The March for Science took place in cities across the world yesterday, with Washington’s protest seeing tens of thousands in attendance. People poured onto the streets in defiance of the impending budget cuts to research, vocalising the importance of science both on personal, and universal levels. However, in the midst of this positive solidarity, I was particularly struck by the concerns of a thoughtful few (including a number of distinguished scientists). Those opposed to the protest expressed disapproval at the idea of “politicising science”. Put shortly, this concern baffles me. ‘Science’ is an umbrella term of enormous proportions, covering everything from climate change, to being able to pop a paracetamol, to the intricate hardware letting me type up this rant on my MacBook. We are incredibly (and often, obliviously) reliant on science within our day-to-day lives. This reliance means that science and politics are inherently interlinked, and untangling the two is all but impossible. As such, attitudes towards yesterday’s March raise a slew of questions. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is why people are so wary of realising the role that science plays everyday. Could this issue be attributed to scientific inaccessibility?
We are incredibly (and often, obliviously) reliant on science within our day-to-day lives.
The root of scientific inaccessibility is hard to find, and all but impossible to confirm. Is it the negative associations (…nerd) that plague science-based pursuits that are so off-putting? The condescending smugness that can sometimes accompany scientists (so wonderfully parodied by Emilio Bruna as “ScienceTrump”)? Or is it the complicated jargon that reads like an entirely different language, making it difficult to focus on a paper beyond a timespan of around two minutes? Whatever the cause, there is no doubt about the fact that this issue needs to be resolved – ASAP. Science can be boiled down to one simple principle – curiosity. The kind of curiosity that we were all born with, that kept us repeating “but.. why?”, until our parents bought us ice cream in a desperate attempt to temporarily shut us up. That curiosity is infectious, and shouldn’t be lost as we grow up.
As with any of the controversial claims made by Donald Trump, or the shiny new laws slipped in unnoticed, the outrage and mistrust felt by the general public needs to be externalised. He must be, and has been, challenged on issues ranging from his stance on immigration, to his attitudes towards women, to his seemingly poor geography (particularly in lieu of a really good piece of chocolate cake). With budget cuts for scientific research centres looming, and the evidence behind most of his assertions being… non-existent, the March for Science is every bit as necessary as previous protests have been. Although “politicised science” is a scary-sounding phrase (holding dystopian connotations of the prion-like spread of scientific propaganda), ignorance to the inherent link between the two is far more dangerous.
Although “politicised science” is a scary-sounding phrase… ignorance to the inherent link between the two is far more dangerous.
Although Trump’s general ignorance seems to steal the spotlight on this topic, the stigma surrounding science extends far beyond the US. Brexit marked the birth of Britain being “tired of experts”, a quote for which I dare not strip the credit from Michael Gove. Canadian Prime Minister and all-round heartthrob Justin Trudeau, adored worldwide for his good looks and liberal policies, is no better; whilst the world is distracted by Trump’s tweets and gravity-defying hair, Trudeau is still pushing for more oil to be recovered from Canadian and US soil. For whatever reason, a collective aversion towards science and ‘experts’ is growing at an alarming rate, and signals a general mistrust amongst the public. With just cause, people are struggling to decipher who can, and who can’t be trusted (and what proportion of political promises are simply hot air). With ‘shock’ results in recent referendums and elections, such attitudes are now posing a very real threat that can no longer be ignored.
Worries about “politicising science” are belated. Science and social policy are, and have long been, inextricably linked. In fact, refusing to acknowledge the link between the two is beyond damaging in itself. Such concerns raise a much more serious question – just how oblivious are people to the relevance of science to society? An idea echoed over recent years is, as such, reinforced – the importance of a popular interest in science cannot be underestimated, and is an entirely possible goal to reach. Putting research into context highlights its relevance to your life, individually. Einstein’s words – “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” – ring particularly true here. Now seems like precisely the right time for popular science to attempt a comeback (or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking – #MakeScienceCoolAgain).
Beyond the likes of Bill Nye the Science Guy (coincidentally, my first childhood crush) inspiring a generation of tiny scientists, recovering scientific interest in adults is every bit as important. Protests against cuts to science should not be frowned upon – they should be encouraged. Yesterday’s reactions stress the importance of altering the public image of science, especially considering the serious social and political repercussions that unawareness propagates. Those expressing grievances towards the March for Science seem to have missed the overarching message. Rather than the effects of budget cuts felt by individuals, protestors banded together to remind us that any further cuts will affect us all. We’re all in this together, hey?