How the March for Science Misunderstands Politics


This Saturday, in Washington, D.C. and around the world, scientists and their supporters will hit the streets. From Ketchikan to Buenos Aires to Bhutan, marchers will demand that politicians support scientific research, publish its results widely, and base their policies on those results.

I will be marching with them. But I worry about the movement’s arguments. A few skeptics have charged that the march will politicize science, reinforcing an already widespread perception of scientists as liberal activists rather than dispassionate researchers. As march advocates note, however, science is already enmeshed in politics. It could hardly be otherwise, write Jonathan Foley and Christine Arena, in an article reposted on the official March for Science website: “After all, politics is how we are supposed to solve problems in a democratic society, and science is crucial to nearly everything we do — our economy, our health, our security, our future.”

My concern is the opposite of the usual objection. The March for Science, I believe, is not political enough. I do not mean that the marchers should campaign for Democratic or Republican candidates or take stands on contentious issues such as immigration reform. Rather, I hope that they will come to grasp much more clearly how political power works, how it intersects with social conflicts, and how policies emerge from this nexus.

The movement’s rhetoric suggests that if governments simply fund and heed scientific research, the world will march steadily toward peace and prosperity. Applying science to politics will create “an unbroken chain of inquiry, knowledge, and public benefit for all.” This is, dare I say, an unscientific conception of human action. A huge body of social-scientific literature—or just a good, hard look at the political scene—shows that conflict, uncertainty, and collective self-interest would remain central features of democratic politics even if all of the disputants …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Politics

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