Marching for science and democracy!

by Sarah Evanega

February 9, 2017

The Cornell Alliance for Science supports and endorses the March for Science, due to take place on April 22, 2017 in Washington D.C. and other locations around the world. We will be marching, and we hope you will, too.

Scientists and science supporters don’t often march, and there are good reasons why. Science is not activism. Science can establish objective truths, and others make of them what they will, according to competing philosophies and value systems.

So what makes April 22 different? Truth itself, and the process of establishing it objectively, is now increasingly under assault across the globe, threatening the very tenets of democracy.

Science and democracy go hand-in-hand because truth is essential for reasoned debate. Without truth and transparency, democracy is debased and creeping authoritarianism takes over.

As an alliance of science defenders, we must rise above politics. Specifically, we must rise above the liberal/conservative culture wars that have so bedeviled climate policy and so many other key issues in America. If we allow science to become identified with partisan interests, it can only assist those who would marginalize scientists and scientific voices as just another instrument of political opposition.

So let’s be clear: our adherence is to a method, not to an ideology. We are not political partisans. We defend empiricism, not liberalism or conservatism. Science is never easy, and throughout history it has challenged established interests. We must continue to do this, without fear or favor.

The values we defend are those of the Enlightenment, not the establishment. In an age of renewed tribalism, science is not just another tribe. If we allow ourselves to be pushed down this road, we will be marginalized, our currency of credibility corroded and our hard work ignored.

At Cornell University, we take pride in our land grant mission to disseminate the benefits of agricultural innovation for the public good. As part of that mission, we have worked closely with American farmers for over 100 years. We want their interests and perspectives to be represented at the science march, too.

Diversity is not only about gender, race, faith and sexual orientation. It is also about political affiliation and social class. The science march must be inclusive on this basis, too. Science transcends belief systems and identities, or it is not worthy of its name.

The science march is a wonderful opportunity to bring together a multitude of different pro-science causes from across the political spectrum. It may well be the first time ever that those defending climate change science march arm-in-arm with those combating misinformation campaigns against GMOs. Or when those supporting sanity in vaccine policies align with those supporting the teaching of evolution in schools.

What we all have in common is our shared commitment to truth: objective truth as established through evidence-based reasoning and by subjecting hypotheses to rigorous and repeatable experimental tests. All else is mere assertion and speculation.

The science march will be a success only if we succeed in bridging divides, and reminding America and the world that the scientific method does not belong to any political party or special interest group.

Accordingly, we invite scientists and science allies from all geographies, issue areas and political perspectives to join us in Washington D.C. on April 22. It is time for scientists to leave the lab and hit the streets! We must stand together. It is up to us.