Scholars in the fields of biology, ethics, environment, and economics attacked the upcoming “March for Science,” scheduled for Earth Day this coming Saturday, as a threat to the public appreciation of science. They argued that a politicization of science following the rhetoric of the “Women’s March” against President Donald Trump would be disastrous.
“When they behave like partisan hacks in the name of science, they politicize science and undermine trust in science,” Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), declared at a Heritage Foundation event on Wednesday. “When you use your expertise as a license to regulate others and tax others … ordinary people are going to get very skeptical, not only about your expertise but about your motives.”
The “March for Science” started as a form of opposition to President Donald Trump, whom many have accused of launching a “war on science.” The march’s original statement declared “certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives” such as “the Earth is becoming warmer due to human action,” and “the diversity of life arose by evolution.”
In other words, the march is promoting the “consensus” around climate change and evolution, two developing areas of science in which there is actually good evidence and debate on both sides. While the organization’s website has since minimized these hot-button political issues, it is likely activists will wave signs attacking climate and evolution “deniers.”
Lewis focused on the issue of climate change and the tactic of stifling debate by labeling skeptics “climate deniers.” He noted that when an atmospheric scientist, John Christy, presented evidence of “an increasing divergence” between climate models predicting “more and more warming and the data showing less and less,” this testimony was dismissed as “antiscientific climate denialism.”
Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), wrote a letter of protest to Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, declaring that “to suggest that humans are not responsible for most of the warming we have experienced over the past 50 years indicates a disregard for the scientific process” (emphasis added).
Lewis argued that Christy was following the scientific method, while Seitter was just “making an appeal to authority which is not a scientific argument at all.”
Indeed, this attempt to stifle disagreement seems reminiscent of the push to use RICO laws to investigate climate skeptics. Senate Democrats led a “web of denial” inquisition last year, aimed at stifling debate on these issues.
“This is an attempt now to silence and chill speech through the threat of litigation and prosecution,” Lewis explained. He warned that this kind of politicizing of science delegitimizes the public view of science as neutral and focused on truth rather than an agenda.
“No government agency, once it gets on this gravy train, wants the science to find out that the problem is not as alarming as it was thought to be,” he explained.
Wesley Smith, chair of the Center for Human Exceptionalism at the Discovery Institute, agreed. He warned that, in light of the March for Science, “some people are going to turn away from science itself as a positive good.”
Smith warned against ways that science can lose its rightful authority in society. “Science” can be conflated with ethics or morality, “so if somebody takes a different ethical position than the ‘science’ advocate, that person is labeled ‘anti-science.'” Such labels are also used to shut down legitimate debate, hampering the progress of science. Activists can use a so-called consensus “to stifle exploration of legitimate heterodox hypotheses.”
The ethics scholar pointed out many ways in which science is actually conflated with ethics and politics. For instance, “granting rights for whales and dolphins is not a question of science but philosophy and politics.”
Smith also emphasized times when supposed science advocates have supported patently absurd ideas, tarnishing the reputation of science. “The New York Times, which frequently castigates people who challenge the ‘consensus’ on global warming or Darwinistic evolution, published a person saying peas are persons,” the ethics scholar argued.
He noted the Obama administration’s decision to reject a road from King Cove, Alaska, to a nearby airport, which Alaskan officials argued could have saved at least 19 lives over the past three decades. But the Obama administration denied the project, arguing that the wildlife in the area was more important.
Smith also pointed out that the Swiss constitution now ascribes “dignity” to plants. He further mentioned activists who organize to tear up genetically modified wheat and the recent efforts in New Zealand and India to declare rivers to be persons and give them human-type rights.
Finally, the ethics scholar unmasked some environmentalism as “so radical that it says human beings are a cancer on the planet.” He argued that this ideology is dangerous to environmentalism itself. “How many people are going to follow a flag that says humans are cancer? I’m not.”
A proper care for the environment is clearly possible without such anti-humanism, Smith explained. “We protected Yellowstone very well and we didn’t say that Old Faithful geyser is a person,” he quipped.
Stephen Meyer, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, traced such wacky ideas to philosophies based on Darwinism. “The radical animal rights movement, the denial of human exceptionalism, is a logical consequence of a deeper view that there is no qualitative difference between humans and animals because both were produced by the same process of unguided, undirected, materialistic evolution,” Meyer said.
He listed three scientific ideologies from the 1800s that hold massive influence in modern academia: Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism, which “essentially replaced the Judeo-Christian foundation of the West.” He traced these ideas to the March for Science, and argued that the scientific foundations of these philosophies are crumbling — that “there are good reasons to doubt all of those theories.”
Meyer, who wrote the book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, cited the Royal Society meeting in London last November, where biologists reportedly concluded that the “neodarwinian” theory of evolution through natural selection and random mutation has failed and needs to be replaced.
“Many scientists now say that mechanism explains the survival, but not the arrival, of the fittest,” Meyer said. The problem, in layman’s terms, is that DNA provides the code for life, and it is similar to computer code. “If you want to give your computer a new function, you have to provide new code,” Meyer explained. “New form and new function requires new information in biology,” and random mutations cannot explain new developments.
If Darwinism crumbles, then the 19th century foundation behind the new liberal “scientific” movements falls away, and thinkers will have to return to the Judeo-Christian roots of Western morality.
“So what we’re looking to achieve is a shift in worldview by challenging the alleged scientific foundations of that larger worldview which is giving rise to some of these really extreme political and social ideologies,” Meyer concluded.
Jay Richards, assistant research professor at the Catholic University of America (CUA), warned that the atmosphere of forced consensus and tying science to politics might inspire “a general skepticism of science in general,” a situation he described as “catastrophic.”
Richards presented a list of “warning signs” as to when a normal layperson should “doubt a scientific ‘consensus.'” He emphasized that consensus can be based on solid evidence and logic or it can be based on groupthink.
Historically, scientists have followed a herd instinct, coming to a consensus supporting false ideas. But at the same time, science is a legitimate pursuit of truth, and people should avoid listening to “cranks and conspiracy theorists” who think “it’s all hokum.”
So Richards suggested twelve things to watch out for. These warning signs included different ideas lumped together (for instance, climate science and environmental policy), ad hominem attacks (such as “denier!”) becoming a common tactic to silence dissent, and frequent use of phrases like “scientists say” (to which a person should respond, “which scientists say?”).
One of the biggest warning signs, ironically enough, is “when we keep being told there’s a consensus.” Richards demonstrated this point humorously:
Have you ever heard of this consensus that hydrogen is lighter than helium? That the Earth rotates around the Sun? Or that bacteria sometimes cause sickness?
No, you don’t. You never hear that. Why? You don’t need to, there’s absolutely no rhetorical force to it.
These points illustrated the “rhetorical use of consensus” — which often involves silencing legitimate debate in pursuit of some goal other than reaching the truth.
Not only do political stunts like the “March for Science” politicize the discipline of studying nature, they also arguably undercut the very process by which science operates — open debate about how to interpret the evidence. When tied to absurd causes like giving legal rights to rivers and asking if peas should be considered persons, they further tarnish science’s reputation.
For these and more reasons, these scholars are attacking the “March for Science” in the name of science, and they are right to do so.