Politics & Policy

The Left Hijacks Science

Protesters march against repealing Obamacare in March (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
The ‘March for Science’ puts an intellectual gloss on yet another effort to mobilize elites against Trump and gain ground in the liberal culture wars.

This April 22nd won’t be your normal Earth Day. Since it was first celebrated in 1970, that date has been used to promote environmental causes. By now, the day has become a tame secular festival of tree hugging, and its long-established liberal tilt generates very little pushback. But in 2017, the centerpiece of the annual environmental jamboree will be a “March for Science” held in Washington, D.C., and reportedly in 500 other cities around the world. The organizers say their purpose is to promote a vision of science as a necessary “pillar of human freedom and prosperity.” But there’s no secret about the agenda pushed by the day’s organizers. It’s the latest in a series of events following up on the “Women’s March,” when liberals took to the streets the Saturday after Inauguration Day to vent their rage about the incoming Trump presidency.

As with that massive anti-Trump protest, the marchers this month can count on sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media. That means their efforts will be spun as an answer to right-wing philistines and ignoramuses now in office who “deny” accepted scientific wisdom about global warming. The deniers, the media claim, wish to ax necessary research funds and silence government bureaucrats from speaking out against environmental perils. But no matter where you stand on the issue of climate change and computer models designed to prove that human activity is the sole cause of warming, the April 22nd march is more of a threat to the cause of real science than it is to Trump’s prospects.

By tying the entire range of scientific endeavors to a partisan political movement, organizers are doing a great disservice to serious study. Attempting to create a link between the scientific method and the intellectual swamp known as “intersectionality” — which sees related systems of oppression harming women, Third World citizens, non-white people, LGBTs, and basically everyone on earth except white Western males — the march organizers are actually undermining support for serious thought about science.

Reducing all arguments about environmental policy to the simple question of whether one supports or “denies” science is a political trick of the Left. It’s possible to acknowledge that climate change happens and is an accepted part of our understanding of recorded history dating back to the time when Greenland was actually green — while at the same time having a healthy skepticism about computer models of global warming. And since the models have yet to prove accurate, such skepticism is, in fact, scientifically sound. One can bring the same skepticism to the wilder claims about the consequences of warming — such as those in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth — that have often been deliberately exaggerated to generate more support for environmentalist demands. The absurd notion that the East and West Coasts will be underwater in a generation or two if “science” is not heeded makes it much harder to take more measured warnings seriously.

But the March for Science isn’t really a serious undertaking, at least as far as science is concerned. The organizers may claim they’d like a dispassionate debate about the efforts of Scott Pruitt, as the new EPA head, to roll back regulations that conservatives believe harm the economy while having a marginal impact on the environment; March for Science may advocate more funding for the sciences. But such issues have been up for discussion in the past, and both Democrats and Republicans have sought to balance budgets by cutting funding for research that had no political constituency.

In truth, the march is less about science and more about mobilizing the educated classes against Trump. “Resist” — meaning “Resist Trump!” — is the byword. That’s why many liberal scientists are wary of the march: They know that identifying their discipline with a specific political cause will doom any effort to maintain a broad base of support for research funding. They may have fewer friends in the Trump administration than they did in Obama’s, but any chance of winning over the White House on a case-by-case basis ends if “science” comes to be seen as a Democratic cause rather than a bipartisan one.

One doesn’t have to be a pro-life activist to understand that the life-begins-at-conception idea is a basic truth rooted in science not religion.

If the anti-Trump tilt of the event isn’t enough of a tipoff, the effort to enlist scientists in the intersectional-style gender and sexual-preference cause is another clear sign that the march is only the latest liberal offensive in the ongoing culture wars. As The New York Times reports, many erstwhile supporters have attacked such language in the manifestos of the march’s organizers.

Enlisting scientific disciplines in the ranks of the anti-Trump “resistance” is risky enough, but there’s another fatal flaw to the idea that science is on the side of the Left. The same people who loudly insist that respect for science puts you in the enlightened liberal camp are the most flagrant deniers of science when it comes to the issue of abortion.

Medical studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (and even reported in the New York Times) have proven that babies, starting at 20 weeks, can survive outside the womb if given medical attention. But left-wing abortion-rights supporters continue to argue against any limits on late-term abortion, as if the objects of these procedures were mere clumps of cells and not human beings. A baby that’s been in the womb for 20 weeks is not yet human, they say — so it’s no surprise that they scoff outright at the notion that life begins at conception.

But one doesn’t have to be a pro-life activist to understand that the life-begins-at-conception idea is a basic truth rooted in science not religion. On abortion, it is the Left that denies proven scientific facts, not the Right. It is the Left that is politicizing science for political ends. But don’t expect any condemnation of that at the March for Science.

Some scientists may have personal misgivings about Trump or even disgust for his policies, but if they let themselves be drafted into a Democratic political protest, they will harm science itself and also damage their chances of persuading Republicans to back their efforts. Reasonable people can disagree about the levels of funding for research, and about how far we should go to reduce the impact of a changing climate, without turning the discussion into an all-or-nothing debate between “science” and non-science. Like the Women’s March and the more recent Women’s Strike on March 8, what will happen on April 22 is nothing more or less than the attempted hijacking of science by the radical Left. If it succeeds, both the academy and the cause of civil debate will be the worse for it.

— Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer to NRO.

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