By R. Bruce Hull
I explained why I’m not marching for science even though I’m “all-in” and support science with my heart, mind, and labor. Marching won’t change minds. Worse, because of Identity Protective Reasoning, marching will strengthen our critics’ resolve and weaken science’s influence. Every time we mention science or truth or climate or genes or funding or facts all we end up doing is triggering the critic’s internal dialog that blames loss of jobs, opportunity, and identity on liberal, global, elites (i.e., on scientists). That is, marching for science is worse than preaching to the choir.
Marching on Earth Day will further reinforce the perception that science is captured by an elitist environmentalist agenda that promotes capitalism crushing government regulation. Just imagine how Fox News will portray a scientist marching with a sign: CLIMATE SCIENCE MATTERS or EPA NEEDS SOUND SCIENCE. The commentators will surely point out that the scientists are promoting an anti-business agenda and marching in support of stifling regulations and wasteful spending on more (unnecessary) research. Further, if we expose our weaknesses (and there are many critiques of science that the March targets, including lack of diversity among scientists, politics of funding, and heavily defended silos), we just give our critics ammunition for their concerns about science as an institution.
I’m even more concerned that the March has no end game, so scientists will go back to their labs, books, and classrooms thinking they’ve done all they can or need to do. WRONG! We need to organize and expand our political power. Education and agitation are important first steps, but they are wasted unless we organize for actions that win elections. Science must nurture and support a much bigger coalition. We need to advance a narrative that supports liberalism and enlightenment. We need to argue that poverty reduction and rising global middle class flows from global trade, that wellbeing and productivity comes from medicine and access to health care, that security depends upon ample food and clean water, that hope and opportunity comes from technology-driven economic development, and that all these things are supported by sound science.
Supporting a political agenda means scientists need to separate their careers from their citizenship. We need to occasionally but explicitly leave our day jobs behind and engage in politics. We need to speak from the heart about the values that define us, the reasons that motivate us, and the future we want to create. That means advocacy. Own it.
Scientists are thought leaders. Our jobs give us the luxury of being paid to sit back and think about the world. Share those thoughts. Organize them and others in the support of political coalitions that win votes and steer the world towards the promise of the enlightenment instead of Trump’s anti-fact, anti-expertise, anti-science dark-ages that risk causing widespread pain and suffering.
Dr. Bruce Hull is a Senior Fellow at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS), a professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE), and an affiliate faculty member in the Global Change Center.Share