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Why I Will March for Science on Saturday

Posted on Apr 20, 2017

By Laurie Garrett / Foreign Policy

  Throughout the country, scientists and supporters will demonstrate on Earth Day. (March for Science)

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Editor’s note: Watch Truthdig correspondents’ on-the-ground coverage of Saturday’s March for Science events in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

On Saturday, scientists and their supporters will leave the sanitized comfort of their labs and academic environs to march in Washington, D.C., and more than 400 other cities and 100 countries around the world.

It all started with a tweeted picture of a child holding a pro-science sign at the Jan. 22 March for Women, followed by health educator Caroline Weinberg’s tweet, “Hell hath no fury like a scientist silenced,” and swiftly grew into the largest protest since the women’s event.

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It’s a very big, twofold gamble on their part. First, reckoning that the typically apolitical and highly government-dependent scientific community will break with their tradition of political silence in large-enough numbers to create a serious presence, rather than a pathetic disappointment. And second, wagering that the vision of tens of thousands of angry nerds and geeks will have the desired positive impact on policymakers and the public at large. That’s a tough one. While “The Big Bang Theory” may have enjoyed top TV ratings for the past decade, average Americans are leery of real-life Leonards and Sheldons and their discoveries.

Most of the leading scientific institutions in the United States are backing both propositions and urging their members to hit the streets on Saturday. From the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS, the publisher of Science) to the editorial board of Nature and the New York Academy of Sciences and its counterparts across the country, the admonishment is clear: Get out and march!

The 157,000-strong American Chemical Society has asked its members to conduct marches that will constitute “a nonpartisan celebration of science,” and a long list of professional societies echoed that sentiment. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is backing the march, saying, “The truth needs an advocate.”

The London-based Nature Cell Biology, a journal noted for controversies regarding the relative contributions of various cell receptors to triggered enzyme activity, told its readers that it’s time for scientists to “become political,” citing the potentially devastating double impact of Brexit’s limits on freedom of movement affecting immigrations for scientists and President Donald Trump’s anti-science stances.

A similarly staid American publication, The Chronicle of Higher Education, called upon universities to back the protest as a form of mass education, telling the world about the wonders of science.

“Scientists have to be reminded that the response to a challenge to science is not to retreat to the microscope, to the laboratory, to the ivory tower,” Rush Holt, CEO of the AAAS, said recently. “This requires vigorous defense.”

The annual February meeting of the AAAS found session after session overcome by anger and angst as researchers and science educators tried to comprehend how America in 2017 had seemingly become as anti-science as Trofim Lysenko’s Soviet supporters in the Kremlin in the 1930s to 1950s. Those Soviets blindly followed the idiotic agronomist Lysenko’s pseudo-biological claims to purge and execute thousands of scientists across the USSR for the sin of believing in Charles Darwin, evolution, Gregor Mendel, and genetics.

Some protesting scientists might argue that sentiments today are even as inane as the Vatican trial of Galileo Galilei that on June 22, 1633, denounced the great astronomer for insisting that Earth orbits the sun, decreeing, “The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture. The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.”

The deleterious effects were generational. Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev imposed Lysenko’s crackpot theories for nearly four decades, sending to gulag slaughterhouses two generations of biologists. In 1997, I found physicians and scientists all over the former USSR unable to accept the most basic concepts of evolution and genetics, even allowing patients to die of hospital-acquired infections rather than concede that bacteria evolve under the natural selection pressure of inappropriate antibiotic use, making it impossible to treat infected post-op surgical patients. Similarly, the Vatican won in 1633, forcing the 70-year-old, nearly blind Galileo to recant his telescope observations of solar activity and planetary movement. Thankfully, science was the victor in the long run.

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