April 25, 2017

A March In The Wrong Direction?

photo courtesy of state news.org

by Brianna Abbott ’17

Opinion Co-Editor

Feet are growing weary and arms are growing tired. People are running out of clever ideas for signs; but the wave of marchers protesting different aspects of the new Trump administration refuses to ebb. The newest group to join the protests: scientists.

On Earth Day, April 22, there will be a March for Science in Washington, D.C., and over 100 other cities in the United States. And although science and empirical evidence should be championed by all, a march with clear political implications might hurt the scientists more than it helps.

Science has always been eclipsed by politics. The Church didn’t put Galileo under house arrest because his data wasn’t peer reviewed properly. The Scopes Trial didn’t occur due to a lapse in the scientific method.

However, science itself should be completely objective and devoid of bias, and this generation has grown up believing in objective data and has had the privilege of seeing the rise of a belief in science in our technological age. Students who are taught that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell before they are taught how to file taxes naturally view science as objective fact more than any generation before.

That is why the actions of the Trump administration have come with shockwaves of disbelief and anger. Scientists and citizens alike were flabbergasted when pages regarding climate change and environmental conservation were taken down from government websites. Trump appointed former Texas governor Rick Perry as the head of the Department of Energy, a position usually given to a qualified physicist.

The scientific community and social media also panicked when a gag order was placed on federal scientists and federal research grants were frozen,  most of which has largely been retracted due to backlash.

These actions have caused scientists to take up arms, believing that the integrity and process of science needs defenders. And when President Trump’s pick for the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has ties to the oil industry and has actually sued the EPA more than once as Oklahoma attorney general, science certainly does need defenders. However, a march is not always the best defense.

Yes, the demonstrations against the Muslim ban have seen pressure and pushback from the administration, and that gives hope that a March for Science will alert the government that scientists are here for the fight and will induce change.

However, there is also a chance that openly politicizing science rather than keeping it objective will be a danger to science in the years to come, especially with a country so divided down party lines.

Although the recent marches have produced some results, a large portion of the country is also growing weary of seeing people taking the streets. They refer to protesters as “sore losers” or “snowflakes,” and the cause of the protestors seems less and less valuable the more that they march. Now, I have no problem with someone calling me a “snowflake” if it means that an immigrant with a legal travel visa is released from an airport; however, it becomes a completely different situation when science is involved.

Science is supposed to be objective and about discovery of the natural world, and can lead to advancement if actions are taken in accordance with scientific principles. However, much like how Galileo was forced to spend the rest of his life in his home, science does not get you very far if no one believes your data, even if it is fact.

In this divided country, the more science becomes associated with the left, the more the far right will dismiss it as fake news and agenda-driven, and the less people will trust the scientific community.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the scientific community shouldn’t fight with everything it’s got to make sure that science is respected and heeded in this country. It just means that a march isn’t the most productive way to get attention.

The way to fight for science is to advocate for it objectively on both sides. It is to raise hell when our grants are taken away through petition or social media in order to get them back. It’s advocating for scientific issues and voting scientists into office from both political sides. It is about making science more factual and less political so that any argument against it cannot stand. It is going into scientific fields, advocating for science in school, and making sure that scientific issues see the light of day instead of getting buried underneath politics.

The way to fight fiction is with objective, nonpolitical fact. Shouting only works if the person you’re trying to convince is willing to listen. The way to fight for science is the same way you do proper science—to support the data and make sure that your unbiased, factual voice is heard in the crowd.

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