On the March for Science, with added Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus)

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.


  1. busterggi
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Pretty sad when standing up for reality is a dangerous political statemtn.

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      That’s not what I’m worried about. It’s when you divide the inexorable truths, which I don’t mind advocating (anthropogenic global warming, safety of vaccinations) from more contested political issues that may creep in.

      Did you read what I wrote?

  2. Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, telling the truth is often a political act, at least in the sense that it can be confrontational to various unsupported world views.

    I do agree that advocacy is different, but I am not sure how one can divorce the two. James Hansen, for example, I think is *right* to advocate for change based on what he knows about climate. Is that “partisan”? Yes, in the sense that many politicians who happen to be in one of the camps think otherwise. But …?

    It doesn’t follow from this one has to take all the recommendations of a piece with the factual claims.

    In fact, straying into technology (change rather than production of truth) is tricky, I agree, but I’d rather have people declare what change they want so we can debate and discuss if necessary, not act in silence or in the shadows.

  3. eric
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I’m tentatively planning on going. My kid really likes science and I’m going to take him. I have no idea what the organizers might be messaging about it, but my message to my kid is simply: we are marching to tell the government we want them to support scientific research and pay attention to its results.

    Still not sure if I’ll try and make a placard or sign. Though right now I’m leaning toward the simple and classic “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good one. The author of the NPR piece told me she’d seen a sign at some march that said this:

      What do we want? PEER-REVIEWED SCIENCE!
      When do we want it? AFTER PEER REVIEW!

      • Wendy Smith
        Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Love it!

        • Mike
          Posted February 25, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink


      • Posted February 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        See my comment on yesterday’s Darwin T-shirt post; I believe the correct wording is
        “What do we want?”
        “Evidence based Science!”
        “When do we want it?”
        “After Peer Review!”

    • garman
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Look for my sign: “SCIENCE! Keeping it real since A. D. 1021”

  4. Somite
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I’m going and my protest signs will be Darwin’s tree and the climate hockey stick.

  5. Jonathan Livengood
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    “… scientists are among the most trusted group in America, and to get explicitly political would tarnish that valuable image.”

    I don’t understand. What is the value of being trusted by the public if the powers that be don’t listen when you weigh in on even the most important matters of public concern? It seems to me that scientists — especially climate scientists and evolutionary biologists — have been under consistent attack from rightwingers for a long time now. (One of the reasons that scientists are much less likely than members of the public to be Republicans, unless things have changed dramatically since this Pew Poll: http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-4-scientists-politics-and-religion/) You are ignored or outright vilified by the political right in policy-making. I generally don’t understand your “wait and see” attitude here. Maybe if scientists stand up now and say very clearly that the rightwing has gone off the rails, persuadable non-scientists will listen. If you wait much longer, I suspect it becomes much harder to defend the truth in a way that doesn’t get painted as political, regardless of whether it really *is* political, and I expect the probability of actually moving people is also going to decrease with time. At least for the next few years.

    • bluemaas
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      +1, Dr Livengood.


  6. GBJames
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Standing up for science is inevitably political because science can’t be done in a vacuum. In a political environment when “alternate facts” are used by political leaders it is the responsibility of every science-friendly person to stand against woo, pseudo-science, and evidence-denial. If it happens to largely map to partisan political alignments, that’s the responsibility of those who have built one of our two major parties into a bastion of anti-science. I’m not worried about the march being perceived as partisan. Not resisting anti-science is more dangerous, IMO.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree with GBJames there.

      Although, being labelled as partisan and hence written-off by the public is a definite risk. But I think ‘doing nothing’ would be worse.


    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Very good, and I endorse this. I would normally want scientists to not be lobbying, but the situation is dire and I think that it warrants becoming more active. If we don’t stand up, no one will.

    • somer
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Certainly the Trump administration is anti science and a mass public response re this is warranted.

      My impression is that Jerry’s concern is that whether the march might reflect the earlier promotion by March organisers – which they have since corrected at least on the major statement. The earlier statements focussed on issues beyond the practise of science itself – how it is practised and why it is so essential. The earlier promotion gave a big – perhaps dominant focus to social justice even to the point of criticising science as potentially oppressive. This would have both confused the issue and identify the march in a polarising fashion as a more or less anti republican one.

  7. mikeyc
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    There will be a march here in Seattle on the same day for those of us who cannot make the trip to D.C.

    I cannot see how this march could not be partisan – it is prompted by the anti-science actions of the party in power. If that makes me an “ideologue” in the eyes of some, so be it.

  8. Kevin
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    People in America might trust scientists, but they sure have a bizarre, if not inept, way of showing their respect.

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Yes, e.g. by campaigning to smuggle creationism into public schools.

  9. Randy schenck
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Not a scientist but I understand the apprehensions stated by PCC and others. How will the agenda be controlled and will the results outweigh the risk. In the end, it is people like me that must advocate for the scientist not only because numbers count in this thing, but it is all the people who gain or lose based on the support that science receives.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    … the Obama administration certainly damaged science, but in another way: repeatedly cutting funding to federal granting agencies.

    I believe those cuts were the result of the bipartisan “budget sequestration” rules adopted by the United States Congress.

    After all, under the “taxing and spending” clause of Article I, sec. 8 of the US Constitution, it is congress — not the president — that controls the purse-strings over spending “for the general welfare of the United States.”

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your comment. I had the same thought and you expressed it much better than I would have. Much as I always care for and value PCC(E)’s perceptions, I have gotten tired of hearing Obama blamed for many of the congress produced failures on his watch. Yes. I know he had to sign the documents. But the way things get scrunched together before they get to the president, it’s a wonder anything useful is accomplished, if it is.

  11. Somite
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Let’s be clear about something. Science has become political because republicans and conservatives decided to politicize, and not accept the scientific conclusions of evolution, climate change, and others.

    This is a response to this republican choice.

    • mikeyc
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Let’s be clear about something else – the left has it’s own anti-science nonsense to deal with. Anti-vaxxers tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum as are anti-GMOers and anti-nukers.

      • Somite
        Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        The left doesn’t elect anti-science politicians.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          Mostly I agree. Except for the occasional anti-GMO type or anti-vaxxer that is found leftwards as often as rightwards.

        • Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          They don’t elect much of anyone these days. That’s the point. If the left had power like the right has we’d see attacks on science coming from them.

          • Somite
            Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            Trump said that we should look into vaccine safety and that climate change is a chinese hoax.

            Hillary and Bernie accepted the safety of vaccines and that climate change is real.

            It’s not symmetrical.

            • mikeyc
              Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

              I did not claim it was symmetrical. Please do not imply I did. In fact I explicitly said it was not.

              The fact remains the left has anti-science baggage too and they are NOT in power.

        • Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          They have enabled anti-science politicians to be elected, and introduced Pomo claptrap into the syllabus which undermines the very notion of objectivity.

          • Badger3k
            Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            Also the left supports BS like homeopathy, biological sex being a social construct, anti-GMO, anti-safe nuclear power, etc.

            • Badger3k
              Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

              edit – some of the left. It’s not monolithic in either case.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              Anti-safe nuclear power? I don’t know anyone left or right who is anti-safe nuclear power. There will be dispute over what constitutes “safe”, but that doesn’t seem anti-science.

              The other items you list can be found on the left but doesn’t characterize it remotely in the same way that climate science denial and creationism are found on the right.

            • Somite
              Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

              A few humanities departments in a few campuses hardly describes the left.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 23, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

              The situations on the right and left are far from analogous. The people you describe on the left are fringe players — not an officeholder or Democratic party official among them.

              Last year the Republican party fielded 17 candidates vying for its presidential nomination. None of them dared openly endorse evolution or anthropogenic climate change, for to do so would’ve been disqualifying among the party faithful.

              • somer
                Posted February 23, 2017 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

                Yes most of the Republicans are blatantly anti science but you don’t need to have more than a small minority of the left into authoritarian / regressive politics to scare almost all people on the left into a habit of
                not criticising other cultures and only criticising the West. The west comes associated with modern science/scientific method tho it first arose there for contingent historical/geographical/fortunate religion/Caesar split etc reasons and couldn’t without much prior cultural heritages from elsewhere. People so scared of being labelled racist they wont actively push back against some anti humanist cultures that not western at times or situations where those cultures are being aggressive and they wind up apologising for the modern scientific method – which the early version of Science March website more or less did do. As Ive said before I think a lot of this comes from the lack of challenge to dominance of versions of humanism that despise the west (much more complete today than in 60s when just had hard right dominance)

  12. Taz
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to speak for PCC, but I think people are misreading his concerns about “politicizing” the march. Certainly climate change and evolution are legitimate subjects to address, but if people start giving speeches about Trump’s immigration policies or transgender bathrooms, that would be a mistake.

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. The organizers of the march didn’t help matters when they first tried to impose SJW ideology onto the march. They’ve since backed off, but it *was* there initially.

      • Badger3k
        Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        As I said in another comment, I’ll wait and see what happens until the date. I suspect the statement was removed to avoid pushback rather than from honest intentions. I believe the organizers are ideologues rather than science supporters and are still going to use this to push their agenda. Time will tell but I am not hopeful.

    • Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      I also got the impression that this is PCC opinion, and I find it 100% justified.

    • somer
      Posted February 24, 2017 at 5:00 am | Permalink


  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    FWIW, unless you find it unpalatable as a matter of conscience, I’d urge you to participate. As long as it’s clear that the overarching purpose of the march is to stand-up for the scientific method (and for the pursuit of accurate information, more generally), and against lies and “alternative facts,” then there’s no reason subgroups within this general umbrella, including those advocating for social justice, shouldn’t have their say (just as the right-to-lifers should have had theirs at the women’s march).

    With the success of the women’s march, and with the enthusiasm being generated by town hall meetings and marches on congressperson’s offices, the irons of protest are in the fire. Strike while they’re hot.

    • Badger3k
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      If the march continues to lock arms and support unscientific principles espoused by many (even if they toned-down that passage), then it isn’t a hard choice. The march is about politics and ideology rather than science. It would be good for the organizers to distance themselves from the numerous pseudoscientific ideas they had included. Have to see what happens before the date.

  14. Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Good luck in making a decision about your participation in this march. Issues seem always to be at least a two-edged sword and ones we can’t predict the good vs. bad outcomes of. None of us are seers. In cases of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” such as this, I’m sure you are balancing the potential effects of both and want to do what’s best. As I know you will, go with your rational decisions, but also as a 60s marcher, go with your heart.

    • bluemaas
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      We in the office just now as, Ms Kitchen, re thus of your “but also as a 60s marcher, go with your heart ?” We were just discussing this in re also to the USA’s many town hall meetings of the very recent – late.

      I concur: it is about time we had passion back in to our daily stands on matters of justice and freedoms and independence. And evidence. I have asked for decades for complacency to go the way of nil.

      That asking of mine ? It has just been so much (o’my) spit in the wind. So yes: back to the 60s. Please.


      • somer
        Posted February 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        the 60s were horrible

        • somer
          Posted February 24, 2017 at 5:03 am | Permalink

          Sorry – you’re right the passion re organising for change was great even if the times were not!

  15. Badger3k
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    When will these supposed reporters use the correct term. Climate change denialists. They’ve probably never been skeptical not when their ideology determines their stance rather than honest skepticism and scientific appraisal.

  16. Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  17. Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Made comment that seems to have been torched, so sub for now.

  18. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Great interview.

  19. papalinton
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    We live in very dangerous times. With the White House ordering the EPA to delete climate science data from its webpages, along with those of the USDA and CDC, and Government scientists being ordered not to talk about their research, Trump is taking authoritarianism to a whole new level in information/propaganda control.

    In today’s world this censorship cannot be seen as anything other than ‘bookburning’.

  20. Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    The march is going to be political, the only question is how political. Even if the SJW contingent backs off, which is unlikely, there are going to be political positions being pushed.

    For example, saying that anthropomorphic climate change is happening is simply stating the best supported conclusion from the available evidence. Suggesting particular ways of dealing with that conclusion is immediately political.

    Saying that government policies should be evidenced based and take into account the scientific consensus is simply logical. Suggesting that the government should increase funding for basic research is political.

    I agree with our gracious host — a march with a single goal in response to a particular behavior by the president or congress would encourage greater participation.

    • mikeyc
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink


  21. Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    “…In the Women’s March, pro-life women weren’t allowed to participate, which I think was a mistake…”

    I thought that the very idea of the Women’s March was to defend reproductive choice; otherwise, why exclude men? If the march was defined inclusively, e.g. “Citizens against Trump”, it would be another matter. How do you think?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Certainly ‘pro-choice’ was one of the major issues that the march was about. I entirely support the exclusion of pro-lifers.

      Undoubtedly the pro-lifers would have made sure their banners were ‘covered’ by the news media which, in its usual ‘even-handed’ way, would then have managed to give the impression that the march was split 50-50 on the issue and completely subverted the whole march.


      • Posted February 23, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        “…the news media which, in its usual ‘even-handed’ way, would then have managed to give the impression that the march was split 50-50 on the issue and completely subverted the whole march.”


  22. Posted February 23, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink


  23. somer
    Posted February 23, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Looks like the March organisers at this point has reviewed and corrected earlier problems but they still need to continue to keep the message on the science itself. Could still have done without some of the political content in its diversity principles statement like the second half of this sentence:
    “We acknowledge that institutions in science often fail to include and value the contributions of scientists from underrepresented groups and that scientific endeavors historically have been used to harm and oppress marginalized communities.” and the frequent reference to the term “intersectionality” which tends to place western anything at the bottom of everything.

  24. Posted February 24, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Ottawa will be having its own parallel “solidarity” march for the same purpose. See (amongst other things) Evidence for Democracy or CFI Ottawa.

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