On April 22, scientists around the world gathered to join in the March for Science, a series of marches and rallies held to emphasize the importance of science in our everyday lives. According to the movement’s mission statement, the march “champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity” and operates as a nonpartisan movement to encourage political leaders and policy makers “to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.” While the aims of the movement are admirable, my issue with it mainly lies with the implementation of the march’s objectives.
As a science major myself, I understand that the necessity of this movement has been a major concern for some time now. We currently live in an environment where truths are dismissed without justification, facts are created and believed without support and proposals to decimate funding to scientific government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency are quite real. However, with these considerations, what the world needs is not a march for science, but a march for truth.
Science is at the forefront of truth, and since the present political climate can be seen as an affront to both truth and science, I therefore see the logical progression that led to this march. However, the separation between truth and science is visible when one considers the political aspect of the issue. The nature of truth is supposed to be absolute, but due to the varying interpretations of different interest groups, truth is a concept that has been politicized for centuries. This is why issues such as fake news and alternative facts – some of the key subjects of the March for Science – draw parallels with the emergence of WikiLeaks, or the muckraking of the nineteenth century.
Science, however, is nonpolitical by definition. I do not mean this in the sense that the march’s “nonpartisan” mission statement is nonpolitical. Instead, science is the pursuit of uncontestable, factual knowledge by experimentation and research. When the validity of science is contested, its most effective response is to present factual evidence. The facts present themselves, but their primary goal is not to make a political statement, as this march inevitably does. As soon as science leaves the realm of facts and takes to the streets to march, it enters the political sphere as a form of protest, since the nature of march is political. At this point, the factual evidence is replaced with political argument. Thus, the March for Science forces scientific argument into a political arena in which facts cannot be presented in the way that scientific research becomes most effective.
One of the most significant issues contributing to this uncomfortable political overlap was one of the main arguments of the marchers: climate change. However, climate change is a scientific topic that has imperfectly overflowed into the political sphere, turning a scientific phenomenon into a tool with which to grapple for political power. The unfortunate result is its immediate association with any issue of politics and science. This was perpetuated by the timing of the march on Earth Day. While this choice was likely deliberate, hosting a march on Earth Day narrowed the focus of the march down to a sole issue rather than addressing the many other fields of science that have become part of our everyday lives. This in particular did a great injustice to the celebration of science as a whole and served also to push the movement away from issues of science and toward a political struggle for truth.
I recognize that as of yet, some of the scientific evidence that has been presented to the public has not been readily received. But this does not mean that the next step is to march into the political sphere and demand that the facts be heard. The beauty of facts is that in the end, they are inevitably undeniable. The issue is in the presentation. Scientists are not necessarily effective politicians, so the solution is for them to do what they do best. They must present the evidence clearly and effectively, altering the method of presentation until they are heard. In the end, truth can be debated in a political sphere, but science can only be disproved by science.
Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.