I think the March for Science is a very bad idea for the simple reason that the March is likely to politicize science to a dangerous degree. Robert S. Young, a professor of coastal geology, wrote an essay for the NYT entitled, “A Scientists’ March on Washington Is a Bad Idea.” Young explains:
But trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.
A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.
Wise words. Let’s now flesh them out to help illustrate how the March for Science could seriously damage science for a long time.
Let’s begin with some Pew Research data that shows Americans place great trust in the scientific community:
Why do you think it is that 76% of American’s trust the scientific community to do what is in the best interests of the public? I would propose the driving cause is the perception that scientists are non-partisan. That’s why they cluster with the military and doctors and are at the opposite end of the trust spectrum from politicians and the media. In other words, you could look at the same ranking and view it as people scoring groups in terms of the group being apolitical and/or non-partisan. Human beings naturally place more trust in those whom are perceived to have no agenda other than helping or defending all people.
So let’s bring the March for Science into the picture. They are careful to claim they are “nonpartisan group.” But how believable is that?
Word of advice. If you are going to have a political march while claiming to be nonpartisan, you had better well be nonpartisan. Because if you are not, you can expect you political opponents to pounce all over that claim, uncover its untruthful essence, and shout it from the rooftops. For not only would you be exposed as just another partisan voice, but a voice that lied about it being non-partisan. And the casualty would be science’s greatest asset – the trust of the people.
So how well will this nonpartisan claim hold up?
It looks to me like it is on very shaky ground. Consider the baggage.
- The March for Science looks like it was inspired by and modeled after the anti-Trump, partisan Woman’s March.
- There is clearly an anti-Trump, anti-Republican undercurrent to the March for Science that will not be easily masked.
- Earth Day, of all days, was chosen as the day for the March.
- The webpage for the March for Science originally displayed it’s left-leaning partisan perspective. See here and here.
Of course, all of this is kind of esoteric and unlikely to gain traction among people who are on the proverbial fence with a five minute attention span. What would be truly damaging is a simple, unambiguous scientific fact that completely undercuts the nonpartisan posturing.
Well, such a fact exists. It’s a fact that is not widely known, but thanks to the March For Science, it could eventually be common knowledge and a political talking point.
Did you ever wonder how many scientists are Republicans and how many are Democrats? How many are conservative and how many are liberal? Once again, Pew Research has the data:
Ouch. While 55% of scientists are Democrats, only 6% are Republicans. There are actually more women in science than Republicans in science. The massive imbalance is even more severe when leaners are included, where we find that over 80% of scientists are Democrat or lean Democrat. And as you can see, political ideology is likewise severely skewed.
Those data are not exactly supportive of the claims of nonpartisanship with regard to the March for Science. In fact, if the March for Science does provoke a political response from its opponents, those data are ready-made talking points as part of some rather influential pushback. How so? Such data are likely to be “news” for millions of Americans. According to another PewReseach survey:
Interesting. So 64% of Americans mistakenly believe that scientists are neither liberal nor conservative. Pew Reseach put it this way:
The sharp political divide between Republicans and Democrats on issues such as climate change raises the question of whether a wide range of Americans’ attitudes about science – and scientists – are viewed through a political lens.
Our survey of 2,002 adults nationwide, conducted in August 2014, suggests that’s not the case.
Some 64% of Americans perceive scientists as neither liberal nor conservative.
Yet 52% of scientists are liberal and only 9% are conservative.
What this means is that Americans’ high level of trust in the scientific community is likely tied to Americans’ ignorance about the scientific community.
So if the Left wants to use the March for Science as a way to bait the scientific community into some unified merger, such that the left-wing political agenda is cloaked with the cultural authority of science, expect political pushback. And such pushback could come in the form of a President Trump tweet stating, “Did you know only 6% of scientists are Republicans?” and “This is a March for Democrat Science.” Now, imagine this message being pushed among the right-wing media for years and years. Good luck trying to counter that one.
Remember that original Pew Data?
I think we can expect that 84% number to start dropping into the 50% realm, all beginning with the March for Science (assuming the March gets serious attention and is not a flop).
And where do we go from there?