Why I am Marching in the March for Science
Science is flawed, the March is flawed, but I am marching anyway
Posted Apr 17, 2017
I am planning to march in the March for Science (the satellite march in NYC).
I am doing so despite having deep reservations about the modern state of science and the march itself. As followers of this blog know, here and elsewhere, I routinely blog about the flaws, errors, and biases in social psychology. The field is plagued by failed replications, overclaiming, questionable research practices, political biases, status biases, confirmation biases, and more. The problems are sufficiently severe that:
1. Some of my field’s most cherished phenomena – stereotype inaccuracy, self-fulfilling prophecies, stereotype threat, power posing, ego depletion, and many more – are, at best, overstated and misrepresented, and, at worst, almost completely bogus.
2. It is very hard to know just which social psychological phenomena are truly valid and which are not.
I also have reservations about the march itself, which has unabashedly embraced the rhetoric of the too often illiberal social justice warrior left. “What,” you ask, “is wrong with embracing social justice?” Nothing, inherently. But science can either accept the goal of finding out things that are actually true (regardless of whose interests they advance) or it can focus on the goal of equal outcomes for groups held sacred by the left. To be sure, scientists should not be in the business of engaging in discrimination, but this does not mean that social justice is an inherent feature of most scientific activities. And the two can conflict when the science produces results that social justice advocates do not like.
The March itself has been plagued by controversies reflecting exactly the type of political passions that I think are generally quite toxic to science. Like, you might think that a March for Science would focus on … wait for it … science, right? And perhaps it will. But you can find these statements on the March for Science Website (under "mission and vision" and "diversity"):
“Our scientific community is best served by including voices and contributions from people of all identities and backgrounds. A lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM thwarts scientific advancements by influencing not only who performs research, but the questions we seek to answer, who participates in studies, and, critically, what communities benefit from the innovations and services that science provides. We commit to promoting diversity and inclusion in science to build robust and resilient communities for the benefit of all people.”
“Science is first and foremost a human process -- it is conducted, applied, and supported by a diverse body of people. Scientific inquiry is not an abstract process that happens independent of culture and community. It is an enterprise carried out by people who seek to expand our knowledge of the world in the hope of building a better, more informed society. Our wealth of personal experiences and perspectives is our greatest strength. In putting the people who do science at the forefront of this discussion, we can show that scientists come from all cultural backgrounds, belief systems, orientations, genders, and abilities.”
“A lack of diversity in science hampers the research we do, the answers we seek, and our ability to serve our communities. Science can ably and accurately inform the decision-making of all people, from the choices we make as consumers to the policies we adopt through public debate. It can only do so, however, if we value the voices of all members of our global community.”
“Inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility are central to the mission and principles of the March for Science. Scientists and people who care about science are an intersectional group, embodying a diverse range of races, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, religions, ages, socioeconomic and immigration statuses. We, the march organizers, represent and stand in solidarity with historically underrepresented scientists and science advocates.”
There is more like this, but I suspect you get the point. In this blog entry, I will not debate any of these claims on their merits. I only point out that this obsession with “diversity” and “inclusion” has very little to do with science as the systematic and preferably relatively dispassionate search for knowledge, and a great deal to do with the social justice agendas of the left. These statements use dogwhistle terms to which radical academic leftists and social justice warriors will deeply resonate. Conservative and libertarian scientists, I suspect, not so much. The subterranean ideological message is divisive and undermines the value and credibility of the March. Its overweaning political correctness is no small part of what drove many reasonable people to reject the left’s relentless focus on privilege and oppression and to support Trump.
SO WHY THE HELL AM I JOINING THE MARCH FOR SCIENCE?
I am marching despite acknowledging both the deep flaws and limitations to the modern practice of science.
I am marching despite my deep reservations about the overly politicized nature of the diversity rhetoric of the March organizers.
I am marching despite the fact that a recent essay correctly and thoughtfully cited several blogs and papers of mine in support of its argument that social scientists should not march.
I am marching for two reasons:
1. Science, despite its very real and serious flaws, remains generally better than most other ways of figuring almost anything out. And, even when it is not "generally better" it usually can be conducted in such a way as to add to our understanding of some problem or phenomenon beyond other ways of understanding.
2. Science in particular, and facts in general, are clearly under siege from numerous sources, including but not restricted to the current presidential administration. Standing up for the importance of facts, and for science's role in distinguishing what the facts actually are, seems pretty important -- despite science's imperfections at doing so. In fact, I would go further – standing up for actual facts, rather than either the “alternative facts” promoted by the current administration OR science’s own “alternative facts” (which it generates by cherrypicking, political biases, and questionable statistical, methodological, and interpretive practices) – is important to both society and science itself.
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