March for Science

Posted by Guest Blogger on Apr 21, 2017 10:30:00 AM



March For Science Figure 1-01.pngThis post was contributed by guest blogger, Stephanie Hays, 
a scientist with a passion for photosynthetic communities, microbial interactions, and science education. 

Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are those of the author do not represent a formal stance taken by Addgene or its staff.

In Washington, D.C. as well as sister locations on April 22, 2017, scientists and non-scientists alike will march to advocate for science’s place in education, government, and civilization in general (1).

Science and Politics?

Science is an apolitical process for seeking knowledge. The process begins with a testable hypothesis - an educated guess about how some part of the world functions. Experiments come next, testing the correctness of the hypothesis. The results of experiments can help support or reject a hypothesis. Looking at the data, scientists then revise their hypotheses and the cycle begins again. No part of this process is inherently political so why is there a march in Washington, D.C., the seat of the United States government?

Politics and science are intrinsically linked: governments exist in reality and science is how we learn about reality.

Formally, a government can be defined as a social contract citizens enter into in order to protect their rights (2). Less formally, governments are the organizations that make and enforce the rules of the lands we live on.

Rules, however, are limited by reality – a government cannot declare that gravity change direction and make things fly up when we drop them. Scientific realities limit what policy can do and, in this way, science has always been related to government and, consequently, politics. More concretely, scientists gather information about reality informing people and their governments on what outcomes are actually possible for a given policy. In exchange, the government protects (and often funds [3]) scientists as well as other citizens. Thus civilization proceeds in an informed fashion.

For science to be useful to governments, however, inconvenient data must not be ignored. Returning to an earlier analogy, no amount of shouting will make an apple fall up. As scientist and politician Rush Holt said, government must have the same fundamental attribute that enables science: “humility in the face of evidence” (4). Frustration among scientists has been rising as evidence of climate change, the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the absence of a link between vaccines and autism, and other hypotheses mount yet policies and public opinion do not seem to take note. For example, 91% of active research scientists (scientists who hold a doctorate degree, are currently working full-time, and have received a research grant in the last five years as polled in the American Association for the Advancement of Science) believe GMOs are safe for human consumption in comparison to 37% of the general public (5, 6). Similarly 90% of active research scientists believe climate change is mostly due to human activity while much less of the general public agrees (5, 6).

Many of the new administration’s actions, including taking down the climate change page on whitehouse.gov, freezing grants, and proposing to defund aspects of research at National Aeronautics and Space Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health endanger scientists’ ability to uphold their side of the bargain and do the research required to inform the public (813). Facing the possibility that reason is losing ground in public discourse, many scientists have chosen to leave the lab and march.

Unintended Consequences

While frustration and anxiety have inspired people to rally for science, others are concerned about possible unintended consequences of a march. Three of these risks include:

1) Lost trust.

Perhaps the greatest risk is that the public will lose trust in scientists if the march highlights data supporting unwanted results (14). Some loss of trust, I fear, has already come to pass. It may only be by advocating for science education and literacy that this changes. 

2) Lumping all scientists (and consequently their results) together as an interest group (15).

While marchers are a group with one unifying interest (the advancement and inclusion of science) they come from many different places supporting many different positions. It would be detrimental for them to be homogenized or thought of as just another party. Additionally, interest groups are often pandered to when strong or overlooked when small, but data is not going change depending on the number of people supporting it. 

3) Linking scientists to one particular political party while alienating the other.

While scientists do identify as Democrats more often than Republicans, the March is not about Democrats or Republicans (16). This is a Pro-Science and Pro-Evidence march.

Who is Marching and Why?

Who?

All sorts of people are choosing to march on April 22nd. As of April 13th the March for Science homepage has amassed nearly 500,000 ‘likes’, while their website lists over 200 partner organizations, and 514 satellite marches are scheduled to take place around the world. There is no requirement that marchers or supporters be scientists – on the contrary, anyone and everyone is welcome.

Why?

There are many different things scientists and non-scientists alike are marching for. I will be marching to advocate for science education and literacy as I believe people that can see and understand data themselves can come to conclusions themselves instead of depending on scientists or politicians to interpret it for them. Other popular reasons to march include:

  • General inclusion of science to inform policy (17). The facts surrounding a matter or policy should have more weight than how any one person feels about it. And yet research shows that thoughts on some non-political issues are split along party lines (18). Feeling like an apple will fall up instead of down when dropped will not make it happen. In a time when a top official can be quoted as saying “I’m not in the job of having evidence”, scientists want to make sure having evidence is the job of everyone in government (19).
  • To defend the meaning of the word ‘fact’. Policy must be based on our most accurate interpretation of the world, and this interpretation should not effected by claims that ‘facts’ are subjective or alternative.
  • Inclusion of data informing policy specifically related to the following subjects:
    • Climate change
    • Vaccines
    • GMOs
    • Transgender issues
    • Reproductive health
    • Immigration
    • Pollution
    • Healthcare
    • Science education
March for Science Figure 2-01.png
  • To make scientists relatable (17, 20). This is an effort to show the general public that science is done by people like them. This, when paired with long-term science outreach, may have the most profound impact (15).
  • Diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) (17). This effort is two-fold. Marchers are advocating for diversity and inclusion through funding and at their own institutions, while many also seek to honor and credit women, immigrants, and minorities who have had great impacts on STEM (2126).
  • Increased scientific funding (17). Federal funding for science has been decreasing for the last five years and the first federal budget request of this administration promises more cuts (3, 12, 13, 27). In order to achieve the breakthroughs, technologies, and treatments promised by modern research, more funding is required.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and every marcher is not necessarily marching for every cause. The references provided also only provide a snapshot into the opinions or research on each topic.

Resources for Marching and Advocacy

If the march for science rallies scientists to political action, and inspires politicians and citizens to include science in decision making, it will be considered a success. Below are resources for the march as well as other science advocacy opportunities.

  • Information for joining the march:

March for Science: The website for the March for Science has the details for the march in Washington as well as the satellite marches. Anyone can join the marches or support the cause.

For science to be integrated into politics in meaningful ways, continued conversation about science’s role in government as well as active advocacy will be required.

  • Information on how to contact your representatives in case you would like to talk with them about science:

Representatives: To find contact information for your representative in the House of Representatives all you need to know is your area code.

Senators: To find contact information for your senators all you need to do is select your state.

State Legislatures: To find the website to contact representatives at the state level you can click on your state in this map.

Finally, the march is meant to inspire scientists to be more involved in their communities (something already encouraged by “Broader Impacts” requirements for certain grants) (28). As one young scientist, Matthew Niederhuber, said, “if the march motivates more scientists to reach out to their communities, to teach, to write, to make art, and to run for office, then in my opinion it will be an outstanding success,”(29). I tend to agree with him.

  • Information on supporting scientists and science in government:

314 Action: This nonprofit named for the mathematical constant “pi” supports scientists getting involved in politics.


Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are those of the author do not represent a formal stance taken by Addgene or its staff.

Many thanks to our guest blogger, Stephanie Hays. Stephanie would like to additionaly thank Isaac Plant for thoughtful edits.

Stephanie Hays Headshot-01.pngStephanie Hays recently received her PhD from the Systems Biology department at Harvard University. She is a scientist with a passion for photosynthetic communities, microbial interactions, and science education.

 

 

 

References

  1. March for Science Website
  2. Locke, John, and Peter Laslett. Locke: Two treatises of government student edition. Cambridge university press, 1988.
  3. AAS: Historical Trends in Federal R&D
  4. NJ.com: Rush Holt: Lawmakers need to use a scientific approach to formulating views
  5. Pew Research Center: Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society
  6. Pew Research Center: An Elaboration of AAS Scientists' Views
  7. PolitiFact: EPA head Scott Pruitt says carbon dioxide is not 'primary contributor' to global warming
  8. The New York Times: With Trump in Charge, Climate Change References Purged from Website
  9. The Washington Post: Trump administration tells EPA to freeze all grants, contracts
  10. The Guardian: Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on “politicized science”
  11. ABC News: White House considering gutting 38 EPA programs: draft budget 
  12. Science Magazine: A grim budget day for U.S. science: analysis and reaction to Trump’s plan
  13. Science Magazine: NIH, DOE Office of Science face deep cuts in Trump’s first budget
  14. Environmental Science and Technology: Crossing The Imaginary Line
  15. The New York Times: A Scientists’ March on Washington Is a Bad Idea
  16. Pew Research Center: Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
  17. March for Science: Principles and Goals
  18. Pew Research Center: The Politics of Climate Change in the United States
  19. CNBC: Kellyanne Conway: “I”m not in the job of having evidence’ on Trump’s wiretap claim
  20. The Chronicle of Higher Education: “March for Science” Organizer Says It’s About the Public, Not the Scientists
  21. Understand Science: The scientific community: Diversity makes the difference 
  22. Association for Psychological Science: Diversity Makes Better Science
  23. Nature: What Trump’s new travel ban means for science
  24. Nature: Meet the scientists affected by Trump’s immigration ban
  25. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part: Democratic values and their role in maximizing the objectivity of science
  26. Scientific American: Scientists Find a Voice at Massive Rally for Immigrants
  27. National Science Foundation: Universities Report Fourth Straight Year of Declining Federal R&D Funding in FY 2015
  28. National Science Foundation 15-008: Perspectives on Broader Impacts.
  29. The Pipettepen: The March for Science Raises Concerns Over Politicization

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