Opinion: Join the March for Science
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I grew up under a totalitarian communist regime in Poland. This is where I learned that if you are not interested in politics, politics will eventually find a way to get to you.
Back then, it was sometimes extreme. Decisions made by politicians affected our daily lives. I remember the food shortages when decisions were made to “export” food to the Soviet Union.
With that kind of experience, I see clearly how privileged we are in the U.S. We believe we do not have to bother with politics because it does not directly affect us.
Think about the political life cycle of a typical American. We wake up from hibernation a couple of months before a presidential election, gripe about the incompetent and corrupt politicians ruining everything, look around for a candidate making the best promises, cast our vote and go back into hibernation.
We wake up again four years later and repeat this process — and you know what? It usually works. The country chugs along, nothing gets really damaged and there is some progress in areas that are important to us.
As scientists, we also have been enormously privileged. We are able to work in our ivory towers, concerned only with our experiments and models and theorems, and we unintentionally helped perpetuate the stereotype of a mad scientist, completely disconnected from the external world.
Well, all of that is changing. It used to be that the sides differed in policy matters, but everyone played by the same set of rules. These included putting the good of the country before tribal politics and adhering to certain norms of behavior and procedures.
There was an understanding that whatever we do in power will be done to us when we lose power. More fundamentally, though, we used facts as a basis for political decisions.
It used to be that facts mattered and anyone caught not adhering to them would apologize and correct his or her statements. Apparently, we are entering a different era, an era where facts do not matter.
When those in power are caught lying, these are not “alternative facts.” These are lies. But now, instead of correcting themselves, they double down and conjure crazy conspiracy theories.
You may think that the truth will ultimately prevail and there is nothing to worry about, but I wouldn’t be so sure. We are entering an era when facts that the politicians in power find inconvenient are being suppressed. This is seen directly in the funding for research in controversial areas being cut.
We are entering an era when, if you go into a political hibernation until the next election, you may not recognize where you wake up. And I am not sure the changes will be for the better.
This is why I will march in the March for Science on April 22. In addition to the main march in Washington D.C., there will be satellite marches, including one in New Orleans.
The march is intended as a non-partisan event, supported by many professional organizations, among them the American Physical Society and the Biophysical Society, of which I am a member.
I will march to defend the fact-based decision-making process, one of the cornerstones of the scientific method. I will march to defend funding for science that the current administration threatens to cut in a way that would be catastrophic to biomedical and environmental research.
I encourage my students to march, not simply for one day, but because their future is at stake. Only when we realize this can we create a sustained effort to combat this danger.