For week of April 17 (Thumbnail photo source)
I went to the science march in San Diego last Saturday, and I’m still confused as to how I feel about it. Let me be clear: I’m in no way criticizing the march or the people that participated in it, it’s simply a thought-exercise for myself to get some clarity.
When I first heard that this event was being organized in DC, and subsequently all around the world, I immediately felt like it was my duty to participate. Afterall, it’s about science, which is literally my livelihood. Independent of that, I support the existence of science (obviously). But this sense of obligation was not matched by a feeling of passion or any really emotion at all, and for the weeks leading up to it, I sometimes wondered what the point of it was. In a way, this march felt similar to most of the recent ones since the new commander-in-cheetoh came to office, in that I wasn’t sure what specific demands were being made, or how we proposed to change it.
The one thing that made the science march different, though, was that no clear group of people was being treated inappropriately. When the muslim ban happened, protests felt like standing in solidarity with our friends and colleagues, and the same goes for the women’s march. But marching for science seemed, to be frank, a bit comical. Yes, funding for science is being slashed, in ways both directly (NIH) and indirectly (EPA, NASA) relevant to me personally. On top of that, I’m well aware of the anti-science, anti-fact rhetoric from the current administration and an increasing proportion of the population at large. At the same time, though, we were clearly not marching for the few government funded agency that got hit with job losses. No, we were marching for the existence of science in this world, its value in our current society, and the potential impact this anti-science sentiment will potentially have for our future.
For whatever reason, this seemed like an absurd notion, because science plays a role in literally everything we interact with on a daily basis: cars, roads, food, deoderant, you name it. Anybody with any sense should realize this, and if you don’t, then I’m not sure the march will do anything for you. In short, the population, at least in my mind, is so clearly divided that there are people who believe in the value of science and its mission to find the truth, and there are people who don’t - what a time to be alive. For a while, I reasoned that this absurdity - the fact that the validity of scientific investigations is even up for debate - is the exact reason why we have to march, but that doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much more than…people who think science is important walking together to talk about how important science is.
But maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe there are people on the fence about whether science is a good thing, especially kids growing up in cities that may not be as science-privileged as San Diego and other major metropolitan areas. I’d be interested to see what non-believers thought of the march, because these are the people whose opinions we seek to change. Tangentially, my confusion of how I felt was further compounded by my fear of having this discussion in any candid way with people around me. It is clearly a very sensitive issue, and I felt like any attempt to discuss this in an inward-looking way may come off as unfairly critical. In fact, it feels like doing anything other than throwing your full weight behind the march in support felt like a betrayal, because doing nothing at this point is guilty of upholding the status quo. In any case, if anyone had similar conflicts of thoughts for why they marched (or didn’t march), I’d love to hear about how you have (or haven’t) resolved that, because I still don’t really have an answer. But perhaps, at the end of the day, it is simply exercising our rights to civil engagement.