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….