I saw the problems emerging from the day the March for Science was announced — only it wasn’t weird outsiders who were dissenting, it was a small group of prominent white male scientists who immediately started griping about “identity politics”. There was also a tendency for people who had embraced certain myths about science to try to find shelter behind the idea that science, and the science march, would be “apolitical”. How naive can you be? You’re organizing a march on Washington, DC, in the long tradition of other marches for civil rights, and it was motived by the need to protest the destructive policies of a recently-elected politician? Give me a break. This is a political action, and what muddles it isn’t the multiplicity of causes that drive it, but the foolish people who try to pretend they can organize such an event without it being political.
Since the march was announced in January 2017, the organisers in the central committee of Washington DC have struggled to respond to issues of diversity. From inadequately addressing inclusion and accessibility, to reproducing discourses of inequality, March for Science has problematically promoted the idea that the march is not a political protest. (It has only been in recent days that the organisers have attempted to address this; but it had not happened at the time of the events with the Los Angeles march.)
The discourse that a march is “not political” is, in fact, very much the outcome of political dynamics. Only people from dominant groups, especially White people, can claim that science is free from politics. It isn’t – as I show with research, further below.
This narrative that science is not political has impacted dialogue about the march: what it stands for (interests of White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people); who it doesn’t stand for (everyone else, especially people of colour and disabled scientists); and who is erased from the conversation altogether (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual LGBTQIA people).
This should not have been allowed to build to this level of chaos and concern. There should have been a forthright declaration from the very beginning that this was a march by scientists to protest the anti-scientific bullshit coming out of the current administration, to show that scientists have a strong commitment to the truth. It should be about a great many causes driving us to speak out: the destruction of the environment, the need for better support to combat emerging diseases, the maintenance of safety standards for food and drugs, changes in energy to reduce CO2 emissions, keeping our oceans healthy, etc., etc., etc., a thousand factors that our government wants to ignore or oppose. But it must also include improving diversity in science, providing good education to all people, not just the wealthy ones, and breaking down barriers to women and minorities entering science…all those things that certain people call “identity politics” because it makes them uncomfortable.
The “alt-right” have had a presence in the American science establishment for a long, long time. Remember, the Nazis were inspired by American eugenics, which was not just grassroots racism, but endorsed at the highest levels of academe.
Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed “unfit,” preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in “colonies,” and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.
California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the Twentieth Century’s first decades, California’s eugenicists included potent but little known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate and Polytechnic benefactor Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, as well as members of the California State Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.
Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America’s most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics’ racist aims.
Yet now some want to declare science “apolitical”, and it’s because they dislike the idea that the values of non-white people might taint the purity of their theories about race.
I’m planning to join in the march, but it sure as hell isn’t because I have deluded myself into thinking science is non-political.