Once again, my deeply introverted self and wonderfully supportive spouse spent our day yesterday, in the sunny 80 degree heat, at the March for Science in Washington, D.C. with a few thousand other people – fewer people than last year, and much warmer, but the vibe was still overwhelmingly positive. In the time since last year’s March, things, from a scientific perspective, have definitely worsened in the government, but, in a positive turn, several scientists and doctors have become politically engaged in both local and national politics, and that is a necessary step toward reducing the pervasive case of scientific ignorance that is gripping our nation. There is more to do to keep the momentum going, but, as I noted last year – referring to this as a protest – or worse as whining – is wrong. It’s a promotion of science, critical thinking, and evidence based policy making. It was perhaps more political this year than last, but scientific research often relies on public funding for public benefit. Furthermore, public health and environmental policies should be science-based, so the political reality cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, we are living in a disturbing time where neither our legislative nor our executive branches seem to have much respect, or use, for science. Yes, some of the signs were overtly political (but Scott Pruitt really has no business at the EPA, and Betsy DeVos’s agenda is not about improving education – and those two make Rick Perry look good at the Department of Energy), but the overall message was overwhelmingly pro-science and pro-critical thinking – the ‘pro’ far outweighed the ‘anti’.
It is important to remember that our founding fathers were products of the enlightenment. They understood science, technology, and the acquisition of knowledge to be critical to our country’s survival. All of them supported public education under the premise that only an educated populace could safeguard our liberty and prevent us from falling into tyranny.
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that one of the things that Congress has the power to do is to ‘promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts‘. They were given that power to encourage technological growth and innovation by protecting the rights of those that did the work. It was, in fact, the basis for patents, and for copyright law. And it should not be lost that Thomas Jefferson considered himself a scientist first and foremost, and even the military leader that brought us to victory, George Washington, said, in his first address to Congress as president:
“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”
We seem to have lost sight of that somewhere along the way. Our future and the future of the planet depends upon resetting our bearings. It is critical that our long national descent into willful ignorance reaches its end. Honestly, the March for Science movement was overdue. We have long been descending into the abyss, and something should have been done by those most qualified years ago. Perhaps that would have prevented things from reaching this point. Hopefully, we will realize that we can’t sit around waiting for someone else to fix things. That the scientific conclusions cannot be left to speak for themselves when people, especially those responsible for policy, are actively refusing to consider scientific conclusions as valid because those conclusions run counter to what they want them to be.
To borrow a line from James Madison:
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
It is past time to act, but hopefully it is not too late to have a positive impact.
The photo above was my favorite sign of the day. Below are a few additional photos from the rally & march.