Why I'm Marching for Science in Seattle (despite the risk)
David Montgomery, a science professor and MacArthur Genius award winner at the University of Washington, told KUOW why he's marching for science on Saturday.
KUOW: Some scientists say they support the goals of this march, but not the tactic, because they see a risk in further politicizing science. Why are you marching, despite that possible risk?
David Montgomery: There's an individual risk to scientists in terms of being labeled an advocate — someone who's pushing for a particular policy point. And that's where I think being clear that you're arguing as an individual and a well-informed individual citizen.
I think there's also a risk not just to an individual but to society at large if scientists don't stand up and say: Based on how I understand the system I think we should do X.
If science starts to be viewed as a politicized activity, then support for it is going to fall out along political lines. And since the Second World War this country has made tremendous advances by essentially supporting science as a nonpolitical endeavor. That we'll figure out the way things work and then the politics will argue about what to do about it.
KUOW: Are you saying part of the goal in the March for Science is to return to where science is less politicized?
David Montgomery: Science is a process about figuring out the way the world works. Scientists have always been politicized: The choice of what you work on, which field you go into. It's hard to separate all that from your worldview, which is going to roll up your politics at one level or another.
The beautiful thing about science as a process is that it's quite independent of the politics that any one individual is engaged in. The goal is to uncover the truth. And the process is to eviscerate each other's arguments and test each other's data and try and come up with better ideas. The good ideas tend to stand the test of time. And that's the part of science that has been a tremendous service for this country in the world.
My big worry is that we could be walking away from that when knowledge starts to be discounted, and that the only acceptable science is viewed through a political lens. That's the part I'm really concerned about.
KUOW: How does society get back to that older view of science as not political?
David Montgomery: I think it's actually very sad that we've gotten to the point where we have to worry about that — it's a complete reversal of the social relationship with science that we tended to embrace in this country in the past few decades.
I would like to get back to a world where we can agree that there is an objective reality that we can study and that we can assess. We can argue about how to interpret it. We can argue about what to do about it, but not the underlying facts.
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