Who owns science?
This may not be a question you think much about. But did you know that, as a taxpayer, YOU are generating scientific knowledge? You fund the research we all rely on in our daily lives: from the science that ensures the safety of our food and medicine to the sustainable management of our fisheries and protection of our environment. Science is by its very nature a public good and should be treated as such because you, as a citizen, helped create it.
Your access to the science you helped create is in jeopardy. It is stripped away when federally imposed gag rules limit how much scientists can tell you about their work. It is eroded by grant, hiring, and contract freezes, which restrain what research scientists can do, keep agencies from hiring the best candidates, reduce economic growth and development, and waste resources. Regardless of our political affiliations, we are all impacted when science comes under fire, and every one of us – scientist or not – should respond when the integrity and transparency of science is threatened.
Recent executive orders jeopardizing scientific integrity motivated a March for Science this coming Saturday, which has been perceived as controversial and partisan. I would like to refute these claims, to clarify the purpose of the March, and to demonstrate its importance and necessity. After all, this is not a scientists’ march, it is a march for science.
First, the March itself does not politicize science. Instead, it is a means for pushing back on the misconception that science is partisan because the importance and ownership of science transcends political affiliations. At its core, science is a way of understanding the real world – a methodology founded on rigorous, objective observation – not party affiliations, biases, or opinions. Similarly, the March for Science is not a culture war or a partisan rally that should devolve into “us” vs. “them” debates. The March is about standing for what is rightfully ours – equal access to science and publicly funded results. It is a reminder that the science we pay for – not opinions that we don’t – should inform our policies.
Second, the March should not be contentious. Science and evidence-based policies are too important for Americans to remain passive or quiet. This is particularly true when we consider that policies not grounded in science will disproportionately impact marginalized communities, thereby increasing inequality in our society. Given what is at stake, now is not the time to be quiet, complacent, or cynical. The March brings a national voice to the importance of evidence-based policies that protect and support our underrepresented communities, environment, and economy. Ultimately, being pro-science is patriotic: it says you value all Americans.
Third, the March should not be conducted in an echo chamber of like-minded folks (i.e. the elite and educated) and should not serve to simply expand such a space. Scientists come from all walks of life and are impacted greatly by political actions against underrepresented groups, including minorities and immigrants. The March provides a space to speak against policies that exacerbate inequality. Much like society, science thrives on diversity to drive innovation and creativity and solve our most pressing problems. Let us use the March to highlight the work that remains to be done to make science inclusive and end systemic, institutionalized prejudices.
Finally, opponents of the March present a false dichotomy between local engagements or mass protests. Both are equally important in our defense of science and evidence-based decision making in our political system. Focusing only on local efforts incorrectly assumes all communities have equal access to science. The March can serve as a way to speak for these under-served communities, thereby promoting equal and open access to science.
As an owner of science, you can decide how you want to participate in upholding the scientific integrity and transparency that we collectively benefit from as a society. Whether you choose to participate through local action or joining the March, what is most important is that we all engage and stay engaged. Science does not belong to any political party. Science belongs to all of us, and it’s about damn time we take it back.