April 21, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

What to Watch for in the March for Science

Big Science and Big Media will undoubtedly give positive coverage to the March for Science on Earth Day. But will they provide critical analysis?

The ‘March for Science’ scheduled for April 22 (“Earth Day”) is bound to strike many as a wonderful thing. Who could be against science? It would be like taking a position against motherhood and apple pie. Look at all that science has done for the planet: smartphones, the space station, vaccines. So join the scientists and march for Darwin! and global government! Wait a minute… What’s going on here?

About the only ones opposing the March for Science are those labeling it a March for Scientism instead of science. Scientism is a philosophy about science, not a science itself. Scientism teaches that the scientific method is the best (or only) way to generate reliable knowledge. But it’s self-refuting, as many have pointed out; you can’t get scientism out of the scientific method, so scientism is not reliable knowledge.

Moreover, much of what the ‘science’ being marched for this weekend seems political. The idea came out of the election of Donald Trump and the March for Women that followed. As we have shown repeatedly, academia is plagued with a huge imbalance in favor of liberals and Democrats (see Prager U video), as Nature will confirm (below). And if the marchers view ‘science’ as equivalent to the ‘consensus’, then it’s likely the event will be another whine-fest for Big Government funding of academia’s pet projects.

For a taste of what to expect, here are recent news reports. Watch for mentions of climate change, inclusivity, and Trump.

March for Science Organizers to Kickstart New Social Movement (Space.com). This article, coming out of Climate Central, takes it for granted that “solidarity with the global science community” is a good thing. Remember when Michael Crichton preached to Caltech that the “consensus is not science, period” and told the students that all it takes is one maverick to be right? The marchers apparently forgot. When science becomes a global movement of largely left-leaning political groups, they have ceased speaking for science. One of the organizers says, “After April 22, we’re transitioning from organizing marches to a global organization focused on science education, outreach and advocacy.”

March for Science: Share Your Sign (Science Magazine). The AAAS is behind the march, promoting these things marchers can put on their placards. They’re encouraging scientists to tweet their favorite lines with #ScienceSigns on Twitter. Any hints which way these slogans tilt on the political spectrum so far?

  • The new E = mc2: Emissions = more climate change
  • I came, I saw, I concurred: Evidence breeds consensus
  • Evidence-based science for evidence-based legislation
  • Public health: for liberty, for justice, for all
  • Fund American science, or we’ll make other countries great
  • Defunding science defunds our future
  • Unlike science, tweets aren’t peer-reviewed!
  • Fund basic science! Exploration saves lives

Politics: Candidate science (Nature). The Brits see this march through the lens of politics, too. “President Donald Trump’s rise to power has been prompting scientists to explore possibilities for political action,” Virginia Gewen writes. Let’s see; would she mean action against Trump or in support of Trump? One clue is the photo in the article that shows angry scientists protesting “in the face of presidential actions” with artistically-preprinted signs, “Stand up for Science.” Gewen is clearly glad about the April 22 March for Science as a good example of activism.

How the March for Science splits researchers (Nature). Erin Ross set out to ask “members of the scientific community whether or not they plan to march on 22 April — and why.” One young postdoc out of eight respondents appears to be the lone conservative: “I am not going to the March for Science, because some people in America view science as leftist,” Nathan Gardner opines. “….I think it could easily politicize science because, even though the march’s mission statement isn’t anti-Trump, the marchers seem anti-Trump.” All the others are either going or supporting the march, because either they are concerned about the “anti-scientific stance of the Trump administration,” think science needs more government funding, or want to “fight to hold this administration accountable about the truth and, specifically, climate change.” One respondent doubted she will come unless the march is “inclusive” enough.

Republican scientists negotiate the Trump era (Nature). Here’s an unusual piece. Sarah Reardon finds some rare Republicans in science as if curious these rare breeds in academia. “Conservative academics face a growing tension between their politics and the liberal atmosphere on many US campuses,” she begins. Reardon acknowledges that academia is a hard place for Republicans to show their faces, but her liberal bias shows up between the lines:

Republicans’ anti-science reputation seems to have deepened under President Donald Trump, who has embraced ‘alternative facts’ and proposed steep spending cuts for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among others. On 22 April, thousands of protesters are expected to attend the March for Science in Washington DC. Organizers describe the event — one of more than 500 planned for around the globe — as non-partisan, but it has sparked concern that it could politicize science and alienate Republican politicians.

Reardon interviews Republicans (and one Christian) who explain how difficult it is for them. “What you believe has come to be a stand-in for whether you are a good person,” one says. To her credit, Reardon ends by pointing out Republican leaders like Reagan and Gingrich who strongly supported science funding. But the overall tenor of the article is that Republicans feel like members of a minority group who have difficulty sharing their views in their academic environment, and prefer not to talk about them. This gives an idea of what kind of scientists will be marching and “protesting” this weekend.

The Critics

About the only ones vocally opposing the ‘March for Science’ are conservatives at The Stream and intelligent design supporters at The Discovery Institute. It’s not that they oppose ‘science’ per se—far from it—but they see the event as a ‘March for Scientism’ and a political stunt by left-leaning special interests. At The Stream, Jonathan Wells says the “March for Science Is Really a March for Conformity.” The Stream posted additional articles by John West, Stephen Meyer and others, and will be keeping an eye on the March with daily updates. The Discovery Institute’s news site Evolution News & Science Today posted a video of a April 19th panel at the Heritage Foundation featuring Meyer, Wesley J. Smith, Jay Richards and Marlo Lewis with their views about what the ‘March for Science’ is really all about.

Another view earned a page in Nature. Nancy Knowlton is not against the March for Science, and most probably, as an environmentalist, is no supporter of intelligent design. But in a “World View” opinion piece, she speaks out against the “doom and gloom” posture of many environmentalists. Recalling the doomsday predictions she lived through in the 1970s and 1980s, she says it’s worth remembering that researchers “rebounded a bit” from those alarms. “As a community, we seem to be addicted to despair,” she says. No Pollyanna herself about the problems facing the planet, she has gotten better results motivating people with the positive approach, having learned that “unrelenting doom and gloom in the absence of solutions is not effective.” Students respond better to stories of environmental successes, she says, and there are many great success stories that are virtually unknown.

So here’s what to watch for: If it’s almost all anti-Trump rhetoric, calls for more government funding (remember, funding equals taxpayer earnings confiscated by force), screams for ‘diversity and inclusion’ and political correctness, if the marchers equate consensus with science, and if talk of ‘evidence-based facts’ equates to fighting global warming, it’s not really a March for Science. It’s just another leftist political stunt. Count how many pro-Trump, conservative, or Republican marchers show up, standing tall. Count the Darwin skeptics and climate skeptics. One hand’s worth of fingers will probably be enough, especially if you know how to form a zero with your thumb and index finger.

Update 4/22/17: William M. Briggs called the march a “dud” in his article on The Stream.

 

 

 

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