Marching for science as a minority scientist

On April 22 (Earth Day), scientists and supporters of science will descend upon Washington D.C., as well as in hundreds of other cities in sister demonstrations, to show their support for government supported science during the March for Science (MfS). While having so many scientists and supporters actively engaged with politics is exciting, and the event sure to be historic, I have mixed feelings about it.

To have so many scientists and supporters this engaged with political demonstration (because this march, and science at large, is very political in nature) is, no doubt, exciting. Unfortunately, the MfS organization, particularly the national march in DC, has been rife with organizational issues that have left many on unsteady ground, and people like me conflicted.   

For those who follow this blog, you’re already aware that I am a Concerned Scientist when it comes to the leadership of this country and what it means for science. I’m concerned that there are plans to slash funding for the NIH and DOE and to completely abolish the EPA, that the administration doesn’t believe in climate change, that there’s heavy investment in fossil fuel industries (through Native lands, no less). So it’s hugely important (and I would argue, our responsibility) to take a stand against these actions and demonstrate the value and need government-backed science has in our society. 

I’m also a concerned scientist when it comes to the state of science and academia. I’m concerned with science’s diversity problem, with its sexual harassment problem, with the fact that so many scientists participate in and reaffirm sexist, racist, homo/transphobic, and ableist actions. It is because I am a Concerned Scientist in both these regards that I am left conflicted by the MfS movement.

I won’t rehash the many missteps MfS has made (you can read up on them here and here), but I’ll sum up that the issue, at least for me, is that MfS has done a dismal job in making this movement diverse and inclusive. Recent statements from individuals who have left the MfS organizing committee (you can read some of that here and here) have made it explicitly clear that the MfS organization not only lacks commitment to making the march accessible, diverse and inclusive.

This is particularly offensive considering how scientists from marginalized communities are going to be disproportionately impacted by President Trump’s administration. Yes, budget cuts and gag orders are harmful to all of science, but minority scientists will have to deal with that in addition to other attacks from this administration (think Islamaphobic travel bans, increased deportations, repealed protections for LGBTQIA people, or health care repeal, which directly harms the poor as well as the disabled and chronically ill). So to dismiss diversity and inclusion as a major mission statement is a dismissal of the most vulnerable members of the scientific community.

So for concerned scientists, what are we to do? For many, the answer is to not march at all – it means investing time and energy into actions or movements that are more inclusive and productive towards those goals. For others, it’s about holding the organizers accountable for their mistakes and forcing those in attendance to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion. For others still, the answer is unclear. In the end, though, the final goal is to ensure the continuation of robust scientific research in our society, whether that’s defending science’s place in government or defending marginalized communities’ place in science. Regardless of anyone’s decisions about this weekend, though, this work of defending science and promoting an unapologetically inclusive form of science, requires long term committed work – more than what can be accomplished in single day’s march.