Friday, April 21, 2017

Why the March for Science is a Bad Idea

On Saturday, thousands of people around the country will take part in a March for Science.  There will be a lot of well-meaning folks participating, most of them concerned about the activities and intent of the current administration.

But for reasons I will outline below, I believe they will be harming science more than helping.  They will feel better for sure, but they will do little to advance the cause they care about, and possibly do long-term harm.
There are many reasons why the Science March such a bad idea.

(1)  The Science March is overly political and endangers the relationship between science and society.

Science play a critical role in civic life, acting as non-political source of information about the the natural environment and as the generator of useful technologies.  Scientists are credible only when their information is considered unbiased and not politically motivated.   The lack of political bias is why both sides of the aisle have supported the nation's large scientific establishment over many years.

The Science March is clearly political and is an attempt to put pressure on the Trump administration.  It will be seen as political by everyone and particularly those it means to pressure.    Furthermore, the major concern driving this march is not science in general, but of the Trump administration's appointments and future actions regarding climate science and fossil fuel regulations.

(2)  The Science March Makes Science a Target

The march will identify supporters of science as being against the Trump administration, putting a big target on the back of the U.S. science establishment.
I have just finished reading my third book on Donald Trump.   One thing is clear: he tends to act very aggressively against those who cross him, and particularly those that attack his public image.  Do science supporters really want to provoke him unnecessarily and to little advantage?

Furthermore, there is no reason to think that Donald Trump is anti-science in general or that he really has any strong feelings about science.   His anti-climate rhetoric might be similar to his pro-Russian talk: something that might rapidly alter as circumstances change. Do science supporters really want to push him into a corner?

(3)  Republicans are Not Anti-Science and Can Protect Most Science If They Are Given a Chance.

Science research has generally done well when Republicans have been in control.  For example, climate research funding went up substantially during the last Bush administration.  Recently, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act passed the Republican-controlled Senate and House with overwhelming support.  I have talked to a number of Republican staffers on critical House committees who told me that since they control the "purse" they could protect most of the science establishment.
Climate research is only a small part of the Federal scientific portfolio.  Having questions about climate issues does not make one generally anti-science.

(4)   The March will Fuel Partisanship and Polarization in the Nation

A key problem in the nation has been the polarization of the population and Congress.  The moderate center of the country has been severely weakened, and a cultural divide has developed between the liberal coasts and the conservative interior.  Between haves and have nots.  Will a large protest march for science help bridge this divide?   Or will it identify scientists with other, generally left-leaning, protest groups?  Will those hurting economically that voted for Trump be more likely to support science after a protest? I suspect not.

This is not going to win over Trump supporters

(5)   We Really Don't Know What the Current Congress Will Do Regarding Science Budgets

Congress has not passed a budget yet, so there is little information about what cut-backs or rebudgeting will occur.  Why protest without knowing whether there will be significant reductions and in what areas?

(6)  The March Does Not Have Clear, Explicit Goals.

Go to the the March on Science website. Try to figure out what they are marching to change.  According to their website the March is a "first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments."   Who is trying to reduce this "vital role?"   What actions exactly are being called for?

(7)  The March Organizers Will Not Control the Message

Overtly political or damaging messaging could easily be presented during the march.  What is to going to stop anti administration signage?   What happens if violent or disruptive protestors join the marches?

(8)  There Weren't Marches When Democratic Administrations Distorted Science and Particularly Climate Science

The political nature of this march is highlighted by the fact that there was no call for protecting science  or marches when Democratic administrations played fast and loose with science.   A good example was the sensational and unsupportable claims of the Obama administration science adviser (John Holdren) that eastern U.S. cold waves were caused by global warming.   Demonstrably wrong, but few protested this obvious distortion and politicization of science.  Or the claims by NY Govenor Cuomo that Hurricane Sandy was the result of climate change.  Both political parties have distorted or miscommunicated science when it was in their political interests.

A Better Approach

Instead of marching and being seen as opponents of the current administration, scientists and their supporters would be far more effective if they greatly increased their outreach to the community, communicating both the process and results of science.

Scientists should go into the community and talk about their science.  Speak at local libraries, in schools, and fraternal organizations.   Folks are extraordinarily interested in what we (scientists) have to say.  Make an effort to connect with political leaders.  Use social media (like blogs!). Nothing is more powerful than person to person contact.   Help increase science literacy.  In the long term, public understanding of science and the motivations of scientists is the most powerful tool for protecting the  health of the nation's science enterprise.

Worried that some folks feel climate change is a hoax?  A good reason to have climate scientists enhance active outreach into communities doubting the science.

I won't be out marching on Saturday, but I will continue my science outreach using this blog, my radio show on KNKX, and talks at local groups.   And yes, by continuing do my science, including the determination of the regional impacts of global warming.

Let me end, by saying that there is nothing wrong with marches against the current administration or the current Republican leadership in Congress. But don't involve science in it.  If folks are honest, they would admit that this is basically a political protest against the current leadership in DC. Perhaps the most problematic leadership in the history of our country.   So have a march, but don't use science as a cover, and don't put science at risk.  

Marches like this don't build bridges.   And in a highly polarized society, bridges are desperately needed.   Several of us have built bridges in the area of weather prediction, and this week the Weather Forecast and Research Innovation Bill was signed into law.  Let's build bridges in the area of climate change.  It can be done if we have the wisdom and patience to do so.


joe p said...

One needn't make a choice between personal outreach and a public demonstration of support for science in general...why not do both? I don't find your arguments against the latter tactic very convincing!

David said...

Cliff, I appreciate the voice of reason. I'm no fan of the current admin, but I agree that we need to at least try to change the narrative.

Too often now it seems that everything needs to be right or wrong, liberal or conservative, black or white. This forces people into their respective 'side' and while one side may be right on one issue, they can be completely wrong on another issue. Then there's the situations where both sides have valid points, and the proper thing to do is somewhere in the middle. However, we're now at a point where one side will fight and do just about anything to get in power, and it's their way or the highway.

I do not doubt the same approach will happen when a democrat is elected as the next president. It's not good for the nation as it not only polarizes us, but it takes issues, such as climate change and other scientific issues, and makes people choose a side.

The reality is, as we all know, science does not have sides. Is there right and wrong? Yes, of course, but when we take science and apply the same political rhetoric that lead us to this point, we breed distrust of facts...

I won't be marching either, partially for the reasons you outline, partially because I have other things to do, but you highlight some very good points. That being said, I do think that, at some point in time, a line needs to be drawn in the sand. When and where that is done, I can't personally say, but it's important for people to know that this is a big issue. I've had my doubts that political marches do anything, at all, but to each their own.

turbulenteddies said...

Yes, marching is inherently political which generates amusing irony.
Scientific process represents a triumph of reason over emotion.
But it is emotion ( of a full bladder if nothing else ) which motivates us to rise every morning.
It is emotion that makes one march.

I was thinking of marching, but with a sign:
"There's some evidence that the tendency to adhere to groups is an evolutionary trait"

Earthwater said...

Thanks for your thoughtful commentary, Cliff. I have some reservations similar to yours. However, the March organizers didn't politicize science - climate science was politicized by the Republicans and the fossil fuel industry.Naomi Oreskes documented it well in "Merchants of Doubt". So the irony is that we have to have a political march to depoliticize science.
Regardless of the merits of the march, you are spot on about scientists needing to communicate more, especially about climate change. Climate denial is science denial.

Christophe Allen said...

I always appreciate your honest, non-political viewpoint! It is refreshing to see in this time of deep polarization. If only both sides of the aisle could look at things independent of a political angle, more would get accomplished!

Anne Murray said...

Port Angeles has organized a Celebration of Science with informational booths, speakers throughout the day, activities for families and a "Wall of Scientists" displaying profiles of current and retired scientists and science educators in our area.

Elston Hill said...

Interesting comment in today's New York Times about President Obama's reluctance to call out Trump:

"Aides have rejected the idea that Mr. Obama should actively wage a public feud against Mr. Trump, with whom he has not spoken since the inauguration. They believe that such a fight would give the current president the high-profile political foil he wants to further energize his conservative supporters."

John E Vidale said...

Brave blog! I mostly agree, except it is the Republicans, not just Trump, that are setting the current science agenda, and I am not sure they are so fickle.

I agree the shortcomings are (1) the purpose is unfocused, (2) the march is politically divisive, and (3) of course we scientists want more science (and more funding for science) - loud self-promotion of big federal programs will not be persuasive with the small-government crowd that elected the current Congress.

Some pros are that (1) the public responds more positively to emotion than facts, and compassionate scientists marching with real issues may have some impact, and (2) follow-ups will gain energy and hopefully organization and focus. I don't think we should be shy about issues for fear of vindictive politicians, but the issues here, aside from climate change, are very murky.

Instead, I'll be in DC on Tuesday informing legislators and others how some specific investments in science protect people and the economy of the PNW.

Tom Doody said...

I partially agree with a couple of your statements, but I plan to be on The Mall in DC tomorrow morning. Funding is a political issue, and this administration does plan to cut funding in a number of areas related to science and education. That's mostly what I'm marching for.
On a separate note, perhaps one of the fundamental flaws in the model of academia (which, I know, is not most working scientists) is the lack of emphasis on communicating with the general public, and the overwhelming push to get grant funding and publish publish publish. I'm a grad student and would love to see a separate tenure track for great teachers who don't necessarily have the drive to do as much in the lab or field at major research universities. There are some great researchers who suck at teaching, but they are rewarded with advancement, when some of the best teachers don't make it because they don't bring in $$$. That is just wrong.

Charles Nathaniel Erwin said...

Thanks Cliff,
I do worry about the march being too partisan and that only one side of the current political debate is taking part.
That said, the past is a bucket of ashes. Any comparison between this administration and any other really cannot be made. There is no precedent for the replacement of science based conclusions with political objectives. The President is not filling Senate Confirm-able positions and instead letting unconfirmed political appointees run them; often from political staffs that have the most extreme views.
I also completely disagree with the "Both Sides Do it" comments. You cannot compare the voicing of an opinion on one side with little effect on the nation's life with the wholesale change in direction at the cabinet level away from science based conclusions.
Increasingly I feel like a player for the "Washington Generals" playing the Harlem Globetrotters and wondering why we always lose. Well its because the other side does not care about the rules and supporting "Science" is another way of saying we support the rules.

Anon the Great said...

I see. If you don't anger the rubes, their Congress Critters and the insane man in the White House, everything will work itself out, right? Surely this current bout political unpleasantry will pass over science if and only if science clings to the appearance of being apolitical. Don't make waves; don't draw attention because science is too important to risk. Besides those undergrads and Profs to be fired will be trouble-makers and Lefties anyway.

Come on man, this is scarily reminiscent of thinking by all sorts of educated German professionals circa 1930. We know how that turned out. Millions of Germans died because the German bourgeoisie could not, would not, believe Hitler would do what he repeatedly said he would do. This should sound too familiar to an American ear. I am not exaggerating the true fascist nature of the Trump Administration. While we are not rounding up Jews or invading France, Muslims and Hispanic Americans are serviceable stand-ins and military plans against North Korea are being drafted. They will round up the rest of us later.

America in amidst an existential crisis that threaten all of Humanity. Tut-tutting over the possibility of hurt feels sure seems shallow now.

Kris Simonsen said...

Wow these are some seriously weak arguments. Raising awareness of the size and diversity of the scientific community isn't dependent on the views or tendencies of Donald Trump. Quite the opposite.

We also know exactly what the current congress is going to do, and it isn't going to be based on good science. Are you seriously arguing that because we didn't demonstrate in the past we shouldn't now? Do you genuinely think the situation is the same? The democrats used shoddy science, sure - but they didn't actively dismantle the EPA or push aggressive cuts to science education and research funding.

Why don't you come up with some good ideas yourself that adhere to your own apparently unique view on the state of science in politics? This critique appears misplaced and quite frankly wrong to me in many ways.

You are yourself someone who identifies as a scientist and educator who also endeavors to have a voice in politics. This to me is the main goal of the march, to point out that there is a line of ignorance that once crossed will trigger a response. Politics needs much more logic, math, evidence, and other scientific tools if we want to continue to succeed as a community.

KB said...

Thank you so much for your post Cliff. There seems to be very few people that have a realistic grasp of the intersection of science and politics. I am very worried about the damage the march will do to science. I feel scientists will lose credibility as non-partisan. I have been doing biological research for 25 years and my political leanings are irrelevant as are those of the people I work with. It is not a factor in how our research is done. Over the years federal funding of research has gone up and down. We need to encourage positive interactions with the current administration to communicate the importance of our work and promote the use of federal dollars to support that research. This march can only hurt us at this point. It is a sad day for science and all the people that will benefit from our research.

Joanna said...

As a twitter participant in many conversations with scientists, marchers, AltGov & rogue rangers, I see a very broad and multifaceted approach to raising awareness about the impact of science on everyday life and shaping policy. Scientists are upping their outreach game, crowdfunding is helping advance efforts to engage children, from all walks of life, in science.
Yes it's political, but politics are how we do things in this country. If marching brings much needed attention to the plight of what should be unbiased information gathering, studying & sharing under a regime that continually and increasingly seeks to repress and distort it, then good.
It's a starting point, and just one part of a larger movement. Democracy is messy, but we can't always stay tidy when the stakes are huge.

Unknown said...

There are so many things wrong this piece I'm not sure where to start, honestly. But the idea of organizing nationwide protests around a few offhand comments by a science advisor and a governor genuinely made me laugh. We're supposed to compare this with the leader of the free world calling climate change a Chinese hoax? With him appointing just about the most hostile/anti-science person he could think of to head the EPA? With the chair of the house science committee issuing more subpoenas than it has in it's entire history prior?

Molehill, meet mountain.

- Douglas

jrhoyt0895 said...

(1) Everything related to public policy is political, even science. Your failure to acknowledge that reality doesn't change it. Those who oppose science realize it's political, and by refusing to accept the political nature of public policy, you're giving them an advantage.

(2) The march for science is an opportunity remove the target from its back. Your willingness to assume the worst concerns me. I've invited my friends who support Trump to march with me. If they want to be against science, they can declare that for themselves.

(3) There are both Republicans and Democrats who oppose science. With Republicans, it's climate change. With Democrats, it's vaccination and GMOs. This march is about all of those issues.

(4) I don't know if you've noticed, but the partisan divide hasn't been widening, it's just gotten more attention, creating the perception that it is widdening. It saddens me to see a scientist display confirmation bias. If you don't believe I'm right, check out the bitter election between Adams and Jefferson.

(5) The reason I'm protesting is to give everyone a chance to treat science like the nonpartisan (yet still political) issue that it is. I'm marching in the hope of influencing what Congress will do in the future. If I wait for them to cut funding science before I march, it will be too late.

(6) The march doesn't need clear explicit goals. We don't want to alienate anyone. If you're a fan of science, you're invited to march. You're missing your chance to influence the goals of the march, but if you think you can accomplish more by not attending, that's okay too.

(7) We're marching to exercise our First Amendment rights. If march organizers start trying to censor participants, it defeats the point of free speech.

(8) True, we didn't march under Obama, but I've never liked "two wrongs make a right" arguments.

chrismealy said...

When people have differing views on the rules and resources of society, that's politics. To say that something isn't politics is to deny that differing views exist, or to believe that people shouldn't be allowed to disagree.

If you want to get anything important done (or prevent what you have from being undone), then you've got to organize. Pretending otherwise will fail.

Linda said...

Your arguments against this political march seem to be political in themselves, just differently opinionated. Mostly they are quite speculative, and unsupported by what the Trump administration and Congress have already done, as pointed out by others above. My favorite speculation on your part is "His anti-climate rhetoric might be similar to his pro-Russian talk: something that might rapidly alter as circumstances change." (One is so tempted to respond "and pigs might fly"). Should we patronize Trump by assuming he doesn't mean all he says? What criteria should we apply to sort truth from untruth? Or should we accept him at his word, which so far seems to be substantially what he has done?

Linda Fraidenburg

Linda said...

Your arguments against a political march seem to be political in themselves, just differently opinionated, which is fine for a blog as long as acknowledged. So many of your arguments are speculative and do not reflect what Trump and Congress have actually done already, as others have pointed out above. My favorite speculation is "His anti-climate rhetoric might be similar to his pro-Russian talk: something that might rapidly alter as circumstances change." One is so tempted to respond "and pigs might fly". Should we patronize Trump by assuming he doesn't mean what he says? What criteria should we apply to sort out truth from untruth? Or should we take him at his word, which is at least reality-based, and just wait until the outcome is irrremediable?

Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Mass,

I have to be brief but I'd like you to please consider that science and scientific approaches also encompass social science and public health research that seek to eliminate social and health disparities. The progressive nature of our work does not have the luxury of remaining non-partisan or objective. Political advocacy is very crucial to effectively advance our pursuit of health and social equity.

In the interest of time, I'd like to quote Camara Jones, a prominent public health figure, on the importance of this march to those in our field:

"The anti-science rhetoric and actions that have been increasing since the 2016 U.S. election are likely to exacerbate the health inequities already experienced by racial/ethnic minority communities, LGBTQ communities, poor communities, and other marginalized/stigmatized/oppressed populations. Some public health professionals are already facing challenges to carrying out their work, including hostility toward the work and decreases in support for it.

The health equity community must be a visible component of the March for Science...We urge all health equity researchers, practitioners, and advocates to participate in the March for Science, and support other efforts to ensure the autonomy and integrity of anti-racism research and other research examining, explaining, and addressing the root causes of health inequities."

Thank you for your consideration.

arbuckle said...

It's about shiny things.

The march doesn't have goals because goals don't matter anymore - it's about being seen and heard. This is an opportunity to show the world that you matter! This is an opportunity to take selfies and show the world that you are on trend, that science is on trend, and we're going to get at least one million likes for science.

Jort Sandwich said...

So the biggest threat to science isn't the all-out assault on the profession? On facts, on funding, on the very essence of the role that science plays in furthering the interests of civilization and humanity?

The biggest threat is ... left-wing protestors?

I'm sure Cliff doesn't like that the protests are political. I mean, gosh, if only we just sang kum-by-yah and held hands in global agreement. But, gosh, something is telling me that the bigger threat to science isn't from the folks holding signs in the streets, but instead from the people in actual power who are making "political" decisions that have long-lasting and critical impacts on the very foundations of science, itself.

Both sides don't do it, Cliff. One side declared war on science. I guess some scientists would like to fight back about that, but I'm sorry that you feel that somehow these two viewpoints and tactics have the same equivalency.

John E Vidale said...

I'm as entertained as anyone by ridiculous "science" such a homeopathy, GMOs, vaccination, fluoridation, and climate change deniers, in fact I've taught a short course on it. But the serious issue here is finding the right balance of federal regulations and programs to protect the public and the economy.

Trump is a misdirection, he's not doing much Congress objects to, except for projecting incompetence, and some like that he is distracting the public from the real issues. There are plenty of sensible and intelligent people on both sides. Many commenters here are perpetuating the misunderstanding that the other side is a bunch of troglodytes (or that the other side is a bunch ivory tower pinheads living on the public's hard earned tax dollars). It seems as though many are arguing that with proper understanding of science, everyone will agree with us. I don't think so. Both right and left have been articulating their visions for decades.

In addition, scientists such as Cliff and me are hindered if we try to be both subject matter experts and advocates, particularly advocates outside our narrow specialties. This march is likely to mostly be partisan advocacy.

John Oleinik said...

Bravo Cliff! Exactly how I feel. While folks may think this will move their cause forward, it most likely will have the opposite effect. Demonizing the republicans and calling them all 'anti-science' will cause many folks on that side roll their eyes and not take any of this seriously.

Unknown said...

First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist...

cattoycarpenter said...

Cliff, bless your heart for reaching out to the other tribe and letting them know that you're actually looking for solutions and the truth.
But I'm afraid that I have drunk the koolaid long ago about Republicans and cannot believe a word they say. "Republicans not anti-science"? Hmm. Meh. No.
Republicans are mostly anti-science. I'm sure that there are a few who could actually read something in a peer review journal and be educated by it.
Are they in government? As for Trump, well, again he has no credibility with me.
Zero. He could tell me the sky was blue and I'd have to check for myself.
Politically I feel like the left needs to promote tribalism as a unifying theme.
And the right wingers are begging for a fight. Pick a topic!
Our nations social and cultural divide (or yawning abyss) needs to become more pronounced and clear cut if it is to be put to positive use. Science is an excellent wedge issue. I'm marching. And will always be a fan of your blog.

Organic Farmer said...

Well I am a Socialist. A "Bernie or Bust" rouge, that did not vote for Hillary.

Good post Cliff I agree 100%

More science is not better science.

Many Federal and State agencies are riff with pork.

We need to get special interest money out of our Universities.

Create a clear non-political path for scientist to do research.

(IMHO, this Organic farmer feels GMO may be the demise of our species. Loosing respect for evolutionary progress, and mono cropping along with pattening life which creates more jobs for lawyers does not sound like a good idea!)

So yep science is broken in this country. It needs to be freed of political and for profit corporate agendas.

Brendan said...

The problem is these marches don't, and cannot mobilize the working class. There's no clear policy prescription, just a general message of supporting science. The left and the Democratic party fail to energize anyone with anti-trump messaging. you can't change a country by mobilizing liberal middle class people who want to feel good about themselves for supporting science.

I don't agree that republicans aren't anti-science, though. Republicans are agnostic about science when it does t affect their office, but they'll oppose it in a heartbeat if there's any political reason to do so. Even at the expense of the lives of people. It's the ultimate party of 'got mine, screw you'. There really arent any classically conservative republicans anymore.

Linda Newland said...

Thank you for a voice of reason. Too few people are willing to address politically motivated movements that do more harm than good.

Eric Blair said...

Thanks as usual for fighting the good fight, Cliff - it's very much appreciated. But as we can see just from the comments on this blog alone, there are far too many people who choose emotion and tantrums over actual scientific inquiry and reason - because it only matters how one feels, not how one thinks. As long as you feel morally superior in your infantilism, actions like this one and the prior "queer dance for climate change" in front of Ivana Trump's home convinces no one - but makes the participants able to genuflect in their own righteousness when they kiss themselves in their mirrors each morning.

Eric Blair said...

Additionally, I wonder if anyone here even knows that it was Nixon who created the EPA - not LBJ, not Kennedy, and not Carter. Don't know much about history, apparently.

Unknown said...

I appreciate Mr. Mass as climate scientist, but disagree with his opinion in this blog. I work as a HS science teacher and the current attack on scientific fact lead by our misguided leadership in DC needs to be brought into the public eye.

Michael said...

Cliff, there is a bit of false equivalency in your argument. Trump (Bannon actually) has installed cabinet level administrators who are charged and self motivated to dismantle the organizations they administer. I don't believe the Democrats have done anything that vile. It is simply not true that everyone does it.

The administration’s stated intent to dismantle (what did they do with that data?) and defund government agency science really and truly needs to be protested.

JodyB said...

To say that science is not political is like saying humans are not political. I suggest some study of the history of science. Maybe YOUR science is not political. After all, the weather is all over the place. I am not sure what any one person's purpose is in marching, but I know that a lot of good has come from the Women's Marches. They did not end up causing some great backlash against women. Maybe on the alt-right, but who wants their approval? I do agree that the marches may not reach the working-class and poor in a way, e.g., a Civil Rights march might. Oh, should we not have a Civil Rights march because race is not political, it's a scientific matter? Don't march if you don't want to. And I do agree with a number of commenters that the current situation in unprecedented in recent history, with anti-science appointments, as well as non-(lack of) appointments, and major proposed budget cuts to science and medicine, as well as attacks on public education likely to undermine science education at the expense of religious dogma. Trump may go with the weather, but Pence? Lamar Smith? Pruitt? ...

Kurt Klimisch said...

Great post Cliff. What a voice of reason. All I can think about is teachers. Everyone loved teachers - until they threw their lot in with the democrats. I have never voted for a school levy since and probably will never. It will be a great disservice to this country if the scientific community does the same. You will never get the funding you want when you anger half the people that pay your salary.

g said...

Words of wisdom Cliff.
I agree with Arbuckle. Marches are all about the shiny things.
Pink hats.
Which for science is unfortunate.
Politics don't belong in science.
But panic sets in and we have to kill off our fossil fuel industry overnight.
Or at least try to.

mdeh said...

I think this is very tricky. I believe we have reached a point where, sadly, the Republican party, maybe not all, but the party in it's actions, are anti-science. Trump has supported this view. If one believes , as I do, that this administration, in collusion with the Republican party is a threat to our democracy and all it stands for (including science ), as well as to stability in the world, one must act.
I too have a solution to all this.. although I don't have a good plan to implement it. End gerrymandering! No longer will extremists be able to be elected to congress. Although it may not solve all these issues, I believe it will go a long way to restoring faith in Congress, thus allowing Congress to do some reasonable things, and ultimately stop people from getting so fed up that someone like Trump is elected.
But, in the mean time, I think a protest, although far from perfect, seems fitting for a far from perfect situation.
But, like most scientists, I am not certain the goal of tomorrow's march will achieve it's goal... but I'm prepared to hedge my bets.

Cliff Mass said...

There is nothing wrong with protests that are highly political. Or protests delivering a message to the current administration or ruling party. Just don't make it a March for Science. Make it a March for Sane Government. I am not defending or supporting the current administration. Just don't make it about reality it is not...cliff

turbulenteddies said...

I found this quote from Roy Spencer apt:

'It is ironic that they emphasize “empirical science”, since that’s what argues against global warming being a problem. It’s the “theoretical science” they have to invoke to scare people.'

I think that gets to the gist.
There is empirical evidence of an increase of global mean temperature.
There is also empirical evidence of relatively normal climate measures during this time.

Unfortunately, the public conflates increased mean temperature with climate change and projects catastrophic climate change.

Empirical science does not support these emotion laden visions.

Sara said...

Marches are political protests that are ineffective and typically widen the gap.

People are going to do what they're going to do, but there are a lot of self-serving pro-March arguments that have more to do with a sense of righteous indignation and less to do with facts and discourse. You want to promote science and science funding? Promote discourse. A march will only promote discourse with those who were already engaged. A march is not outreach.

Someone cites 1930s political climate; I'm going to counter and say there are worrying parallels between Stalinist Marxism and the radical left. I don't think it's wise for scientists to actively align themselves with a group that has a postmodern view of language and justice. Kafkae-sque. There has been more done to suppress free speech in the last five years than any political movement in the last fifty years. Objective, balanced science relies on free speech.

Good, well-meaning people are doing damage in their quest to do good.

If you want to make a long lasting change, do outreach. Give talks about your research in community colleges outside of large urban areas. At community centers. At schools. At churches. The people who are mistrustful (read: "anti-science") are laypeople who feel alienated and don't understand the value of certain scientific fields. Help them understand. Foster enthusiasm!

Andrew said...

Right, because it's a "bad idea" to march for something you believe in and practice.

mdeh said...

Hi Cliff
Your point is well made and well taken. Thanks.

David Schultz said...

The scientist whose blog is famous for advancing weather and climate science through political action (e.g., coastal Doppler radars, funding for improved numerical weather prediction) says that the March for Science is a bad idea.

Cliff, can't you see the inconsistency there?


Dierk Polzin said...
WashiPost: Unprecedented March for Science

Cliff would you march if the governor of your state wanted to eliminate all the humanties programs at UDub? Or music in schools. We just passed 410 ppm.

Eric Fisk said...

I think the key question is what the march will achieve. I expect the answer is nothing, but I appreciate the effort. I agree with others that Cliff used false equivalency here between democrats and republicans. It undermined his argument. If Obama had chosen a climate change denier to run the epa and gutted basic science research in his budget and killed all our power plant and fuel economy standards with the swipe of a pen I'd have opposed him too.

Cliff Mass said...

David Schultz,
There is NO inconsistency there. The efforts I was involved with were not political in the sense of attacking one party, one administration, or one individual. They were efforts to push for important, specific scientifically motivated goals. They were inclusive, asking folks from both parties to help with an important task that would aid society.
The current march is overtly political, targeted at the Trump administration. It has no specific, scientifically defendable goal. Worse than that, such a March will probably be counterproductive. alienating Trump supporters and those we need to convince of the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming...cliff

Cliff Mass said...

Eric...there is no false equivalency. If you believe an individual heading a major agency is wrong headed, oppose him/her. Write editorials, talk to your legislators, and even organize a march. But DON'T say you are representing science or scientists in general.

And there have been plenty of mistake folks on the left for you to protest as well. How about all the liberal folks who worked against the first carbon tax in the nation (e.g, 732)? And did you know that climate research funding increased far more steeply under George Bush the junior than under Obama? And where were you when the Clinton Administration did not support improved fuel standards on cars?

Protest all you want, but don't speak for SCIENCE...which a a way to search for truth and not a political movement.

g said...

Cliff, I am somewhat new to your blog and am fascinated by the weather.
As a scientist you could use your blog as a front to bash people you don't agree with.
I see many people who are responding here who are angry you aren't using this opportunity to bash the other political party. You are instead taking the stance that you should. Marches are political. The science of weather is not.
There are plenty of venues both pro and con to get one's political weather appetite satisfied. I for one am glad this is not one of them.
Again, thank you for your calm, analytical, and agnostic approach on the weather.

Lucas Flanders said...

As a veteran of the Vietnam antiwar protests, I share your reservations about the effectiveness of protests. I don't think today's marches will move the needle one way or another. I don't believe they will give science a black eye, or influence Trump's agenda. I think they have some value as a warning to the conservative establishment that there are limits to how far they can push their anti-science agenda. And they will hopefully energize a new generation of voters to become more politically active.

Cliff Mass said...

Lucas...well hopefully you are right. But Trump got elected for a reason...and much of the blame falls on the liberal/progressives who were busy talking (and marching) with themselves, while putting down and ignoring those they thought did't understand "the truth." Imagine yourself, a poorly paid blue color worker, watching the highly educated (and generally highly paid) science folks complaining their budgets were cut in the area of climate change. Would the protest make your less or more likely to support more funding for those science folks? ..cliff

Stu Smith said...

Hi Cliff, here's a quick post from the capitol campus in Olympia as I participate in the March for Science.

Shame on you for pitting like-minded people, who understand the importance of rational thought and the scientific method, against each other. Your efforts only have us standing in a circle shooting each other in the foot. Meanwhile, over in the corner C. Montgomery Burns steeples his fingers and murmurs "Excellent..."

The time and energy you spent creating this particular post would have been better spent educating your readers to the real menace to free thought. I am not the enemy, nor are those who joined me protesting today.

I'll accept the potential downside to my presence here in re: the politicization of science, but unfortunately that train left the station some time ago (see Galileo v. The Church). So here I am, standing for reason, enlightenment and understanding.

In a more contemplative world, scientists simply communicating with society, as you propose, would be sufficient to illuminate the public. Sadly, we don't live in that world. Instead, we have alternate facts and the easily-digested gimcrack messaging of superstition, anti-intellectualism and intolerance.

More science, less fear.

Cliff Mass said... one is pitting like minded people against each other. The question is whether we use our emotions or our intelligence to move forward. Trump uses folks that do the former. As scientists, we should do the latter. The polarizing approach doesn't work and plays into his hands. You are playing his game. ..cliff

Alex said...

Just another in a long line of leftist virtue-signalling contests.

Occupy Wall Street --> Women's March ---> March for Science.

It's all part of the same continuum of leftist bullshit.

Now show me the equivalent on the right-wing and we can have a discussion.

Alex said...

More science, less fear.

There is nothing 'science' about a political march. Just instigating more hatred and division. We need more Carl Sagans and less of this nonsense.

Lucas Flanders said...

Cliff, I respect your concerns and agree with you that we have come to live too much in our separate bubbles to understand what the other side is experiencing. The frustrating thing is all the money being poured into efforts to manipulate people into believing falsehoods in the interest of protecting selfish economic interests. That's nothing new, of course, but now science is being attacked in an effort to undermine the bedrock of knowledge itself. Look at what is happening at the EPA and USDA among other agencies. The danger of this cannot be understated. So we can debate how to respond, but frankly, I'd be a little concerned if no one was marching in support of science, reason, and education. I think it is going to require a variety of different strategies to turn this around.

Chris Mc said...

Some people just want to march.. must make them feel empowered? I think they must all know this will do no good.

Almost appears that they're looking for pitty? To increase their numbers? Not sure, but it is sad to see good ideas, and values (women rights, minority rights, science) get drug into nasty, greedy, dirty politics..

Cliff is right, of coarse all this does is put science on a 'side' ..

Poor form 'scientists', keep the science, science. So all the people can rely on it not be fouled by some asshole politicians scheme to make their bank account bigger

Charlie Phillips said...

Good post! I was interested in the concept when I first heard about it, but I agree - it seems more polarizing than anything else. I think the point of a protest should be to change public opinion (as opposed to simply expressing your own grievances), and I think these marches are the wrong strategy... they surely haven't helped us find any middle ground.

Tim Vortex said...

Excellent post Cliff. The hypocrisy of politics today is overwhelming and as relates to science is purely determined by ones leanings. Science should and will benefit by being completey apolitical. Keep up the great work.

Norm Fox said...

Well said Cliff and thank you. While it is unfortunate that the right has taken to using science as some sort of a dodge or hustle (credit to Ghostbusters), I find it far more disturbing that the left has turned science into a religion with "right" and "wrong" beliefs and a need to purge heretics. Make no mistake about it, this march is nothing more than another left-wing attempt to publicly shame those they see as blasphemers.
Global warming has become so contentious because far too many climate scientists have become activists and gotten into the business of demanding political solutions like cutting fossil fuel consumption while hyping worst case scenarios. True scientists stick to dispassionately pointing out the likely outcomes of various decisions and honestly acknowledge the confidence levels and and margin of error in their models.
Society needs to take its scientists seriously, but activists can and probably should be ignored. One cannot be both.

Brandon Nichols said...

Cliff, in my opinion you ARE CLEARLY pitting like-minded Rationalists against each other, and claiming otherwise is simply an extension of the opinion outlined in your post, which is CLEARLY your own, so OWN it.

Strongly disagree that we as Rationalists should simply try to reason our way forward. Our Founding Fathers made the separation of Church and State a fundamental tenet of the Constitution, and that tenet is now under well-funded political attack. Strategically key to that attack is the systematic discredation of scientific knowledge, expertise and methodology.

Betsy DeVos would be happy hand my children vouchers to attend a Christian madrasa, where young-earth Creationism is taught not alongside Evolution, but INSTEAD OF as settled fact -- and you think we have problems now with declining education standards?

The 'Active Measures' disinformation campaigns funded by the likes of ExxonMobile and the Koch Brothers to undermine Climate Science is another example of 'Science' writ-large under sustained political attack. Millions upon millions of dollars spent to propagandize dissenting minority opinions and preserve the corporate cash-flow status-quo.

While your post is an impressive display of advanced mental reasoning gymnastics, it unfortunately lands you on the same side of the debate about whether the 'March for Science' was a good idea as right-wing partisan 'Alex'. Maybe you and Alex will meet for a beer to discuss the way forward? Ha, not very likely!

Make no mistake, the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation is being waged on a political front EVERY DAY. And to deny, ignore or be indifferent about this fact is to surrender the 'Information War' without acknowledging hostilities even exists!

Facts, logic and reason alone are insufficient to counter unbridled greed and self-aggrandizing aspirations to political power. We as Rationalists need to VALUE adherence to facts, logic and reason as highly as any FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT, and be willing to FIGHT FOR THIS RIGHT in the political arena when under existential attack.

Regularly read an enjoy your blog, and know you need no encouragement to keep fighting the good fight for improving STEM student educational performance.

But, in my humble opinion:




Brandon Nichols said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

I disagree with Cliff. I agree more with Michael Mann, “We didn't choose to be in this battle, but it has come to the point where we have to fight because the stakes are too great.”

I believe the size of hurricane Sandy was influenced by a warming planet.

Unknown said...

It's easy to sit back and criticize the marchers when you're firmly entrenched in tenure, approaching the end of modest career at a pubic university, TIAA CREF account bursting at the seams. Would you be so complacent if it was your job that was getting cut? If Trump appointed as president of UW a person whose sole purpose was to dismantle the university?

ZaZha said...

Protesting ad administration that is planning cuts to science, especially when those cuts are politically motivated, is the right thing to do. Protesting an administration which is actively preventing implementing good public policy, based on scientific evidence, it the right thing to do. Protesting an administration which is muzzling federal scientists is the right thing to do. You call it politics. I call it how we advocate for change in the US.
I disagree strongly with the position you have taken here. Your argument is fundamentally wrong.

John Marshall said...

This was one of your better posts, Cliff. Emotion versus Science. We need to make it clear we stand for Science. Everything in the streets in pure 100% emotion. Useless at best, counterproductive at worst.

What really worries me is people burning up their energy and emotions protesting, when its clear that electing people with the right mindsets is what really makes a difference. Shame to waste all that energy on something that doesn't do much.

This from someone who remembers the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention in 1968. A place where it was made abundantly clear to us that what happens on the convention floor has far more lasting impact than what happens in the street. But... street protests were a lot more fun. Well, maybe not Chicago in 68, but usually.

Euphoria Gibbons said...

I disagree. Science has already been a target, and it is time to bring it, appropriately, into the public awareness in terms of the politics relating to it. My sign said things like, "No funding? No cure." The proposed budgets cut science funding for the EPA in particular, which was already underfunded. The Puget Sound cleanup efforts? Cancelled. Something needs to counter "alternative facts" and bring the ubiquity of science into the awareness of the general public. I also had, "Black Lives Matter" with a list of references evidencing the need for that movement. While keeping the message productive is a challenge, society is already polarized, and making a large statement that articulates why science is important is our right and duty in times like these. I know someone personally who disbelieves anything coming from a government agency, and it is quite frightening to hear her thoughts in real life-- I knew her for years before I saw the things she says about the CDC, FDA, universities, etc. The huge crowd makes a statement, and plays a role in public opinion. I also had "INTEGRITY: It's built into the METHOD" which I thought was the most political part of my sign, given the lack of integrity politicians often show. But many people do not know why it is that scientific results can/should be trusted. They do not understand the method, or peer review. I agree with your alternative outreach ideas, but to put down the unity of people who want to make a statement for science, leaves me disappointed in you as a public figure. I started following you at least 12 years ago, and was with you on math textbooks, and most of topics you take a stand about, but this seems just... contrary. My sign also had "Public Education is the cornerstone of Social Justice" "build schools not jails" along with the No Funding No Clean Water themes. Commenters dismiss the value of pro-science people seeing each other, communicating, and cheering on each others' signs, but these are discouraging times for people reliant on grant funding, education funding, and those concerned for the health of our natural environment. I hope you expand your viewpoint to see the value in making a large statement, as we did today.

Pleinair said...

One of the first times I have to seriously disagree with you. Sadly politics has become involved in science. That was not even conceivable 30 years ago. It has become manipulated by moneyed interests that feel no compunction about long term interests or mankind.

Your interest in remaining overly neutral plays right into their hands. You as an avid outdoor enthusiast ought to be able to offer numerous anecdotes beyond the rigorous scientific methods that show in the NW what we are talking about. The amount of glacier loss in the cascades is astounding to anyone that has climbed or hiked the mountains, could this be cyclical? Sure but we are approaching several lifetimes of evidence. We could ask for a few more, but by then the problems will be close to irreversible.

Cliff at some point you have to take a stand we can quibble about this or that but the reality is global warming is real real and we need to start doing something about it starting yesterday!

I am starting to lose faith in you!

Mark Anderson said...

Thank you for this lucid appeal. I expect, alas, that it is too late. Even questionning what we presume to know is considered to be denial**, yet we still don't understand what is man-made and what is a natural cycle of change.

**Shamefully borrowing the term from Holocaust deniers, belittling the original use of the term, closing down scientific enquiry, and burnishing the credentials of moral preeners--disgusting.

Big Jim Slade said...

Right again, Prof. Mass.

Marching, screaming, and holding signs is not going to change anyone's mind. The only way to push back against the reactionaries running the country now is to convince people at ground level. That means working to educate them - especially kids.

Your callout in bullet 8. is spot on. I cringe when I see tripe like that, and especially when it's published in otherwise great journalistic sources like the NY Times. Worst of all, it reduces the credibility of science in general.

Keep up the good fight.

John E Vidale said...

This "March for Science" leaves me disillusioned at the proportion of people who cannot distinguish science from advocacy. The former relates to delineating theories and facts, the latter to arguing policy.

As Cliff correctly suggests, millions of people marching, with the loudest arguing for specific environmental policies, lauding some and lambasting other recent and current politicians, mostly has the effect of causing the conservative electorate that elected the President, House, and Senate to view "science" as a tool co-opted by advocates for partisan politics, not a valuable resource. Cathartic but polarizing and not helpful.

Much as I support most of the policies advocated by the marchers, and marches that advocate policy.

Alex said...

All this 'march for science' does it reinforce the idea in most peoples' minds that the left are bullies. I can't wait for the day that you see the same people go back and forth between this and antifa.

turbulenteddies said...

The march was proclaimed open to all those who believed in empirical science.

The empirical evidence indicates an increasing global mean temperature.

But the empirical evidence also includes:
* temperature trends less than the IPCC low end estimates
* decreasingly variable temperatures ( less extreme temperature )
* fewer hot summers in the US ( over more than a century )
* no significant change of US drought ( over more than a century )
* no significant trend of global drought ( for the satellite era plant stress estimates )
* no trend in global tropical cyclone energy ( since the early 1970s )

Further, empirical evidence also include:
* the increase in plant growth and crop yield with increasing CO2
* the decrease in plant water loss with increasing CO2
* the increase of the temperature at which plants maximize growth rates with increasing CO2
* satellite leaf area index values indicate trends of increasing biomass

Additional empirical evidence would include:
* more than three quarters of global CO2 emissions are from countries with less than replacement fertility rates.

There is an unfortunate conflation of climate change with global mean temperature increase.
And there is an unfortunate conflation of harm with climate change.

The back-end, bottom-line choice that makes the science political is not so much the science, but the idea which all are harboring as to whether-or-not policy is necessary.

Since the focus is on empirical observations, I believe the observations indicate climate to be marginal, benign and even beneficial.

Placeholder said...


1. Trump won. Will the poor losers ever stop crying and put their big boy pants on?

2. The anthropogenic global warming cult has long since ignored the scientific method. For starters, there is no such thing as "settled science." This is especially true of a hypothesis like AGW. It goes on.

3. The consensus, whatever its magnitude -- 47%, not 97% -- doesn't really matter. See J. Harlan Bretz.

4. You can cut the smug arrogance with a knife. You can always tell a "progressive," but you sure can't tell a "progressive" anything. Why? They just "know" they are smarter than mere human beings.

5. The AGW lobby is just as self-interested as the hydrocarbon producers.

6. Aside from the political manipulation of weather data, the AGW believers made a fundamental mistake early on. They coalesced around a single hypothesis. They have now painted themselves into a tighter and tighter corner, and don't know how to get out.

EcoWilly said...

While I respect most of Professor Mass' comments, this is the time to do both: (a) educate others, and (b) express genuine concern that science is not taken seriously by this administration. Make no mistake, Mr. Trump cannot and will not enact environmental legislation: he will leave that to his appointees, who care not about media image.

On a historical note, conservation advocacy swelled dramatically during Ronald Reagan's first term (during Interior Secretary James Watts' tenure, Sierra Club membership nearly doubled, from 170,000 to 325,000). As November's election affirmed, change happens when people get personally and politically involved!

EcoWilly said...

While I respect most of Professor Mass' comments, I believe we must do both: (a) educate others, and (b) speak out in defense of science. Make no mistake, Mr. Trump cannot and will not enact environmental legislation: he will leave that to his appointees, many of whom care not about their public image.

On a historical note, conservation advocacy swelled during Ronald Reagan's first term (in response to the policies of Interior Secretary James Watt, Sierra Club's membership nearly doubled from 170,000 to 325,000). As last November's election taught us, personal and political involvement effects change!

George B. said...

I respectfully submit that my colleagues Cliff and John Vidale are hand wringing and over emphasising their unwarranted fears about the possible consequences of a political dimension to this activity in a number of ways. Firstly and most importantly, this did not come off as a particularly political event in the press or in the eyes of the public despite some attempts at making it so (no windows broken, no more disruption that a small sporting event, that is compared to some other public expressions of unrest). What it did *accomplish* and facilitate was a sense of community on the part of the participants, that included everything from K-12 teachers and classes to just the interested public, marching with card-carrying scientists. This kind of organic connection is as important as a weather blog or a seismometer at a Seahawks game, perhaps much more so. People who say this "does no good" generally lack the "social perspective" to understand that many forms of social connection and relationship are important in advancing and understanding our shared stake and support for science. Point being that most people were there (I know because I was) simply to give a shout-out for science. And as far as I can tell the negative fall-out has been about ZERO and the positives manifest.

Cliff Mass said...

George B.
Let me explain my point. It is wonderful that you folks enjoyed your shared stake and support for science. But you didn't accomplish anything useful. You need to connect with those that were not marching with you...the Trump supporters and those doubting man's impact on climate. They see a bunch of scientists and sympathizers marching, with lots of Trump signs and ancillary political/social messages, as lefty protesters. You turned them off if anything (I know some of those folks and I would not repeat some of the endearing terms they used). So I might debate about who lacked the "social perspective." This kind of talking (and marching) with "the informed" is what made Trump president. The marchers are simply helping Trump and his minions.....cliff

Cliff Mass said...

I have to disagree. Trump and the Republicans (and Democrats) have already passed and signed a very important piece of environmental legislation (the Weather Forecast and Research Innovation Act). Totally bipartisan and critically needed. The same technology and models are used in weather, seasonal, and climate models. This is win for all environmentalists. And don't mention the Sierra Club...those folks worked against I-732, which would have brought the first carbon tax to the nation. A great loss for our environment....cliff

DJL said...

Thanks Cliff.

I am positively disposed to all sciences, but this march struck me as inane, unfocused and obvious self-congratulation by elites who are apparently blind to their elitism.

To the "marchers": Just keep on telling your inferiors how stupid and unscientific they are (even if they are daily practitioners of the scientific method). Yeah, that'll work. To get you even more money and prestige. Which seems to be the desired outcome of your whining.

DJL said...

Come on. Anybody who's paying attention to current events knows it was a piggybacking catch-all left-wing anti-Trump event.

DJL said...

Good, because the empirical evidence shows that this assertion is only sustainable by strong belief.

Bruce Kay said...

Cliff - this "March for science" was not intended to persuade Trump supporters. Not the fanatics anyway. If you research Right Wing authoritarian personality ( go to the Wiki page to get your feet wet) you will find 3 pertinent things:

1) that single demographic marker best predicts Trump support

2) Loyalty is a strong characteristic of the RWA personality

3) roughly 20% of any population worldwide is RWA personality

Due to this strength of loyalty, to "double down" against all evidence is second nature. They are not persuadable to a degree greater than most. they are not "conservative" (a politic) they are RWA which is a personality type, that in other times and places gravitated to other entrenched political powers, even so- called "leftist" authoritarian regimes, such as Stalinist or Maoist communism, or fundamentalist religion cults such as the Taliban. Different authoritarians in different environments, but all attract the same personalities. Yes, equally intransigent people can be found on the US left but by the best known science, not remotely the same volume of numbers. If you truly respect the validity of the scientific process, your research will reveal this to be true, by way of a expertise consensus at least as strong as that of AGW.

At any rate, the March for science is an appeal to the vast middle ground of the citizenry and political leadership, in a hope that more reasonable people can recognize the gross error in supporting powers that are so loathe to maintain an ethic of policy by best evidence.

We know from history that mass public protest does indeed have a crucial role in positively influencing politics, such as during the cvil rights protests and the vietnam war protests. Climate science, like it or not, has been and will continue to be an element of the political, hopefully in the role we were marching for - the best known means of establishing best known fact in order to inform best possible public policy.

Cliff Mass said...

Bruce Kay
You reveal much of the problem---denigrating folks you have differences with....even suggesting they have some kind of disorder (RWA). This kind of attitude is what made Trump president and is the failure mode of the left. It is hurtful and counterproductive...cliff