Over the weekend, I was enjoying a holiday lunch with some family members when I mentioned in passing that I would not be available this Saturday because I was going to be attending the March for Science in Washington, D.C. with my wife and some friends. One of my relatives overheard my comment and asked a simple question.
"March for science? What does that mean?"
It was a legitimate question that was asked sincerely, and it was also one I was completely unable to answer. Not because I didn't know what I was marching for or why I was interested in advocating for this particular cause, but because it's a question that is deceptively complex. I couldn't just say "because science is good" without sounding like an utter moron, nor did I have any interest in hijacking a pleasant family gathering with an in-depth commentary on the politicization of science, science denial, and so on. And yet it was a completely fair question, and my inability to give a concise yet understandable explanation bothered me.
Because let's face it, "science" is one hell of a broad concept. Most political marches that revolve around a theme are pretty easy to summarize. This past weekend's wildly successful Tax March was organized to bring attention to the fact that Donald Trump had not released his tax returns or divested from his businesses. The upcoming People's Climate March (on April 29th) and Immigrant March (on May 6th) will focus, unsurprisingly, on the issues of climate change and immigrant rights.
But marching for science? That's not quite as simple. And yet hundreds of thousands of scientists and science advocates are expected to turn out in Washington and around the globe this Saturday. Why?
I can't speak for all of them, but here's why I'll be marching.
I consider myself to be a pretty rational person. I'm not superstitious or religious, and I try to look at all sides of an issue before coming to a conclusion. I firmly believe in facts, not faith, and I always aim to act based on what I know to be real and not on hearsay and rumor.
Am I always successful? Absolutely not. I have my biases, just like anyone else, and while I try to be aware of them, I won't lie and say that I don't fall prey to them at times. But I do honestly believe that Carl Sagan said it best: "For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
And yet we live in a world where so many people grasp onto delusion at the expense of the universe as it really is. And when politicians and public figures are doing the grasping, the results can be catastrophic.
That is how we end up with a president who called climate change a Chinese hoax and a voting public which broadly denies the human-driven nature of the problem despite the fact that every major scientific agency in the United States and around the world has concluded time and again that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and we are running out of time to stop it.
This is how we end up with a president trumpeting "clean coal" technology and rolling back important environmental regulations regarding coal power despite the fact that "clean coal" technology is not currently a real thing and may never be a real thing.
This is how we end up with a population in which around 40% of Americans believe human beings came into existence in this exact form despite the fact the evolution has been proven time and again, at every level, for over a century. (And while I have no problem with people adhering to their own personal religious beliefs regarding creation and evolution, you'd better believe I have a serious issue with creationists trying to get those faith-based beliefs into science textbooks).
I could go on and on. And I want to stress that this is not just a Donald Trump issue, nor is it solely a Republican issue. For every conservative bringing a snowball into Congress as a way to "prove" that climate change isn't occurring, there's a liberal ranting about the dangers of vaccines (even though there is no proof whatsoever that vaccinations cause autism or have similar negative impacts). For every Republican future vice president who says that condoms are "very, very poor protection against sexually-transmitted diseases," there's a former Democratic president signing a bill requiring that GMO foods be labeled (despite the consensus that there is no danger at all in consuming GMO products).
As a people, we all need to accept that scientific facts will often contradict our views and our beliefs. When this happens, ignoring the facts, smearing the science, and attacking the messengers do so much more harm that good. And so when I march this weekend, I will be marching to show that I support reason, critical thinking, and the scientific method that shows us the universe, as Sagan put it, "as it really is."