The foray into activism and politics is a tough one for some scientists. And although the organizers have taken pains to note the march is nonpartisan, concern that the focus will become political has sparked some controversy and debate among scientists.One of the things that I have anecdotally noticed in the thirty some years that I have been associated with science in one way, shape or form, is that people have a tendency to develop their socio-cultural viewpoints irrespective of the science that they practice. For example, I have never seen science turn a Christian into an atheist, or vice versa. Richard Dawkins once wrote that evolution allowed him to “...be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In other words, he was already an atheist. He was just now using evolution as a cover to justify it. Given that I know other people that view evolution as displaying the glory of God, the argument that one is tied to the other is somewhat suspect.
Many supporters of the march note that science is already political, and that ignoring its importance to policy is disingenuous. The march is needed, they say, due to the increased attacks on science, threats to slash funding for research, and lack of understanding of what scientists do.
But critics worry that despite all the declarations that the march is “non-partisan,” it will be viewed by many Americans as anti-Trump and anti-Republican, and that it will only increase the partisan divide and cement the impression in some people’s minds that scientists are driven by ideology rather than evidence.
“I worry there will be people there carrying signs that have incendiary messages, and it’s that one percent that will become the meme for the conservative blogosphere,” says Robert Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University. He cringes imagining rural America’s reaction to, say, a sign saying “Make America smart again.”
One thing is certain: there are already quite a few people out there that have watched the democratic party and its associated left-leaning groups implode after the election and thought to themselves “Good thing I voted for Trump.” The very same thing could happen here if the March for Science is hijacked by leftist groups. It could very well result in Trump and his advisors thinking that, why yes, it would be perfectly appropriate to start cutting these budgets.
The organizers have a golden moment on their hands. If they can show the world that the scientific endeavor is benefiting all of humanity in noticeable, tangible ways, then it will have done its job. If it descends into Trump-bashing and elitism, then expect that the general public's support for science, which is already at an all-time low, will continue to erode and, yes, expect budgetary cuts.