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Friday, April 21, 2017

The March Against Science

The only scientific thing about the March For Science is the word ‘science.’

E verybody loves science, right? Maybe, but these days science has become more politicized than ever. If the so-called March for Science holds to its promise, it will only contribute to that problem.

I could write a book on how resources, both financial and human, are wasted in science. But in this climate where some people attack science for being reductionistic and others attack it for being ‘colonialist’, maybe science could use a little support. When science is politicized, people feel threatened. But instead of attacking the politicizers, they attack science itself.

We get it from both sides. People frustrated with uncritical acceptance of bad environmental science see no contradiction in uncritically accepting unsubstantiated stories about a ‘reproducibility crisis.’ People on the other side pick and choose other stories that fit their narrative. Whatever happened to demanding evidence?

So you might think tomorrow's March For Science is a salutory thing, a call for relief from the constant politicizing of science. But the fact that it's in Washington, DC, aka Slime Heaven, hints otherwise. It's shaping up to be another way for liberal activists to claim that science is on their side, which is the modern way of saying “I'm right, and you're wrong!” That means that, despite the name, it's really a march against science. And that's a shame, because it's getting lonely in science. We're feeling unloved and abused. Unwanted, even.

Even Megan Mullin at the Washington Post admits it:

The science community's effort to more actively engage in the public sphere could backfire. If science begins to be seen as a ‘liberal’ pursuit, it risks losing public favor and the ability to attract the best talent.

Notice how they sneak in the assumption that scientists are behind this. Only one of the scientists I've spoken to has even heard of this march. The March's website tells us why. Of their six ‘core principles,’ four are about ‘diversity,’ which is the standard euphemism for ‘special preferences.’ Forget about W bosons, DNA, and the other interesting scientific stuff. Even basic words like ‘skepticism’, ‘truth’ and ‘rigor’ are nowhere to be found.

How many of the participants will be seen on TV saying things like “I was initially skeptical as to the purpose of this march, but so far the evidence is consistent with an intention to seek truth dispassionately.”? More likely we'll hear drivel like this, from the list of core principles:

We recognize that inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in science are critical to ensure that science reaches its potential to serve all communities.
. . .

A lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM thwarts scientific advancements by influencing not only who performs research, but the questions we seek to answer, who participates in studies, and, critically, what communities benefit from the innovations and services that science provides.
. . .

We can show that scientists come from all cultural backgrounds, belief systems, orientations, genders, and abilities.
. . .

A lack of diversity in science hampers the research we do, the answers we seek, and our ability to serve our communities.

At the bottom is a note telling us that their movement was taken over by political activists:

Note: These principles were updated on March 8 to more fully communicate our values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility and their critical role in fulfilling science's public service mission. Please read our statement on diversity and inclusion.

Yeah, I'll pass, thanks. Those diversity statements are all the same. Despite the organizers' claims, the real goal seems to be to pressure President Trump to give more funding to their pet causes: gender, diversity, and global warming.

Defining one's political cause as a problem for science to solve doesn't always work: a few years ago feminists pressured biologists to include more female animals in their experiments in the interest of equality. Now, millions of female mice later, we have reams of research documenting the very thing that feminists dreaded: that male and female brains are vastly different. As are their immune systems and their cardiovascular systems. Science listens to you at your peril: if your ideas are not based on reality, they will be proven false.

Sexual orientation, religion, values, and cultural background are irrelevant to science. People of all orientations, religions, species, sexes, and genders are all welcome to have their orientations, religions, values, gender identities, beliefs, and preconceptions ignored in science. None of these things matter if what you're searching for actually exists; if what you find depends on who or what you are, then it is not real.

If people really want a good cause to march for in DC, they should march for freedom of speech, which is under unprecedented attack at our universities. But I suspect they won't, not because it's not important, but because it would raise issues they're not willing—or maybe not allowed—to talk about.

Update, apr 23 2017: “Science, not silence”? If I thought there were any real scientists at that march, I'd be ashamed.

Created apr 21 2017; last edited apr 22 2017, 11:58 am

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