Saturday, April 22, 2017

The half empty March for Science is Co-opted

I don't just love science. It is my hobby, my daily occupation, my endless search for truth. My love for science is only second to that for my family.

Science is not a collection of axioms, knowledge, conclusions, hypothesis and theories for me. It is a model that I improve as I observe the universe through my senses, and that I constantly put through tests, revisions and modifications.

Science is this mindset that helped me moved on from religion to science at age 13. Later on in life, it helped me go through a bachelors in Computer engineering and Chemistry, a PhD in Applied Mathematics and Statistics to computational biology, and a one year postdoc in genetics.

It is this same restless search for a more accurate understanding of the world that has made me change political affiliations since I arrived from Colombia at the age of 18. I went from Democrat to Republican to Independent as my exposure to the culture, language and the American political landscape increased over 26 years. Such pragmatism led me to vote for the ultimate outsider in american politics, Donald J. Trump. The reasons are complex and not without careful consideration, very much unlike the ideological certainty that traps many of his opponents on both political parties.

I have felt the disdain of both religious conservatives and  secular liberals thanks to my non ideological, unaligned set of views both in science and politics. I sometimes wish I could delegate my views to some celebrity scientist out there whom I would stand behind on every issue, but that is intellectually lazy. I do not fit anyone's mold. I always find edges of disagreement and difference of opinions with other scientists.

This introduction helps me explain why I do not feel compelled to attend the march for science. It is not what scientists do in my opinion. I imagine a march for science to have two groups walking in parallel from each other on different issues, or even walking towards each other in a peaceful collision course. That is science to me, not the seemingly agreeable march in opposition to the incarnation of the boogieman or no one really at all.

Something even more profound keeps me from marching for science. The march is co-opted by people with different agendas. It takes place the same day as Earth day 2017. I think both earth and science would deserve their own march. And if everyone in the march were to be granted an exclusive day to march for their own agenda, the march would break down into a very large number of little picket lines with little in common. Those little marches would have to take place in Pluto to fit that many different opinions in the calendar year. Science is then use as the secondary concept to join a very diverse group of individuals who care more for other subjects that are only marginally associate to science. The march is effectively co-opted.

Different opinions in a march for science should resemble a non interacting ideal gas with only fortuitous rigid collisions that change the direction of atoms in a classical way. In this analogy, atoms represent individuals, and classical ideal gases represent intuitive, free and unbiased thinking. If all atoms in an ideal gas are ever to be found in one side of its containing adiabatic box (a box without outside influences) while the other half is empty, then this possible---but cosmologically rare event---would resemble tomorrows march for science.

How can most people be on only one side of the ideological spectrum while claiming to be pro science in this march? Don't they realize that their claim of the truth in science intimidates dissenting scientist who make the other half of the 'box' paradoxically and conspicuously empty?

Such abnormal distributions of individuals' scientific views would remain paradoxical even if 97% of scientists remain in one half of the box and the other half of the box contains only 3%. Aberrations like this one happens when science supporters are classified with a sort of ideological litmus test or binary choice.

More specifically, the following are some of the points that will make me stay home the day of the march for science.
  1. Previous marches like this one are full of hateful signs that wrongly associate supporters of certain policies and politicians with racism, xenophobia and whatnot. The generalizations are wrong, intimidating and evidently hateful. Those they claim to be hateful show no signs of hate like those in this marches. The few marchers who hold this signs ruin it for me. It is simply upsetting.
  2. The anti science narrative only have a weak foundation on government budget cuts to science. The national debt was doubled in the last eight years. We should blame irresponsible spenders, not fiscal hawks, for making science funding unsustainable.
  3. I am considered a 'denier' of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. The term 'denier' implies the existence of 'believers', aka the consensus. The perennial conflict of science with religious beliefs in the past makes the term 'denier' a very poor word choice when applied to dissenting scientist by self proclaimed pro science individuals.
  4. I live in the bay area, and I have the persistent fear that I am outed as a Tump supporter, and people will attack me . If I go to the march it would be with my daughter. After seeing anarchists at Berkeley silencing and attacking people, I cannot conceive putting my daughter in such situation. Even if someone tells me the chances for that are close to cosmologically rare. I would say nope; I will not attend with my daughter.
  5. I am running the San Francisco Marathon to raise funds for a non profit science project. As part of my training, I am running half a marathon the morning of the same day of the march for science. It is just my way of caring for science: no talk, just action. I will probably be in bed during the march.
The non profit project I am working for is called Open-insulin (Link to fundraising page).  I hope that the readers that find this blog somewhat interesting donate to this truly pro-science good cause. The project is ran by volunteer scientists who want to discover a new recipe that would lower the price of insulin and increase its availability to diabetes patients. The recipe would be given out to humanity as an open source project.




After thinking a lot about the march for science and why I would not feel comfortable in it, I came to an intriguing realization. Who is really against science? I thought hard about someone who has openly and objectively declared him or herself completely anti-science, not just on a few aspects of science, or allegedly anti science by others, but totally, overtly and self described anti science. The search for that person took me some time.

Even the Ayathollah and Kim Jong-un are very pro nuclear science.

Just before I was about to declare the bogeyman the recipient of the honor of being the only plausible individual against science, the memory of Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, came to my mind. He was an anti technology anarchist who attacked scientists with home made bombs. But he is serving multiple life sentence without the possibility of parole. He is really not worth a march.... Who else would truly be anti science like him? Nobody worth mentioning. There is really no need for anybody because the march for science is co-opted by people with their own agendas and ideological beliefs.

@Noel_Carrascal