IS THE MARCH FOR SCIENCE IN TROUBLE?
Looking at the world map the March for Science organizers have posted about participation in satellite marches around the globe, you will probably be impressed. The major focus may be Washington, but the entire US is mostly solid orange, a graphic display of near-universal support and local participation in the March, scheduled for Earth Day, April 22. Europe is heavily orange too, and there are orange dots all around the world. Ghana. Guam. Greenland. Well over 400 participating locales as I write.
But organizers and participants are still wrangling over the issue that has plagued the March from the beginning, as I wrote here at On Science Blogs in a February post. What is the purpose of the March for Science? For many, just being “for science” is not enough, or not specific enough.
A recent STAT post by Kate Sheridan and Lev Facher suggests that a main issue continues to be one that has also been there from the beginning: how aggressively should the March address issues of equality in science, especially issues of race and gender?
They describe the history of that dispute as embodied in the March’s much-revised official diversity policy, and in arguments on the many social media accounts related to the March. Scientists (some of them big names) have declared they will not march. Some early leaders of the March have resigned.
Brian Resnick points out at Vox that the January Women’s March suffered through similar disputes over diversity. But of course the Women’s March was at core about equality and inclusion–women’s equality and inclusion. The March for Science doesn’t seem to have a single core issue. Or at least participants and potential participants disagree about what that issue is/should be.
A major motivator for marching seems to be opposition to Trump, Trump and/or Republican policies, and the anti-science mindset so common in Republican politics. Some examples are in my February post.
More recently, Trump’s proposed budget, with its huge cuts for research, has raised scientists’ hackles. Nobody expects that fantasy document to be enacted. But the contempt for science it conveys “seems likely to energize scientists and students who have been rattled by Trump’s rhetoric and political appointments and are preparing to participate in the March for Science,” Joel Aschenbach observed at the Washington Post.
SOME RECENT EXAMPLES OF THE ARGUMENTS, PRO AND CON
The controversial climate scientist Judith Curry fears that the March will do more harm than good. She declares, “the March for Science seems to be shaping up as a self-serving navel gazing exercise for scientists — sort of a ‘we don’t like Trump’ tantrum. The impression that this will have on policy makers and the public will be to cement scientists as a politicized special interest group, just like any other lobbying group.
Curry also says “it’s not too late to turn this around.” But none of her recommendations–for example “Embrace science as a process, not a collection of ‘facts’; invite the public to engage in the process of science”–are steps that can be taken before April 22, however worthy.
“For too long we’ve relied on facts and evidence to speak for themselves. That strategy has failed us. The March for Science is a coming-out party for a movement of scientists and supporters who are speaking out in the public sphere. It isn’t partisan, it’s patriotic.” This from Beka Economopoulos of the Brooklyn Museum of Natural History at the blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Also at the UCS blog, Kishore Hari of the Bay Area Science Festival: “We have an opportunity to join forces with all the science advocates and enthusiasts to show that there is a large community who believe in the pursuit of truth and evidence. The largest mobilization of these communities is a statement that we stand together in support of an institution that has brought so much prosperity to billions and is the economic engine of our future.”
At least one scientist is documenting his evolving thought processes about the March.
Early this month Jerry Coyne said this at his blog Why Evolution is True: “I’m willing to march as a scientist to defend the truth, our methodology for determining the truth, and to defend those issues for which science has a best-guess idea of what the truth is. . . I just don’t want the march to fracture along identity-politics lines so that it becomes a “cause of the moment” potpourri of stuff. And I think the less prescriptive the march is, the more useful it will be.”
But by today (Friday March 24) Coyne was saying, “Right now I’m dubious, for without a unified goal the March will just be a bunch of people blowing off steam in a way that has no tangible benefits.”
The big question is whether these disputes over the point of the March for Science will reduce participation. Size is going to matter. The Women’s March endured similar disputes about goals and purposes, but ended up a huge success.
Would it have been a huge success if it hadn’t been huge?