Don’t silence science

David Frum has a piece in the Atlantic arguing that effective popular action has to have a focused message. Otherwise all you accomplish is a massive cathartic moment (hey look! Lots of other people are pissed off too!).  That might feel good, but it doesn’t necessarily change the political calculus.

This brings us back to the March for Science. What is it, precisely?  More to the point, what is the demand being made by people marching in it? Is it to say “Science is great”? An anodyne theme like that could have all kinds of folks agreeing, including many the marchers would likely view as opponents.  Make lots of folks happy to see science isn’t viewed negatively. Is it “More money for science?” Er, wow, that sounds pretty self-interested.  Might want to see how the veterans’ march on Washington in 1932 (the Bonus Army) worked out-and those were military veterans who were driven out of town with tanks. Is it “do what the scientists say?” Ooooh, yeah, let’s propose a ruling elite after having an election that arguably showed widespread discontent with an elite.  Frankly, the March’s website is kind of vague on all this: “What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.” Kumbaya, anyone?

Here is GG’s slogan: “Don’t silence science.” Short and simple. What are the demands? That scientists within the government and funded by the government be free to speak out about their scientific findings–these folks are being paid by taxpayers across the country and those taxpayers should be allowed to hear what the scientists have to say, not merely the parts some political appointee finds convenient.  That their data is available for others to examine–it too was bought with taxpayers’ moneys; hiding results because they are politically inconvenient should be unacceptable. A corollary is that research dollars cannot be directed to politically favored projects.  Imagine deciding not to fund research into the cancer-causing characteristics of tobacco while funding projects investigating the weight-control benefits of smoking. If you think health is important, fund health; if climate, fund climate, but don’t try to steer dollars more closely than that.

Scientists love to add caveats, specify details, allow for wiggle room, etc. We enjoy being long-winded and revel in gray areas of knowledge. Don’t do that here. Short, sweet, and simple: “Don’t silence science.”

P.S. 23 April. Noticed that the March for Science almost adopted GG’s theme, going for “Science, not Silence”. Not quite the same, but pretty close….

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2 responses to “Don’t silence science”

  1. Oregonians in Grenoble says :

    “Don’t Silence Science” is fine as a bumper sticker or some other simple tag line, but I can’t see a march with thousands of people carrying signs with that message. Perhaps more to the point, once a “march for science” happens, the message goes beyond the control of any group or individual. If there’s one sign with a caricature of Donald Trump with a swastika, nobody will see thousands of others that might say “Don’t Silence Science.” The inevitable result of the march for science, if it gets any attention at all, will be to solidify the impression in the mind of the public that the scientific community is yet another liberal advocacy group. This is particularly troublesome in the present environment, in which the level of public support for research has shrunk to the point that the vitality of the American scientific enterprise is in danger. We need to persuade the public that support for research is an enormously productive investment for the public good. It won’t help to have tens of millions of our fellow citizens thinking “Oh, poor little snowflakes.”

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  2. cjonescu says :

    I think we largely agree–after all, I was seeking a slogan/theme that should be apolitical. I tend to agree that the risk of appearing partisan is high, but your objection is less to my slogan and more to the fact that it would be impossible to patrol all the participants to be sure none were saying something that right-wing media would trumpet as a march of left-wing astroturfed tree-huggers (if that is not an oxymoron). Given there is another march on tax day a week before and heavens knows how many others, a march for science might well be lost in the noise anyways.

    So, then, what is your proposal to bring attention to attempts to stifle scientific research in certain fields? A cover article in Physics Today? Letters to the editor? Letters to Congresspeople? A day without science? [what would that look like?]

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