Critics have been quick to dismiss it as a political gimmick organised by the opposition. Supporters have been gung ho about logic and reason asserting itself. And yet, none of them truly capture what the March for Science truly heralds into the world; the end of a time where scientific fact is warped to fit confirmation biases.
“Why can’t the scientists just chill out?”
The most common comment about the march across the news, media, social networks and the banter you are forced into while waiting for your turn at the mart is why do scientists need to be political? And if they do, why now, and not a few years earlier or later?
I’ll admit, the sudden wave of resilience in the scientific community comes at a time when political lines are drawn wide and clear with guns pointed on either end. This is not just in America either. The French elections and the political situations in Britain, India and Slovakia (if not in several other countries) are severely polarised, with each side taking clear and characteristic stances on issues that are easily judged using the scientific method, and in fact have been. The mistake we make, however, is to think of one side as pro-science and the other as anti-science.
“My party supports science! Real science!”
Every time I mention science in a political conversation, the right wingers (Republicans in the USA, The National Front in France etc) tend to be seen as the bad guys. And indeed, they are. Republicans, for example, are virtually sold to deny climate change (a Senator once produced a snowball in February to prove global warming was a hoax), blame autism on vaccines and be livid at the mere mention of stem cells. They also still entertain ideas of electroconvulsive therapy for LGBT+ people and creationism to be taught in schools. They are the very picture of being anti-science.
But it is gloriously inaccurate to assume that the left is pro-science, even if that is the image politically projected. Left leaning individuals often have a massively contorted understanding of safety of nuclear power, and oppose virtually every system of energy generation; coal and fossil fuels are dissed rightfully for their causing global warming. But hydel power is opposed for its effect on water eco-systems, and wind turbines for bird deaths, a lot of which is not good science, or even helpful for bettering people’s standards of living.
The dismissal of everything artificial as bad is also scientifically lacking. When GMO crops are dissed, despite meeting the most rigorous standards of safety (they are among the safest food additions to our tables since the beginning of civilisation), having qualified in the eyes on global mammoths like the WHO, science takes a beating. While corporate extortion of farmers for use of patented crops is absurd and worth every condemnation it can be blasted with, many genetically engineered crops (if not most) are in fact better than the lay variety of crops since they have better yields, survival rates and pest resistance, which is much desirable given how there are only going to be more mouths to feed. And did we mention homeopathy? Yes, the form of “medicine” promoted by many (far) left parties and politicians is really just plain old hokum.
“Why does science care? Science is not political!”
Science, ideally, is not political. What is a fact remains a fact, regardless of who sits on top of our governance systems. But it has seldom been this way.
Right since Galileo was poisoned to present times when scientific research has come to be seen as undeserving of financial support from the government (which is one crucial reason so many scientists and science buffs were out protesting), science has rarely been apolitical. You can argue that the March for Science 2018 was organised by left-leaning people or that left-leaning attendants dwarfed those of other political orientations. But the world over, science has been a key determinant in how policies and perspectives are analysed and opined upon.
In recent years, the right wing in the USA (and indeed several other countries across the globe) has dismissed scientific facts like climate change and evolution. The left has in turn favored these facts, but has turned its back on several other key facts, right from energy production to alternative medicine. Apples have dropped from trees for millennia, despite countless changes in regimes. But regimes have often used how people understand the reason for apples falling to stay in power or knock someone else off.
The March for Science is a welcome act of assertion. It says that clear facts are not political plaything; they are here to stay unless challenged and disproven by replicable and reviewable study. Despite the Trump jokes on many a plaque that was carried, it is not a mere political parade. Facts are not open to interpretation; they are what they state! Ploys to demonise or disable scientific study have often found themselves in the mainstream, and it is time it stopped. Scientific advancement might not be unilaterally benign, but a scientific temperament enables one to catch what is wrong with a new development and make amends.
“Why March? It’s not going to help develop Scientific Temperaments!”
Indeed. But the March for Science was to protest proposed cuts to research funding. Scientific temperaments are not built in a day, nor do they come through classrooms alone. What one hears on the TV (like Bill Maher’s vapidness trying to elucidate on scientific-sounding nonsense) or from the mouth of the local or national politician dictates a lot of the discourse. The extent to which politically opinionated corporates influence what comes on the TV and social media puts people at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing the facts. The March for Science is the first step in a long overdue journey. Science is important, and it better be given its due representation; the message is clear.