Science’s March on Washington

Recently in the United States, legislation has been proposed in a number of states targeting the established science curricula in schools. The Senate of South Dakota approved a measure that “prohibits school boards from preventing teachers from questioning established scientific theories.” Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, has remarked that religious conservatives have slightly changed their tactics in their attempts to obstruct the teaching of the theory of evolution and climate change. “They’re no longer trying to ban teaching evolution. They’re no longer trying to balance teaching evolution. They’re now trying to belittle evolution,” says Branch. Instead of trying to replace the evolution theory with creationism or intelligent design, the bills would allow teachers to highlight its “strengths and weaknesses.” Although teachers will not be able to insert religious ideas into science class, in some states they will be able to interject on the validity of scientific consensus. Most recently however, President Trump has appointed creationist Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead a federal task force on on higher education policy reform. 

Similar bills are being presented in Oklahoma and Indiana. Since 2008, both Louisiana and Tennessee have passed similar measures to allow teachers to question evolution. All in all, the recent attacks on evolution represent a more moderate attempt to lead students away from a rational understanding of nature. Branch says, “attacks on the theory of evolution have come in waves over the last century. Legislators and school districts tried to ban the teaching of evolution in the 1920s.” Then in the 70s and 80s, measures were proposed to create counterpoints to evolution with the teaching of creation science and intelligent design.The new measures will also allow teachers to question whether humans are contributing to climate change. This is made worse by the fact that the Trump administration is expected to reverse course on policies addressing climate change. 10524182535_2b21a7a626_n

Perhaps just as worrying is the Trump administration’s unwillingness to collaborate with science organizations reaching out to work with it. “Matthew Scott, president of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution for Science, said he was dismayed that, during the transition, Trump’s team did not embrace input from the leaders of the scientific community.” He continued, “There doesn’t seem to be anyone responding to inquiries from these leaders of extremely important organizations of scientists… What’s happening is that scientists are being excluded, as far as we can tell, in advising the government and participating in the government even though there are many scientists who view it as an imperative to serve their country.” This may be an indication that the administration will be unreceptive to crucial future evidence regarding vaccine safety and climate change.

The administration has also abruptly changed policy with respect to federal agencies overseeing environmental and scientific policy. Officials instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agriculture and Interior Departments to stop communications with the public through news releases and social media. The EPA was instructed that “no social media will be going out” and that “incoming media requests will be carefully screened.” When asked about the matter, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “I don’t think it’s any surprise that when there’s an administration turnover that we’re going to review the policies.” Nevertheless, some are worried that the public may have restricted access to information about the environment and public health, especially if it runs counter to the Trump agenda.

In response, an idea was put forward, first on Reddit, for scientists to organize a “Scientists’ March on Washington.” Having been inspired by the Women’s March and the protests against the travel ban, the scientific community is planning its own march. After the initial idea, the event was organized on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Form. The Facebook page has just under 350,000 members. It was announced that it will take place on April 22, Earth Day. It is said to be a nonpartisan protest that “champions support and funding for science, science-based policy and diversity.” The event recognizes the primacy of evidence-based reasoning and policy-making, and seeks to put pressure on the new administration’s stance on climate change, energy policy, and other issues.