A Scientists’ March on Washington is a chance to speak truth to power

moment of truth

In an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, a geology professor Robert S. Young decries the planned Scientists’ March on Washington in a display of shocking naïveté:

Among scientists, understandably, there is growing fear that fact-based decision making is losing its seat at the policy-making table. There’s also overwhelming frustration with the politicization of science by climate change skeptics and others who see it as threatening to their interests or beliefs.

But trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.

With all due respect, Prof. Young, you’ve completely missed the point! Science has become politicized by politicians and a Scientists’ March on Washington is a declaration that scientists intend to take it back.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Science has become politicized; a Scientists’ March on Washington is a declaration that scientists intend to take it back.[/pullquote]

Whether it’s creationism, climate change denial or anti-vaccine activism, those who fear science have attempted to silence scientists by falsely declaring that it is political and by moving to suppress it as if it were political speech.

Prof. Young’s central claim is nothing short of absurd.

A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.

Wrong again! Scientists did not put themselves in the midst of the culture wars; they were deliberately placed there. It’s not hard to understand why. When you can’t discredit the science — and the purveyors of creationism, climate denial and anti-vax nonsense can’t discredit the science — the next best thing is to discredit the scientists. How? By insisting that they are not searching for truth but rather for political or economic advantage.

Prof. Young insists:

Rather than marching on Washington and in other locations around the country, I suggest that my fellow scientists march into local civic groups, churches, schools, county fairs and, privately, into the offices of elected officials. Make contact with that part of America that doesn’t know any scientists. Put a face on the debate. Help them understand what we do, and how we do it. Give them your email, or better yet, your phone number.

Why should it be one or the other? It shouldn’t. We can simultaneously seek to help lay people understand science while making a strong stand that science exists outside of politics and therefore scientists should never be censured by politicians.

Scientists marching in opposition to a newly elected Republican president will only cement the divide.

It is impossible to increase the divide between a newly elected Republican president who seeks to suppress scientists for political advantage and scientist who venerate truth regardless of which politicians seek to use and abuse them to score political points.

Young declares:

Believe me, I understand the desire to impart to everyone how important science is to every sector of our economy, the health of our planet and the future of our families.

That reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of of a Scientists’ March. It’s not to convince everyone that science is important to our economy or to anything else. It is to take a stand against a president who is already subverting science by censoring scientists.

The goal is to speak truth to power in the most basic sense of the phrase — to speak scientific truth to Trump, an ignorant bully drunk on power.