Tuesday, April 25, 2017
I'm late to this party, but there remains something to be said, so I'll say it here. (The first I'd heard of this was a question from my wife about it on the day.) I am one of many scientists who did not "march for science" last weekend. An editorial from STAT (HT: Derek Lowe) features the beginning of a good case for why people who care about science would boycott or counter-protest the event, but it does not go far enough:
And there's no denying this march is political. It is a mistake to position the scientific method against the Trump administration or any other one, for that matter. That would serve only to undermine a central premise of the march: that scientific knowledge is apolitical. Organizers argue that the march is "nonpartisan." While this may be the official line, I'm skeptical of whether anything approaching it can actually be achieved, especially on the heels of a divisive election. For example, I recently spoke with a colleague who was organizing a poster-making session for the march. She proudly described her design as an "I'm With Her" arrow pointing toward planet Earth.I wasn't "with" anyone in the last presidential election. Furthermore, I am of a very small minority of scientists who go so far as to oppose even the current model of scientific funding that writer Arthur Lambert correctly notes (1) isn't even remotely under threat, and (2) is inherently political:
Ultimately, the problem with the March for Science is its scope. To be sure, it can be reasonable and helpful to rally for scientific funding, which is appropriated by Congress and therefore inherently political. A bright spot is that there is fairly strong bipartisan backing for funding the National Institutes of Health and other organizations that support science. Like many of those who will march, I believe in the power of objective, evidence-based scientific knowledge -- knowledge that I would like to see inform public policy. But a march for the very idea of science is counterproductive, unnecessarily pushing scientific research directly into one of the most tense and polarized political climates in recent years. Rather than forcing politicians to accept science, it is entirely possible that the march will do nothing more than provide them with an escape hatch, a justification for the idea that science is in some way biased. [bold added]Government funding of scientific research, because it is inherently political, has and is endangering the independence of science, which is at the root of its ability to search for and reach unbiased conclusions. For this reason, those of us who care about science must consider how we can sunset government funding of science, while counteracting government influence on science as much as possible in the meantime. Science needs to run away from the control of government purse-strings, and not march any further into that morass.