It was fun– and I don’t mean that in a trivial sense. For me, the March for Science rally in San Francisco yesterday had the right mix of whimsy and angst, of hilarious satire and hard facts. There were the white lab coats. The DNA models. The signs saying, “Remember polio? I don’t,” “Science Not Silence,” and “If you think science is expensive, try guesswork!” Although the march was supposedly non-partisan (one sign said, “Science is not Democrat or Republican” and another “Science is not an ideology”), it was hard to skirt the fact that our Chaos President’s administration has been Ground Zero for the unleashing of virulent attacks against scientific principles and evidence-based policies. In the Trump White House, GOP partisanship and corporate financial interests are favored over data and facts, even if the consequences might threaten the world. I saw a decidedly partisan sign with just ten characters: OMG/GOP/WTF?
The speakers ranged from the humorous-but-pointed to the earnest and personal. Gauging the applause level was my “eardrum approach” to surveying audience sympathies. When it came to climate change and the denial thereof, the reaction was the most prolonged, almost angry in its intensity. Then quoting Niels Bohr, who won the 1922 Nobel Prize for describing the atomic structure and later contributed to quantum theory (“Science is the gradual elimination of prejudice”) drew loud approval. Other topics: support for NASA; the Clean Water Act on the chopping block; fear of a post-truth world in which evidence doesn’t matter; teachers of science and math as the first line of defense- all of these received wholehearted applause. With the debunking of vaccine-induced autism, there was a slight but perceptible drop in volume. How about genetically engineering crops to feed the world? There was definitely a moment of uncertainty when folks had to decide how they felt about GMOs, and whether to clap at all. Just as the Women’s March in January demonstrated divisions between those supporting women’s rights, the March for Science showed that belief in science does not translate in a homogeneous way to setting policy.
Maybe there should be a March for Science Fiction. Poets and writers of fiction often set a stage for the interplay of multiple points of view. This hypothetical staging leads to a grand conclusion, but also allows layering of multiple take-home messages, as I’ve tried to do in my novel Fourth World. Even in science, there are shades of gray, when you take into consideration ethics, inclusivity and social justice, geopolitics and so on, and sometimes it takes imagination to untangle these factors. “Science is Hope,” I read on a placard. Science fiction, which projects current science onto a hypothetical stage by the power of imagination, is also hope.