Monday, March 13, 2017

March for Science

Which of the following is the best definition for science?
  1. A process for determining objective truth
  2. Learning or contributing to a field of study
  3. A passion or a virtue
  4. Policy advocacy
  5. A group of people that needs more funding
A March for Science is being planned to take place next month in Washington D.C. and some other cities. Which definitions of science are they using? In the spirit of science, we'll investigate in a quasi-scientific manner.


Which definition of science is the March for Science promoting?


The marches are primarily about virtue signaling, social / political advocacy, and funding demands. Improving scientific literacy and incorporating the scientific process into public discourse and policy making are secondary considerations, at best.


Let's use their own promotional verbiage as our source of evidence. Each time their language seems to promote one of the definitions of science, we'll give it a point, and add up the points at the end. We'll map the following types of verbiage to relevant definitions for science:
  1. Promoting use and literacy of the scientific process
  2. Promoting general learning or education
  3. Virtue signaling, appeals to emotion, or promoting a political agenda unrelated to objective scientific inquiry
  4. Promoting policy or influence on policy
  5. Advocating for increased benefits to a particular group


First looking at the homepage for the march.
The March for Science demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists.
Points: 3, 4, & 5
We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength.
This is just standard liberal rhetoric. Diversity is an orthogonal issue to scientific progress. Points: 4
The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter.
Points: 4
What unites us is a love of science
Points: 3
Science is often an arduous process
A reference to the scientific process!! Points: 1 :)
Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with Marches for Science world-wide and a teach-in at the National Mall.
Points: 2

Moving on to the Our Mission section.
The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.
Points: 5
[We call for] policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.
This is not a plea for introducing science into policy making but introducing conclusions of the scientific community into policy making. Points: 4
New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings.
Points: 4, 5
At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers.  It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.
Points: 1,4
... a small step in the process toward encouraging the application of science in policy.
So the scientific process in this context is the process towards achieving the preferred public policy. Points: 4
The best way to ensure science will influence policy is to encourage people to appreciate and engage with science. That can only happen through education, communication, and ties of mutual respect between scientists and their communities.
Points: 2, 4

Moving on to the Principles and Goals section.
Scientists work to build a better understanding of the world around us. Science is a process, not a product -- a tool of discovery that allows us to constantly expand and revise our knowledge of the universe. In doing so, science serves the interests of all humans, not just those in power.  We recognize that inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in science are critical to ensure that science reaches its potential to serve all communities. We must protect the rights of every person to engage with, learn from, and help shape science, free from manipulation by special interests. 
Points: 1,  3
Political decision-making that impacts the lives of Americans and the world at large should make use of peer-reviewed evidence and scientific consensus.
Points: 4
We support science education that teaches children and adults to think critically, ask questions, and evaluate truth based on the weight of evidence. Science is not a field that should be understood only by a small few -- every person, from every background, deserves an education that encourages scientific learning alongside the arts and humanities.  Science works best when scientists come from diverse perspectives, and we must work to encourage and support a new generation of scientists that reflects that.
 Points: 1, 3
Our scientific community is best served by including voices and contributions from people of all identities and backgrounds...
 Points: 3
De-funding and hiring freezes in the sciences are against any country’s best interests. We believe that the federal budget should reflect the powerful and vital role that science plays in supporting our democracy. We advocate federal funding in support of research, scientific hiring, and agency application of science to management. This funding cannot be limited to a few fields or specific demographics -- scientific support must be inclusive of diverse disciplines and communities.
Points: 3, 5
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.
Points: 3
We strive to break down barriers in our own community...we voice our support for science and its benefits to be freely available to people of all countries and backgrounds.
Points: 3
We pledge to speak up for [scientists] when they are silenced, to protect them when they are threatened and to provide them with support when they feel they can no longer serve their institutions.
Points: 5

The section called Diversity Principles includes several paragraphs about diversity. In order to not heavily skew the results by counting each instance or paragraph as a separate point (as has been done so far) we'll just analyze the actions steps at the bottom.
  1. We commit to educating ourselves and others about the issues of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in science.
  2. We support and encourage the challenging conversations that follow.
  3. We pledge to amplify the work of underrepresented scientists and to address concerns and critiques as we work together to make scientific spaces more equitable.
  4. We stand behind our policies on accessibility, harassment, and nonviolence.
  5. We advocate for the policies enabling equal access to science education, careers in science, and the benefits of science.
Points: 3, 3, 3

From the section After the March.
We believe science education and activism is the key to influencing policy change.
Points: 4


The tally results are as follows.

Promoting use and literacy of the scientific process: 3

Promoting general learning or education: 2

Virtue signaling, appeals to emotion, or promoting a political agenda unrelated to objective scientific inquiry: 11

Promoting policy: 9

Advocating for increased benefits to a particular group: 5

The promoters use language to describe science as a method for discovering truth 3 times. They used language promoting general education, virtues (liberal virtues in particular), policy advocacy, and benefits to the scientific community a total of 27 times, even after minimizing the virtue promotions of the Diversity Principles section.

The conclusion is that the hypothesis seems to be confirmed. Promoting science as a process of truth finding is much lower than other considerations. More references are made to virtues of the left, such as diversity, than any other category.

Some people believe the March for Science is mostly about promoting a social and political agenda. The defenders of the march would, one can assume, claim the march is honest advocacy for science. An analysis of the organizers' own promotional material does not support that defense. They reference social values 4 times as often as scientific values, and that is after I ignored quite a few of the former in the tallies. I suspect that a word count analysis would indicate an even greater discrepancy.

Note that the approach is not purely scientific. For one, it is not an objective inquiry. We cannot prove the intentions of the organizers, only do our best to provide compelling arguments. And this analysis is just an argument: a claim backed by evidence. To be a scientific fact would require the use of reproducible experimentation. Performing a study does not necessarily equate to engaging in science.

One might take some issue with counting the reference to policy-making since it is stated as the main objective of the marches. Such a stance does not change the overall conclusions of the numerical analysis, and confesses that the march is misnamed. If that were the case, it should be called March for Promoting the Preferred Policies of the Scientific Community.

No comments:

Post a Comment