As predicted, ideological squabbles fracture the Science March

March 24, 2017 • 11:30 am

I thought the identity politics that infected the first incarnation of the Science March had abated, but, according to Stat News, they’re actually getting worse, with fractures developing in the organization over issues of diversity, immigration, gender parity, and so on.

What was billed as science advocates speaking with a unified voice, then, has instead surfaced long-lingering tensions within the scientific community.

Rachel Holloway, a clinical psychologist who chairs the event’s diversity and inclusion committee, conceded that initially the group was overwhelmed by scientists and activists clamoring for a spot at the table. It was “like trying to drink water out of a fire hose,” she said.

Things have settled down since January, and organizers have begun to address members’ concerns. But many are not satisfied.

. . . Jacquelyn Gill, a biology and ecology professor at the University of Maine, told STAT that she quit the organizing committee in recent weeks because of leaders’ resistance to aggressively addressing inequalities — including race and gender.

“We were really in this position where, because the march failed to actively address those structural inequalities within its own organization and then to effectively communicate those values outward, we carried those inequalities forward,” Gill said. “Some of these problems stem from the march leadership failing early on in its messaging.”

. . . The event’s official diversity policy, posted just days after the march was announced in January, has undergone repeated revisions, and is now in its fourth version.

The latest, as Wednesday, read: “We acknowledge that society and scientific institutions often fail to include and value the contributions of scientists from underrepresented groups. … We better serve everyone when we affirm that the labors and achievements of underrepresented communities are foundational to the creation and maintenance of our democracy; engage in difficult conversations; and sustain an open scientific community that celebrates, respects, and includes people from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.”

As an example of how every group wants its own special interests identified and emphasized, have a look at this post at Latino Rebels. 

I have no objection to the March’s statement of diversity, because of course science should be an open community, any bigotry is unconscionable, and in fact science works best when everyone has the same opportunity to contribute, though that may not mean that all groups are represented in the field exactly according to their proportion in the population.

What bothers me is the message that the March is supposed to impart. If it’s that we stand up for science, science funding, and unfettered promulgation of scientific truth, that’s fine; but I don’t think it will have much impact. If it’s that the scientific community is plagued by the same inequities that infect society at large, well, those issues were addressed in the Woman’s March, and are not unique to science. To march about those issues, though the issues must be addressed, serves no purpose except to fracture whatever unified message the demonstration was supposed to have. It also brings the social problems of science to the wrong people (we’re supposed to be sending a message to society at large, while internecine problems should be called to the attention to the scientific community). Finally, what is achieved by diluting the March with social issues not endemic to science itself? What will be achieved?

I don’t know, not do I know any longer what the March is supposed to accomplish, or what its message is. There’s even an anti-harassment policy on the March for Science webpage that mentions—wait for it—hate speech:

Across all social media platforms, we will remove comments that include rude language or personal insults. Any commenters who use derogatory or hateful language and/or engage in personal attacks will banned, blocked, and/or removed from the relevant March for Science online groups or accounts.

The March for Science does not tolerate hate speech, bigotry, or harassment within or outside our community. Targeting individuals or communities with violent language, including statements that reflect racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or any form of bigotry, will result in banning and/or blocking. Personal attacks based on religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation will also lead to banning and/or blocking. To flag an issue, please contact a March for Science administrator on the relevant social media platform.

Have you ever seen a march that requires such a policy? But it’s symptomatic of the March’s young organizers, who seem to be sufficiently inexperienced that they didn’t think things through in the first place.  And what is happening here is what is ruining the effectiveness of the Left in general. It is the petulance of college students writ larger, something I’ve always worried about.

Will I participate? (I’ll be back before it starts.). I don’t know. It depends whether they can decide what the purpose of the March really is, and how they’ll convey their message. 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.

h/t: Adrián

64 thoughts on “As predicted, ideological squabbles fracture the Science March

  1. Yes, I noticed a few days ago that their Twitter feed is littered with identity politics statements, but almost none about science. I consider this lack of focus a demonstration of gross incompetence on the part of the organizers. Ideology makes you stupid.

  2. Good grief, I agree that there needs to be a unified message. I thought the march was to emphasize the importance of science not march to address all social issues in society. You can’t solve everything at once and if you try, you solve nothing.

    1. Yep. Surely a Science March is meant to be in support of, well, science! The other issues are important, but peripheral to the actual goal of the march which is about funding for science.

      To put it into language they might understand, they need to write a mission statement for their march. Everything that doesn’t relate to that should be addressed separately.

  3. “What bothers me is the message that the March is supposed to impart. If it’s that we stand up for science, science funding, and unfettered promulgation of scientific truth, that’s fine; but I don’t think it will have much impact. ”

    Well put.

    “… hate speech …”

    That settles it – I’ve got other things I could do that day.

  4. Since the previous marches/demonstrations, beginning with the well attended Women’s March, have had zero impact upon the Trump Crime Family’s policies it’s time to ask what possible good would come from yet another futile and ignored demonstration. They don’t care and they’re not even aware of anything happening that’s not featured on Fox News.

    What needs to be done is organizing for next year’s midterms, finding potential candidates who are science friendly and using the media to
    put forward science issues that are being hurt by the Administration’s neglect.

    In other words, this must move from being an amateur one time activity to being a professionally organized and managed movement. Otherwise this demo will be just another bunch of crybabies whining in the dark.

    1. The march make the general population aware of science issues. Often, a large march is the only way to reach some people. If more people are aware of the issues and their consequences, there is an increased likelihood that these people will support science and urge their politicians to do the same.

      I don’t think the intent is to change legislation directly as a result of the march.

    2. In general I think marches have a limited effect, unless perhaps they are truly huge. However, what benefit this march can have is, I think, directly linked to how much this focuses on science. The population at large still has a lot of respect for science as an idea and a unified message of support for science, in terms of education and funding, as well as support for the results of that science, might do some good.

      However, if this becomes just a hodge-podge collection of liberal causes while not attaining striking numbers it will be ignored. If it is in part a criticism of science for supposed lack of diversity, it’s not even a march *for* science. (The right way to play the diversity angle is to state that science is about facts that are unifying regardless of race, sex, orientation etc. and therefore it welcomes and has benefitted from contributions from all walks of life.)

      1. “The population at large still has a lot of respect for science as an idea”

        Not necessarily in the groups whose support and respect will be sorely needed, going into the future.

        As it looks, it is quite possible this march will just further justify these peoples conclusions not to respect it.

        The identity politics and ideological web of the regressive left warps and withers everything it touches.

        For people who don’t know where they will find the money for next months rent, the problems these professors and student wail about, seems (I think) in comparison, like insignificant trifles, and the way they behave, like small spoiled children having a temper tantrum.

        Many years ago, I read a comment by a former British diplomat who had (if I remember correctly) lived through both of the world Wars, and the cold one that followed, in which he mused that people don’t seem to grow up anymore, but remain intellectually stunted.

        It struck me at the time, (for several reasons), and I think there is actually some (objective) truth in that observation.

        I wonder if not the best any responsible scientist could do for science, is to stay as far away from this march as is possible.

        1. “As it looks, it is quite possible this march will just further justify these peoples conclusions not to respect it.”

          My thought exactly.

          1. I think it is absolutely vital that the science and scientists (in their professional role) are perceived (and are seen to be) non-political.

            They must not let themselves be ensnared in the weaves of the regressive left, and get tainted by it.

            While that is (I think) already far to late for the humanities, art, education and the social sciences, it must be defended vigorously elsewhere.

            So much (I believe) will hinge on science over the next century, for it to be caught up in the political maelstrom that might be about to descend upon us in the coming decades.

  5. The March for Science does not tolerate hate speech, bigotry, or harassment within or outside our community.

    I’m all for this as long as someone doesn’t interpret it in a kooky way. And I’m all for respecting people as non-kooky until and unless they actually do something kooky.

    So I’d keep it in on the assumption that my fellow science marchers deserve as least as much respect as people in general. Scream if bitten; not before.

    1. I’ve had just about enough of your anti-kook hate speech. I wanted to organize a kooks march on Washington specifically to combat this kind of bigotry but then I found out they already had one on January 20th.

  6. There is going to be only one march. It will hopefully get some media attention.

    It seems all the effort should be towards crafting one message, one message to be conveyed loud and clear.

    I am not seeing what that message is. I am disappointed.

  7. As individuals, scientists tend to be terrible at communicating with the public. To address this, they are going to join together and be incomprehensible as a large group. Unfortunately, incompetencies scale better than competencies.

    I want to think that this mission creep isn’t necessarily nefarious. Perhaps it is just due to the fact that scientists don’t typically organize rallies so they have to get help from those who do. The people who have experience organizing rallies are generally ideologues and as a result ideology is seeping into this rally. Just speculation. Regardless, I’m losing interest.

  8. All I want is to march for science as it is our best and most powerful means to discover the truth. I don’t care if the person walking or standing next to me is of a different gender, or race, and I don’t give two hoots about their gender identity or orientation.
    I hope that this position is seen as acceptable. It [i]should[/i] be if the goals are to have a community where such things are scarcely noticed.

    1. Uh oh. I think you are really in for it now. Nothing seems to piss these Modern-Post-Modernists (MPM) and SJWs off more than reasonableness.

    2. Not caring about someone’s gender or race is considered just as bad as being a racist because it’s “erasing” their identity.

  9. Since when does walking en mass require crap like “diversion and inclusion committees” or “anti harassment policies”? You’re just walking damn it, it’s not rocket science…or maybe that’s the root of the problem. Smart people overthinking very simple things. They should cancel it because of the embarrassment of it all. How on earth will anyone take a march seriously if it’s comprised of “intellectuals” who can’t deliver a clear and simple message devoid of all the confounding identity politics. It plays right into the hands of right’s critique of the “elite intellectual” not connecting to the average person.

    1. First off, “walking en mass” is exclusionary. It leaves out the non-ambulatory among us and those with social anxiety issues.

    2. Another good reason to cancel is, I think, that it ultimately aims for the wrong target.

      If they should have a march for science, it should be against the creeping politicization of science.

      Or, as concerned citizens, to take up the banners and lead the charge for free speech and the free exchange of ideas and against no-platforming and violence.

      Trump is (to my mind) the symptom, not the cause. And, removing Trump will not (I think) solve or cure the underlying problem at hand, it might only postpone the motion somewhat.

      And, the next person that are thrown forward by the eddies of fate, or steps forward, might be much more dangerous and capable than Trump.

  10. The tone-deaf cluelessness required to infest a science march with SJW rhetoric at this particular moment in American political history is awe inspiring. Thanks, march organizers, for giving Fox their lead talking point – “left-wing science”.

  11. I confess I had to laugh, even while I died a little inside reading this. Diversity considerations are of course important but I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with the philosophy of ‘natural proportions’ I agree that if an institution or whatever doesn’t have the natural proportions of the community it serves then there is probably a problem BUT I don’t know if that is the same as saying X SHOULD be inserted to make up those natural proportions

  12. What a mess. Philosophy March. How about March of Life. Or Lets Solve Every Problem March.

    This March is going to be spread so thin graphene will appear opaque.

    1. They’ll organise a March for Philosophy when they can agree on what constitutes ‘philosophy’, what does it mean to ‘march’, and what is the definition of the word ‘what’ in a post-modern world which has rejected grand narratives?

  13. The March for Science does not tolerate hate speech, bigotry, or harassment within or outside our community. Targeting individuals or communities with violent language, including statements that reflect racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or any form of bigotry, will result in banning and/or blocking.

    This’ll be where the whole thing will fall apart. It’s one thing to object to prejudice and discrimination but even expressing a belief in biological sex is considered hate speech by some.

    1. And the “anti-harassment” policy is reminiscent of such policies SJWs have forced other organizations, conferences, and communities to adopt in recent years. It serves as a mechanism for them to use in order to purge wrong-think.

      Remember, this is one of the first things the Atheism + movement forced onto all future atheist conventions, and we soon all learned that it was simply a tool of control. “Rebecca Watson’s views were being criticized by this man. Throw him out for harassment!” “That woman is wearing a t-shirt saying she doesn’t support the encroachment of social justice issues into atheist conventions. Tell her to either remove the shirt or be thrown out of the convention entirely!” These quotes are summations of real things that happened once the A+ people got their “anti-harassment” policies in place.

  14. I would go further than saying it needs a clear message. It needs to set a clear, concrete and achievable goal for policy change. And one that will not instantly backfire if it’s not achieved.

    Set priorities — funding for research or education, or some climate change goal, or whatever. Then see which of these has greatest likelihood of success and/or is the clearest weakness of your political opponents. Focus everything you’ve got on getting the media to cover that aspect.

    Identify the weakest point in the opponent’s system, and hit hard. And don’t get emotional or personal. And don’t choose something that will backfire. (Like Elizabeth Warren saying no vote on the supreme court while an investigation is going on — in other words, committing to voting on it after the investigation is finished and the president and staff are inevitably exonerated.)

  15. Disgusting! Identity politics is eating the left. It is indeed predictable, but still saddening to see it happen. I hope that we rid this cancer.

    I thought the sciences is immune since identity politics is a product of the humanities, especially the so-called gender studies, african american studies, and science, technology and society classes. It seems to have jumped to the sciences, because why not?

    1. It’s jumped to the sciences because second-rate thinkers and hangers-on, who find doing real science too hard, find it quite easy to invent grievances and agitate for ’causes’; and the first-rate thinkers are too busy doing real science to be bothered battling such dreary sanctimonious crap.


      1. It has a hard time invading the sciences proper because results still matter. But it has a much easier time infecting science outreach.

  16. I have to admit i didn’t see this coming. I thought a “March for Science” would be pretty straight forward; Support for things like evolution, climate science and better funding for education.

    How did this turn into a civil rights march? Why dilute the message?

  17. Science combined with politics is always an unhappy marriage. One is about discovering truth; the other is about power, social status and dividing the loot.

    1. ++
      The people who are in the process of turning this march into a caricature are sad and ineffectual mirrors of the problem the march is intended to oppose. While they are busy fussing about their feels, and alienating sane people from the march, science-denying theocrats are relentlessly promoting dangerous ignorance in an *effective* manner.

  18. We’ll see how it shapes up, but F*x “news” will have a hard time explaining a weak turnout with George Soros… yeah, read about George Soros.

  19. By chance I’m back in the States at the time of the march and I felt it was very important to participate. Going to my local March website in Santa Barbara California, I find the following:
    “”At the March for Science, we are committed to highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as allies with black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, indigenous, non-Christian, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender …. etc. etc.”
    They left out mom and apple pie and I’m not quite sure what “agender” engenders… so I’m thinking of giving it a miss.
    What a bloody lack of focus….

    1. Oh gods.

      What will they do, march round in circles?
      Mill about in confusion? Sing ‘Kumbaya’?

      As I see it, a ‘March for Science’ has one immediate problem (not insurmountable) in that ‘science’ covers a wide field so the objectives of the march – the message – risks being diffuse or unclear. Further diluting it with all sorts of strictly irrelevant PC stuff is just going to water it down to meaninglessness.


  20. I’m marching at the local march. The organizers are young scientists (grad students I believe) and their focus, according to the march’s Facebook page, is clearly science. So I’m marching to support them and the future of science in this country.

  21. Questions that come to mind:

    What is the expected outcome of an individual participating in any of the various science-labeled marches?

    What will any individual do when, all of a sudden, the marchers start handing out hijabs? That happened in the otherwise spectacular Wonen’s March, and I’d give a wild estimate of 25% it shows up on the Internet.

    Is anyone going to invite their mathematician friends?

  22. PZ Myers is fully behind the SJW tone of the March organisers. He has a blog post criticising Steven Pinker for this tweet: “Glad to see that the March for Science Web site has removed the distractions. It’s an important event.”. I think the tweet was made when the SJW blurb had been temporarily removed.

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