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Marching for Evidence?

Imagine yourself as a graduate student doing research in one of the natural sciences. You’ve come up with a new hypothesis to explain your observations, and your PhD advisor asks how you’re going to test it. “What methods will you use to get the evidence you need?” she asks. “Well,” you say, “I plan to go to Washington, DC, and march down Constitution Avenue with a sign saying ‘I’m a Force for Science.’”

Ridiculous? Of course. And it doesn’t take a scientist to see it.

Yet that’s allegedly what happened yesterday, Saturday, April 14, in the annual March for Science. Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), wrote in a Scientific American blog that it was really a “march for evidence.” Accompanying the blog was the smiling face of TV personality Bill Nye, The Science Guy. According to Holt, the marchers “are frustrated by public decisions based on ideology or wishful thinking rather than verified evidence.”

Looking back to the previous year, Holt reported that “signs, speeches, and chants at the 2017 March for Science demonstrated concerns about climate change [and] reduced environmental regulations,” among other things.

Yet anyone who bothers to read beyond the media headlines about manmade global warming knows that the so-called “scientific consensus” is just a fleeting opinion poll. Scientific truth is not determined by a vote, and the history of science clearly demonstrates that one generation’s scientific consensus can become the next generation’s laughingstock. The consensus is often driven at least as much by “ideology or wishful thinking” as it is by “verified evidence.”

Instead of engaging the evidence critically, manmade global warming militants dismiss those who disagree with them as “denialists.” The AAAS itself has become increasingly strident, “rephrasing our motto [according to Holt] from ‘the voice for science’ to ‘the force for science.’”

I’m not a climate scientist, and I’m not taking a position on the evidence for or against manmade global warming. But I know a legitimate scientific controversy when I see one. And as a biologist who has been labeled a “denialist” for pointing out that the so-called “overwhelming evidence” for Darwinian evolution is greatly exaggerated, I am familiar with the bully tactics of the “scientific consensus.”

What Holt calls the “march for evidence” is just another one of those bully tactics. People don’t march for evidence. They march for politics.

Last year, a week after the March for Science, the “People’s Climate Movement” staged another march for a grab bag of leftist causes. According to the movement’s manifesto,“We’re resisting: marching by the hundreds of thousands across the country. We’re building: strengthening relationships across and within movements. And we’re rising: young people rallying around leaders pledging to cut emissions, union workers and faith leaders creating sanctuaries for immigrants under attack, and citizens calling out bigotry wherever it’s found.”

Sound familiar?

It sure sounds familiar to me, as a former 1960s Berkeley antiwar activist. And it’s rhetoric that has nothing to do with evidence-based science.

Later this year, the “People’s Climate Movement” will be targeting the U.S. midterm elections. Specifically, the movement pledgesto “fill the streets from Miami to Minneapolis and Augusta to Anaheim with people demanding action and accountability on climate, jobs, and justice.”

So much for “marching for evidence.”

Photo: March for Science, by Master Steve Rapport [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.