Ah, science. If you’re even loosely engaged in the wild and dark art that is politics these days, you know by now that “science,” as a word, has taken on an almost mystical meaning. “Science,” in many of its modern incantations, now serves as a form of code, as vague and fuzzy as a Wiccan chant. For a growing number of political activists, the meaning is simple: Science, you see, is a lively mix of standard progressive hobbyhorses, tossed wild-eyed and cranky into one cantankerous bag.
Witness the upcoming March for Science, scheduled for Saturday, April 22. This also happens to be Earth Day, which is nice enough — and hey, who could object to a good old-fashioned rah-rah session for science? I, for one, always welcome a refresher on string theory, or the confounding conflict between the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, or that long, troubling episode in our planet’s history when a few impertinent continents apparently traipsed all the way over to the other side of the globe and no one was there to panic about it.
Alas, this March for Science does not appear to be largely about science, or about people who know a great deal about science, or even about people who want to know a great deal about science. (It would be kind of fun, in fact, to quiz earnest potential attendees about the details of the scientific method, or whether Johannes Kepler should finally win that well-deserved Oscar.) Keeping up with today’s hottest trends, the March for Science has wrapped itself in identity politics, cranked up the oven to “scorch,” and potentially set things on track to unceremoniously collapse into one giant intersectional soufflé.
The troubles brewing within the March for Science surfaced in January, marked by a now-deleted official tweet: “Colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues.” Since then, the addled march has torn through four different diversity statements, shellacked by critics on both sides. (Harvard’s Steven Pinker bashed the march’s “anti-science PC/identity politics/hard-left rhetoric,” while others complained the statement didn’t go far enough.) The march’s latest set of “Diversity and Inclusion Principles,” when paired with its more shame-faced and apologetic sibling, the “Statement on Diversity and Inclusion,” tops out at over 1,000 words.
You might think that this amounts to a protest march protesting too much. But the hits keep coming. When Bill Nye, the children’s TV personality-turned-science-advocate, was announced as an honorary chair of the march last week, critics bemoaned his status as a white male. Oddly, no one seemed particularly riled up about the fact that Nye is not an actual “scientist” at all. “I was born a dorky white guy who became an engineer,” Nye told BuzzFeed, reportedly “baffled” at the brouhaha. “I’m playing the hand I was dealt. We can’t — this march can’t solve every problem at once.”
But “science,” at least according to the new dogma, can. Since the election of Donald Trump, a trendy new sign has popped up in yards across America: “In this house, we believe black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything.” People of various political leanings could talk for hours about some of the tenets of the sign — which specific “women’s rights” are we referring to, for instance? — but the “science is real” line confuses me every time.
What, after all, can it mean? Most likely, the line refers to anthropogenic climate change, and a beef with the Trump administration’s approach to that contentious issue. But if that’s the case, why not just have your sign say “Manmade climate change is real”? There’s clearly something else afoot, and it strikes deep into the heart of progressive politics today.
Of course science is real. Earnest scientists are busy sciencing it up, right now, all over the world. In some cases, as the BBC recently reported, they’re accidentally growing chickens with actual dinosaur faces, a terrifying activity that I sincerely hope they stop. But science is not a doctrine or a dogma. It’s a method — a method of questioning, gathering facts, developing hypotheses, and testing them to get a better understanding of the world.
But here’s the thing about science: Sometimes, it’s a method that reveals answers you’d rather not know. Science might, for instance, make you think about human life, and certain facts about human life, and specific policies that end human life. It might, in fact, turn a few of the most passionately held dogmas of the supposed “party of science” — and the progressive left — completely upside down.
But never mind. Today’s march for science is apparently for the science that affirms our priors. That, after all, is much more fun.
— Heather Wilhelm is a National Review columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist