Wanted: Pro-science thinking from pro-science candidates

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I know some scientists are concerned that the March for Science campaign will politicize science and fuel conservative distrust in science. I’m sorry. It is far too late for that. Science has already been politicized — that started decades ago — and a growing anti-science sub-culture has infected and perhaps taken over the Republican Party, leaving pro-science without a champion or a home.

To me, that is what the March for Science (April 22) is all about: demonstrating that there really are pro-science voters, and that they want politicians to realize it is a viable alternate constituency, one that is seeking leaders willing to fight for the cause. And although it is clear that leadership won’t be coming from the current version of the GOP, it is not yet clear where that leadership will be found. Within the Democratic party? Within an independent party?

I say that because I am not convinced the leadership in any of those parties really understand — much less really value — science and scientific thinking. Sure, they may espouse support for science, for budgets/spending on science, and for scientific findings that support their agendas, but where is the evidence that they actually utilize scientific thinking, principles and methods?

Is there anyone in a political leadership role modeling self-skepticism, seeking disconfirmatory evidence, making and testing hypotheses, questioning their own underlying assumptions and treating variance from established theories as experimental? Or do they all seem to utilize emotional reasoning, confirmation bias, trust in intuition, while appealing to authority over empiricism and mistaking correlation for causation?

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Unless political leaders are demonstrating scientific thinking and principles in their campaigning, their legislating, their comments and behaviors, why should people trust or believe that they will understand and value the importance of science and scientific thinking enough to effectively protect and promote them? Unless candidates for office are utilizing scientific thinking and principles, why should we vote for them?

That is why I have started speaking at public forums and writing about the importance of insisting — from a grassroots level — that candidates for office need to do just that if they want my support (and other people’s, I hope) in their next elections. After all, that is what anti-science voters are doing — demanding their candidates dismiss or reject science, scientific thinking and any scientific finding that disagrees with their beliefs.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking the new anti-science president is an aberration; that if he were removed from office right now, pro-science (or at least science neutral) leaders would step in to replace him.

He has surrounded himself with anti-science advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence — the next in line to the presidency — who has asserted, “science is very mixed on the subject of global warming”; has insisted in a Congressional campaign ad that “smoking doesn’t kill”; and has repeatedly suggested creationism should be taught as an equivalent theory to evolution.

And if Pence were gone? Next would be House Speaker Paul Ryan, who voted against almost all the League of Conservation Voters’ priorities in 2011. Then president pro-tempore of the Senate, Orrin Hatch. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former executive of Exxon, which has continued to pay millions to groups denying fossil fuels’ role in climate change.

No, Trump is just the epitome of the growth of anti-science within this country, including corporate America and the Republican Party. He is the tip of an iceberg — with an anti-science grassroots constituency hidden below the water line that will continue voting for anti-science senators, congressmen, governors, legislators and school board members — until and unless pro-science voters coalesce their own grassroots movement and start demanding evidence of pro-science values and commitment as a requirement for political candidates to earn their votes.

That doesn’t have to be Democrats, nor independents. It just seems unlikely in the current political climate that Republicans will be willing to risk upsetting their anti-science constituents to court a theoretical pro-science constituency, especially since it is not yet clear that such a pro-science grassroots movement will really coalesce and grow, much less flourish.

And although science may already be politicized, that doesn’t mean pro-science voters have to adhere to any particular party. They could just start demanding pro-science candidates from whatever political party.

That is why I have become a pro-science activist, and why I will be marching for science on Earth Day, April 22. In my case, I will be doing it in Portland, but there will be two others in Maine (one in Orono and one in Machias) and more than 400 around the world, including the main one in Washington, D.C.

I hope many others will join me in marching because if pro-science voters don’t prove that they can be a political force to be reckoned with, the anti-science electorate will continue to hold all the power on this issue, and this nation and the world will pay the price.

Gordon Street is a clinical psychologist. He is an advocate for science and scientific thinking (#SciThiGuy). He lives and works in Raymond.

Gordon Street

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