Marching for Science

Scientists are getting a march of our own! Finally! From http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com/:

“There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”

That all sounds good. What scientist could argue with that? Certainly not this one! But here are a few other things that I’m wondering if the organizers and marchers will be willing to accept as facts:

1. Life starts at gastrulation.

An organism composed of cells, undergoing metabolism, capable of responding to external stimuli and undergoing mitotic cell division fits any definition of life I’m aware of. (On the other hand, whether or not this life should be afforded personhood and rights is more of a question of ethics and morals, which the scientific method is ill-equipped to handle.)

2. You can’t pick your sex.

Humans have sex chromosomes, an X and a Y. The genes on the Y chromosome determine whether or not you will develop as a male. (In the rare instance you find a female with a Y chromosome or a male with two Xs, it just means that section of the Y chromosome broke off and re-attached to an X during meiosis). “Gender identity” is not a scientific concept.

3. GMO foods are still safe.

There are plenty of reasons not to like GMO products, such as biodiversity loss, risk of crossing with wild organisms, etc. But the food products themselves have never given anyone cancer.

4. Barack Obama is not a scientist.

In December 2016, Scientific American claimed Barack Obama wrote the year’s most talked about science paper. He didn’t. His paper, published in he Journal of the American Medical Association was not a science paper, because it did not use the scientific method. Obama collected no data. He had no hypothesis. He ran no experiment. He had no results to discuss. Obama’s article was a thinly disguised promotion of the Affordable [sic] Care Act. The JAMA board should be ashamed of themselves for publishing this.

If you’re not upset with JAMA for publishing Obama’s propaganda, ask yourself honestly how you would feel if Donald Trump started publishing in academic journals to support his policies.

5. Science is not a democracy.

No, I don’t care that 97% of climate scientists believe in climate change. That number didn’t even come from a survey of scientists, it was just someone’s analysis of published papers. Either way, it doesn’t matter — that is not how science is decided. Nature does not care what you believe.

I could have gone on with many more examples. My point is, it’s not just the new administration who scientists should be concerned about.

Who should fund science?

I’m concerned that the March for Science seems to focus on increasing government funding of science. Is this really the road we want to go down? If the government gets a monopoly (or near monopoly) on funding scientific research, won’t it be easier than ever for the government to cut funding to projects or scientists it finds disagreeable? Is it possible that private funding of science could reduce the risk of having a small group of politicians being in a position to pick and choose what gets funded?

I realize the above point will be controversial. But maybe it’s time to think outside the box for science funding. At the very least, can we agree that publicly funded research should be made open access, so there’s no risk of the government deleting it? NASA, USGS, NOAA and many other agencies have already posted huge volumes of information to the public, I hope other agencies can follow suit.

An alternative?

Or maybe, there could be a march that isn’t about government policies at all? A poster on Reddit had this brilliant idea:

Idea: why not make this family friendly? Invite NASA and other organizations to have activities, run science experiments, have telescopes (in the evening), and maybe plant a tree?

This is an idea I’ll support 100%. Such an event could make science fun and accessible to everyone, especially young people who might be thinking about a career in science. Maybe there can be multiple events, for science outreach and a debate on science policies?

Either way, I am happy to see scientists getting their day on Washington. I just hope this can be open to scientists and people across the political and ideological spectra.

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One thought on “Marching for Science

  1. Pingback: Why I plan on intending the March for Science | The Nick Walker Blog

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