Sci­ence not Si­lence: Voices from the March for Sci­ence Move­ment

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOKS - Richard Joyner is emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of chem­istry at Not­ting­ham Trent Uni­ver­sity.

Edited by Stephanie Fine Sasse and Lucky Tran MIT Press, 176pp, £11.99 ISBN 9780262038102 Pub­lished 17 April 2018

More than a mil­lion peo­ple took part in the first March for Sci­ence on 22 April last year. This ex­ten­sively il­lus­trated book tells some of their sto­ries. It will be a valu­able source for any­one en­gaged in fos­ter­ing pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of sci­ence. Most peo­ple will, I sus­pect, be happy to bor­row it from the li­brary and browse.

I find it a little trou­bling that there is a per­ceived need to sup­port sci­ence in this way. But I find it heart­en­ing that so many peo­ple were pre­pared to take to the streets in sup­port of a con­cept, al­beit a pro­found one. The prin­ci­pal march took place in Wash­ing­ton DC and more than 600 other lo­ca­tions also par­tic­i­pated. Most were in the US, but there were UK marches in Bris­tol, Ed­in­burgh, Lon­don, Nor­wich and Cardiff.

More than 40 peo­ple each get a sin­gle page to ex­plain their rea­sons for join­ing the march. They in­clude artists, teach­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of mi­nori­ties, young and old and an “ev­ery­day as­tro­naut”, as well as a wide spec­trum of sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers and medics. Their ac­counts are fas­ci­nat­ing and var­i­ous. None is overtly po­lit­i­cal, but their broad range surely tells us some­thing about the com­mu­nity of sci­ence.

Par­tic­i­pants ex­pressed a vast range of mo­ti­va­tions: “I march for sci­ence be­cause it can change the world”, “it speaks truth to power”, “to be hu­man is to be cu­ri­ous”, “I am a STEMINIST”, “fact-re­sis­tant hu­mans en­dan­ger all species”, “with­out sci­ence, it’s just fic­tion”, “clean wa­ter is a re­source that should be a given”, “can­cer doesn’t wait”, “I take care of gi­raffes” and “twen­tythree years ago sci­ence couldn’t save my first pre­ma­ture baby’s life. Ten years ago, ad­vances in sci­ence saved my sec­ond pre­ma­ture baby”. Echo­ing Monty Python’s ques­tion about the Ro­mans, one asks: “Apart from safe drink­ing wa­ter, clean air, plen­ti­ful food, [nine other things] and T-shirts that don’t shrink in the wash, what have sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers ever done for us?” “Most ob­scure mo­ti­va­tion” prize goes to Daniela Ber­nal of Santa Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia, who “re­alised that I could make py­ro­clas­tic flow un­com­pli­cated”. My favourite is: “sci­ence is the ul­ti­mate in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment”.

The or­gan­is­ers want to see the March of Sci­ence be­come an ef­fec­tive 21st-cen­tury cham­pion for its cause (the web­site is www. march­for­science.com and there is also an on­line shop). This year’s march took place across the world on 14 April. Con­crete top­ics iden­ti­fied for future ac­tion in­clude: build­ing a com­mu­nity of sci­ence ad­vo­cates, ad­vo­cat­ing for change within sci­en­tific in­sti­tu­tions and at­tract­ing votes for sci­ence.

The ev­i­dence-based ap­proach to pub­lic pol­icy that sci­ence rep­re­sents has long been un­der at­tack in the US, mainly from the right, as doc­u­mented in Chris Mooney’s The Repub­li­can War on Sci­ence (2005) and Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Con­way’s Mer­chants of Doubt: How a hand­ful of sci­en­tists ob­scured the truth on is­sues from to­bacco smoke to global warm­ing (2010). Pres­i­dent Trump’s sus­tained as­sault on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion, as well as his at­ti­tude to man-made cli­mate change, pro­vide per­haps the worst (best?) ex­am­ples. De­spite this, the many demon­stra­tions of clear-sighted ide­al­ism and the in­sis­tence on the im­por­tance of sci­ence that per­me­ate this book con­vince me that the US is prob­a­bly still the best place in the world to do sci­ence.

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