The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer
screenshot from March for Science website

Science for All

March 28, 2017

On 22 March, 2017 I posted on my Twitter account (@michaelshermer) a link to this article titled “Science march on Washington, billed as historic, plagued by organizational turmoil,” which chronicled the “infighting among organizers, attacks from outside scientists who don’t feel their interests are fairly represented, and operational disputes.” The article went on to note that “Tensions have become so pronounced that some organizers have quit and many scientists have pledged not to attend.” Predictably, politics was the divisive element, most notably identity politics involving the proper representation of race and gender diversity, and immigration, obviously in response to the election of Donald Trump. The website of the march felt the need to post an official diversity policy that reads, in part, “We acknowledge that society and scientific institutions often fail to include and value the contributions of scientists from underrepresented groups.”

My initial thought was this: So let me get this straight. As the Federal government prepares to cut science budgets across the board, and in an era of fake news and alternative facts, instead of marching to proclaim how important science is to the American economy, not to mention human survival and flourishing, along with our commitment to facts and reason, you want to send a message to the public in general and the Trump administration in particular that science—the most universal institution in human history—is a failure when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

But then I realized that this had nothing to do with the ideals of science, which I articulated in a tweet posted shortly after the link to the article:

Although clearly this tweet seemed to resonate with many (over 4000 in fact), it also brought down upon my head a heap of hate. Many couldn’t see the point I was making: that a public march celebrating science is probably not the best place to engage in an in-depth history of science and its shortcomings when it comes to women and minorities, which are well documented and against which much progress has been made the past half century. You can see the tweet, and its responses. Typical of critical replies were these:

And my favorite, which I liked so much I retweeted it:

I tried to explain that I was tweeting about an ideal we should strive for (and for which science is particularly well positioned to implement), not a 140-character history of science.

I was promptly reminded of Hiroshima, Tuskegee, eugenics, etc., along with the documented biases against women and minorities in the past, to which I replied:

And this one in particular seemed to trigger emotions in a lot of readers:

Yesterday I hosted the theoretical physicist and popular science writer Lawrence Krauss for our Science Salon series and we were asked our thoughts on the March for Science by an audience member who had been following the Twitter-Storm over my tweet. Given that Krauss has worked in academia his entire career, including being involved in the hiring process of physicists, I asked him why people seem to think that science still excludes women and minorities (and others) when, in fact, it is peopled by professors who are almost entirely liberals who fully embrace the principles of inclusion (and the laws regarding affirmative action). Are we to believe that all these liberal academics, when behind closed doors, privately believe that women and minorities can’t cut it in science and so they continue to mostly hire only white men?

Krauss was unequivocal in his response. Absolutely not. There has never been a better time to be a woman in science, he explained, elaborating that at his university, Arizona State University, not only does the student body perfectly reflect the demographics of the state of Arizona, the President of ASU has mandated that if two candidates are equally qualified for a professorship, one a man and the other a woman, the woman should be selected for the job. Full stop.

This is not to say that there is perfect demographic parity in all of the sciences. There is not for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that equal opportunity for all is the goal, not perfect political identity (if that were the case then there should be affirmative action for conservatives, who are today among the least represented on college campuses). What we have been doing since the 1960s is to correct the biases of the past and open the doors to more people in more fields. To deny that there has been moral progress in this area is to deny the magnificent work of the civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights activists of the past half century, as if their efforts counted for nothing. I wrote a book about how this happened, its title inspired as it was by the greatest of civil rights champions Martin Luther King Jr., but the story is not over. We have a long way to go but we’ve come a long way, thanks in large part to science and reason, so if there is something that I plan to march for on April 22 it is that fact, which is not an alternative fact but a real one.

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43 Comments to “Science for All”

  1. Jeffrey Herrmann Says:

    Keep up the good work, Michael, even if from time to time you draw the rage of the loonies down upon you.
    Sharing the twits’s tweets provide some welcome humor.

  2. Richard Rawlins Says:

    Very well put.
    The issues raised by those with another agenda are important and should be addressed – but, they are for another agenda, and another day.
    Best of luck on 22nd!

  3. Angel Rodriguez Says:

    I’m not a scientist but Mr. Shermer is right. Science is universal, period.

  4. Peter Whyte Says:

    I have a new one for you, I think. There has been an enraged outcry here (SA). “Down with colonial science”!

  5. MBDK Says:

    “not only does the student body perfectly reflect the demographics of the state of Arizona, the President of ASU has mandated that if two candidates are equally qualified for a professorship, one a man and the other a woman, the woman should be selected for the job. Full stop.”

    Not very scientific, OR fair, regardless of history. The solution would be along the lines of applicants not having to disclose their individual characteristics (granted, there may be SOME times when certain information along those lines would be appropriate) and all interviews would be performed in a manner that would disguise such characteristics (i.e. via text-only communications).

    I know some will still object, but those that do cannot claim to have unprejudiced motives.

  6. Chrysippo Says:

    But identity has always trumped common sense let alone logic or reason. I think of those heroic anarchists during the Spanish civil war who clung to their ideals of equality even in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, they were slaughtered in mid deliberation of role assignment because the hierarchical forces of the elitist right attacked unfairly as a unified force under the completely undemocratic direction of a single commander.
    So comforting to continue arranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

  7. Chris Dugan Says:

    I agree with Shermer that Science is universal to all. He could not have said it better. His replies to criticism were spot on.

  8. Terry Says:

    “As the Federal government prepares to cut science budgets across the board, and in an era of fake news and alternative facts, instead of marching to proclaim how important science is to the American economy, not to mention human survival and flourishing, along with our commitment to facts and reason, you want to send a message to the public in general and the Trump administration in particular that science—the most universal institution in human history—is a failure when it comes to diversity and inclusion?”

    Why is the science budget sacrosanct? How is it not subject to the same waste, fraud, and abuse of every other budget item (and every other government activity)? As a scientist I am aware of an awful lot of waste, and at least some abuse, by fellow scientists. Science may be important, but so is accountability.

    All you seem to do is cry “Give us more!” Other sectors of the budget are asked to be more thrifty, but you cannot?

    They you complain about identity politics when you play to that audience all the time.

    “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

  9. Mike Colyar Says:

    One glance at the photographs of the current administration’s cabinet attending bill signings with not a woman in sight tells me that those squawking about equality issues are barking in the wrong direction.

    To compare the attitudes of conservative and liberal groups on this issue as being even remotely in the same world is perverse.

  10. Ray Jones Says:

    You can’t get much more pro-science than me, and I really get fed up sometimes with scientists being blamed for things which the military and business are responsible for.

  11. Pete Says:

    I agree with Michael.
    Terry, there is nothing wrong with accountability but what this administration is doing goes far beyond that when it comes to slashing science-related budgets. It amounts to an ideological assault on anything their fossil fuel paymasters might have a problem with, in effect, valuing them and their $$ more than the live-ability of our one and only life support system. You say other sectors of the budget are asked to be more thrifty…you kiddin’ me, the military??

  12. Lorna Salzman Says:

    With due respect to Michael, I don’t think he goes far enough in condemning the authoritarianism of the left. I would venture to call it Neo-Stalinism. We haven’t seen such ideologically rigid and demanding calls since Stalin’s time (except in countries like Cuba, Venezuela, north Korea, et al). For the loony left it is mandatory to support every aspect of regressive leftist doctrine; if you fail on one part you are forever condemned to be called a right-wing racist. It is no accident that leftist politics never uses the word “democracy”, and when it uses the word “freedom” it applies only to struggles of the “oppressed” resisting colonialism. The unoppressed just have to fend for themselves. The latest in this nonsense is the shift from using the words “climate change” to “climate justice”, based on the precept that the root cause is not overconsumption that produces
    greenhouse gases in excess but rather a “social construction” exemplified by poverty, racism and inequality. This is yet another rejection of science at its core, but it is also a rejection of meaningful activism shorn of ideology. In the end the failure of Americans to develop a serious left philosophy and program, along the lines of European social democracy, is ultimately responsible for the rise of
    authoritarianism on both left and right. My view is that the Regressive Left poses a greater threat to democracy than Trumpism.
    Trumpism threatens economic progress and equality; the Repressive Left slashes the institutional supports for democracy, all of which rely on freedom of speech, truth and an independent media. Add on the timorousness of our universities in confronting the New Fascism and you have a recipe for a rapid decline in democracy not to mention divisive social conflict, one of the things at which the left is most adept at creating.

  13. Jerry Grulkey Says:

    Since the fall of the Roman Empire there has been a concerted effort to stop and ridicule science and learning (Tree of Knowledge fable) Many freethinkers for centuries have received the same rebuke as you are experiencing…those who say it like it is. To say science is bad because it was used in warfare is like saying vaccine discovery led to Biological weapons was bad.

  14. Paul Topping Says:

    Thank you for sticking to your guns, your principles. One argument you might use is that we are marching with an identity — we’re all scientists (or science supporters). We don’t want to dilute our message with all identities even though we support them too. This will be a day for science. Of course, individual marchers are free to bring their identities with them and wear them on their respective sleeves, or wherever.

  15. Brian Says:

    Lorna Salzman makes it sound like the whole scientific establishment is “neo-Stalinist,” when she conjoins them with the loony left. Whew, strong words….and as false as they can be. Most of the people in this movement are not scientists, and probably couldn’t tell you what methodological naturalism is. But what is true is that science, specifically biology, has been responsible for destroying a lot of the arguments for racism, sexism, speciesism, and probably a few more -isms. That’s by bringing out the evolutionary origins of race, and of sexual orientation…and by showing that these things are part and parcel of natural selection (racism) or of physiological development of the brain in utero (sexual orientation). In the physical sciences, the specialty of climatology has proved beyond doubt that greenhouse gases are causing global warming. These topics should be included in any decent biology or physical science course at the college level, and might just help to eliminate the bulk ignorance that we see about science in so many elected officials (think: I have a snowball in my hand, so global warming is a farce, from an Oklahoma senator!)
    Science is not the problem here, it is the answer, as Carl Sagan said a few years ago. Scientists will be marching to overcome society’s concurrent antagonism for science driven by dogma that should be obsolete, whether from the left or the right. We must show solidarity in that regard!

  16. Ricardo Newbery Says:

    Mr. Shermer makes an extraordinary claim here. Not an unexpected one, but still extraordinary. What is the evidence?

    “Science is universal, international, inclusive, nonpartisan, a-political, a-gender, a-race, & a-ideological.”

    Part of the problem with this statement is that Shermer appears to be attempting to describe “Science” in a way that is disconnected from the scientific community itself. But in this context, science is much more than just the knowledge gained from the scientific enterprise. The assault on science that is impelling many scientists to join in political action is not primarily on the evident science denialism, it’s about an assault on the community itself, it’s legitimacy, it’s composition, and how the work is done.

    There is too much in Shermer’s statement to unwind in a single blog comment so let’s just focus on just one piece for which he offers evidence; the claim that “Science is a-gender”. Actually he doesn’t really offer evidence as much as a weak argument from authority via a leading question to a single Scientist, who just also happens to be a white male.

    But it’s telling that the response quoted DOES NOT claim that there are no gender disparity issues, just that there “has never been a better time to be a woman in science”. Shermer goes on to repeat this focus, clearly implying that the people concerned about still present inequities are somehow denying that the inequities were worse in the 1960s. So, we managed to fit in not only a fallacious appeal to authority but also a straw man argument.

    It doesn’t take much research to locate evidence that there are indeed legitimate and still yet to be adequately addressed gender and racial issues within the scientific community. Here are some more in-depth discussions of the evidence:

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/unofficial-prognosis/study-shows-gender-bias-in-science-is-real-heres-why-it-matters/

    https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-01-01/weight-gender-bias-women-s-scientific-careers

    http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/10/recommendation-letters-reflect-gender-bias

    http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/11/academic-science-sexist

    https://theconversation.com/lets-face-it-gender-bias-in-academia-is-for-real-44637

  17. Brian Lynchehaun Says:

    “Are we to believe that all these liberal academics, when behind closed doors, privately believe that women and minorities can’t cut it in science and so they continue to mostly hire only white men?”

    So let me get this straight: are you saying that, as a self-proclaimed skeptic and someone committed to critical thinking, you don’t know what a “loaded question” is?

    Are you saying that, as someone claiming to be in favour of science, that you know *nothing* about the research on implicit bias? That bias need not be explicit to exist?

    Or are you intentionally loading the question to prompt an answer, in order to score an ideological point?

    Maybe you’re just too emotional for an adult conversation about this kind of thing, Michael……

  18. Michael Smith Says:

    Get official unless march for science shirt earth day 2017 at https://www.gearbubble.com/official-march-for-science

  19. Phillip I Gold Says:

    Differences of opinion are what make for horse racing, but the infighting exemplified by the exchanges thus far is just playing into the hands of the goons who are in charge now. If we can’t pull together on this we all lose.

  20. Con-ciencia Says:

    I have no problem with politely discussing identity politics or any question dealing with the message of the march, but I think there is one issue at hand which goes largely unnoticed.
    I also think that science is universal and a-political, but there is no science that is not done by a scientific community. I think that any community is political in the sense that it organizes itself and upholds moral guidelines. Would you rather uncritically accept another Dr Mengele as part of your scientific community? I am afraid that it is unavoidable that the scientific community takes a stance with respect to certain questions.
    So, I believe this march is not only about science, but about the scientific community itself and how science is being done. With respect to that, many important questions need to be dealt with. Can you come up with some?
    Having said that, let us also remember that science defies authority by definition, so that there is a need to be cautious of an ideological instrumentalisation. What about the instrumentalisation of science and technology in the hands of greedy corporations and immoral politicians? Is that not what has been happening already?

  21. Mark M. Says:

    I don’t understand why Michael wasted his energy responding to the trolls. The best course of action is to ignore them completely; deny them the immediate attention they seek, and they will quickly move on to troll others. Besides, engaging with them is pointless and futile. Despite them being biological adults (which they will certainly – and rather ridiculously – argue is just another ‘social construct’), they are obviously intellectual infants. Poor, pathetic little beings, they have been unfairly VICTIMized by reality!

  22. Michael Kinnaman Says:

    No matter how awesome the reality or what progress has been made, we cannot let facts restrain our impulse to kvetch in our victimhood mentality nation; USA!

  23. Barbara Harwood Says:

    Science is a tool, and as such, is neither good nor bad. It is simply a matter of how it is used. There is pure science, which is like a journey rather than a goal. This gave us the gyroscope, which was an interesting toy until somebody discovered its many uses. There is also goal oriented science which allows an objective to be approached from many different angles. It is only in the pursuit of science that we come to understand how little we actually know.

  24. Trish Says:

    Thanks to Mr Shermer & Professor Krauss for recognizing and calling out identity politics for the divisive trouble-making that it is.

    Anyone who believes science somehow “privileges ” (in the sjw sense) white males should consider how many white males who have promoted ideas that didn’t pan out didn’t see their ideas promoted in the light of contradicting evidence – the supposed vaccine-autism connection (not just wrong but fraud), cold fusion, ESP, N-rays, to name a few.

    Also, just because one area of a population – say, science teachers, nurses or cable installers- doesn’t match the demographics of the population as a whole is not evidence of malicious intentions of social institutions as much as it reflects the complexity of the influences on the career choices of individuals.

    After seeing the results in the skeptic community of social justice warriors divisiveness, l can only hope that scientific institutions don’t cave in to claims & demands that are not supported by evidence.

  25. Matthew Says:

    Why can’t people see that both sides are right (and potentially wrong) here?

    There is absolutely no reason why the march cannot advocate for the universal aspects of the scientific method and also promote and raise issues of making opportunities for those often excluded from the scientific community. It’s a win-win.

    I am saddened by extremists on both sides saying things that are completely illogical. There are people who do not understand science or scientific thought who happen to be leftists. There are also unfortunate tendencies among some good scientists to fail to be good human beings in other ways and to make the scientific community welcoming to all who could benefit from it.

    I am disappointed by Michael Shermer’s tone-deaf attitude in many of his comments. In general, looking at his twitter feed, he seems more concerned recently about a few leftist students acting like hooligans to shut down speakers (and for that purpose adopts Fox-newsspeak such as “SJW” and “alt-left”) and less concerned about the all-out assault on science coming from this administration (and from large sectors of the public). He has harped consistently on the extreme cases in campus left-politics (showing his own confirmation bias) and ignored the much more common cases where faculty and students have handled controversial speakers very well (e.g., Charles Murray at Columbia University this month).

    So let’s keep our focus: the Trump administration is literally gagging scientists and deleting their findings. That is a far more egregious top-down violation of free speech principles than waves of campus anger, which, by the way, are present shutting people down on ALL sides. (We live in an age of rage-filled internet trolls and bullies on all sides of every issue. Hopefully, every good skeptic should be careful not to take the stupidest things said by some people who disagree with them and assume that all people who disagree with them think that way…)

    Also, with respect to Mr. Krauss, has he talked to many female scientists, or rather, not talked, but LISTENED to them? Pretty much all that I know have many stories of facing bias. Just as (nominal) affirmative action doesn’t mean that it is easier to go through life as a person of color in today’s world than as a white person (the opposite is patently true overall–visible minorities still face so many more disadvantages), his university’s policy does not mean that women in STEM careers do not face many more hurdles than men. Yes, we’ve made a lot of progress since the 60s, but when people insist on this as a way to shut out calls to further progress, others will justifyably perceive such insistence as a refusal to confront current issues.

    Why can’t people acknowledge those issues and also fight for the universal findings of science? Funny enough, the first part of Michael’s tweet (“Science is universal, international, inclusive, nonpartisan, a-political, a-gender, a-race, & a-ideological.”) could be read as a call for an inclusive scientific community as much as “against” identity politics. The second half of the tweet is where he turned it into an attack on others who want to support his cause.

    Let’s march and work together and listen to each other instead of making factions. Science is worth doing that for.

    BTW: Bravo or brava, or bravx (gender neutral version, lol?), to Con-ciencia for a nice summary above.

  26. Ada Lovelace Says:

    I agree that there are barriers to success in science for many people. What frustrates me about this drama is that it all seems to be aimed at the wrong target.

    The faces I saw building Science March were young, cosmopolitan, diverse, possibly over-eager, scientists and science enthusiasts who deserved a chance to bring this thing up from scratch in a really short time (while doing regular jobs). But they had to face a barrage of circular fire while trying to get things done. They weren’t given any room for mistakes.

    It was hard to watch them get bullied, by people you’d think would have some sympathy for their situation.

    If we don’t demonstrate that we are a political force and demand to be heard by the actual powers who should be the target, US leadership–the people most likely to get hurt are those who are young, cosmopolitan (often immigrants), and marginalized groups as funding disappears and programs vanish. Why aim at the young organizers?

  27. Trish Says:

    There are no “marginalized groups” in science. In science there are only ideas that are supported by evidence and those that are not.

  28. Steve Funk Says:

    well said.

  29. Ricardo Newbery Says:

    [ This is a repost of a comment that has been waiting in the moderation queue for 4 days now. I assume the links are the culprit and the moderators are busy elsewhere so I’m reposting with links “de-linked”. Hope that’s okay. ]

    Mr. Shermer makes an extraordinary claim here. Not an unexpected one, but still extraordinary. What is the evidence?

    “Science is universal, international, inclusive, nonpartisan, a-political, a-gender, a-race, & a-ideological.”

    Part of the problem with this statement is that Shermer appears to be attempting to describe “Science” in a way that is disconnected from the scientific community itself. But in this context, science is much more than just the knowledge gained from the scientific enterprise. The assault on science that is impelling many scientists to join in political action is not primarily on the evident science denialism, it’s about an assault on the community itself, it’s legitimacy, it’s composition, and how the work is done.

    There is too much in Shermer’s statement to unwind in a single blog comment so let’s just focus on just one piece for which he offers evidence; the claim that “Science is a-gender”. Actually he doesn’t really offer evidence as much as a weak argument from authority via a leading question to a single Scientist, who just also happens to be a white male.

    But it’s telling that the response quoted DOES NOT claim that there are no gender disparity issues, just that there “has never been a better time to be a woman in science”. Shermer goes on to repeat this focus, clearly implying that the people concerned about still present inequities are somehow denying that the inequities were worse in the 1960s. So, we managed to fit in not only a fallacious appeal to authority but also a straw man argument.

    It doesn’t take much research to locate evidence that there are indeed legitimate and still yet to be adequately addressed gender and racial issues within the scientific community. Here are some more in-depth discussions of the evidence:

    blogs.scientificamerican.com/unofficial-prognosis/study-shows-gender-bias-in-science-is-real-heres-why-it-matters/

    www .pri.org/stories/2017-01-01/weight-gender-bias-women-s-scientific-careers

    www .sciencemag.org/careers/2016/10/recommendation-letters-reflect-gender-bias

    www .sciencemag.org/careers/2014/11/academic-science-sexist

    theconversation.com/lets-face-it-gender-bias-in-academia-is-for-real-44637

  30. Trish Says:

    The criticisms of Mr Shermer’s description of science, boil down to: science cannot or should not be separated from politics and/or ideology. Rather than support science living up to the ideal of welcoming any idea supported by evidence no matter the characteristics of the proponent of that idea, there is the demand that science be in some way altered to accommodate the wishes of those who find fault with the characteristics of members of the scientific community.

    There’s historical evidence of what happens when scientists are pressured to accommodate agendas and intellectual fads: the earth-centric universe, supported by powerful political forces, crippled scientific investigations for centuries. Lysenko’s non-Darwinian biology led to deadly famine. Nazi biologists documented non-existent ancestries and negative characteristics for different demographic groups to justify politically-driven consequences for individuals based on demographic characteristics.

    The idea that the personnel who do scientific work should be judged for their demographic characteristics is an ideological demand incompatible with the very mindset that makes the scientific method such a powerful force for good: the scientific method is a collection of procedures designed to minimize the very human tendency to easily see info supporting what one believes to be true, while blinding one to info incompatible with that belief.

    “Social justice” is not something that could ever be compatible with science, as it is an attempt to redress what certain people today see as defiencies in the demographic characteristics of not only current scientists, but the scientists of previous centuries. This is supposed to be accomplished by tinkering with the demographics of current & future scientists. At what point the correct ratios are achieved, and how those intentionally-created imbalances to rectify previous imbalances will not justify further imbalances to rectify – and who decides when all is correct – are not explained.

    The attempt to marry this ideological fad with science will be only detrimental to science and to society.

  31. Matthew Says:

    @Trish: “There are no ‘marginalized groups’ in science. In science there are only ideas that are supported by evidence and those that are not.”

    You seem to be confusing the laws of physics with science. The laws of physics will apply no matter what. They don’t see people at all, and don’t care if people disappear. Science is human, the human study of the universe and its laws. It needs someone to DO IT.

    It is science that is under attack by the Trump administrion. The laws of phsyics will swallow them up whether or not they believe in those laws. But in order to stop that from happening, we need to fight for humans to be able to do science and discover those laws and predict outcomes and guide technology and undergird policy.

    And all that is human.

    You are fighting a straw man. I don’t see anyone involved in planning the march claiming that scienctific findings “should be altered” because they find fault with the scientific community. (Certainly those arguments have been made but not by people involved in this march–not by people who understand science in general.) The calls for diversifying just want to draw attention to ways to expand that scientific community and make it more welcoming to people who have felt shut out. Why would that be objectionable? We need all hands on deck.

    Indeed, the marchers are resisting scientists themselves being “marginalized.” It is not the organizers (including those calling for diversity) that are demanding that findings be suppressed or altered for political reasons. It is, rather, the current government that is doing that.

    Maybe drop the friendly fire, hear the different voices in play, and move on?

  32. Trish Says:

    @ Matthew

    Your accusations that l am “confusing physics with science “, attacking straw men and engaging in “friendly fire”, as well as your call to ” listen to different voices and move on” demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of science. Even though you end on a “bury the hatchet” note, l seriously doubt that what follows will penetrate your feelz-over-realz worldview and convince you of the counterproductive nature of your belief that science and social justice can achieve some sort of harmonious blending. (And in case you missed it, l posted on April 2 about why science and ideology cannot be conjoined.)

    Scientific claims stand or fall on only one thing: whether the evidence does or does not support the claim. The pitch of the voice of the person making the claim is irrelevant, as are the age, sex, skin color, wealth or residence of the persons making – or questioning – the claim.
    Whether a particular scientist is recognized for achievements is based only on the evidence supporting that scientist’s proposals, nothing more.

    The imagery of “letting different voices be heard” may seem appealing in theory, but if enough of the voices come from the mouths of the tone deaf, the sound will not be music.

  33. Ricardo Newbery Says:

    @Trish wrote:
    “The criticisms of Mr Shermer’s description of science, boil down to: science cannot or should not be separated from politics and/or ideology.”

    Again, this is restricting the meaning of “science” into only one narrow facet of what is actually at stake here. Science is NOT just a body of knowledge, it’s also a community and a set of social conventions about how best to study the natural world. By insisting on the more narrow meaning, you remove much, IN THE VIEWS OF THE MARCH ORGANIZERS, of what is actually under assault by the current administration. This kind of fallacy is known as an Appeal to Definition (or “argumentum ad dictionarium”).

    And, as I’ve written previously, the rest of the argument that follows from this conveniently narrow definition is clearly a straw man argument. I don’t believe any serious advocate involved in those discussions is asserting anything like what you are describing.

    @Trish also wrote:
    “There’s historical evidence of what happens when scientists are pressured to accommodate agendas and intellectual fads…”

    It is curious that you can acknowledge the historical evidence of undesirable social influences on the work of science, but somehow that becomes evidence that it’s wrong to be vigilant about present-day undesirable social influences. You might want to re-examine your argument here.

    @Trish also wrote:
    ““Social justice” is not something that could ever be compatible with science”

    Ah yes. Social justice. That ubiquitous dog whistle from the same toxic community that has spawned much of what this march is actually being organized to counter. It’s not surprising to see the same rhetoric being used in an attempt to discredit the March for Science.

  34. Trish Says:

    @ Ricardo Newberry

    Science is not a community, it is a body of knowledge. It is our species’ best attempt thus far, to separate what we can actually know about the universe from hopes, wishes and ideology.

    The fact that followers of so many various ideologies, from creationism to social justice to bolshevism wish to associate their movements with science is a demonstration of the power of science, as well as a demonstration that science belongs to no ideology.

    Science is what we know about reality when we strip away from the evidence all the “common sense”, beliefs handed down from authority, conclusions drawn from wishes – and the personalities of the people who made discoveries (from the virginal Newton to the sex-magic dabblings of Jack Parsons).

    Oh and claiming that the label “social justice ” is a dog whistle spawned by a toxic community demonstrates not only a lack of tact but a lack of knowledge of the history of the term itself – which was originally used by proponents.

  35. Trish Says:

    Thinking back on the above comments l notice the side that claims to be about the unity demands that their presence and ideology be acknowledged at this event, instead of just attending the event as originally envisioned by its planners. And they try to paint themselves as the force for unity and resistance to their position as not playing “nice”. Sadly, the irony is lost on those who most need to see it.

  36. Matthew Says:

    @Trish

    I don’t expect to change your mind, as you seem very entrenched in your extreme and defensive position. I feel you are continuing to misrepresent the argument. At no point have I (or anyone here) claimed that evidence or scientific data should be subject to any judgement other than the scientific method.

    You say: “The imagery of ‘letting different voices be heard’ may seem appealing in theory, but if enough of the voices come from the mouths of the tone deaf, the sound will not be music.”

    No one is calling for the actual scientific EVIDENCE to be ajudicated by “hearing all the voices”–because, as we know, that isn’t science. I meant “letting different voices be heard” in planning, recruitment, and organizing the doing of science. You cannot honestly believe that those issues are not entrenched in interhuman relations and politics. They are not scientific data, but they are essential to DOING science. The ideal situation is to use politics to get the best and most efficient scientific community, so people
    –do better science
    –get people to accept and understand science
    –learn science better (there is some God-awful science teaching in schools that stresses memorization, science as a “body of knowledge,” rather than excitement about learning, skepticism, and exploration)
    –get it funded

    An example not involving “identity politics” of how science policy is essential to science: there was a lab at a major research institution where the high-profile leader drove several graduate students and post-docs to suicide by pushing them too hard and being horrible. Now, he was obviously interestied in “science” but also in his personal advancement and status. While the raw data were probably unharmed (or even, possibly but doubtfully, sped up in the short term) by this approach, I would certainly want, if arguing for policy, to advocate for a different way of doing science–one that, in the long run, won’t kill off the people who do it, and will draw in the best people to do it.

    If you disagree, then perhaps there is really nothing more to argue about.

    It is interesting that you seem to feel that “Science” (by being only a “body of knowledge” and completely removed from the humans doing it) could be “known” by a robot or a computer or something. Maybe one day, artificial intelligence will run all the experiments, determine the policy and uses to which they are turned. Right now, I find that chilling. I am well aware that science as we know it is (human) knowledge, and will always be funded, pushed, accepted, rejected, and USED by humans. As such, it is, whatever you say, tethered to ethical issues that move beyond the data. Look at Oppenheimer’s misgivings about the atomic research he was doing.

    It seems delusional to pretend that science is nothing but experimental results.

    Let me also say that, at whatever moment “feels” are used to judge scientific evidence, we have a problem–and I will stand up against it. I have seen that happen, and yes, I have seen it happen from leftists who don’t understand science–sometimes. But what I am seeing right now is 100 times that from the other side, in this case the right. And that other side is creating a political climate that is attempting to stifle and choke off evidence based science from every channel to please their “feels.” They are cutting funding, sowing false stories about results, attempting to do “science by petition,” gagging scientisits from discussing their results, and harrassing them when they do not find the right results.

    And they are in charge.

  37. Trish Says:

    @ Matthew

    If you value science so much l don’t understand why a one-day march for science can’t be honored by leaving identity politics out of it for that one day. The fact that so many people on the side of identity politics can’t see the value of a single focus on science for that one day demonstrates the fact that the identity politics proponents value identity politics over science. It is an indication that injecting identity politics into the event is valued over science itself by the people insisting on making identity politics part of the event. This looks no different to me than any other ideology trying to bask in the status science has in our society.

    As for your story of the evil prof driving multiple students to suicide, l could find no news reports of such a situation, citation please.

  38. Matthew Says:

    One further thing @Trish:

    You attacked Ricardo Newberry for calling “Social justice” a dog whistle. But you actually used, in your first post, the acronym “sjw.” This is absolutely a dog whistle. It is a term, like “cuck” used by alt-right online trolls and Fox news pundits.

    You go on to say that: “‘Social justice’ is not something that could ever be compatible with science, as it is an attempt to redress what certain people today see as defiencies in the demographic characteristics of not only current scientists, but the scientists of previous centuries.”

    That is an incredibly limited caricature what social justice is, or claims to be. Again, a straw man. Not to say that people who fit this caricature do not exist. They do, and I am sorry that the march organizers faced some bullies and irrational people making strange demands, but that is not what most advocates of “social justice” want. And by painting anyone who talks about diversity and recruitment in doing science as an extremist, you only fuel the extreme arguments.

  39. Matthew Says:

    @ Trish

    “If you value science so much l don’t understand why a one-day march for science can’t be honored by leaving identity politics out of it for that one day.”

    Tell you what. I wouldn’t have thought of “identity politics” getting involved in the march. But I am a white male. And I think that now that the organizers have taken on board the (largely valid) criticisms from those who feel that part of their own advocacy for science is adocating for better access or treatment in the scientific community, it really doesn’t have to be a divisive issue, and it should increase turnout. I see much more pushback from people like you and Michael Shermer than I see pushing now–as if certain people are actually just waiting to label it “identity politics” and be offended that there are too many women or minorities speaking or something. That would be a shame.

    To be honest, one thing I don’t love about ANY protest/demonstration is that if it is small, no one notices it, and if it is large, you (as any given participant) necessarily start disagreeing with what some of the people are saying.

    Nevertheless, I’m expecting and really hoping that the day will be successful.

  40. Trish Says:

    @ Matthew
    I used the term social justice in an earlier post than the one in which l used the term sjw. I actually first heard the term social justice/ social justice warrior used by proponents of social justice and by people on the left of the political spectrum. I have always and still do consider myself a liberal, and l believe in liberal enlightenment values of free speech, rule of law, due process, innocent til proven guilty based on evidence. I see the identity politics/social justice movement as illiberal, authortarian, far too quick to assume nefarious motives where a benign explanation is possible, and mired in an unrealistic, ahistorical view of past human actions as a justification for controlling the opportunities of living individuals based on their demographic characteristics.

    But thanks for lumping me in with the alt right. l can only think of one Republican l ever voted for.

    Still haven’t found the details of the prof who drove multiple students to suicide. It sound apocryphal to me.

  41. Tim Says:

    Science, like the natural rights of liberalism is universal, but just as liberalism in practice requires a constitutional republic, might political organizing and direct action in support of science or any other cause require intersectionalism? The republic provides a means for different groups to find common ground with respect to the law, whereas intersectionality provides a means for different groups, including those on the leading edge of enfranchisement, who are most at risk from anti-science laws, to find enough common ground to join their political voices. The alternative risks even more of the infighting that you cite and the disengagement of the marginalized, leading to a more divided and less effective movement. It’s less about criticizing scientific institutions and more about getting along with each other and making scientific ideas win politically.

  42. CJ Says:

    So you asked Lawrence Krauss, a white male, about the experience of being a woman/minority in STEM fields, and took his word for it? Good, glad to see you understood the backlash (and accounted for dismissive attitudes that women and minorities in science regularly experience, even when those fields are ‘diverse’). Not to say I fully disagree – there hasn’t been a better time for women in science. But that doesn’t mean we don’t experience men not taking us as seriously and the boy’s club mentality. I feel you’ve still missed the point.

  43. Trish Says:

    Unlike sports, entertainment, politics and many other human activities, in which the physical characteristics of the individuals performing the tasks are integral to the result, science stands on evidence. The demographic or physical characteristics of the person/s doing the science has no bearing on how accurate the measurements, the explanatory power of the hypothesis or the ability of others to replicate an experiment.

    I can think of no field of human endeavor in which things would be better if the demographic characteristics of the people doing the task matching exactly the demographic characteristics of the overall population would create better results than the people having the competence and drive to do the task.

    The one human endeavor in which demographic characteristics of the individual performing the tasks matters least is science.