It’s a bit of a shame that the March for Science has veered into being about scientists rather than science and the scientific method. I’m all for scientists and scientific research being funded, but that’s not the fundamental problem we now face. Funding is disappearing because people no longer want to hear the facts and conclusions that come from scientific research. We need to be marching for Science, with a capital ‘s’, because if science is supported, support for scientists will follow naturally, and we’ll all live is a less scary society.
The thing that gets lost when people talk about science and the scientific method is that it’s not about being always right. It’s about looking at the facts, coming up with a hypothesis that fits the facts, and then testing it against the facts. Then, if the facts change you have to change your hypothesis to fit the new information available. You don’t change the facts just by coming up with a new marketing slogan, or by ignoring them, or by shouting most loudly. You face the facts and change your hypothesis and actions based on their reality.
That method, labelled ‘scientific’ could, and should, be applied to everything. It’s application to politics would certainly take us a long way forward. We should be marching for facing the reality of the world we live in – as distinct from simplistic marketing slogans about an imaginary world we want to be in.
When we reject facts, when we reject scientists by applying the word ‘experts’ as a pejorative, we’re not just hurting scientists, we harm everyone. In this way the March for Science should not be like a march to support farmers or coal-miners in their jobs. It’s really about supporting a fundamental view of society – a society where facts matter and where the opinion of people who devote decades to understanding those facts should matter too.
The March for Science actually pitches itself more like the ‘support our farmers’ type of event: “The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.” But I would argue, as I just did, that it’s not about safeguarding the scientific community, it’s about safeguarding our entire community.
We cannot afford to ignore facts, to question the consensus of experts just because they are saying difficult things, to ignore reality just because it is uncomfortable. We cannot afford that because our willingness to do so is driving us towards disaster. And we need to say that loudly.
Who’d have thought we’d need to have a march to support the idea that we should accept reality. But there you are, that is the reality we live with.
Yes, the people who understand the scientific method most deeply, who live and work within its confines, ought to be leading the march. Scientists ought to be coming out of the labs, but not in defense of their community – they should be leading us in defense of all of our community.
The March for Science is taking place all around the World including all the major cities in Australia. In Sydney it is on April 22 starting at 12pm. Whether you are a scientist, a fellow-traveler, or just someone who wishes to live in a society where policy is founded on fact and rational debate – you, we, all ought to be getting out and marching on 22 April.