Is the March for Science a bad idea?

January 31, 2017 • 1:15 pm

When I first heard of the proposed March for Science in Washington, D.C., I was moderately enthusiastic. Although I didn’t think it would accomplish much, the government being what it is, I thought it might at least alert the American public to the worries of a respected group about the Trump Administration’s cavalier attitude toward the truth. After all, a recent Pew poll showed that Americans largely trust scientists to act in the public interest—even more than they trust religious leaders, and a lot more than they trust elected officials!:


So what’s wrong with scientists marching together to emphasize our adherence to truth, and to urge politicians to not only do the same, but have some respect for the institution of science? Global warming, evolution, pollution, conservation: these are issues that science can monitor and teach about.

Well, Robert S. Young, a professor of coastal geology and director of the program for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University, begs to differ. In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, “A scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea,” Young says that such a march would erode scientists’ image by polarizing the public against them, making the electorate think that we’re just another political special-interest group:

But trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.

. . . A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.

Why does Young say this? Well, his answer isn’t that convincing. He discusses his own co-authorship of a 2010 scientific report for North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission, which found that sea levels could rise up to 39 inches by the end of the century. That didn’t sit well with either politicians, or, especially, real-estate developers, who didn’t want people to be wary of buying property near the coast. Young’s report was ignored, and the legislature even passed a law barring state agencies from making plans or regulations that took into account a rise in sea level!

That was dire, but from that experience Young concludes that political effectiveness can’t come from just speaking the truth; it requires getting politicians and businessmen to develop a close personal relationship with their Scientist Saviors:

What I learned was that most of those attacking our sea-level-rise projections had never met me, nor my co-authors. Not only that, most of the public had never met anyone they considered a scientist. They didn’t understand the careful, painstaking process we followed to reach our peer-reviewed conclusions. We were unknowns, “scientists” delivering bad news. We were easy marks for those who felt threatened by our findings.

. . . Rather than marching on Washington and in other locations around the country, I suggest that my fellow scientists march into local civic groups, churches, schools, county fairs and, privately, into the offices of elected officials. Make contact with that part of America that doesn’t know any scientists. Put a face on the debate. Help them understand what we do, and how we do it. Give them your email, or better yet, your phone number.

. . . . Scientists marching in opposition to a newly elected Republican president will only cement the divide. The solution here is not mass spectacle, but an increased effort to communicate directly with those who do not understand the degree to which the changing climate is already affecting their lives. We need storytellers, not marchers.

Well, Young does have a point here. Scientists don’t lobby nearly as much as they should, but of course we’re busy doing science. And the kind of intensive labor Young’s calling for isn’t in the cards—not unless scientists are allowed to hire lobbyists. Well, we can’t do that, and federal science agencies are also prohibited from lobbying. Yes, of course we should try to enlighten our public officials about science, but what Young says doesn’t convince me that a Science March is going to make things any worse for scientists and science funding.

What does make me worry is the increasing politicization of the March, which is fast changing from a pro-science march to a pro-social justice march. Now there’s nothing wrong with marching in favor of minority rights and against oppression, but if you mix that stuff up with science, as the March organization seems to be doing, well, that is a recipe for ineffectiveness. What would be the point of a march if it’s about every social injustice, particularly when, as the organizers did, they indict science itself for its racism and support of discrimination? The statement of aims below from the March’s organizers has now disappeared, but the tweet below that is still there. (You can find the full statement archived here.)

We hear you, we thank you for your criticism. In the March for Science, we are committed to  centralizing, highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as accomplices with black, Latinx,  API, indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender, and intersex scientists and science advocates.

We recognize that 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. 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.

Science supports discrimination? No it doesn’t. Some (but by no means all) scientists support discrimination, but most of us don’t. And there’s that claim about social issues being scientific ones:

If a March has any chance of being effective, it can’t consist of a bunch of penitentes who flagellate themselves loudly and publicly for bad behavior. After all, stuff like “immigration policy”, “native rights”, and many other issues of social justice are not, as the organizers maintain, “scientific issues.” They are moral issues, which means they reflect worldviews and preferences that are not objective. Of course once you set your goals on immigration, pipeline locations and who should not be near them, and so on, then science can inform your actions. But to claim that all issues of social justice are “scientific issues” is palpably wrong.

If we are to march, we should march in unity for truth, and against those who reject empirical truth. What unites all science—and makes it unique—is that it is a universal toolkit, used in the same way by members of all groups, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion. That is what holds us together. If we start dragging in issues of social justice—and I’m not of course saying they should be ignored in other venues—then we divide not only ourselves, but separate ourselves from much of the electorate, who, as we’ve seen above, generally trust us.

But the retraction of the statement makes me think that perhaps the March will develop decent aims in the end.

Readers: please weigh in below. Perhaps you disagree with me, or with Young.

107 thoughts on “Is the March for Science a bad idea?

  1. It is unrealistic to think the march will serve the purpose that each individual wants the march to serve.

    It is worth having the march. I will be proud if they are well attended, but diverse motivations will undermine some people’s idea of an ‘ideal’ march.

    I am not sure I will march; it’s not my style. Like going to a concert of my favorite rock band: I feel very little kinship with the other fans even though we lionize the same thing.

    1. You make a good point about no march pleasing everyone. Nevertheless, I think the march could avoid many of the pitfalls Prof. Young points out by sticking with a more positive, “here is the value of the things you are cutting” message. Forget attacking people, use the event to mention the type of research you think the government should be supporting going forward, and why.

      1. I agree. I also think it would be better if a significant number of the participants were not actual scientists but merely people who support science. Science fans and groupies.

        1. Since I live in the city of Cal Tech and JPL…I imagine lots of us will be marching in our own event. This current administration will have us hurtling back into ”the dark ages.”

  2. “Rather than marching on Washington and in other locations around the country, I suggest that my fellow scientists march into local civic groups, churches, schools, county fairs and, privately, into the offices of elected officials.”

    Whar should be a synergy is presented as a false dichotomy. Having got a lot of press coverage in other ways makes it much more likely that scientists will pay attention when you visit their offices.

    But yes, issues should not be confounded. When discussing contempt for science, we should not be side-tracked into discussing racism. Just as, when discussing racism, we should not be distracted by discussion of the (de)merits of Islam.

  3. I think it is important for the new administration to see dissent from as many groups as possible. Keep up the protests! Keep up the marches! Let Trump see how many people oppose his views, his cabinet and his policies.

  4. I think the march, or some other kind of very public action, is critically important.

    If scientists STFU and take it like the runty whelps trump expects and wants, how are they any different from trump’s stooges?

    Science that is public funded, is done for the public good. No public good can come from it if this science is gagged and burried. And if no-one gets up and cries out – no-one will even know.

    Is this how we go out? Not with a bang but a gentle wimper?

    While it may be true that the public in the US ‘respects’ scientists. I will wager that far too many of them have no clue what is truely happening, and of them, too many don’t care or understand the ramifications.

    The consequences of not speaking out are pretty clear.
    I mean let’s face it, as someone who lives outside the US, the idea of the US economy devolving into the bronze age isn’t entirely without it’s Schadenfreude. It is not like a lot of damage wouldn’t be done not only to the US society, but the world stage, and the biosphere that sustains us on this rock space ship.

    1. Science that is public funded, is done for the public good. No public good can come from it if this science is gagged and burried. And if no-one gets up and cries out – no-one will even know.

      Which is why that should be the sole focus of the march. Scientists can speak to that issue with some authority.

    2. You know.

      It is possible, and ethical, to be conservative, believe that climate change is real, and to legitimately believe that climate change is NOT an existential threat to the survival of civilization or the planet.

      That is a completely rational and defensible point to hold given the evidence that has been presented so far.

      I’m basically hearing from environmentalists that basically all consumer consumption must grind to a halt and we must all embrace some for of technocratically enforced austerity in order to save the planet. That technocratic austerity sounds very much like a dystopia to me and to most Americans in general.

      When this is mentioned we are told “You have a choice between this dystopia now, or a possible greater one 100 years from now.

      There is nothing unethical or immoral about saying “I think I’ll take my chances with future generations rather than live in a austere, dull utopia without consumerism.”

      If the only way to save the earth is to embrace some form of technocraticlly run socialist state, then I say let the Earth burn. My individual freedom is worth more than your alarmist ideals.

      1. “Let it burn?” I assume you’re speaking for yourself and your own children, consciously ignoring billions of others and billions of innocent lives among the animal kingdom.

      2. Speaking here as someone who spent years studying ecology. To see the facts of what is happening to the climate, and what we currently know of why. taking that stance becomes irrational, selfish and short-sighted in the extreme.

        Will it end the world? no, the world is a rock, and it will keep spinning around the sun. Will it END life on earth? Possibly not (POSSIBLY not probably) however that life will not be as prolific or look like what is currently on this rock.

        And as for the ethics of ‘living a dystopia now’ (which I might add is an astonishinly disingenuious and greedy view of what is necessary) vs the legacy we leave, not even 100 years from now.

        This is a problem that has been created by our generation, and that of our parents. It is our responsibility to take responsibility. Which we should be willing to do, you know, as adults. Our generation has to lead the way with this, or become the scum-bags that dumped their shyte on the next generations.

        1. If Trump gets all 8 years possible, we may have passed the tipping point. If that happens the only hope might be to use advanced sequestration technology to literally suck the CO2 out of the sky and restore the balance as best we can.

          1. About 15 years ago, the models indicated that if we did something extreme like that it would take about 30 years to make a measurable difference. IF those models are correct, then we as a species are in for an ugly last couple of generations.

  5. It should limit itself to promotion of science in the face of an anti-science assault from Trump and Company. Leave the social justice out. There are lots of other protest opportunities for those issues.

    1. As of this moment, their PC social justice statement is still on their web site, and Diversity is listed as one of its committees. I informed them I will not support them until both of these are deleted. The heavy hand of the SJW and loony left is evident, leaving little hope for any substantive movement to confront Trump. I predict that the science march women participants will be counted on one hand, not to mention social justice activists. It is depressing to get evidence every day of the decline in reason, evidence and truth. Without these this country is condemned to authoritarianism, superstition, and social conflict, not all of which can be blamed on the right, the religious and Trump.
      The left and their acolytes, the liberals, have a lot of introspection to do about their role in creating inter-group hostility, extremism and aberrant pathological ideologies, secular and religious. These are the enemies of science and reason.

      1. Yep.

        For me there is a firm line to be drawn between advocating for equal rights and opportunities for all (good) and embracing questionable ideological movements that superficially claim to do the same while doing pretty well the opposite (very bad).

      2. I can understand objections to the social justice statement, but I fail to see what’s wrong with having a diversity committee.

          1. Typically, a diversity committee’s purview is mainly making sure that attendees are not too homogeneous.

          2. I agree that this will be especially important for this march which in principle should transcend political perspectives.

    2. I agree (although I’m looking on from afar). I rather suspect that SJWs get included because they can mobilise a lot of very concerned people. But the benefits of swelling numbers also increase the likelihood that the original aims get highjacked for political aims.

      And it is so *easy* to call SJWs ‘rent a mob’ or ‘professional protesters’ to dismiss their impact.

  6. There may well be problems with this proposed march. But I think it crucial in the time of Trump that scientists take a unified stand, in some public forum, against science denialism, and for the public dissemination of honest information more generally.

  7. I think Young has a good point, and I also feel very uneasy about the idea of a March for Science being effectively hijacked by a wider social movement based around a leftist agenda. The problem with arguing that “Scientists should speak out more about X” is that it assumes that scientists have a common opinion on X. If X happens to be the Theory of Evolution, the effects of anthropogenic carbon emissions on global climate, or other issues that can be resolved by hard data, then there may be something close to a global scientific consensus. But that just isn’t true of immigration policy, abortion, taxation policy, Israel/Palestine, trans bathrooms, or any of the other myriad issues on the leftist shopping list.

    I don’t live in or come from the USA, so strictly this isn’t my fight, but I’m a practicing scientist, and I’m as alarmed as anyone here about the wilful ignorance and obscurantism of the US Republicans. However, there are huge swathes of the SJW agenda that I strongly disagree with, and I would not be willing to march under many of the banners and placards that were in evidence at the Women’s March a few days ago. My preference would be to keep Science the focus of the scientists’ march, and not conflate it with social and political issues that can’t be settled by science.

    1. + 1. I even think that the stress should be on evolution and vaccines, and less on global warming. Global warming for the moment is compromised by inadequate policies justified with it, and by its habitual invocation to silence debates on Islamization.

      1. Yes, I agree with you there. A Science March should be for very specific, directly science related issues. Contaminating it with SJW issues is anathema, and -as you point out- with ‘contaminated’ science issues, could be counterproductive.

      2. Climate change is a serious threat to global stability. The fact that policy makers have no adequate solutions is a reason why scientists *should be* emphasizing it.

    2. I agree. Compare this proposed march to the rally in July 2012 in Ottawa organized by the group called Death of Evidence ( Jerry might have been there: the rally was held in the middle of the Society for the Study of Evolution annual meeting. The context for that rally was specific actions by the Canadian federal government that silenced or ignored federal government scientists and their research. The rally was successful, and the advocacy group it spawned is still active. But there was no general context of ongoing partisan political protests (like the recent Women’s March and the Inauguration Day protests), and so the participants in the Death of Evidence rally could not be criticized as just another group of partisan political critics of the government. That was an important advantage that helped the organizers to get their message out to the general public: the problem was not the government’s politics, but its specific failure to use science and evidence in policy development. That seems like a more effective stance for scientists while wearing their scientist hats (or lab coats). The same individuals could (and surely did) participate in other marches and protests wearing other hats (say, pink).

  8. I am very interested in the march, and through here and elsewhere had seen reason to worry that it was being turned into a SJW cause rather than a cause for greater acceptance of global warming and other issues. I hated to say I disliked that trend, since I support LGBTQetc. rights 24/7, but jeez, let’s get single-minded about sea level rise, ok??

    Anyway, I would be glad to learn that its a march for science for sciences’ sake.

    As for Dr. Young’s concern, I think it is stated for good reasons and certainly the best of intentions. But any issue that effects us all cannot afford to stay ‘above it all’. I suggest we do both! Become a public face and someone people know by giving small, local presentations to schools, church groups, city council meetings, etc. But that won’t catch everyone. So the rest can see us on the news as we march the streets with banners.

  9. On a related note, Feb. 2 is National Call-in Day to call members of Congress to protest the administration’s orders that federal scientists are not allowed to communicate the results of their research to the public.
    From the Agronomy Society of America:
    “If you are also concerned about scientific integrity and federal scientists’ rights to share their findings, please call Congress on Thursday, February 2nd and tell them to protect the scientific integrity of federal scientists.”

  10. I agree that a mix of issues, worthwhile or not, could detract from the message. Even denialism I’m not all that sure is worth protesting.

    I see this fundamentally as a freedom of speech issue. Government science reports and websites are public speech, and I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen a forceful 1st amendment argument or lawsuit being advanced yet on the Trump muzzling policy.

    1. I think unfortunately it does more than just detract from the message – it (further) associates science with left-wing ideology. Just the opposite of what is needed.

      1. Well there’s nothing to do about that, given that the majority of Trump supporters place evolution and climate science, and indeed scholarship of any kind, in the same bucket as things like LQGBT rights, woman’s reproductive freedom/health and protecting the environment (just to name a few progressive issues) already.

        I just think the best way to take on and eventually take down Trump will be with violating the constitution and not position issues, which he and his vile inner circle seem bent on doing.

        1. But the majority of the far left has extremely anti-science beliefs in the core of its ideology as well. That’s why it’s just as important that the march and science itself not be co-opted by them. Science shouldn’t be co-opted by any ideology or politics; science stands alone, and such co-option is anti-science in itself.

          1. The far left is not the problem right now. We have a situation that is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, a sociopathic nationalistic troll and his enablers in the white house. He’s going to do real damage – look who his new higher task force leader is – son of “bury him in a box after enema”. That’s right, not just public schools, their coming for the ivory tower too, depend upon it.

            I think the focus needs to be on dealing with or opposing the groping troll, and if marches underscore widespread rejection of his policies and willful ignorance, even with the dreaded SJWs in the mix, and can be at least moderately focused on message, count me in.

          2. What you say applies from a political perspective. However from the perspective of science the far left is as much of a problem as the far right, since the two lunacies share common structural flaws that simply manifest on different topics (climate change and evolution on one side; vaccines and neuroscience applied to humans on the other, just to name a few). Therefore a march for science with a SJW connotation in my opinion is internally inconsistent and ultimately laughable.

          3. Trump’s idiocy will be used by the Regressive Left to strengthen pro-Islam attitudes and discredit credible and substantiated criticism of sharia law, honor killings and women’s inferiority in the Muslim world. The left will help to spur a backlash against all critics of Islam, not just the rabid right wingers. In effect Trump has done a favor to the Regressive Left and the phony leaders like CAIR. This makes it all the more urgent to make sure the March for Science is not
            hijacked to serve an ideological agenda. If it does not detour away from all unrelated issues it will have an impact. I urge everyone to write to the organizers (as I have done) and express your opinion.

          4. Which anti-science beliefs did you have in mind? Aside from anti-nuclear hysteria, issues like vaccine and GMO denialism are no more common on the left than the right. Maybe you have other things in mind?

          5. Just off the top of my head: rejection of sexual dimorphism (and plenty of other feminist claptrap and willingness to manipulate data to fit preconceived conclusions); subjective or unempirical “other ways of knowing” (e.g. “shamanism and ancient eastern medicine are just as legitimate as western medicine”); the constant moaning about how science is racist/a ploy to “colonize” other cultures and the minds of their people and needs to be “decolonized”; that science is “anti-woman”; the rejection of allowing further study of many subjects or treatments…I mean, we could go on, but I think all you really need to do is read that statement from the march organizers in the article above to get the idea of what’s behind it. These people are not pro-science or empiricism, but against everything that contradicts their dogmatic ideology.

          6. First, I agree it would be terrible for the March to be co-opted by any political agenda besides the cause of science itself.

            “But the majority of the far left has extremely anti-science beliefs in the core of its ideology as well.”
            I asked you to clarify what you meant, and I thank you for amplifying. I agree that the positions you’ve laid out are generally left-associated and potentially anti-science. I say “potentially” because I find that for most of the views you list are extreme incarnations of more common criticisms of science. To the extent that the views you identify are anti-science, they are not common; if large fractions of the far left could be said to agree with the ideas you list, they’re holding to comparatively benign interpretations.

            The main theme coming through is post-modern-ish relativism: kyriarchy supposedly renders the special knowledge dispossessed classes unavailable to white cis-men and therefore unassailable by science, which is essentially an arm of Western hegemony. This view, as I’ve caricatured it, is heinous anti-science BS you can only find on the left, but I dispute that anything this extreme is very common among the far left. (If you have data that suggests otherwise, I am interested.) I agree that something like that view is part of the core ideology of the far left; post-modernism has left its mark, but we pinkos/SJWs/cucks/whatever haven’t swallowed it whole.

            Skeptics argue that we are all biased toward our own ideological commitments, and this is the very argument most lefties make. What the far left has done is added an observation from Marx and Foucault, that power fosters ideology, to our baloney detection kit. Scientists have historically been “privileged” in various ways, and those privileges have produced occasional blunders.

            I don’t deny that post-modern loonies are out there, but unless you want to define the far left with reference to loony post-modernism, I don’t think they comprise the majority of the far left.

            * rejection of sexual dimorphism
            The rejection of gender binaries is not equivalent to rejection of sexual dimorophism. The former is relatively common. The most common “rejection” of sexual dimorphism I’ve seen is a focus on intersex individuals not fitting in a binary classification.

            * “other ways of knowing” (e.g. “shamanism and ancient eastern medicine are just as legitimate as western medicine”)
            Karen Armstrong style religious apologetics are unfortunately common on the left. Human culture as whole is too deferential to religion, and the right is far worse on this scale, but I agree that this is a bona fide problem on the left.

            That said, the “just as legitimate” example you provide is a fringe view. It’s one thing to say that we can learn about the ineffable through trance and quite another to say that acupuncture can cure cancer.

            * science is racist/a ploy to “colonize” other cultures
            It is not anti-science to observe that scientists, being human, are subject to bias in favor of their own worldviews. It is only anti-science when you argue that this bias means that when priests claim they can call the lightning, we should just take their claims at face value.

            * science is “anti-woman”
            I don’t even know what you’re referring to. I’ve seen and heard much about misogyny within the scientific community, but I don’t think that’s what you have in mind.

            * the rejection of allowing further study of many subjects or treatments
            I don’t know which examples you’re thinking of. The only case that comes to mind would be something like “The Bell Curve”, where it is effectively taboo to study racial differences unless your conclusions are in line with egalitarian politics.

            This is basically an issue of holy cows whose divinity must not be questioned. Well, whoop de doo, leftists have ideological commitments. I’m not defending it, I’m just saying, peoples is peoples. There are cogent arguments that some research into certain questions are not worth the social unrest given the prior plausibilities.

  11. The March should not even be “anti-Trump”. The misunderstanding of science and the attacks on rational thought unfortunately go beyond the Trump administration.

    Maybe it should not be “anti-” anything and should simply be pro-science and pro-rational thought.

  12. I hadn’t thought of the likely reaction to such a march, that it would be seen simply as another interest group wanting attention. It’s a very good point.

    The point still has to be made, of course, but I wonder if there isn’t some sort of way of varying it from a bog standard group of people marching, carrying banners and shouting. Something that shouts the benefits of science. I’ve no real idea myself but I’m sure there must be some ideas amongst those who have creative flair.

  13. I disagree with the Young piece vehemently. Science, at least where it speaks two wider societal issues, is automatically politic. No point in hiding in the ivory tower. That the tools of science, reason, inquiry, testing, measuring, are vital ingredients in politics, that is a great message for the march. The ID-politics etc don’t necessarily belong there, and frankly get more than enough airtime. And that science supports discrimination is just ludicrous, the opposite is true. So march for science, and for science alone!

    1. One way to interpret the “science supports discrimination” statement would be to understand the “science” being referred to not as the abstract set of ideas and methods but as a cultural institution, and the discrimination it supports would then be discrimination within that institution.

  14. I too hope as many groups march as possible.
    I would hope the March for Scientists would focus on the promotion of science and not on social justice issues. However, when you are talking about a yuuuge group of people marching, you will inevitably get people bringing in their personal preferences I’m sure. I did not like all the signs or some of the speakers at the Women’s March in, but I think it was an effective march. Hopefully the main point will be made about this Republican administration and science denialism. Unfortunately, we are all just apes, and not perfect ones.

  15. The scientists should invite engineers and architects who use scientific knowledge to build things like…Trump Towers and our war machine. Surly our administration has some respect for those diciplines.

    1. They’re workers, not important people – business people, money people. They’ll be ignored, or if noticed, fired.

  16. If there is to be a march for science, I think it should be a march for scientific method and scientific inquiry. This part of your statement (below) seems to capture the real spirit of science.

    “…If we are to march, we should march in unity for truth, and against those who reject empirical truth. What unites all science—and makes it unique—is that it is a universal toolkit, used in the same way by members of all groups, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion. That is what holds us together. If we start dragging in issues of social justice—and I’m not of course saying they should be ignored in other venues—then we divide not only ourselves, but separate ourselves from much of the electorate, who, as we’ve seen above, generally trust us….”

    Well said!


    John J. Fitzgerald

  17. It is fully appropriate for scientists and non-scientists to demand that our government be driven by science rather than science being driven by partisan politics. Marches in DC and elsewhere, followed by appropriate civic engagement, are a time tested method of stating the case and rallying supporters.

  18. As soon as you identify the match with causes which are, at best, tangential to science, you start excluding scientists who don’t fit whatever the accepted orthodoxy is this week.

    Trans-issues are particularly divisive as the response to Alice Dreger’s book Galileo’s Middle Finger and her defence of Michael Bailey has shown.

    Gender is a mine-field so many neuroscientists and evo-psychologists will find themselves blacklisted.

    And that’s before we get to scientists who’s work has potential military applications. Which is, frankly, almost everybody.

    1. At the end of the day, both sides have been trying to take over science and scientific study to twist it toward their own dogmatic ideologies, the right through government (right now) and the left through universities/education.

  19. I think it’s a really bad idea to mix the presentation of objective, fact-based scientific findings (e.g. climate change) with subjective, values-based social activism.

    Not that there is anything at all wrong with the latter, it’s just that it is distinct from the former.

  20. The “Scientists’ March on Washington” site leaves it unclear whether it really wants to advocate for science, or against it…

    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.

    Science generally continues to support discrimmination!? Generally!? Wasn’t this about the Trump administration? It seems they have a different aim, or somebody has sneaked in a different agenda. Yet again.

    Next update: science is a reductionist oppressive enterprise steeped in coloniality that utilizes the mode of the male gaze with which it objectifies nature for the benefit of the patriarchy. Science must become intersectional and acknowledge the lived experiences of the marginalized identities …

    1. You forgot that science is “socially constructed” and has no basis in reality! You forgot that all cultures are equal and criticism of some cultural practices is
      “cultural imperialism”!. You forgot that traditional medicine and healing are as valid as empirical research, testing, replication and confirmation! You forgot that Hinduism invented science thousands of years before the Enlightenment! You forgot that humans were “created” free of sin but only corrupted by society! (and that the “Blank Slate” Marxists will create a new perfect society)!
      Gee whiz, How are you people going to fix things if you ignore the genius of cultural studies and post modernism?

  21. But could you have had a ‘March for Science’ if Clinton had won and then not delivered the wonderful things she pledged for science?

    If the answer is no, then political bias lies under the surface of your choice.

    1. Yes, a point, but no, not really.
      There is a difference between not delivering on nice promises on the one hand, and anti-science actions on things like evolution, vaccines and global warming on the other, between not giving scientists all they would like to have and forcefully muzzling them.

  22. I wouldn’t touch this group with a 10 foot pole. I criticized them, once, and they blocked me. I wish I could remember what I criticized them about, but it was too long ago!

  23. I refuse to march with sharia law apologists for women rights and I refuse to march with obtuse postmodernist intersectionalists for science.

    It would be interesting to know the percentage of anti-vaccines ant anti-GMO among the leaders. From the statement of purposes it seems clear that the majority of them believe that gender is a social construct (only in humans of course).

  24. I think Young is correct. A march for scientists, even with extraneous issues removed, is likely to be counterproductive. The march would only harden the attitudes of those skeptical of science, particularly in the area of climate change. These skeptics, mostly Republicans as the Pew Poll revealed, would further identify scientists with liberals. If, in fact, climate change is the existential threat to the planet then scientists should direct their energies to changing minds through direct contact with the general public. For example, scientists could engage with business groups to show how climate change could affect business. Scientific organizations could take out television commercials and present the facts.

    In the Age of Trump where research funding is threatened and scientific nonsense may become the official policy of the United States, scientists should take the offensive by interacting with the public in as many ways as possible. A march will be quickly forgotten and may very well get only limited media coverage.

    1. I agree with Young only to a certain extent: a march of scientists shouldn’t be explicitly anti-Trump (or anti-right or anti-conservative, etc.), but rather a march FOR things.

      For things such as truth, objectivity, empirical study, and the other tenets of science. A march for science should be a march for continuing to study and disseminate information to the public on the truth of issues like evolution, vaccines, global warming, and others. It should not be in any way explicitly political because science itself is not political, regardless of whether people on both sides inevitably politicize it.

  25. “If we are to march, we should march in unity for truth, and against those who reject empirical truth.”

    I fully agree with your statement. Scientists are the bedrock of truth. Although they have the same rights as everyone else to say whatever they want, we may hold them to a higher standard. We need them to be rational, honest truth-tellers. March for science, not moral issues. That’s a different march.

  26. Like many folks have expressed, I would support a march that focused solely on the fundamentals of the scientific enterprise, forgoing any tangential SJW trumpery. However, as with all marches, the key is follow-up; what actions can be pursued after a mass gathering? It would be great if there could be a fiscal response – hit them where it hurts, a la California considering not transferring tax money to Washington.

  27. Let’s not keep calling issues like compassionate immigration reform, being against racism/sexism/x-ism/x-phobia, etc. “social justice issues.” Such issues are not the sole province of social justice and its warriors, much as they may want us to believe it. We liberals haven’t given up on such things, and we shouldn’t pretend that one extreme group has hold over them.

    If every march and action against Trump is going to be taken over like this, we are going to have one very ineffectual and sad resistance movement and see infighting take over once again. We need to learn from the last election, not continue making the same mistakes by trying to placate the most vocal and radical among those who stand against Trump.

  28. It’s a bad idea. When transgender bathrooms are presented as “the science” then it looks like you are trading on the prestige of science to advance political preferences. And that is clearly what is happening. Leave endorsements to sports stars.

  29. ‘Scientists’ are smart, but poor at shouting loudly

    I don’t want another boring march that can be twisted by the media-of-choice of the viewer. If scientists are so smart can’t they come up with a series of many, many small, but effective protests over weeks & months? If you’re a ‘scientist’ you can presumably harness your understanding of databases, the internet, utility control systems etc to make the point.

    Marches are so Yarrow 1936. Yawn.

  30. I’ll weigh in and say your critique is spot-on, and I think you manage to call it a lot better than Young did.

    First, there already has been a march on Washington for a broad left/liberal agenda, and that was the Women’s March (which if they were going for a name that better fit their unity statement, really should have been called the People’s March). A “Science March” that’s just a reduplication of the same agenda is a wasted effort and runs exactly the risk that Young outlined, namely, as putting science in the position of just being another partisan interest.

    Second, as we’ve seen from the whole “Atheism Plus” debacle of the last few years, it’s quite apparent that there’s a group of people who have an unfortunate commitment to joining science and reason at the hip to some truly batshit ideas. As a scientist, I’m quite contemptuous of fashionable nonsense like “there’s no such thing as biological sex”, irrational fear of GMOs, and so on.

    Politically, I’m not terribly fond of the so-called ‘social justice’ movement as well, but that’s neither here nor their. I wouldn’t expect scientists to coalesce around my political beliefs either.

    Right now, the Science March is a work in progress, with an incredibly incomplete website they’ve gone public with. (Albeit, one that learned nothing from the Women’s March, and the mistakes they made when posting draft versions of their unity statement as an official agenda.) We’ll see what it actually amounts to something worth supporting.

  31. I can see scientists as serving as objective opinion givers like the Supreme Court. If you have an issue, consult science or the courts to get an independent opinion. In general the opinions will be respected. But if the Supreme Court started marching for justice or for some slant on political issues they would lose their authority. So, I’m afraid, would scientists.

  32. My $.02: The idea of a scientists’ march is a non-starter. There aren’t enough of us, it’d look like the Stinesville Fourth of July parade got lost in a mall parking lot. Marches are about numbers. If you don’t have numbers, it just makes you look insignificant.

    A sciencish march means, really, a march of various people who kinda think science is cool but don’t really know anything about it beyond following IFLScience on facebook. So, yeah, it boils down to branding generic leftism as “science”.

    1. Yes, I agree with your point about numbers. Also, we’re barely 2 weeks into Trump’s presidency. Is there going to be a “March for/by group X” every week from now until 2020? The media will soon suffer “march fatigue” and people will stop watching and taking notice if there’s yet another placard-carrying mob filling their TV news day after day. I think a “March for Science” isn’t inherently a bad idea, but US scientists should pick their time with care, perhaps if/when Trump presents them with a big issue to focus on.

    2. “There aren’t enough of us…”

      You’re simply using too narrow a definition of “scientist”. Think of it in terms PCC has used, “science broadly construed”, and it becomes a much larger group.

      1. Don’t forget all of us who work to *support* scientists – for example, all the IT people who work to maintain networks and compute engines, write software to assist scientists, etc. We too are on the “scientist side” (or at least should be). This is (partially) why I supported Evidence for Democracy here in Canada when (and still do) it was most needed.

        Of course, qua private citizen and qua philosopher of science (original background) I am also concerned …

  33. Is the intention to show the voting public that scientists are appalled by the rise of an ‘alternative facts’ government/culture, or will it be an attempt to sway government to adopt fewer anti-science positions? A march might help to achieve the first aim, but if it were hijacked, as I suspect it will be, it may strengthen the ludicrous position that scientists are just another special interest group. The message may also be relatively easy to counter, unless the March was massive and included well known names. As to the second possible aim, it doesn’t look like this administration isa in a mood to compromise.

  34. “What do we want?”

    “A commitment to observation, experiment, empirical verification and validation, logic, reason, rational thought, critical assessment of our assumptions and evidence-based decision-making!”

    “When do we want it?”


    Might need tightening up a bit.

    1. “What do we want?”

      “Well, that’s an interesting question. What DO we want? Can we truly want anything, or are our desires dictated by outside forces? If one holds a deterministic view of human nature and the ability to choose…”

      [cameras wander off]

  35. Good science is value free.

    I think scientist should distance themselves as far as possible from political activism.

    Just make clear what the scientific consensus is. Tell the general public how things are, not how things should be.

    The world has already more than enough storytellers.

  36. That tweet you’ve quoted seems like a parody of the corruption of science towards leftist identity politics and political activism.

    I had to check it was real. It seems that it is, and that tweet hasn’t been deleted. The idiots who are behind this organisation are playing into Trump’s hand if he’s looking to make cutbacks in science funding.

    1. Does anybody know who the organizers are?

      Can we rule out that they are a far left group organizing multiple march events under different banners?

      “The idiots who are behind this organisation are playing into Trump’s hand if he’s looking to make cutbacks in science funding.”


  37. I too am deeply disappointed that the march is quite obviously no longer one in support of the scientific enterprise but rather in protest of failures of inclusivity within the scientific community. As a result, rather than sending a message to Washington that the public will not stand for the silencing or politicization of science, it is going to send a message that the public is ambivalent in its support of science and that the scientific community is divided against itself. This will only further embolden the new administration’s attack on science – thereby exacerbating the very problem it purports to address.

    There are some legitimate grievances with respect to diversity within STEM fields that I agree should be addressed. But a huge, ostentatious exercise in self-flagellation will advance neither cause and deeply harm at least one. If the intent was to be self-defeating the organizers could not have invented a more effective strategy.

    1. Marches also energize the marchers. If a few more scientists see the need for communication beyond just that with their peers, we all benefit. Science in some cases can be kind of a lonely venture; in other cases, a competitive one. Awakening a little esprit de corps might be just the ticket.

  38. There are two things to march about: the conclusions we (tentatively) reach, and the process of teating hypotheses empirically and relying on data. Neither are “social” issues. We citizens need multiple marches from multiple groups on multiple subjects. When all the marches end up being the same people saying the same things they will become redundant and will be counterproductive.

    So, let’s have marches as scientists about science, specifically the need to make data-based decisions.

    We can present individual conclusions in hearings and in the media. We really should show up more during decision making to do this. But it isn’t what a march should be about. (Though I can imagine multiple marches on individual sugjects, such as climate change, or evolution in education.)

  39. I am not a ‘scientist’. I teach science, love science, and consider myself a supporter. I expect to be in one of the marches.

    Politicians, particularly those who are sitting on the fence, need to see that science is not just about scientists. Science includes practitioners, teachers, enablers, and plain old aficionados. I hope my daughter will accompany me because science is not just about us, now, but about our future too.

    Some posts here have expressed concern that there will not be “enough of us.” This is not true if all people who cherish science are there. We need to be seen and heard. Each and every one of us there is a potential voter—that is the language that politicians understand.

  40. Science cannot be censored. Once censored it ceases to be science. We cannot allow science to be politicized. We cannot allow any institution to control what we study. I am proud so many of us see this threat on our freedom for what it is. If we remove the ability to practice science freely, we are no longer a free people.

  41. Per a tweet today at @ScienceMarchDC: “The March for Science will take place on April 22, 2017. We hope to see you in D.C. and around the world! #ScienceMarch.”

    Earth Day y2017 happens to be a Saturday.


  42. Your claim that science doesn’t have a role in understanding or deciding moral issues demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of the issues involved.

    Can science science objectively respond to the moral question of whether same-sex marriage is “good” or “bad”? No, it can’t. What science CAN do, however, is provide the objective and factual context around which that question can be assessed in a moral/legal framework. Science can demonstrate that children raised by same-sex couples are comparable to those raised by opposite sex couples. Science can demonstrate that homosexuality is a normal part of the biological diversity of sexual orientation. Science can evaluate the sociological and economic benefits of marriage for both same and opposite sex couples.

    This example could be extrapolated to other fields as well. Science can’t say whether racism is good or bad, but it can be used to identify whether racial disparities exist across different aspects of our justice system. Science can’t say whether owning guns is moral or not, but it can evaluate the results of gun ownership or gun laws on crime rates, suicides, etc.

    Science is simply a system that is used for objectively assessing and evaluating information. Those objective analyses can then be used to make rational decisions about the world, including decisions involving morality. The Trump administration wants to censor science and scientists because they are well aware of the power that it possesses to lay bare the truth of the world, especially when that truth runs contrary to biases and prejudices.

    1. Before you start kvetching, why don’t you try actually reading the post. Your first sentence is just flat wrong. Here’s what I said.

      After all, stuff like “immigration policy”, “native rights”, and many other issues of social justice are not, as the organizers maintain, “scientific issues.” They are moral issues, which means they reflect worldviews and preferences that are not objective. Of course once you set your goals on immigration, pipeline locations and who should not be near them, and so on, then science can inform your actions.

  43. Great Article. If only they would focus exclusively on the universal toolkit and the complete dependence of modern society on that, how everything that appears purely mechanical or engineering or materials based in society is underpinned by science – especially chemistry/biochemistry and physics. How the particles of the standard model have all been proved to exist empirically – how this physics underpins numerous modern technologies. How chemistry also has a lot of physics = how discoveries during and since the enlightenment including the atomic table – and finishing with physics has produced all the materials and some of the medicines we depend on today including plastics (we could use oil just for this petrochemical industry and not fuel)

    Its deadly to discursively focus on politics. They archived that political statement and hopefully they are dropping the political approach. Also I saw this tweet a while ago (1 Feb) – sounds like its real given the March organisers worrying interest in political issues cited in Jerry’s article
    boosting World Hijab Day “Stand up for her right to Cover!”

    1. Also physics from Galileo on underpinned modern engines of all sorts that drove modern transport and agriculture and water sanitation systems. Not to mention agrochemicals and chemical fertiliser. Modern medicines and vaccines wold be impossible without biochemistry. Or UN mandated vaccines and iodine (the latter preventing 100s of millions of serious mental and physical disability) These things very seldom individual discoveries but cumulative discoveries and applications or teams of scientists so not appreciated. Together these things saved Billions of lives world wide Id contend. Just look at the population explosion after WW2. and Massive extension of life expectancy at birth just about everywhere world wide (that would be an article in itself so not referencing here). Population gradually controlled as better off countries had fewer children, plus of course development of contraceptives.

  44. Hi Jerry — I am a little late out of the blocks, but I just posted a short piece on The Panda’s Thumb, basically supporting your position that the March should stick to the science and leave “inclusiveness” for another time. If I can use html, then the article is here. You or your readers pls feel free to comment there. Rgds, Matt

  45. Unfortunately, violent suppression of free speech and enforcement of anti-Quranic apostasy law by Muslim rulers and their hand-picked Sunni and Shiite scholars plunged the Muslim world into a dark age. Great Muslim scientists and philosophers such as Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd were later condemned as heretics and apostates. At present, Muslims appear to have lost their ability to grasp the fact that they live in a dark age. A crusade similar to the one waged by the Catholic Church against the heliocentric model promoted by Copernicus and Galileo is now being waged against the theory of evolution identified by the western scientist Darwin. Ironically, Sunni and Shiite apologists have established an alliance against science with wrong-wing Evangelical Christians.

  46. Many of the statements in the Qur’an concerning nature and science have the ability to engage various audiences and appeal to their knowledge, whether a 7th century or 21st century audience”
    That is false.
    There are no statements “concerning nature and science” in the Koran. Ants can’t talk and birds fly without an allah. Milk is not made between blood and urine. Hail is not generated in the hills in heaven and thunder does not kill. Mountains are not pegs are there are no permanent barriers between salt- and fresh-water. Nothing the Koran mentions which occurs in nature is correct or relevant – and it certainly is not scientifically accurate, verifiable or correct.

    it remains valid and agreeable”
    That is false. It is just as wrong as it has always been – because it was not updated with current findings. It still contains the faulty perceptions of what humans thought they observed 1000 years ago.

    This should surely make one think about who its author was”
    Regardless of the veracity of a book, why should anyone grasp at straws and insert the super-natural when a natural explanation is so much more plausible?

    The Qur’an contains knowledge about the physical natural world”
    No, it does not. It appeals to gullibility and offers creation as solution.

    It relates to our feelings, wants and needs”
    The topic is science, not emotional pleading.

    The Qur’an informs us that we have a purpose in life”
    A toaster has a purpose. I have ambitions, goals, achievements and social interaction.

    following God’s guidance will lead us to inner peace in this life, and Paradise in the hereafter”
    An unsubstantiated, unproven claim based on wishful thinking.
    If Islam and the Koran offer “inner peace”, why are there so many violent, non-peaceful acts committed in the name of Islam? If there is no afterlife and no paradise, where does a Muslim apply for a refund of their zakat donated to dawah liars and where does she or he get the time back they spent on their knees?

    A rejection of His message will lead to depression in this life and Hellfire after death”
    Yep, the typical mafia threat used to suppress humans in antiquity. But if a god wanted me to accept the message, why not tell me straight instead of leaving alleged signs which are meaningless and stupid? Why not provide evidence instead of appealing to faith? What a useless god.

    iERA have once again embarked on their collection of lies crusade in order to generate income from gullible Muslims who blindly believe this nonsense. But today we have the internet and everyone can easily get information to understand why these claims made by iERA are wrong and what exactly is wrong with them.

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