The Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective?
This stance has received ample backlash. But I’ve been equally struck by cringe-worthy statements made by proponents of the march. Many march leaders are attempting to sanitize themselves of the crazy mess that is American politics by insulating the Science March in a double-walled vacuum of objectivity. “This is a protest, but it’s not a political protest,” Jonathan Berman (a lead organizer of the march) proclaimed to the New York Times. I fail to see how a protest of any kind could be deemed apolitical. (Perhaps he meant “partisan”?)
|A march sign at NYU.
Let me express that, unlike Young and Berman, the politicization of science is not the source of my unease. Like many others, I deeply reject the notion that science is apolitical, or that it ever could be. Researchers know this all too well from the ways in which academic hierarchies, granting agencies, and prestigious journals can make or break careers and shape the direction of a field, and from the way that scientific advancements simply cannot be divorced from their social, economic, and ethical repercussions. Best of all, we know this from the way funding is allocated to researchers by private and government institutions with obvious agendas. I’m comfortable in the notion that “doing science” is an inherently social and political endeavour (which aims for and approaches objectivity asymptotically)— and I believe it’s best for scientists to embrace this idea.
Of course, in Trump’s America, I understand the need for bold, argumentative stance-taking. I support people who will march with banners which will simply proclaim that “Climate Change is Real!” But while I understand the temptation to reference some substantial “body of literature” to support this conclusion, we must be willing and prepared to engage the public on a level much deeper than this. To do otherwise would not just erode the public image of scientists on face— it would be deeply contrary to the scientific process itself.
|Image courtesy of Flickr.
Moreover, rather than professing objectivity, insist on and celebrate the inherently social (and subjective) nature of scientific discourse. Science is a social endeavour, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can’t say with absolute certainty that climate change is anthropogenic, but I can say with an incredibly high degree of certainty that it probably is, because of the communal nature of the scientific process. I’ve never measured CO2 myself, but I base my conclusion largely on the social and academic institutions we have in place, which are comprised of other people who have recorded a variety of natural phenomena. They’ve printed and disseminated their data through reputable publishing companies, and their conclusions are made available to me through some man-made search algorithm on Google Scholar. It’s in large part because of my prior beliefs on the trustworthiness and reputability of all of the above social institutions that I’ve come to conclude that climate change is very, very likely to be anthropogenic and real, and that we should normatively take policy measures to ameliorate the sad mess that is our environment.
Want to cite this post?
Lee, J. (2017). The Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective? The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2017/04/the-science-march-can-science-based.html