Today National Public Radio, on its “Morning Edition Show,” had a four-minute piece on the April 22 March for Science scheduled in Washington, D. C. You can hear the piece and read the transcript here (it was written by Nell Greenfield).
The piece was pretty even-handed, quoting both advocates and critics. I suppose I’m largely on the fence about the March for several reasons (see my post on the issue here).
First, I approve of scientists marching in defense of the truth, and there are many reasons to think that the Trump administration is going to denigrate truth and muzzle scientists. But I’d prefer to wait until that happens in a more obvious way. After all, the Obama administration certainly damaged science, but in another way: repeatedly cutting funding to federal granting agencies. Nobody demonstrated about that.
Second, I worry that the march will turn into a partisan, political march involving issues of social justice. While I’d agree with many of those issues, scientists won’t be in accord with all of them. (In the Women’s March, pro-life women weren’t allowed to participate, which I think was a mistake.) The original statement of the March’s purposes (archived here) was ridden with social justice language, and accused science of historically and currently fostering oppression and discrimination. Not scientists, but science itself. The statement has now been considerably toned down on the March’s website (see here and here), and I’ve largely abandoned my objections to that issue (see here).
But still, the politicization of such a march, depending on how it’s handled, could detract from the unanimity of the participants. In that way it’s unlike the civil rights marches of the Sixties, in which I participated, when there was but a single issue at hand, and all marchers agreed with it.
Finally, if politics intrudes into the march, as it must surely do, I suspect it will make people think that scientists are just ideologues with their own agenda—like everyone else. As I said in my earlier post, scientists are among the most trusted group in America, and to get explicitly political would tarnish that valuable image. We cannot be seen to be bending science to our political views, which might be people’s perception of a politicized March.
Here’s a bit from the NPR report, but listen to the whole thing. After all, it’s only four minutes long.