While in New Zealand, I’ve been interviewed twice about April 22’s March for Science, and have had to refuse several other interviews because I’m traveling. I think the interest in the March comes partly from magazines’ and journalists’ failure to understand what a “march for science” is really about.
And they’re right to be puzzled. The aims of the march aren’t clearly articulated, as you can see by contrasting their Mission Statement, which says the March should “champion and defend” science and their Diversity and Inclusion Principles (they had to issue a clarification about the latter), which indicts not just some science, but science itself, for marginalizing some groups and doing bad things (I think they have in mind issues like the Tuskegee Syphillis study).
In other words, they can’t decide whether to extol or indict science. Surely scientists have done bigoted and racist things in the past, and have excluded women, but those are the actions not of the field but of people—biased people who are found in all professions and, I maintain, are less common today in science than in many other professions. A successful science march is not going to be one that spends its time indicting science. Yes, there are institutional issues that scientists should work on—and we are!—but you’re not going to persuade people to support science by emblazoning these issues on placards. The March is supposed to be for science, not against what science does.
Further, if the Science March becomes obsessed with politics, and identity politics in particular, it will neither persuade our opponents nor distinguish the demonstration from overtly political marches like the Women’s March. (Do remember that I support the goals of that march and of ending oppression everwhere that is based on sex, race, and ethnicity).
Pity, then, that the tone-deaf organizers of the Science March just played their political cards in a dumb way: by extolling ISIS fighters as “marginalized people.” Or so report places (yes, mostly conservative one, of course) ike The American Council on Science and Health and The Daily Caller. (Remember, don’t dismiss news because of its source.)
According to these sources, the Science March account defended ISIS as “marginalized people” in a tweet that was later deleted. It started with a post by activist Zellie Imani, a member of the Black Liberation Collective, noting on Twitter that the cost of the “Mother of all Bombs” could fix the water system in Flint, Michigan. That’s a fair point if dropping the bomb was a waste of effort (I’ve only just heard about it because I’m traveling), but you could also say that about a lot of defense spending:
Flint's water system could cost $200m to repair fully. And the bomb just dropped on Afghanistan costs $300M. #45
— zellie (@zellieimani) April 13, 2017
And, in response, the March for Science people sent out this tweet, which appears to have been deleted but was screencapped:
No, it’s not science who is at fault here—any more than architecture is responsible for the Nazi gas chambers—but rather the military who decided to use the bomb, and those scientists who help build big bombs. But in what respect should this be an indictment of science? Those big bombs might actually be used in a positive way, so the blame, if there is any in this case, rests on the military and Trump, the people who decided to drop the weapon.
And seriously: is ISIS, the bomb’s target, really to be coddled as “marginalized people”? What world are the Science March organizers living in? ISIS regularly kills marginalized people!
The March for Science appears to have also deleted tweets blaming “scientific progress” for chemical weapons.
Well, technologists and scientists played a role in developing those weapons, but are we to blame science and scientific progress for that? Let us then also blame science for all the bombs and weapons used by the Allies in World War II, and on any weapons used on evil people like ISIS.
What is the point of this kind of finger-pointing by the organizers of the March for Science? Like Trump, they simply can’t keep away from Twitter, and the result is they post ill-advised tweets that are tone deaf, and then have to withdraw them after they realize what they’ve done.
Though I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and consider myself a progressive, agreeing with many of the political views held by the Science March’s organizers, they’ve proven themselves ham-handed, inexperienced, tone-deaf, and unable to resist identity politics to the extent that they’re now sympathizing with ISIS. I’m done with this group, and with the Science March. I’ll do my bit for science by speaking and writing articles, something that may be more effect than waving placards in the streets.