Judith Curry: Exactly What Are Scientists Marching ‘For’?

  • Date: 08/03/17

The smartest people on the planet want to oppose Trump & the best they can come up with is a march in support of themselves? – Roger Pielke Jr.

A mega March for Science has been planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington DC.  The web site states:

The March for Science demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists. 

The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.

Of course, the poster child for partisan  ‘mischaracterization of facts’ is statements by members of the Trump administration regarding uncertainty surrounding the causes of climate change.  President Obama and his Call Out the Climate Deniers campaign apparently elicited no concerns about partisan mischaracterization of facts from the science establishment.

Scientists fear  what ‘might’ happen under the Trump administration — they are working from rumors, leaks and a few public statements by individuals connected with Trump’s transition teams.  These are the same scientists pushing for ‘evidence based’ policies  — go figure.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) – which is joining the March – had a blog post describing the positions on climate change and science of important individuals in the Trump administration: Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke.  Read the blog post.  To me, Trump’s team looks like it has a healthier attitude to science than did Obama’s team, who sought to scientize policy debates and politicize science debates..

The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’.  This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ — such as  the ‘consensus’ on climate change — dictate public  policy.  The scientists who are marching seem not very interested in science as a process based on continually evaluating evidence and reassessing conclusions through reasoning and impartial habits of mind.

The scientists are not just out to defend ‘facts’ — they fear funding cuts and limits to immigration.  They also seem very attached to safeguarding the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it. […]

JC reflections

So far, the March for Science seems to be shaping up as a self-serving navel gazing exercise for scientists — sort of a ‘we don’t like Trump’ tantrum.  The impression that this will have on policy makers and the public will be to cement scientists as a politicized special interest group, just like any other lobbying group.  In short, I very much fear that this March will do more harm than good.

It’s not too late to turn this around.  We need to rethink the contract between scientists and government, and develop a new model for the the 21st century.  Here are some recommendations:

  • Embrace science as a process, not a collection of ‘facts’; invite the public to engage in the process of science.
  • The institutions of science need to reform themselves, and scientists need to get out of the ivory tower and engage with the real world [link]
  • Universities need a new business model and incentive structure for faculty members  that doesn’t rely on massive federal research grants but rewards faculty for educating students at all levels and serving the needs of society
  • Scientists need a much better understanding of the policy process, the role that science plays, and how complexity, pluralism and uncertainty in science is accommodated in the policy process. Evidence-based policy making is a good political slogan, but not a good description of the policy process [link]
  • Scientists need to stop using science to support desired political outcomes.
  • Scientists need to do more than push back against flawed arguments and bad policy. We need to engage the public, and, even more, invite the public, across the political spectrum, to engage with science. [link]

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