Scientific Movement

Well it is AGU time again, meaning thousands of geoscientists descend on San Francisco, making lunch south of Market really hard to get. The volume is overwhelming as usual


But that is inside the meeting. Quite unusually, there was something of a gathering outside the meeting, too:


This smaller get together during lunch was to protest the denigration of science. Billed “Stand up for Science,” you might think it a bit of a failure given the nearby mobs in line at Noodles and Company and in the nearby food courts. 

But look, these are professionals who, on average, are more retiring than most folks. (GG wonders how often medical doctors gather outside an AMA meeting to protest some health care issues). So it is significant that a few hundred were willing to stand for over an hour and listen to exhortations to fight against a denial of scientific findings. 

What does this presage?

Americans can be of two minds sometimes. They might not believe in evolution but accept clinical treatments based on evolution. They might not believe humans cause climate change but support clean energy. So if scientists start taking to the streets to demand to be heard, what might happen? Will practical America be dominant, or belief America? Support science or demonize it?

This could further politicize science-perhaps in general or just climate science. Will colleagues in chemistry and physics and biology stand with climate scientists? If so, the scientific community might move as a whole into politics. If not, the popular perception might be that climate science isn’t real science. Most scientists would rather not be a special interest group beholden to one party. 

Scientists have played Cassandra before; usually the response is more dismissive than confrontational. Yet moves by the incoming administration to identify those who have worked on climate change combined with moves by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to examine NSF reviews suggests suppression and discrediting are the action items now. Scientists are noticing. How will the scientific community react?  How will the public react?

PS. A rather late addition to the AGU schedule was a talk by California Governor Jerry Brown; this underscores the shift of climate science from science into policy. Brown more or less was cheerleading, noting California’s dedication to reducing carbon emissions and the numerous collaborations the state has with other entities. He promised that California has lots of lawyers and so attacks on scientists would be fought, as would attempts to interfere with national labs and satellite monitoring of climate. He offered his feeling that, based on his 40 years in politics, that truth will win out and he encouraged the audience to continue to pursue truth and share it with the world. All you have to lose, he offered, are grants and tenure; all politicians have to lose are elections. Basically, don’t despair, science has powerful friends and the truth as well. When asked at the end what he would tell an aspiring scientist thinking of shifting away from climate studies, he said there is no better place to be than in climate, as it just got interesting. 

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