Apr 21, 2017

March for Science - to march or not to march

Apparently, there is a big controversy with regard to March for Science (M4S) that will take place this Saturday April 22, 2017 in DC and in many other cities around the US.

The main stated goal of the march is to support publicly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. I was set on going because it seems that nowadays science needs support, because regardless of whether you believe in such thing as objective truth-seeking (I have my doubts), scientists can and should be political in defending their institutions and their role in public life. But mostly I was set on going because we need to resist anti-intellectualism and assaults on reason. My own reasons more-less clear, I didn't pay much attention for any discussion around the march. And I bought a t-shirt even though merchandising around protest movements seems out-of-place. Perhaps, because this march is not a protest or social justice movement.

Many people feel strongly that the march is wrong. That they were excluded from planning and organizing. Most importantly, that the march marginalizes non-white non-male scientists and disregards diversity. That it is a microcosm of liberal racism and that march organizers pushed out those who argued for inclusiveness and intersectionality. The controversy is scattered across mass and social media, but to summarize one side (organizers) is complicit in making the march a watered-down non-political "celebration of science". The other side (#MarginSci-ers) perceives the march as a social justice movements and wants the message of diversity (which applies to any context of American life) be reinforced through this movement as well. An interesting analysis of the march diversity discourse shows how organizers shifted their position with regard to diversity, thereby conforming to existing stereotypes and dominant discourse:
Unfortunately, through various miscommunications, including from the co-chairs and other key members of the MfS committee, the MfS audience has been primed to reinforce the established discourse about science. It took the better part of two months of constant lobbying and external pressure from minority scientists for the MfS organisers to finally reverse their stance. The fourth diversity statement finally states that science is political. At the same time, more recent media interviews that position diversity as a “distraction” undermine this stance.
In a sense, controversy is good. It highlights gaps in a movement and could potentially help to develop a robust program and action plan. But what is this movement? Upon reading the history of its organization, the march seems more like a top-down attempt to organize and contain rather than a grass-root protest and demand for change. It's being done professionally with attempts to control the message and the goals. Is "celebration" enough to ensure change? Do I need to celebrate science or to improve the mutual relationship between science and society? Are we mobilizing only because we want public funding and therefore need to "educate" the public and policy-makers?

There is a high probability that with the goals of celebration, connections, understanding and outreach, M4S will follow #Occupy and Women's March movements - much enthusiasm and no action due to the lack of clear vision and strategies for change. A strong movement should have strong demands, which can then translate to specific legislation and policies. For example,

  • Equal pay and opportunities in science and research
  • Strong science education across all states
  • Protections for whistle-blowers and government scientists from political repressions
  • No marketization of science and education
  • Exposing and dismantling the military-industrial-scientific complex