The actions of the Trump Administration this past week have forced scientists to take on a new, unfamiliar role in the world: protesters. The March for Science has already attracted nearly 750,000 followers after a series of hostile executive actions from the White House that include freezing all grants at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), scrubbing any mention of climate change from the White House website, and instituting a gag order on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Witnessing researchers come out of the woodwork and take a bold stand against Trump has left me feeling both hopeful and skeptical. On the one hand, it seems that Trump has served as an important wake up call to scientists, who have mostly asserted that their science should stay out of politics. On the other hand, I have already seen littered across the Facebook pages and comment threads insistence that the politics of the March be ‘free from identity politics,’ nonpartisan, and apolitical.
When was the last time a protest tried to claim it was not political? It is because of the inherently political nature of science that it is under attack. If research about climate change – and its ever-growing list of downstream effects – didn’t directly threaten the fossil fuels industry, you would be sure they would not be a target of Trump’s vitriol. The EPA and USDA are federal agencies with broad regulatory powers, with Cabinet members appointed by the President. Sounds pretty political to me. And yet scientists seem to continue to cling to a fantasy that their work is devoid of political implications while simultaneously taking political action.
And like with the Women’s March, so far it looks like the March for Science is only paying lip service to diversity, without any real commitment to center the experiences of women, people of color, and queer folks. They want folks to rally behind a banner of unity, without addressing the painful history of the way science has been weaponized against poor folks and people of color (see: Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, and eugenics among others), or the fact that science is a field that is still largely dominated by white men. In order for the March for Science to be as impactful as possible, it needs to look both outwards at the terrifying rise of anti-intellectualism, as well as inwards at the uncomfortable racist and sexist origins of science that continue to persist today.