After several weeks of involvement, I am publicly announcing the withdrawal of my support for the currently organized March for Science in Sacramento. The extreme politicization of this local march is something I cannot personally support, and is a professional liability for myself and the two federal agencies I worth with.
To deny that the March for Science doesn't have a political goal is disingenuous. The March does have a bipartisan political goal: to end the prioritization of unsubstantiated opinion over scientific evidence in legislation. This goal reaches deep into agricultural communities in the Midwest, inner city health development, protection of resources we consider uniquely American, and into poverty stricken areas nation-wide.
The March for Science has several other stated goals, the first three being to humanize science, to partner with the public, and to advocate for open, inclusive, and accessible science. It has become apparent that the Sacramento organizing team has no intention of presenting an event that supports these goals.
Over the past few weeks, I have (admittedly aggressively) raised opposition to several aspects the team is moving forward with:
Fear and anger are great motivators, but they are also divisive segregationists. Scientific evidence indicates that positive motivators are more successful in Western societies. This is why celebration is key to the overall success of the March. Attendees who experience a rise in dopamine levels during the event are scientifically more likely to be motivated by the experience. The notion that all attendees want to be activists is just as improbable as assuming all attendees want to wear giant dinosaur costumes. Not all of us are interested in aggressive activism or political rhetoric; some people just want to share their love of chemistry, physics, and biology. The science sharers will bring their families, their friends, and their children. After 17 years of being a child, and another 17 years of reaching out to children, I can tell you that political lectures and activism aren’t going to produce dopamine releasing smiles.
We need to talk about those children, and their prospective education. Education is the foundation on which we build our society, and it has increasingly been devalued and perverted by attempts to ignore both science and history. The educational system is the grand unifier for American parents: we want our children to have the best chance to succeed in life. By front-loading a discussion for science with the impact it has on education, the March is more likely to unite the community as a whole.
Education discussions are also the first opportunity to address intersectional issues that must be overcome. The science community is discriminatory towards women and minorities: it is with education that we not only acknowledge the crippling situation, but start overthrowing the notion that all scientists are balding white men who wear glasses and white laboratory coats. Diversity strengthens the community.
While we are in desperate need of strength, not everyone can provide that diversity in an inclusive manner. The content committee, despite serious opposition by myself and others, has elected to invite Dr. Cornel West to speak. For those unfamiliar with perhaps one of the more brilliant philosophical minds of the era, I suggest a Google search of his work and quotes. Brilliant humans exist rarely without controversy. Dr. West is unabashed in his criticism of race relations in the United States, and should not be apologetic for it. His voice is one of many who endeavor to improve outcomes for minority lives.
He is, however, not involved in the scientific community, nor has he spent any particular amount of time addressing or speaking about science, even as it relates to his work. He frequently uses inflammatory language and his opinions, correct or not, are extraordinarily controversial even within the black community. Dr. West is being considered as a keynote speaker by several organizers who also told me I was being offensive for sharing the content of his direct quotes. (The disconnect is mind-boggling.) I am not qualified to address Dr. West's political and philosophical works. My expert opinion as a science communicator is that he is not conducive to building bridges between the scientific community and the public at large.
The lack of consideration the Sacramento team has shown for these concerns is extremely disappointing. Despite repeated internal efforts (by multiple individuals) to bring the local March into an inclusive balance that reaches all citizens, the organizers have refused to bend on their desire to demand activism of the attendees despite the likely further alienation of large segments of the population.
I remain in support of the guiding principles of the national March for Science, and will continue to share science with all communities in a manner that highlights the very best of scientific principles. I sincerely hope the Sacramento March for Science succeeds in winning more friends than it alienates.
Opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the opinions of organizations I am affiliated with.