Protestors advocate for fact-based evidence

March for Science endangers objectivity and credibility of scientists and researchers

Hsinyen Huang, Managing Editor

On April 22, also known as Earth Day, thousands of concerned American citizens, disturbed by the Trump administration’s effortless dismissal of scientific research and fact-based evidence, gathered in cities all over the U.S. to participate in the March for Science. Rallies and protests advocating for the importance of scientific research took place on an international scale in over 600 locations all over the world. At first glance, the March for Science appears to be an effective way for researchers to get their voices heard, but supporters have overlooked the negative long term effects of these protests. Supporting a partisan movement politicizes science, portrays scientists as an interest group and undermines the credibility of researchers, all of which undercut the importance of scientific research.

“The March for Science could skew research because participants in these marches do tend to be more open and liberal,” said junior Susan Zhou. “So that in itself means that the scientists might have the pressure to deliver results and messages that the public wants to or is expecting to hear to maintain credibility.”

Trump has mentioned in public statements that he believes climate change is a hoax, casting aside numerous studies that have proven its existence. Since assuming the presidency, Trump has authorized budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes for Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving scientists frustrated about scientific research being compromised for political and economic purposes. The original idea to hold a movement celebrating science came from an anonymous Reddit user who posted a comment on the same day of the Women’s March, another worldwide protest that advocated for women’s rights in the wake of the Trump presidency, regarding the need for a similar scientists’ march. Dozens of Reddit users responded positively to the idea, which led Jonathan Berman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center to create a Facebook page, Twitter feed and website for the nonpartisan movement that would become the March for Science. On the day of the March for Science, the movement accumulated hundreds of thousands of supporters who participated internationally.

Although the protest was intended to remain nonpartisan, a march modeled after the Women’s March protesting the government’s actions would obviously be politically charged. This takes away from the objectivity of science and reflects poorly on the scientists’ image, leading people to suspect that the work they produce may be used to further their own ends and running the risk of researchers becoming a leftwing interest group in the public’s eyes. Over time, this could harm the credibility of researchers since their work could become politicized and unreliable.

“It’s important that research is as unbiased as possible because people look to scientists and experts to provide clear, substantiated answers or ideas,” said Zhou. “I think people are becoming more and more skeptical about ‘facts’ and wary of expertise, and it’s important to preserve the integrity of scientific reporting so the general population doesn’t have more reason to doubt what experts are telling them.”

Some participated in the march to protest sexism and racism in various fields of science. The organizers of the March for Science had also released a statement regarding the importance of diversity in science, causing critics of the movement to accuse the march of favoring left-leaning politics. While these are legitimate causes to stand for, mixing social justice issues with the original cause of the march develops an image of all scientists being liberals, which would make conservatives more hesitant to pledge their support for science, thus defeating the purpose of the march.

“Scientists are linked to other issues when social justice issues are mixed, hurting their credibility as they are now marching for individual beliefs not all of them may hold,” said freshman Cindy Xu. “By painting science with the mark of a political party, a conservative-liberal gap between research-believers and deniers is created and other parties are more hesitant to take scientists’ research as the truth because of possible political undertones.”

The march also furthers the divide between scientists and the state. Melissa Flagg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for research during the Obama administration, argued that the march develops a “you’re with us or against us” message about research. This could potentially intensify the issue of policymakers’ indifference towards science as the federal government and researchers drift further away from each other, resulting in the opposite effect from what the organizers of the march originally intended. A distant and removed government would be even more unable to sympathize with scientists, exacerbating the current issues of the status quo.

“The administration may feel attacked and view the scientific community as an opponent, rather than as an ally, making it harder for researchers and the administration to work together since they distrust each other,” said Xu. “The administration is likely to denounce the March for Science if they are presenting facts that go against the administration rather than support the truth of research.”

With the possibility of scientifically-based policymaking becoming more uncommon, it may seem tempting to turn to familiar forms of expressing dissent: rallying and protesting. It is, however,
imperative to note that standing up for research is a different kind of issue, one that cannot be dealt with in the same way as social justice movements. The objectivity of science should be protected as it is the aspect that makes scientific research valuable in the first place.