Tag Archives | March for Science

Censorship and denial in the March for Science

The March for Science may herald a new activism on the part of scientists, and that is tremendous. People are marching for a variety of reasons (for science, for funding and their jobs, against Trump, for more inclusion of scientists in the political process, to demonstrate a love for science, to change the culture of science away from sexism and racism, etc), and are not marching for a smaller variety of reasons (science shouldn’t be political, marching will send the wrong message and alienate people, scientists are partnering with the wrong people), all of which is typical of the beginning of a movement.

(Some of the many articles about the March for Science are curated at the end of the article, in categories according to approval or disapproval of the march and of activism among scientists.)

One of the most encouraging aspects of the march is that many of the organizers and participants are non-scientists who cherish the wonders of science. A world in which science is integrated with the humanities, social sciences, and other creative pursuits sounds pretty wonderful, and the partnerships being made through the march can bring new understanding and potential into all our endeavors.

But somehow, what the march isn’t is troubling. It isn’t honest. It rebrands itself constantly, to retain the good graces of…hard to say what- the public?

Shouldn’t scientists be more honest about their culture and enterprise to be sure the trust they are requesting from the public is earned? Shouldn’t discussions of the march be deep and provocative and brutally honest?

Instead, there is quiet, disapproval, censorship, in contradiction to the march motto, “Science, not silence.”

The D.C. March organizers deleted tweets about the massive bomb in Afghanistan, chemical weapons, and scientist involvement in weapons. Mention of that disappeared everywhere but in the right- wing press, where it was heralded as a typical anti- patriot left-wing statement, and is still getting air time a week later  (Here is a link to a April 19 National Review article.). This deletion is straight-forward censorship. Diversity may, shamefully, be controversial as a topic, but war is forbidden.

March organizers are deciding what is political, and what isn’t. We mustn’t offend anyone! Don’t mention conflicts of interest, weapons research, the harsh penalties for environmental activism or whistleblowing, the pervasive influence of sexism and racism on individuals and kind of science done…. Instead, the march is a pep rally, a Super Bowl extravaganza, an orchestrated national political convention. A look at the National Review article linked in the above paragraph suggests how effective tip-toeing around is in trying to change minds.

Nature just published a quick summary of the march, attributing the initial enthusiasm to post-Trump anger and fear, and then describing the insistence of organizers and supporters that the march is not political.

This decision to placate Republican politicians may be more than inexperience, or cowardice.

It might also be that scientists have great power in the United States, and they don’t want to perturb that power. While individuals are disposable, science in integrally associated with the military, with the government and regulatory agencies, with academia and with corporations. Perhaps they don’t want to challenge the status quo too much. A good summary of the funding for science that influences research can be found in the SGR statement for the March of Science issued by the UK Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), which supports the march but calls for scientists to stand up for society.

Perhaps the majority make-up of the march -white, educated, perhaps mostly liberal- is not yet ready to be straightforward or to make sacrifices needed for real change in science and for science, for all (if, indeed, that is what they even want). A reminder from friend Jesse White pointed me to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham jail”  which King addressed to clergyman who objected to his activist stance.

It seems the March for Science is accepting a negative peace, not yet ready to spend their social capital. But individuals will march for what they believe, and may be able to leverage this opportunity to use science to better the world.

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Support the march.

The Editors of a Major Scientific Publication Are Urging Readers to Attend the March for Science.” April 12, 2017. Time magazine write Charlotte Alter slightly implies it is okay to march as Nature says it is okay.

What Exactly are People Marching for When They March for Science? March 7, 2017. Science writer Ed Long for The Atlantic. There is confusion because of multiple goals of the march, but that’s okay.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse. April 11, 2017. Applied sociologist and blogger Zuleyka Zevallos. People either approved or disapproved of discussion of diversity in science- interesting discussion why! March will be good to develop these issues.

I’m going to #sciencemarch in Washington. Here’s why. January 30, 2017. Scientist Sara Whitlock in STAT. Straightforward reasons for herself- marching against Trump-targetted scientists and policies, marching for open access to science and data.

Is #ScienceMarch Really Against Science? January 30, 2017. Medical and academic book editor Laurie Endicott Thomas, on her blog Not Trivial. As opposed to Steven Pinker, she emphasizes the use of science for bad purposes (each as war and genocide), and that scientists have often been complicit in racial and gender-bases oppression, and believes the march is a great way to stand against Trump, bad science, sexism and racism.

Q&Q: Marching for Science in Memphis: A conversation with activist and undergraduate student Sydney Bryant. March 22, 2017. Marine Biology student Sydney Bryant wants to bridge the gap between scientists, activists, and non-scientists. Celebrates connection of science with social justice.

Marchers around the World Tell Us Why They Are Taking to The Streets for science. April 13, 2017. By the Science News Staff. Scientists have a variety of reasons why they are marching: Egage public opinion, agitate vs Trump’s policies, protecting science from attack.

Putting Science into Practice: Why We Need To Play Our Part. March 8, 2017. Environmental sociologist Angie Carter for Union of Concerned Scientists.

Reasons to march for science in Seattle. Or not. April 17, 2017. David Hyde for KUOW, Seattle. Though several scientists give their reservations, more coverage is given to those who don’t mind that the march may appear to be political.

Science March: Above Politics? or Partisan for Humanity? April 18, 2017. Refuse Racism website. Defense of science should be non-partisan but should be political, and that is fine.

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science. April 17, 2017. Nicholas St. Fleur for the New York Times. In looking toward the time post march, and how activism will continue, the article is very pro-march. Politics and diversity are worthwhile issues for science, and the march is likely to encourage more scientists to enter politics.

Should Scientists Engage in Activism? March 26, 2017. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, for  theConversation.com. The answer is yes. Pinker and Young are the unbelievable antagonists in this story: Many other scientists give good reasons to mix politics and science.

The March for Science is Political, and That’s a Good Thing. February 25, 2017. Miriam Kramer for Mashable. Science is and always was political. And to save it, you gotta be political now.

We Are the Scientists Against a Fascist Government. February 2, 2017. Scientists Chanda Pressed-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, and Joseph Osmundson in The Establishment. Very strong statement about failures of scientists to stand up against oppression, and the need to do so now.

When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access. March 22, 2017. Gretchen Goldman, Center for Science and Democracy at Union of Concerned Scientists. Science is driven by values and politics, and hasn’t always been used for good. March for diversity and inclusion.

Why are Scientists So Averse to Public Engagement? It’s time to confront our demons. March 8, 2017. March 8, 2017. Climate science ph.D. student Ply Achakulwisut on the Scientific American blog. Anti-science forces were in play before Trump, and scientists feared losing their credibility by speaking up. March for Science is one of the hopeful signs that scientists are finally pushing themselves.

Support the march with qualifications

To March for Science, D.C. Satellite Marches in US and Around the World. April 18, 2017. Indigenous Scientists support the march, but urges acknowledgement of the contributions of indigenous scientists, and acceptance of multiple kinds of science and ways of knowing.

An Open Letter to the Center for Biological Diversity-re: March for Science. March 17, 2017. Stephan Neidenbach, middle school teacher posted to The Medium. Neidenback was worried when anti-GMO group Center for Biological Diversity was announced as a partner in March, but feels better because Cornell Alliance for Science partnership with the march was also announced.

March shouldn’t be political

Science march planners, here’s some unsolicited advice. January 27, 2017.  Science writer Jeffrey Mervis relies heavily on opinion of physics professor Michael Lobell, who was also head of the D.C. office of the American Physical Society until he pledged to work with Trump and society members objected and says to make it a march about science, not scientists.

The Science of Science Advocacy: Should researchers advocate for the inclusion of science in public policymaking? March 5, 2017. Joshua A. Krisch editor at The Scientist.  No, they shouldn’t = the bottom line.

Opinion: Let’s march to stress the value of science for the public good, not to engage in partisan politics. March 24, 2017. Catherine Rudder for Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.  Scientific method minimizes intrusion of politics and partisanship?!

Will a March Hurt Science?  As scientists and science advocates plan demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the world, some question the ability of such activism to enact change.  February 2, 2017. Diana Kwon for The Scientist. February 2, 2017.

Do not support the march.

A Scientists’ March on Washington is a Bad Idea. January 31, 2017. Scientist Robert Young said march would trivialize and politicize the science.

Why I Won’t Be Participating in the March for Science. March 19, 2017.  The Mad Virologist blog. The march is disorganized, co-opted by believers in pseudo-science, and I don’t want to give them any credibility. I believe in speaking out, but I won’t go.

March for Science: How Democracy Kills Expertise. March 20, 2017. Alex Berezow for American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Corporate ACSH pats itself on the back for being an early hater of the march and lover of privately -funded research  and repeats idea that the march is political and unscientific with its support of social issues.

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

March for ‘Science’ Say We Shouldn’t Bomb Isis…Because They’re “Marginalized”!? April 14, 2017, in response to March for Science tweet about bombing Afghanistan. Proud white idiot male Steven Crowder’s blog, anti-muslim, anti-feminist, etc etc.

March for Science blows it again: defends ISIS as “marginalized people.” 4/14, 2017 Scientist Jerry Coyne’s website Evolution is True. (for records of those tweets. See also Jerry Coyne’s “about” Coyne seems to dislike any mixing of social interests and science.

Do not support the march, with qualifications

Scientists’ march on Washington is a bad idea- here’s why. March 8, 2017.  Andrea Saltelli from the Centro for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities in The Conversation uses logic of scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi to say in presenting a united front, scientists are being dishonest and should clean up its own house .” Trump is not science’s main problem today- science is.”

NPR style of false equivalence.

Is the March for Science Bad for Scientists? March 1, 2017. Emily Atkin, staff writer at New Republic. Quotes scientist Jerry Coyne “Science cannot adjudicate issues of morality” and science writer Miriam Kramer, who “called ‘bullshit on the notion that scientists should avoid political action.”’

March for Science: Why scientists say this isn’t a political protest. February 3, 2017.  The Christian Science Monitor staff writer Ellen Powell. Federal scientists don’t support, others do.

The March for Science: Why Some Are Going, and Some Will Sit Out. April 17, 2017.  NY Times writer Michael Roston. Some like politics, some don’t. Some what to address diversity issues, some don’t. Some want to debate the public role of science. Others don’t.

Marching for Science: Effort gains backers and appears to build momentum, but some scientists worry that political fallout may not be what organizers want. March 8, 2017. Andrew Kreighbaum, federal policy reporter for Inside Higher Ed. Scientists should communicate with politicians, but not too much. Coyne and Young vs Rush Holt.

Don’t think scientists should be activists

Crossing the Imaginary Line. September 2, 2016. David Sediak, Chemist and Editor-in-chief of Environmental Science and Technology. Bottom line: could lose social support and financial backing.

Thinks scientists should be activists

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public- but not if it threatens our funding?  October 10, 2016. Marc A. Edwards, Amy Pruden, Siddhartha Roy, and William J. Rhoads in Flint Water Study Updates. Unapologetic argument for engineers to speak out when people’s lives are threatened. Response to Sediak.

We Need Decolonial Scientists. November 10, 2016  Sociologist and Biological Anthropologist, Shay Akil Mclean. Scientists have been silent too long. Speak out on out structural and political problems!

Beyond the march

Opinion: Scientists Must Think Beyond Science: If we are to defend science, we must stand together with the other truth-tellers, including our non-scientist colleagues.  March 23, 2017. Evolutionary biologist Jon F. Wilkins, in The Scientist. Our defense of science should extend beyond ourselves.

 

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Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up? post by Allison Lee

Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up?

Scientists should not be ‘advocates’ or ‘activists’.

I’ve heard this argument over and over in the last couple of years, and more strongly since the elections and recent organization of the March for Science scheduled for April 22, 2017.

The discussion first came to my awareness back in January 2015, when I attended an Association for Women in Science (AWIS) panel called “Social Media and Activism in Science”.  The general feeling was that if you wanted to speak up, be careful about what you say. I was particularly inspired by Kathy Barker, author of At the Bench and At the Helm. She is an advocate for scientists being advocates.

During my 2016 summer graduate ethics course, we discussed that scientists, if they advocate or speak outside their scientific field, should make sure they explicitly state they are wearing different hats and sharing their opinions as “informed citizens”.

The conversation came up again in October during a panel at the inaugural celebration of California Leatherback Day hosted by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. One speaker adamantly stated that  scientists should not be advocates in any way to which one audience member publicly disagreed bringing up the point that scientists are the most informed and should be able to speak about what they know.

Then again, as tensions continued to stir amongst the scientific community with the new presidential administration disregard for science  (TimeThe Washington Post, The New York TimesThe GuardianScientific AmericanSnopes), scientists banded together to organize a march much like the Women’s March on Washington.

“The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.” ~March for Science 

I watched as my science friends circulated news of the march over Facebook.  Some shared confidently, others apprehensively. The reactions ranged, airing a plethora of concerns: from “A march will mischaracterize science”, “It will make science a political protest”, “A march will undermine [scientists] credibility”, to “Its a great thing”, “Shows solidarity”, “This will encourage the scientific community to publicly rally together”, “Science cannot be silenced”. Robert Young of the New York Times even wrote a widely circulated piece on why the march is a bad idea voicing his concerns and alternate suggestions for what scientists can do in the community.  In a Science article, Jeffrey Mervis shared Some Unsolicited Advice to the science march planners.

The whole time, I kept wondering: Why not? Why shouldn’t scientists speak up? And more importantly, I thought: WHO wants us to be silent? Our colleagues, the public, policy makers?

As a young researcher, with no credibility yet gained, figuring out how best to proceed on this facet of my career is a high priority for me.

In my reading of the freely available document On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, I hadn’t come across any mention to keep quiet. On the contrary, the guide addresses this issue in the section titled, The Researcher in Society (see page 48; for copyright reasons I cannot reprint any text without charge, and since I’m a poor grad student, I’ll just paraphrase.).  Scientists have a responsibility to share their knowledge with society. Researchers CAN assume different roles in public discussions and provide expert opinion and advice; they have a right to express their views and to work for social change. The guide even acknowledges the concern that colleagues and members of the public may perceive scientists-gone-advocate as a biased individual, but this perception should not come at the expense of objectivity in the scientist’s work.

In my opinion, scientists have devoted their lives to studying certain issues in their field. Their ideas are scrutinized by peer-review and the scientific collective. As professionals and the most “informed citizens” on the issue, aren’t they the bestgroup of people TO be speaking up about what they know?

This might also strike a chord with me personally because I am a naturally shy person. Speaking up has been something I’ve worked on since the awkward stage of middle school.  It’s also reminiscent of the time when I was learning to speak French and we were told the French are very particular about their language and do not like it butchered. The first time I ever traveled to France I was so paranoid I would mess up the accent that I didn’t speak for the first couple of days. Then I realized, many travelers were visiting France doing their best to communicate, botching the language left and right, and guess what? No one died, no one got beat up, people were talking! So I started talking too.  I had fun interacting with Francophones, and I got better at it over time. As an adult, the idea of “someone” now saying I should be quiet on certain issues, to not ruffle feathers, for fear of being misinterpreted, actually feels like a threat to my own growth as a communicative human. The more we take opportunitites to practice sharing our ideas with a general audience, the better we will get at it over time.

Going back to the issue of scientists being ‘advocates’ if they speak up, I finally gained clarity on where I stand on the matter after hearing speakers at two public events:

On February 18th 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists held a panel at the AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting titled Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of TrumpThe general consensus was that we should come together, stand up and speak up.

And most recently, I attended a very insightful public lecture by Naomi Oreskes on March 14th, 2017. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography Master of Advanced Studies in Climate Science and Policy (MAS-CSP) program  invited her to speak on “The Scientist as a Sentinel”.

Dr. Oreskes speaking at TED (Image credit: TED)

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science, a Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is also well known for co-authoring Merchants of Doubt,  a book that was required reading during our summer course.

I was excited to hear in person her elaboration of the invitation teaser:

“Scientists are often reluctant to speak in public on contested issues, for fear that this will “politicize” their science and have a negative impact on their credibility. During the lecture, Dr. Oreskes will examine these concerns by exploring historical examples of scientists who have spoken up on scientific issues of broad importance, including nuclear weaponry, ozone depletion, and climate change.”

The talk was solidifying for me. The biggest take-away I jotted down addressed the following:

“Scientists will lose credibility. If we speak up we’ll be viewed as activists or advocates.” 

She reminded us that this is not a modern issue.

Scientists throughout history have dealt with their work being silenced and the need to speak out. Traditional thought has held that ‘facts speak for themselves’. If scientists just put the facts out there, all will be good.

But the catch is, they don’t. #AlternativeFacts

As a historian, Dr. Oreskes looked at many individuals who were well respected in science, and who became strong public figures.  In no historical cases did speaking out undermine their credibility, and no nobel prizes were revoked. In fact, she deduced that scientists weren’t targets because they spoke out. They became targets because of the great implications of the work they were doing (theory of evolution, nuclear weaponry, ozone hole depletion, atmospheric CO2, etc.), which then drew them to speak publicly exactly because their work was being attacked.

Instead of two extremes: keeping quiet, or being so outspoken you get arrested, she argued for a Responsible Scientists Ideal, urging that we as knowledgable professionals have an obligation to speak up and advocate for specific policies that control matters which threaten human health and life on this planet.

And while we cannot specifically answer questions outside of our field of expertise, we can forge collaborations with experts who are able to address policy, economic, and social questions.  She encouraged us that it is OK to do some extra homework and look into what experts of those fields are saying; to offer some potential solutions to our human-caused problems. If we come across situations where facts are totally disregarded, like with the denial of climate change, we can flip the argument and instead talk about values. About losing freedoms, fairness, accountability, realism, leadership in advanced technology, and good ole hard work.

I want to echo what Naomi shared with us:

The facts don’t speak for themselves. Someone has to speak up for them…and that is us, [the scientific community].

I would love to know what discussions you’ve had about this topic and how you’ve approached the argument ‘To speak, or not to speak’.

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