I don’t have any scientific data on this, but it seems to me that there has been a sharp rise in marches and other public demonstrations since the election of our Chaos President. So many widely-accepted ideas and established programs/policies have come under fire from the Administration that an increasing number of alarmed citizens have felt the need to rise up in protest.
Now there’s a March for Science scheduled for Earth Day, Saturday, April 22nd at the Mall in Washington, D.C. and many other sites around the world (locally at Justin Herman Plaza, SF, 11 AM). As a physician, I grew up steeped in biology, chemistry, physics, physiology and other scientific disciplines; relied on well-designed clinical trials in order to practice evidence-based medicine; applied the fruits of medical research and technological advances to improve or save lives; and feared the encroachment of financial interests which overshadow doing what’s best for patients. I have simply taken for granted that the scientific method is essential, that data and evidence are critical, and (mistakenly) that everybody knows these things. So it came as a shock that Science needs a march! No-one would claim that all scientific studies are accurate and free of corrupt influence, but even the satirical movie Animal House allows (as a university motto) that Knowledge Is Good.
Since higher education is usually the path to scientific knowledge and expertise, it’s hard to avoid the false equivalence of science and elitism, in the minds of many. And the way to counter such elitism (vigorously aided by the above-mentioned financial interests) is to deny the importance of science, or even set up the idea of fake science as a straw man. Deny the conclusions of climatologists, and dismantle agreements to fight climate change on a global scale. Deny that CO2 is a cause of global warming, and put the chief denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (see my earlier post, So Who Asked You?). Cling to the false belief- many times disproven- that vaccines cause autism, and appoint the chief clinger to oversee vaccine safety. Propose a budget that cuts funding for cancer, immunologic, genetic and other vital research at the National Institutes of Health. Allow the use of pesticides that have been shown to harm children. Deny the benefits of forensic science programs that increase accuracy in enforcing the law. Apparently you can simply choose your beliefs without evidence, as they did in the Dark Ages.
So Science does need a march. But it won’t end there, as a symbolic gesture; the march will shift public discourse, inspire blog postings like this, prompt letters and calls to Congress, and, more locally, it will bring a wide variety of influential people together in the progressive/technological/academically-heavy Bay Area. Is the march elitist? I doubt anyone will care. See you on the 22nd!