomics lab at Berkeley, and whose blog it is NOT junk has been quoted here, has announced that he is running for the US Senate.
And Shane M Hanlon, at the American Geophysical Union blog The Plainspoken Scientist, has a practical suggestion for scientists, particularly those dismayed at the lousy job prospects for joining a lab: Grad students should be trained to run for office. He says “Newly-minted PhDs need non-academic career options. Science needs to be part of policy. The fit is natural. The time is now.”
The AGU has some resources to help, and Hanlon also mentions 314Action, the policy-minded science organization described here a couple weeks ago. That group is running an online training session for would-be scientist/politicians next month.
WHITHER THE ACA/OBAMACARE?
Destruction by attrition? Is the Republican plan to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA and/or Obamacare) to delay repeal-and-replace for so long that the ACA just melts away?
That’s one plausible interpretation of the new administration’s news that ACA enrollment is (probably? possibly?) down. And insurers (those that haven’t fled already) are poised for flight.
“Massive confusion” abounds among insurers, according to Jay Hancock at Kaiser Health News. “[T]he usual fog of rate setting is compounded by the possibility that basic rules of coverage could get overhauled or even disappear before anything takes their place,” Hancock says. “The Republicans don’t seem to understand that they’ve got to stabilize the market,” insurance consultant/blogger Robert Laszewski complained to Hancock.
But suppose the Republicans understand the effects of an unstable insurance market perfectly well? Suppose they have instead chosen delay-and-destablilization as a strategy to destroy the ACA without getting their hands dirty in public? To get away with not being blamed for snatching health insurance away from millions, many of whom are their base voters?
That’s what all the Congressional foot-dragging on repeal-and-replace (or repair) has got me wondering. Is the plan to dally and delay until no insurers remain willing, and the ACA collapses on its own?
At Vox, though, Sarah Kliff speculates that Trump may actually be pleading with insurers to stick with Obamacare by drafting appealing regulations, for example permitting them to charge older folks more. But at Hit&Run, Peter Suderman says that particular regulation would be illegal and surely would prompt lawsuits from outfits like AARP.
It’s true that a current media narrative is that Congress is backing away from immediate repeal. Here’s an example, from Alison Kodjak at Shots. But at the Health Care Blog, the aforementioned insurance consultant Laszewski scoffs, insisting that repeal-and-replace is on track. The repeal part, he says, will probably happen in March.
Is enrollment in Obamacare down? At HealthNewsReview, Michael Joyce says a number of health care journalists argue that the new administration’s figures (9.2 million enrolled at the end of 2016, compared to 9.8 million at the same time in 2015) are misleading, in part because a number of states have yet to report in. We won’t really know until March.
And has Obamacare really been the disaster that Trump’s frequently says it is? Margot Sanger-Katz tackled an assessment at TheUpshot.
Successes: at least 20 million additional people insured, probably more. Increased financial security for many, reduced inequality, more kinds of health care covered, and–whammo!–the federal deficit lowered.
Failures: health insurance remains very costly and the system remains complex and confusing. It forces people to switch plans a lot and limits choices of doctors and hospitals.
Not yet known, and won’t be for years: There are some signs that quality of hospital care may have improved. But are Americans healthier? Has national health care spending been reduced?