I’m looking foward to partipating in the March for Science in Washington, DC this Saturday. I’m bringing my March for Science T-shirt, my rain gear and my passionate commitment to the value of science in improving the human condition. Therefore, I was disappointed to read Arthur Lambert’s piece in STAT, Why I’m not attending the March for Science.
Promoting the objectivity of science is NOT politicizing it.
Lambert is a postdoctoral researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, MA. He’s spent most of the last 15 years devoted to science. So why isn’t he marching?
… I think that the march is a bad idea. It threatens to undermine the objective nature of scientific research that is so critical to its integrity…
And there’s no denying this march is political. It is a mistake to position the scientific method against the Trump administration or any other one, for that matter. That would serve only to undermine a central premise of the march: that scientific knowledge is apolitical…
Yes, science is apolitical. Many of us are marching precisely because we believe that and we want to register our disapproval of those who censor it, suppress it, twist it and deride it for political or religious ends.
According to its website:
The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.
The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.
Scientific knowledge is not the province of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. It is not the province of any religion or no religion at all. It crosses borders, ethnicities and economic classes. It is truly apolitical, areligious and exists outside of economic philosophies. As astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson has famously noted:
The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
But scientific knowledge is perceived as a threat by certain groups. Historically we have seen that most often in the case of religion. Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church because his findings threatened the religious belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. Charles Darwin has been condemned, and remarkably continues to be condemned, by those whose religious beliefs are (as they see it) incompatible with the massive amount of scientific evidence supporting evolution.
When Galileo stood up for the helio-centric universe, he was not politicizing science even though he angered the politicians of his day; his critics politicized science. When Darwin stood up for evolution, he was not politicizing science even though he angered the politicians of his day and some of the politicians of our day; his critics politicized science.
How do we know? We merely have to look at the definition of political. The definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
1 a of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government
b of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from the administration of governmental policy
2 of, relating to, involving, or involved in politics and especially party politics
3 organized in governmental terms political units
4 involving or charged or concerned with acts against a government or a political system political prisoners
Neither astronomy nor evolutionary biology have anything to do with government, parties or political systems. Nonetheless, politicians and religious authorities insisted on using the instruments of government and religion to censor, suppress, twist and deride the scientific evidence that forms the basis of astronomy or evolutionary biology. The science is apolitical yet politicians insist politicize it.
Similarly, neither climate science, reproductive biology, nor vaccine science have anything to do with government, parties or political systems. Nevertheless, politicians keep insisting on using the instruments of government to censor, suppress, twist and deride the scientific evidence that forms the basis of these disciplines. The science is apolitical yet politicians insist on politicizing it.
Sure, the Republican Party has recently been far more aggressive in politicizing science than the Democratic Party but that doesn’t mean that efforts to affirm science as apolitical are anti-Republican or pro-Democratic. If history has shown us anything at all it is that science can threaten cherished religious and political values across the spectrum. Unable or unwilling to cope with the resulting cognitive dissonance, many find it far easier to use the tools of politics to censor, suppress, twist and deride the distressing scientific facts.
We are marching to stop the politicization of science and it seems to me deeply unfortunate to confuse promoting the objectivity of science with politicizing it. That view serves to delegitimize science — inadvertently, I hope — by claiming its proponents are engaged in the same misuse of science as many political and religious authorities.
It’s a claim of false moral equivalence … and it is objectively wrong.