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Thursday, December 8, 2022


March for Science teeters political tightrope

On April 22, thousands of scientists and science advocates across the globe will participate in the March for Science. The March’s mission statement emphasizes that the marchers will “unite as a … nonpartisan group to call for … political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.” It also has several stated principles and goals: public inclusivity, affirmation of science as a democratic value, a push for science research funding and cutting-edge science education, their website states.

“The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue.”

This is true, but also false.

The process of science — that of the beakers and telescopes, the equations and calculations, the hypotheses and predictions — is an apolitical endeavor. The scientific method is our best tool for interrogating reality. If science relentlessly prods nature, then amazingly, nature yields. Science’s supreme utility in turning mystery into understanding is denied only by the dogmatist.

Science should be a pillar of any self-proclaimed mature civilization, alongside democracy, freedom, and the like. Citizens ought to hold their politicians accountable to value science and accept its findings as much as they do.

In this respect, science is neither blue nor red. But unanimity in science does not necessarily translate into political alignment.

Take abortion. Two people may both accept the facts as science has discovered them — that the developing fetus doesn’t have conscious awareness or that the fetal brain does not begin to develop until three or four weeks after conception or that the fetus will eventually grow into a person.

But while one person concludes that the woman ought to have the right to choose whether to abort this insentient collection of cells, another may conclude that this fetus, as a person-in-making, has a fundamental right to life.

Values have unavoidably entered the scene, and the path from “is” to “ought” cannot be scientifically determined.

The March for Science’s statement on diversity and inclusion admits that it “was a mistake to ever imply that the March for Science is apolitical — while this march is explicitly non-partisan, it is political.” It goes on to denounce the travel ban as an impediment to the “free flow of scientific ideas” and “budget cuts that restrict the availability of science for making policy decisions.”

I appreciate the honesty.

While I personally agree with the above political complaints, they are just that. And there is no reason why a scientist — an individual, after all — might disagree with those sentiments. To assume political alignment because of a shared value of science is a fallacy, and an arrogant one. There must exist scientists who both wish for science to be taken seriously by our leaders and consider the travel ban to be a net positive. Will those individuals march?

A march for science is apolitical. A march for policy is not. The organizers of the March for Science are balancing on a tightrope, with alienation on one side and partisanship on the other, should they fall.

I wish them luck. 

Columnist Logan Chipkin is an ecology and evolution graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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