I’ve had a number of questions about the March For Science that’s taking place tomorrow, so I thought I’d explain my position, for what that’s worth.
Overall, I find myself in agreement with this editorial at STAT. I am relentlessly pro-science, but this march leaves me a bit nonplussed, for several reasons. First, I’m not sure how large the “anti-science” constituency is – I know, I know, climate change and vaccines and GMOs and all the rest of it, but if you look at these people, most of them aren’t anti-science so much as people who think that they have better, more accurate science, or that science is just fine but it isn’t definitive in this case yet or has been corrupted, etc. Being “anti-science” is equivalent to saying “I believe in magic instead”, and there aren’t so many people waving that banner.
So a “March for Science” is inevitably going to be a march for something else, perhaps a whole list of things. One of those is a March for Science Funding, and I can certainly see where that’s coming from. Keep in mind, though, that the ridiculous budget proposed by the White House is a nonstarter, as are all presidential budget proposals. If you want to fight for science funding, you need to apply pressure to the appropriate members of the House of Representatives, as in telling them that this is a very important issue for you, and that it will decide your vote for them in the future, as well as deciding your political contributions and activity, etc. If members of the House hear a lot of that sort of thing – and not form letter emails or tweets, mind you, but actual individual calls – they pay attention. They’re all up for election next year. Those of you who live in districts represented by members of the House Budget Committee are especially valuable in this regard, and if you don’t know if your own representative is on it, now’s the perfect time to find out. This sort of thing will do far more than a march through the streets (and if you do march, be sure to follow through with this part, too).
Beyond funding, then, a March for Science will then turn into a march for all sorts of separate issues, and of making separate issues there is no end. This is a problem that any big-banner event has – everyone wants to tie their own cause to it, and you can end up with a pretty shaggy product. I’ve already seen a lot of different things attached to this march, some of which I agree with and some of which I’m not as sure about. I do try to keep politics out of science – data are data and facts are facts, ideally, and that’s what I think that we should strive for. Remember, attacks on scientific conclusions come from both ends of the political spectrum – it’s not science they’re attacking, but hearing things that they don’t like to hear. But fighting some of the shouting ignorance that’s going around by shouting at it doesn’t appeal to me, and I say this as an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, which I loathe.
I realize that these opinions are not necessarily widely shared, by readers of this site and others. That’s fine – I’m not telling anyone not to go march; I’m just saying why I won’t be there myself. In the end, I think back to the 2010 rally set up by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Over 200,000 people showed up for that one in DC, and there was so much news coverage. The crowds, the speeches, the seemingly endless number of funny signs. A few days later, the Republican Party gained 63 seats in the House, the largest such change since 1948, six seats in the Senate, and 680 seats in state legislatures, which broke the record set by the Democratic party in the 1974 post-Watergate midterms. I think it’s safe to say that most of the people at the Colbert/Stewart rally were not in favor of those things happening, but happen they did, and no number of amusing signs and air quotes slowed it down one bit.
So march for science, if that’s your thing. But keep your eye on the rest of the picture. If you’re trying to show support for science and science funding, remember to call your representatives after you get back home. If you’re trying to change minds about your favorite science-related issue, go ahead, but I think that there are probably more effective ways of doing it. And if you’re trying to send a message to the White House, you are absolutely wasting your time, because I fear that the current administration does not give a used napkin about any protest rally, by anyone, anywhere.