Last week I described my concerns with the organizers’ vision for the March for Science that took place on April 22. We also had a similar critique collectively expressed on the latest edition (#15) of 15 Credibility St.
I’m happy to admit that, in general, I think the March for Science was a success with respect to the media coverage it received. The crowds were diverse, and I simply don’t think that organizers’ efforts had any influence on that. Bill Nye was a huge hit regardless that he was a white guy. Criticism that I saw of Nye in the comments of some articles was pathetically weak; other arguments against the March were anemic, DOA, or just simply incoherent. So, I think that it was a win for science in the public eye.
Yet, there were some matters that need to be addressed if the pro-science in society efforts are to continue to march on to effect change. First, perpetuating the stereotype of “nerds”. I do hate this. Nerds is a derogatory term for those who are deeply knowledgable about an esoteric subject but socially awkward. Not all scientists are nerds. I realize there has been an effort to take back the term “nerd” but I don’t agree it helps at all to promote science in society by embracing the “nerd” stereotype. In fact, a serious problem with science and scientists is that they appear out of touch with everyday life — living in the lab, “ivory towers” of academia, or the library. Science advocates must shrug off the nerdity and appeal to the public in a far less socially awkward way.
The self-righteousness must also be ditched. It does no good to call people stupid because they are anti-science. There are complex reasons why people reject or have mistaken ideas about the world. Compassion and understanding must also be goals since that is the only way to change hearts and minds.
The organizers lack of clear messaging was reflected in the marchers’ messages also being all over the board from comments in scientific notation or jargon to “save the planet” to “Impeach Trump”. I suppose that is inevitable. I even saw one guy carrying the Trump flag. You’ll have this. It’s Ok. In fact, I think it’s healthy. It shows you did attract a pretty diverse crowd. However, that diversity must be united under some common action plan. It’s too early to see if that will happen.
It’s very difficult to put science and its value to society into a soundbite. It’s even harder to put it on a witty sign. A CNET tech writer lamented the overly wordy signs and how they would not be persuasive to the other side. I thought this was a shallow and pointless argument to make. Sure, it was not great that animosity for the President was mixed in but it was inevitable. (The Discovery Institute and Washington Times exploited this point. Neither of those sources are credible but ideologically biased. And they missed the forest to complain about one tree, as usual.) Others have made cogent comments that the eroding of scientific support in society has been going on for decades. It’s not new under this administration, just so in-your-face that it prompted people to react.
Again, we must admit that the scientific process and the benefits gained from it are very difficult to express in easy to understand terms. Therefore, the signage issue is symptomatic of the need to change communication strategies to ones that actually can get a message across. Where do the science marchers go from here? I actually have some hope after this weekend.
I think the tone is changing and it could be the start of a new era of science appreciation. Often it takes a crisis to get people’s attention. And it takes passion to reach an audience and move them to action. This weekend was huge for Bill Nye. Not only was he the de facto leader of this march, and extremely effective at it, but his show premiered on Netflix on Friday. I watched two episodes so far and will talk about it when I see the rest but it was quite different. Bill is certainly passionate, which is excellent! But he’s also telling the truth, for which some people in today’s social climate are desperate to hear. We will also be hearing more stories about bad things happening in your town or state that can be directly tied to climate change. Droughts, floods, storms, sea level rises, diseases and invasive species threats. These things will become very real for more and more people. They aren’t going away. You can’t hold back the deluge with denial. I have no doubt that facts and reality will prevail in short order and acceptance of climate change will wash over the country. It’s already seeped into the Republican mindset. Industry has recognized it because they need to prepare for the inevitable economic effects.
The major point that can be used by science advocates is that nature doesn’t care about you. She just is. And we’d be incredibly stupid to deny the data, the clear evidence we find. Science results are universal, any one can use them. We should use them. They are the most reliable knowledge we can get.
In conclusion, I am buoyed by the fact that science is in the headlines, that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is on tour with a science show, and that Bill Nye has his own Netflix series. This is a good sign.