I know that some scientists are concerned that the March for Science campaign will politicize science and fuel conservative distrust in science. I’m sorry, but it’s way too late for that. Science has already been politicized – that started decades ago – and a growing anti-science sub-culture has infected and perhaps taken over the Republican party, leaving pro-science without a champion or a home.

To me, that’s what the March for Science (April 22nd) is really about: demonstrating that there really are pro-science voters out there who are hoping politicians get the message that we are a viable alternate constituency, one that is seeking leaders who are willing to fight for our cause. And although it’s clear that leadership wont be coming from the current version of the GOP, it’s not yet clear that it will be found within the Democratic nor any of the independent parties either.

I say that because its not clear to me that the leadership in any of those parties really understand science and scientific thinking. Although they may vaguely espouse support for science, scientific findings (that support their agendas), and budgets/spending for science, where’s the evidence that they actually value and utilize scientific thinking, principles, and methods? Are they role modeling self-skepticism, seeking disconfirmatory evidence, making and testing hypotheses, questioning their own underlying assumptions, and treating variance from established theories as experimental? Or are they demonstrating emotional reasoning, confirmation bias, trust in their own intuition, appeal to authority over empiricism, and mistaking correlation for causation?

Unless political leaders are demonstrating actual utilization of scientific thinking and principles in their campaigning, their legislating, etc., why should we trust or believe that they will value and understand the importance of science and scientific thinking enough to effectively protect and promote them? Unless candidates for office are demonstrating actual utilization of scientific thinking and principles, why should we vote for them?

So, I have started writing about and speaking out at town meetings and other public forums about the importance of insisting – from a grass roots level – that candidates for office need to do just that if they want me (and, I hope, others) to vote for them in their next elections. Because anti-science voters are demanding just that from the politicians they are electing to office – that they dismiss or reject science, scientific thinking, and any scientific finding that disagrees with their beliefs.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking our new anti-science President is an aberration, that if he were removed from office right now, pro-science (or at least science neutral) leaders would step in to replace him. Vice-President Mike Pence has asserted, “science is very mixed on the subject of global warming,” insisted in a Congressional campaign ad that “smoking doesn’t kill,” and has repeatedly suggested creationism should be taught as an equivalent theory to evolution.
The anti-science constituency has also voted in (and will keep voting in) a lot of anti-science Republicans, including those in Congress who recently approved Trump surrounding himself with many anti-science advisers, including several anti-science Cabinet members, such as:

  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has no science background, previously supported eliminating the energy department, and recently referred to climate science as merely “academic,”
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued the EPA 13 times and co-authored an Op-Ed describing the science of climate change as debatable and “far from settled,” and
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a school voucher and choice proponent who demonstrated in her confirmation hearing failure to understand the scientific concept of operational definitions by confounding growth with proficiency and refusing to explain accountability, instead just repeating the phrase, “I support accountability” to each of 4 questions.\

Trump has also met with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., proponent of scientifically discredited allegations of a link between vaccinations and autism, about heading a proposed vaccine safety commission.

So, Trump is really just the epitome of the growth of anti-science in this country and within the Republican party. He’s the tip of an iceberg that’s buoyed up by a grassroots constituency that will continue voting in anti-science Senators, Congressmen, governors, legislators, and school board members – until and unless pro-science voters coalesce their own grassroots movement and start demanding evidence of pro-science values and commitment as a requirement for political candidates to earn their votes.

That doesn’t have to be Democrats, nor independents. It just seems unlikely in the current political climate that Republicans will be willing to risk upsetting their anti-science constituents to court a theoretical pro-science constituency – since it’s not yet clear that such a pro-science grassroots movement will really coalesce and grow, much less flourish. And although science may already be politicized, that doesn’t mean pro-science voters have to adhere to any particular party. They could just start demanding pro-science candidates from whatever political party.

That’s why I have become a pro-science activist and why I will be marching for science on Earth Day, April 22nd. In my case, I’ll be doing it here in Portland, Maine, because although the biggest March for Science is planned for Washington, DC, there are already more than 400 marches for science planned for April 22nd – and not only here in the United States but around the world.

So, I urge you to find a march near you and participate. Here’s a link to where the satellite marches will be held: https://www.marchforscience.com/satellite-marches Because if pro-science voters don’t prove that they can be a political force to be reckoned with, the anti-science electorate will continue to hold all the power on this issue, and our nation and our world will pay the price.

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1 Comment

Excellent post, Gordon! As a fellow Penn ex-pat, I love seeing people organizing these local marches. You have GREAT talking points. I’ll be sure to tweet them up!! @mclneuro

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