Labtimes 2017-06

page 20 Lab Times 6-2017 Analysis The March for Science was probably the largest public rally ever held in support of science. However, the event also served to relaunch the debate about the extent to which scientists should become involved in politics. Jeremy Garwood surveys some of the pressing reasons why scientists leave their lab spaces to become politically active and asks “Why aren’t scientists more political?” Speak Out, Please! Fotolia/ufokim Science, scientists and their politics T he March for Science was organ- ised by US scientists shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President in January 2017. There was widespread alarm about the new Trump administration’s attitude toward science. Trump had repeatedly called global warm- ing a “hoax”, promised to abolish numer- ous environmental protection laws and was seeking to make large cuts to public agen- cies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The March for Science said it was “time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted”. It wanted to appeal to anyone who “champions publicly fund- ed and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity”. The direct inspiration for the Science March, however, came from the success of the Women’s March on January 21 st . This had protested at Trump’s populist preju- dices and offensive remarks against wom- en, ethnic and religious minorities. At least 500,000 people participated inWashington and an estimated five million in 673 march- es worldwide. The women’s marches called for improvements on many social and mor- al issues, including human rights, women’s rights, immigration, healthcare and em- ployment; and against religious, ethnic and sexual discrimination. At the outset, the same calls for diversi- ty and social inclusion played a part in the organisation of the March for Science but this soon generated tension about the need to focus on more specific scientific issues. Furthermore, March for Science organisers caused some confusion by repeatedly stress- ing that this was a non-partisan movement and that the March was “not political”, de- spite its evident association with protests at the actions of a prominent right-wing repre- sentative of the US Republican Party. Conflicting messages “Critics charge that March organisers have diluted the event’s message by focus- sing on challenges that the scientific com- munity faces, such as the inclusion of racial minorities, rather than advocating for sci- ence itself,” reported Nature (21/04/2017). “Many are also concerned that the protest casts science as a partisan issue, although event organisers and supporters have pushed back, insisting that the marches aren’t political.” A month before the march on Washing- ton, there were reports of organisational turmoil, infighting among organisers and attacks from outside scientists, who didn’t feel their interests were fairly represented ( STAT News , 22/03/2017). Some organis- ers had resigned and many scientists had pledged not to attend. Instead of science advocates speaking together, with a unified voice, the March had brought to the surface “long-lingering tensions within the scientif- ic community”. At the heart of the disagree- ments, there were conflicting philosophies over the March’s purpose. Many scientists said that the event should only be promoting science and should concentrate on issues of funding, evidence-based policies and international partnerships. Others argued that the March should also bring attention to broader chal- lenges that scientists face, including is- sues of racial diversity in science, women’s equality and immigration policy. Jacquelyn Gill, a biology professor at the University of Maine, quit the organising committee be- cause of “leaders’ resistance to aggressive- ly addressing inequalities, including race and gender”. The event’s official diversity policy, posted just days after the March was an- nounced in January, underwent repeated revisions, resulting in different versions ap- pearing on different March sites. The final version read: “We advocate for policies en- abling equal access to education, scientific careers, and scientific benefits, and work to support increasingly equitable scientific spaces. We amplify the work and voices of underrepresented scientists and members of underrepresented communities” ( march- forscience.com/our-mission ). Meanwhile, the lead organiser of the San Francisco March, Kristen Ratan, dis-

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