Category Archives: The War on Science

We Marched!

Dateline: Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2017

We marched …

As the March for Science Chicago website proclaims, we marched

To bridge the distance between science and society
• To showcase Chicago as The Science City, and
• Toward an ethical science.

We marched for a more human science. We marched because we

Support the scientific community, and want to
• Safeguard the value and funding of the scientific process.

We marched to

Celebrate the role of science in society, and to
• Encourage scientific curiosity and exploration.

We Marched!

As with many things these days, the March for Science began on social media. Inspired by the January 21st Women’s March, a group on Reddit discussed doing a similar event to support science. The conversation quickly migrated to a Facebook page that jumped from 200 followers to 300,000 in less than a week. After all, the United States had just elected a climate change denier who was threatening to dismantle the EPA, cut back on scientific research, and who almost immediately purged from government websites the taxpayer funded research data on climate change, in effect stealing our tax dollars by denying us access to the data our dollars had secured. The day before the March, the March for Science Facebook page stood at 530,482, with tens of thousands of others following the March for Science pages connected to their own cities, both in the U.S. and around the world, 609 cities from Amsterdam to Zagreb, with 10 satellite marches in Illinois alone. (You can see the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) interactive map here.) By April 23, the number following the March for Science page stood at 567,865, over a 30,000 person increase in just a day. So marching does raise awareness and helps build a movement.

The Science March already has a Wikipedia page, and one section recounts the way in which previous American leaders have embraced science.

“Several Founding Fathers of the United States had an interest in science. Benjamin Franklin was a scientist with his foundational discoveries on electricity. Like Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and George Washington were all avid students of the natural and physical world.

A number of later presidents had interests in science and promoted pro-science policies; these include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. A 2010 editorial in the scientific journal Nature warned of ‘a growing anti-science streak on the American right’ and argued that the rising trend threatened the country’s future, which ‘crucially depends on education, science and technology.’ Writing in the Scientific American, Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of The War On Science, wrote: ‘It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience.’” (Wikipedia)

Ironically, for a country that has been in the vanguard of scientific research for generations, a country that has been the research and development engine of the world for over 200 years, a country that has had more Nobel prize winners than any other country by far in chemistry, physics, economic sciences, physiology and medicine, 328 all told, we have slid badly in recent years, as our political leaders have increasingly taken oppositional stands to the findings of science, particularly in the area of climate change. There is no longer any guarantee that the findings of science will guide policy.

As a side note, quite a number of those Nobel award winning scientists were immigrants to the United States, drawn here by the research opportunities afforded at our stellar universities and by our government’s support for research, immigrants from China, the UK, India, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, and Italy, to name a few. But that was before “immigrant” became a dirty word in some quarters.

“According to organizers, the march is a non-partisan movement to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. The goals of the marches and rallies were to emphasize that science upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest. The march’s website states that an ‘American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.’” (Wikipedia)

And so we marched. In Chicago, we marchers had a beautiful sunny day Saturday. Over 40,000 of us streamed from Grant Park to the Museum Campus where Earth Day stands and activities were set up behind the Field Museum. We were students, and teachers, children and parents, nurses and scientists, young and old. One woman’s sign featured a picture of her as a child attending the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. And she is still fighting the good fight.

Still Marching 47 Years Later

Other signs proclaimed “Love Your Mother” over a picture of Planet Earth, and “There is no Planet B.” Some were blatantly political, playing on Donald Trump’s name and image or repurposing the Hillary Clinton slogan “I’m With Her” with an arrow to a picture of the Earth. Others focused on various reasons why science is important. It saves lives. It saves the air and water, which ultimately make our lives possible. Science people tend to be smart so many of the signs were clever and people were snapping pictures by the dozens, asking folks to hold their signs steady for immortality or Instagram. Most of the signs were handmade, and in the days leading up to the march, Facebook had photos of people gathered in families and church and community groups making those signs. So much for “paid protesters.” What was particularly heartening was to see young children, old enough to do science, proclaiming their love for it, and so many high school and college age students supporting scientific research and science-based policy. Peer review got a lot of shout-outs. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” So did bees and beer, both of which depend on science, albeit in somewhat different ways.

Signs of Science

On the march, I met Alice Miller. She’s a 4th grade teacher at Sandridge Elementary in Lynwood, Illinois, which is not far from where I live. Small world. We talked about the fact that with the predominant emphasis on English and Math, very young children are not getting much time to engage in science during the primary grades, at the very age when they are bursting with curiosity about the world and are keen observers of it. What a waste! We exchanged contact information. I would love to visit her classroom. She’s a teacher who avidly seeks ways to provide her students with more opportunities in science.

But here’s my biggest takeaway from yesterday’s march, something that struck me in that sea of signs, among those thousands of marchers. In what kind of crazy upside down world, do tens of thousands of people across the planet rearrange their lives, some of them traveling a great distance to do so, because they feel they have to defend something as obviously good for humankind as science is? Think about that for a moment. It’s like thousands upon thousands of people marching to say “let’s keep motherhood a thing we humans do,” or “we support the sun.”

Little Scientists Marching for Their Future

On April 22, 2017, all across the Earth, from Amsterdam (3,000) to Zagreb (1,000), tens of thousands of  people marched. We marched because something critical to humanity’s survival is under attack. We marched to support the obvious, to defend the essential. We shouldn’t have to.

~ Penny

You can learn about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.

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Filed under March for Science, The War on Science, Uncategorized, war on science

Read It While It’s Hot! The War on Science: A Review

“Science is the foundation of democracy. Science is inherently political. If authoritarians with vested interests who disagree with its findings are allowed to intimidate scientists or quash those results, democracy loses.” Shawn Otto

“One email I got said something like, ‘I hope your child sees your head in a basket after you’ve been guillotined for all the fraud you climate scientists have been committing.’” Katherine Hahoe, Evangelical Christian and Climate Scientist, Texas Tech University

Normally, at this time of year I publish a review of several books on science and STEM that you might want to consider for your summer reading.

This year, I’m limiting that list to one important must-read book, and a timely one at that, given the political season we’re in right now.

Shawn Otto’s latest work, The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It (2016) is a real page turner, proving once again that truth can be more exciting than fiction. For about a week, I read it every morning and evening on my commute and over the weekend. I picked it up any spare moment I had, because, even at 400+ pages, The War on Science reads like a thriller. I practically inhaled it and came away even more convinced that we are indeed in the midst of a war on science.

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The first section of the book chronicles the rise, over several centuries, and more recent fall from grace of science and describes a current U. S. society, or at least a significant portion of it, “defiantly embracing unreason”— and this at a time when science and technology have a profound impact on every aspect of our lives. We should, in fact, be in a period of Renaissance in which various sciences converge and influence each other, leading to powerful positive outcomes for humanity, including ameliorating the progression and impact of global climate change. In fact, our current times exhibit some of the hallmarks of the Dark Ages, with scientists the target of mistrust and hatred, candidates for burning, figuratively by Congress and the media, if not literally at the stake.

Absent from political discourse in this election season has been a discussion of some of the challenges facing us that hinge on scientific solutions. For example, Otto would like to have candidates in a debate respond to questions like the following: “What are your thoughts on balancing energy and the environment? What steps will you take to stop the collapse of pollinator colonies and promote pollinator health? In an era of intense droughts, what steps will you take to better manage our freshwater resources? What should we do to prevent ocean fisheries collapses? Should we regulate the use of nanoparticles in our environment? Will you support federal funding to study science denial and the threat it poses to our democracy? When is it acceptable for a president or prime minister to implement policies that are contradicted by science? Will you support increased funding for curiosity-driven basic research? Do you support or oppose efforts to prosecute energy companies for funding denial of climate science? What steps would you take to repair the postdoctoral employment pipeline so that highly trained workers can get jobs in their fields? Do you support the banning of antibiotics in animal feed? What other steps should we take to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?”… and dozens more. These are fascinating and important questions. It remains to be seen if any of them will be addressed in the upcoming Presidential debates. Want to place a bet on that?

The middle portion of the book, beginning with Chapter 7, provides a thorough, well-researched, and compelling analysis of the history, nature, and full extent of the war on science, from the rise of the ant-science news media, which under the guise of being “fair and balanced” allow unsupported opinions to have at least equal time with established science, to the assaults on science stemming from ideologues and industries joining forces to serve their own narrow interests.

The final portion of the book provides a blueprint for what can be done to win the war against science, including 14 very specific “battle plans” for various sectors of society to implement. There is even a battle plan for teachers: “Teachers Should Teach Science Civics,” science in conjunction with civics a.k.a. making those real world connections that the NGSS requires. Holding student science debates and establishing science literacy requirements would be part of that battle plan. Otto contends that we don’t lack the ability to win the war on science, but he wonders if we have the will and the vision.

“Winning the war on science is this generation’s calling. But are we capable of battling back the authoritarian resurgence? Do we have an understanding of science adequate to defend its unique role in human history and policymaking, or even to see the issues clearly — to base our political arguments and our journalistic coverage on knowledge and not just on the confused and endless cacophony of warring opinions from when the modern era first emerged? Are we able to look up from the grist mill long enough to consider the vast economic and political potential of a new and innovative world economy, circular, decarbonized, reinventing, wealth-building, and sustainable — and to fight with all we have to make it happen? Do we have the vision to even realize we are in such a battle, and that the future goes to those who act? These are the very serious questions by which this generation, and the human race itself, will ultimately be judged, and they remain unanswered.”

Reading Shawn Otto’s book made it absolutely clear to me that the work STEM teachers are doing is not only important, but is both essential and urgent. No nation can prosper if it either neglects or vilifies scientific endeavor. And our species might not survive if we continue to ignore our scientists and fail to support them in coming up with ways through the dangerous straits we have entered because of man-made climate disruption and environmental degradation, to name two of our most challenging issues. Both issues represent settled science. The only discussion we should be having about them is what must we do to address them.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Lost in authoritarian politics, ideology, public relations, and subjectivism, will we return to a state of miserable serfs ruled by a wealthy elite of religious and corporate royalty?” The choice is ours. “What is at stake is the freedom to investigate, debate, and express ideas that run counter to the interests of corporations and their political allies. Attacks on this basic freedom hide behind the guise of transparency but, in reality, are a step toward tyranny.”  Shawn Otto’s book is an important one and should be required reading for all citizens who value democracy and particularly by those who aspire to political office

You can watch Shawn Otto discuss his book here: (It’s 1 hr. 21 minutes and well worth watching.)

A closing thought: Perhaps if enough of us take the “Science Pledge” Otto includes toward the end of the book, we can set our country on a more promising and enlightened course. We must commit to support with our voices and votes the following principles:

• Public decisions must be based on evidence;
• Knowledge must not be suppressed;
• Scientific integrity must be protected;
• Freedom of inquiry must be encouraged; and,
• Mayor science issues must be openly debated.

Now let’s see how those Presidential debates go. You can weigh in here by signing a petition to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to focus one debate on questions of science. Then order yourself a copy of The War on Science and settle down for a great read!

~ Penny

Learn more about STEM Institute here.

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Filed under book review, Shawn Otto, The War on Science, Uncategorized, war on science