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April 25, 2017

Speeches That Weren't Made During the March for Science

 

There was an impressive turnout for the March for Science, with people in some 600 cities participating.  Lots of speeches were delivered about the importance of science and, of course, the need for more funding, especially government funding. 

But even with all those speeches, it’s likely that certain issues important to science were never mentioned.  Did you hear a speaker suggest …?  

Science advances when people are free to challenge the received wisdom. Nearly all scientists would agree that science is a learning process, and that theories—even widely accepted theories—should be open to testing and revision, or rejection, if proven erroneous. 

However, many of the March of Science speakers harbor a big reservation to that sentiment: You are free to challenge accepted theories unless it’s one of their pet theories. 

As The Daily Caller quotes one of the most ubiquitous, self-promoting scientists, Bill Nye, who played a big role in the march: “And I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change.”  That’s because Nye erroneously believes that 97 percent of scientists share his views about climate change. 

That attitude isn’t new; it has often raised its ugly head over the centuries.  Witness many of the past scientists who were persecuted for their contrarian ideas—until they became accepted.  

Science must stay free of politics. Though March for Science organizers tried to hide their political affinities, many speakers and attendees made their left-leaning priorities clear.  

Politico helpfully published a list of what it thought was the 21 best signs at the DC rally.  One of them said “Powered by science, strengthened by diversity.” You can bet “diversity” wasn’t referring to different views.  Someone in a Santa Claus costume held a sign saying, “My workshop is melting.” And another sign said, “Defiance 4 science.”  

Scientists want to further their research, politicians want to further their careers, and those politicians sometimes use willing scientists to achieve their political goals. 

The threat from government funding. One of the most ubiquitous themes on March of Science signs and speeches was the need to keep or increase government funding.  

The good news is that scientific research and development reached an all-time high in 2015, $499 billion from all sources, according to the National Science Foundation.  

The better news, from a market perspective, is that the private sector’s share of science funding is growing while the government’s share is declining.  But many of the marchers don’t share that perspective, because they want evermore taxpayer-funded support.   

While the government can and has funded science impartially, it has increasingly funded projects with political, rather than scientific, benefits.  Scientists should be aware that the government funding comes with strings—lots of them.  That’s the only “string theory” politicians understand.


 

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