Leading plant scientist says he’s skipping Science March on Washington: Here’s why


[Editor’s note: Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, offers advice to fellow scientists considering a march for science in Washington D.C.]

Recent Presidential mandates drew quite a reaction from the scientific community, some appropriate, but some overstepped.  That’s a major problem.

Everyone [is]…calling for a Science March on Washington, a chance to show solidarity among those that value the scientific method and embrace the truths that science gives us…Not me. The best way I can support science and scientists it to create durable work and actively create the change I want to see….

Rather than coming off as whining complainers for 20 seconds on Fox News, let’s be the proactive teachers we are, and then use social media networks to tell the world about what proactive teachers we are.

Again, it is nice to see a little rage bubbling from within the lab coat…The challenge now is to channel the energy properly.  At this point, we need to be sure that our efforts are appropriate and consistent with the evidence.  Then let’s avoid knee-jerk reactions and implement effective and visible means to protest, flooding social media with overwhelming acts of good.

[W]e’ve lived in the midst of science denial for a long time and are poised to fight back…Let’s not jump the gun and look bad doing it. Rather than simply creating a stir, let’s invest that energy and create change.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Scientists: Be Effective with Your Rage

  • With all the respect that Kevin Kevin M. Folta​ well deserves (and I mean this), I disagree. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t claim to write in the name of scientists. However, I think that the most effective way to address the problem of the current Trump administration is not to adopt one solution or one course of action, but to adopt multiple works of actions, and marching is one of the most important ones (although by no means not the only one, and not enough). A march against current Trump policies will do something extremely important regarding the relationship between scientists and the rest of the public: it will make scientists _visible_ in the eyes of the public. I mean this from my heart: scientists too often are too comfortable in their labs or in their academic rooms and offices and don’t go out to manifest. As a result, the impression that the public has is that scientists are not too worried about what goes on.

    Scientists are too often victims of this sort of attitude. The public sees Greenpeace, March Against Monsanto, etc. on the streets manifesting. They don’t see the scientists themselves manifesting for GMOs. The result? The public believes that the whole thing about the consensus on GMOs is a Monsanto lie (I’ve heard people arguing this way).

    My professional, although admittedly as a non-scientist, is to participate in the march as much as scientists can, AND simultaneously, engage into educating the public about the subject (Dr. Folta is good at that), AND try to be more visible to the press, among other measures.

    • Leinsterlion

      This “science” march isnt. Its not about science, logic and rationality, its left wing politicking . Any intelligent scientist would disassociate themselves from it.


      • Janice Rael

        Each city is autonomous and does not have to incorporate every sentence or idea that comes from the DC organizers. I’m an organizer in Philadelphia, and we’re doing our own event our own way.

        Also, it is disgusting and tragic that you are offended by comments regarding diversity and equality.

        • Leinsterlion

          Im disgusted and offended that marxist claptrap is invading the realm of empiricism and logic. Math doesnt discriminate. The laws of the universe dont care for the sex of the person observing them.

          • Janice Rael

            “Marxist claptrap”? The message is “Stand Up for Science.” Yes, the DC organizers are trying to reach out to minorities, that’s not “Marxist,” it’s diversity and inclusion. Sheesh you are reading waaaayyyy too much into it. Follow your own local city’s March, they may not be espousing the inclusive “claptrap” that is making you cry all these white tears.

          • Leinsterlion

            It has nothing to do with science, why is a “science” march saying those things? Its more of the same rubbish that has rendered social science and the arts a laughing stock, trying to infest real science with the same crap

          • Janice Rael

            Leinsterlion, I really do not know much about the goals of the March for Science’s Diversity team, I know only that many people worldwide are collaborating, and I think they are just trying to say and show that science is not purely the realm of straight white American men. The goal is to seek and show diversity among scientists as well as among marchers.

            All I can tell you is that some cities are drafting their own diversity statement, and all of us worldwide are striving to bring as many people as possible out of their homes to stand up for science in whichever way they prefer.

            I hope that the existence of the diversity statement does not drive you or others away from marching. After all, you can make your own sign. Please consider supporting the March for Science, even if there are some aspects of the main website that you aren’t in favor of.

            As the lead planner for Philadelphia PA, I personally am not involved in our group’s diversity statement. First, I represent diversity by being on the planning team as a disabled, poor, bisexual woman. I am seeking speakers from all faiths (or none at all), all races and colors, different national origins, LGBTQ, and other diverse communities. I am not making any statement, I am just going to exemplify diversity as I choose our speakers. I believe that most cities are also doing the same thing.

            I hope you feel included, not excluded. We all want to include everyone who supports science, accepts empirical data, and wants to promote scientific inquiry and protect our nation’s scientific agencies and groups.

          • Gail Gleeson

            I suspect Leinsterlion is a paid troll.

          • Janice Rael

            Oh please. I don’t believe in “paid trolls.” His concerns are sincere. My first 2 replies were somewhat defensive, but I hope my most recent, longer reply is better.

          • Leinsterlion

            I find it divisive to be frank, an unnecessary interjection of politics into a realm that imo has no need of it.E; Marie Curie was a scientist, whose achievements stand by themselves. You dont rank discovery by race, sex or whatever, a persons race,sex etc has nothing to do with their scientific achievement. You dont say this is “white male quantum theory”. I’ll take it your statement face value there is no underhand attempts to politicise science however.

          • SageThinker

            I find you to be the divisive one, Leinsterlion, to be adamantly opposed to opposing sexism and racism, and ideologically arguing against even admitting that racism and sexism has played a huge role in the history of science and still does today. Calling others divisive for wanting principles of justice is quite the notional flip.

          • Leinsterlion

            Yes, because every objection is just trolling, you cannot have honestly held reservations about anything anymore without being a troll. Congratulations on your brilliant deduction.

          • SageThinker

            I suspect he’s simply an indoctrinated “useful idiot” who has lapped up the idiocy from the trough.

          • SageThinker

            You seem to omit the entire notion of social dynamics, omitting all historical knowledge, omitting phenoms like racism and sexism and structural and material inertia and mechanisms of prejudice, and everything else that’s not convenient to your desired model of the world.

      • SageThinker

        Since when is being aware of social dynamics of oppression “left wing politicking”? The propaganda machine of the overlords has got everyone so confused as if their brain’s been in a blender. What a sad world when nearly everyone is unable to think clearly and critically. See, this is the harm done by propaganda.

    • Kevin Folta

      Hi prosario2000… the theme of the whole piece is that a march is not for me, but I’m glad people are doing it.

      I have been “marching” one way or another for decades, and I’m often disappointed at the broader science community. I try to get people to speak, blog, tweet, go to schools, talk to the public– few want to get involved.

      When I was viciously defamed and harassed a few people spoke out. Most didn’t say much.

      Scientists frequently let these things be Someone Else’s Problem.

      The whole post says “do both”. March, fine. But don’t let it end there. It is not enough to spend a day in DC with a sign and call it Mission Accomplished.

      You mention that in your post too.

      That was my point. Thanks

    • Peter Olins

      Greenpeace—one of the least science-oriented activist groups I
      can think of—is first in the list of organizations supporting the march. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

  • Rex Ettienne

    With public attitude such that many have adopted and defend unsubstantiated positions believing their personal opinions (unqualified and without relevant experience) are of equal value and weight as any provided by those of qualified expertise.

    The decision of some scientists and researchers to clamber aboard the bandwagon of street protesting will no doubt be viewed by many as verification that scientists are the equivalent of the man in the street.

    The hierarchy of grievances that has been so far observed in the protesting may place the needs and desires of science a long way behind those with a more juicy, heart string tugging and media saleable anecdotes..

    • Janice Rael

      Planners in Philadelphia have gotten a tremendous positive response from our local hospitals, science museums, laboratories, and other science professionals. They’re marching with us! Hooray!

      • Rex Ettienne

        Hello Janice, thanks for the reply.

        With the media coverage of the current issues in the US being reduced (here in Oz) to a voyeuristic peek at strange behaviours and presented as an example of the differences in national cultures, it is hard to understand who the protesters against the planned governmental changes represent – are the protesters representative of the population or a subset of those who recently voted democrat and dismayed at the result or does it include strong representation of the ¾’s of the population who did not object to the election of Mr Trump. The numbers may appear large but are they significant?

        There appears, from afar, to be a dissonance between the goals of many advocates of all manner of issues and the methodologies employed to achieve those goals. Looking for evidence of what actually does achieve results appears to be overlooked or not considered at all with the very same (failing) strategies employed across the board that appear to have greater interest in scoring points off their opposition than achieving the desired goals – repetition of the same facts spiced up by the occasional refinement of understanding, the disparagement and vilification of those who have a differing opinion and the advertisement of the heroic social media battles for the enjoyment and adulation of the already convinced – with the only apparent difference being not of behaviours observed but the sources of information. The creation of media friendly soundbites, memes that confirm existing biases and an advocacy industry of public speaking, debate as entertainment appearances, T-shirt sales and the collation of likes and comments on social media appears not to be reaching those who are perhaps victims of misinformation but pandering to establish claques.

        Is there a shared goal of the compendium of protesters – the only factor that appears to be shared is a dislike of the person and policies of the newly elected president? The recent riots against the right to freedom of speech of Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley appears indicative of what can go wrong with the conflation of issues into an undefined amorphous complaint.

        Is there any evidence that street marching campaigns bring any change especially over the long term? Gaining attention and even changes to legislation appear inadequate without first achieving a change of attitude of the public and manifests itself in the continuing opposition and attempts to sidestep legislation. It is continually advertised that supporters of science depend upon the evidence presented to determine acceptance of a proposition. There appears to be little mention of evidence of the current modes of advocacy or protest being in any way effective.

        The US appears still to be dealing with the same issues that have been on the agenda of activists and advocates for at least decades and in some cases into centuries – racial inequality, women’s rights, reproductive technologies, women recognised by US constitution, health care reform, the provision of a comprehensive education, illegal immigration, the right to equality of LGBT peoples, children and minorities, electoral reform and only a few years ago most spectacularly the Occupy movement despite its repetition and protests in more than two and a half thousand cities around the world failed to initiate changes in attitudes.

        Advocates of the evidence of science in the US appear to have made little headway over the last 150+ years in increasing acceptance of evolution, the last five decades have seen a downturn in the public acceptance of AGW and its consequences and in the last couple of decades despite increased advocacy and refinement of understanding, US public acceptance of bio-technologies appears to be similarly decreasing in polls taken most especially among decision makers pursuing popularity and security of tenure.

        Politicians are well aware of the ease in attracting a crowd through social media to demonstrate against anything and are aware that the motivations of those joining marches and protests are more complex than a desire to support and initiate change. Which of all the leaders of all the disparate groups involved should be meeting with government representatives, which groups particular needs take priority, which of all the leaders of disparate groups have the available time and know-how and are prepared for the tedium of engaging with politicians on a personal basis convincing them of a need for change?

        At a time when there appears a need to re-establish why the advice and the opinions of those with experience and qualification has a greater value than
        that of the man in the street it appears counter-productive for scientists to be engaging in activities no different from those of any with a grievance – reducing perhaps the significance of complaints and perhaps to be lost among the noise. Standing up for a principle may make some feel morally superior and garner lots of back-slapping, clicks and likes but if the actions taken fail to encourage a change of attitude of the populous what is there of value for the effort? Does it not seem somewhat ironic that a sector of the community with a reputation of including some of the most intelligent is engaging in the behaviours adopted by the mobs of ancient Rome, because of a failure to develop an effective 21st century strategy. An appeal to populism is generally viewed as a fallacy not a strategy.

        • Janice Rael

          Before I talk about shared goals, please note, I am not part of the Washington DC organizing group, I am with Philadelphia PA, and my views are strictly my opinion; I am not speaking for my local March or the National March.

          That said, I believe we (March for Science organizers worldwide) do have many shared goals, such as empowering scientists to resist the new administration’s attacks on science. We want to show the human side of science by having scientists and supporters show their faces publicly. We want scientists to know that laypeople support them, and we want laypeople to know that scientists support them.

          I just finished reading an article on TheEstablishment .co (no M) called “We Are The Scientists Against A Fascist Government,” by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, and Joseph Osmundson. They ask, “what is our moral duty as scientists?” I think it’s a very important article for everyone in science.

          The authors explain the problems with the current US presidential administration and its plans to slash science funding worldwide. The current administration is barring scientists and doctors from working in the USA in jobs they already had before the current president was sworn in.

          The president is poised to slash funding for climate change work – a move that could literally kill us all. I don’t understand why some scientists and science-supporters are not so scared and angered by this that they aren’t taking to the streets. I am part of the angry side, yes. Angry that all of humanity could suffer and die as a result of political decisions made by this administration.

          I admit that your post is somewhat confusing to me because you seem to be reading way more into it than is actually there. The March for Science is intended to show public support for science and opposition to cuts in science funding, as well as to highlight other serious issues concerning science today.

          Neil deGrasse Tyson says that scientific illiteracy will kill us all. I don’t want to die because some morons in power cut funding to important scientific research. That’s why I’m marching, that’s why I’m involved in planning my local March.

          Do you want to die from scientific ignorance, or do you want to fight back and defend science?

        • Janice Rael

          The Philadelphia March for Science team has a committee working on Calls to Action. Other March cities have calls to action based on their local needs and issues. I think part of the reason that some regular citizens will march is to show scientists that we support them and are thankful for their work, especially now in this political climate. We will have politicians speak at our event, especially those who are involved in local science projects with Philly school students.

          The March for Science is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and can’t be everything to all people. The bottom line is that if you support science, please show your support by joining your nearest march on April 22, 2017, Earth Day.

  • Gail Gleeson

    I respect Dr. Folta’s right to his opinion. However, I also respect the right to assemble. I WILL be joining the March for Science. I want to see 100,000’s of people marching to support observable facts and the scientific method. Then the rest of the public will see that science isn’t just what’s on “The Big Bang Theory”, but is a way of understanding our physical world.

  • SageThinker

    The March for Science is under a cooptation attempt by the minions of the agrochemical / biotech industry. Folta at this point is more of a liability than a blessing if he were to be present. Anyway, “science” doesn’t say “GMOs are safe! Ra ra ra!” Science tests and quantifies risks, but science and especially SciComm are gamed by industry shenanigans. The UN HCHR put out this statement which sums it up:

    “While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”

    I concur, based on my observations. There’s a nasty propaganda machine at work for the agrochemical industry. It’s harmful to humanity and is conscious distortion of truth for greed and is therefore evil.