The March to Kill Science

By Tom Gilson Published on April 20, 2017

They’re calling it a March for Science. They don’t realize they are marching it toward its grave.

I don’t for a moment think they will take it there. Science is older and stronger than they are, and it will hold its own against any poison they can inflict on it. They won’t kill science. That doesn’t mean they’re not trying.

What’s crazy is that they think they’re doing it for science. This could only make sense if they’ve forgotten what science is, and what’s made it so great and powerful.

At its best, natural science is a search for knowledge, not caught up in human biases or desires, but accountable to the facts. And facts (for the “hard” sciences of physics, chemistry and biology, at least) are the same no matter who goes looking for them.

That fact itself allows science to be a shared enterprise. Yes, scientists compete for discoveries. Still, overall and over time, this knowledge is shared. If one researcher gets a theory or conclusion wrong, another can discover the error. Thus the community of science can keep itself on track with the truth, and solid new discoveries can build upon solid older ones.

Now, that’s science the way we learned it in grade school. It’s also science in its ideal form; but of course it isn’t reality. Things never work so well in practice, for scientists (and their funders) are human. As products of their upbringing and members of their institutions and their communities, they have vested interests. They have political and religious views, which some of them are prone to confuse with “scientific” knowledge.

Still science advances on the strength of its open, shared, objective search for knowledge. 

The crazy, deadly thing about the March for Science is that its main purpose is to spread science’s political taint.

The public puts confidence in science because we’ve seen how well it works. It also trusts science when it’s thought to be independent from prejudice and politics. 

That public trust is vital for the life of science. In 2015 the United States spent half a trillion dollars on research and development. That’s a lot of money for the public to hand over to white-coated men and women working in closely guarded rooms, speaking a language known only among the initiates. It might as well be a secret religion to most of us. Yet we fund it anyway, since we trust its priests to be constrained by an honest search for objective truth. That funding will keep on coming for as long as we think its objectivity as outweighs its biases, especially its politics.

The crazy, deadly thing about the March for Science is that its main purpose is to spread both the taint and the public’s awareness of that taint.

What’s weird is that the March’s leaders seem both to know this and to be blind to it at the same time. In their Mission Statement they lift up the ideal:

Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.

The March for Science champions and defends science and scientific integrity.

But then they veer away from there, adding that this integrity “is a small step in the process toward encouraging the application of science in policy.” A small step? Really?

Read the expanded Mission and Vision statement, and you’ll see that it, too, nods its head toward non-partisan integrity. Its featured Diversity and Inclusion Principles tells a very different, politically progressivist story instead: “Scientists and people who care about science are an intersectional group, embodying a diverse range of races, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, religions, ages, socioeconomic and immigration statuses.”

The March’s web pages are filled with the talk of openness, discovery, dissent and debate. But anybody who’s halfway aware of science today knows there are many viewpoints that aren’t allowed even a peep in through the lab window. Disagreement with the so-called “consensus” on climate change is one. Doubting neo-Darwinism is another. The following is explicitly verboten: “Targeting individuals or communities with violent language, including statements that reflect racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or any form of bigotry, will result in banning and/or blocking.”

A real March for Science would support what keeps science strong: its open and unbiased pursuit of sheer facts, and the public’s confidence that it will remain that way.

Which might lead one to wonder whether there’s any space for diversity in religious belief. The next line answers that question: “Personal attacks based on religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation will also lead to banning and/or blocking.”

In other words, no. Affiliation and belief aren’t the same thing. And if religious belief leads one to “homophobia” — a term whose political correctness outshines its scientific rigor by orders of magnitude — it’s clear which side will win.

This March is clearly and obviously a left-leaning movement seeking to flex its political muscles in a right-leaning environment.

Its mission statement tells us, “We understand that the most effective way to protect science is to encourage the public to value and invest in it.” But the public has valued it. We have invested in it, and we still are. Why? Because we trust in science as an objective search for knowledge.

Sometimes the most telling thing to look for in a movement’s statements is what isn’t there. I searched every page on the March’s website for the word “trust.” It isn’t there. 

A real March for Science would support what keeps science strong: and open and unbiased pursuit of the facts, and the public’s confidence that it will remain that way. This March could hasten the death of all that.

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