Saturday, April 22, 2017

March For Science is deeply misguided, unethical

Comrade Vladimir Lenin celebrates his birthday in his mausoleum today (I have been there) – congratulations to all left-wing readers. Some activists have chosen this date associated with a man who believed he had a "scientific thinking" (although he believed that each electron is an inexhaustible galaxy with small electrons inside, and then smaller ones inside, like in a Matryoshka) but made a huge impact on the world of politics as the date for the "March For Science".

The rally in D.C. should be decent; the accompanying 500 rallies across the world are pretty much guaranteed to be tiny. See a live report from Asia. For example, the picture above is the full group photo of the participants in Tokyo: it includes 50-60 people depending on how many babies in the carriage you count.

The march in Busan, the second largest city of South Korea, is similar: this is the picture of participants 20 minutes before the march began. ;-) Despite their diversity, none of the four cute scientists looks Korean to me, by the way.

It's obvious why I am against the march. It's a political event organized by extreme leftists whom I can't respect and it tries to promote various pet causes of these extremists such as the affirmative action as well as junk science such as the climate hysteria to the status of science, and to get money for basically left-wing activists, although they want to pretend it's the money for science.

But in Prague, there will be a tiny rally organized by some folks whom I know and they're not obsessive feminists. I would still not attend that rally, even if I thought it's easy to travel to Prague, for many reasons. First, they must know that they're really supporting some extreme left-wing activists and some extremely lousy scientists and pseudoscientists. And yes, I think that even most of the nice participants in Prague would probably look like scientific zeroes in my eyes and my pride wouldn't allow me to do something that would imply that they're my peers.

Second, even if all these connections to politically and ideologically corrupt groups and to low-quality science, pseudoscience, and pop science were ignored, I would still think it's wrong to organize such a political event because it politicizes science. What does it mean and why it is wrong? It establishes pressures in the society that identify science with various political attitudes by the people even those have nothing to do with science.

Third, even if I thought that the political march for science is right and if I agreed with the organizers, I wouldn't attend because these rallies are going to be tiny and they will only show how non-existent the political support for science actually is.

The ludicrous "crowd" at Prague's Wenceslaus Square at Saturday noon.

Sean Carroll defends the march today. He tells us:
...I don’t agree, as should be clear. First, science is political, like it or not. That’s because science is done by human beings, and just about everything human beings do is political. Science isn’t partisan — it doesn’t function for the benefit of one party over the other. But if we look up “political” in the dictionary, we get something like “of or relating to the affairs of government,” or more broadly “related to decisions applying to all members of a group.” It’s hard to question that science is inextricably intertwined with this notion of politics.
Sorry but genuine science isn't political and it isn't even "human" in the sense explained by Carroll. In practice, here on Earth, science is done by human beings. But that statement is almost exactly as right as the statement that almost all of science is done by white males. Both statements happen to be true but they simply aren't and cannot be interpreted as defining features of science. It is a coincidence that science is studied by human beings or white males. In principle, black baby girls, blue dolphins, or a network of Cortanas v4.0 could do science, too.

More importantly, the activity itself has nothing to do with politics. One smart enough, honest organism is enough to do science. Politics is about the relationships within the human society. Again, such relationships affect science in practice but no such relationships are necessary in principle for science to exist.

Carroll's comments about science's being human and political are completely wrong and dirty. But he goes further: Science is all about the government. What? Science has nothing to do with the government. If the government in a country hijacks any privileged relationship to science, it means that what could have been science ceased to be science and became just another limb of the government – at most, a bureaucratic organization and a staff that serves those who politically control the government at a given point.

Science may be funded by the government but it may be funded by private donors as well – and it may be done by people who aren't receiving any funding whatsoever, too. In all these cases, it's absolutely vital for the identity of the sponsor not to affect where the scientific research goes. The government may pay for some things but if the fact that the research was funded by the government (or any other sponsor) manifests itself in any way, then the "science" is simply corrupt because non-corrupt science is by definition directed by the evidence, not by the money. You simply don't want to build upon this government-science relationship because corruption of science is the only thing that may arise from such an emphasized connection! But yes, I think that this corruption of science isn't just a bad side effect of the march but the very goal of the evil people behind the march.

There are lots of claims in Carroll's text that are either ludicrous or disgusting. I have already mentioned the topic but let me do it again. Carroll writes:
Reminding them how much the general public is pro-science is an important task.
Well, if someone noticed the "crowd" of 50-60 people in Tokyo at all, it has reminded all sane people of the fact that the supporters of science who would be ready to go to the street to express their support are an absolutely negligible fringe group. It's too bad that Carroll isn't capable of drawing this trivial, self-evident conclusion. You would need at least tens of thousands of people to "remind" someone that a significant portion of the general public is actually pro-science.

Incidentally, Carroll and others around the march also like to say that "science (and the march) is political but not partisan". OK, I disagree that science is political. But I also disagree that the march isn't partisan. It obviously is partisan. If you want to show that it's non-partisan or bipartisan, show me the "marches for science" organized by small-government, anti-immigration, pro-marriage, pro-gun, pro-Trump, or other conservatives. The March For Science is undoubtedly defined to be an anti-GOP event, is therefore heavily correlated with the Democratic Party, and the claim that it is "not partisan" is just a shameful lie. Needless to say, a life-long liar such as Sean Carroll doesn't have any moral obstacles to emit as many lies of this kind as he wants.

Sylvester James Gates

Last month, Bloomberg wrote about the scientists' attitudes to the event. Maryland's supergravity big shot Sylvester James Gates said the wisest things about it. He is a very decent black physicist whom I would prefer as a model of a truly refined black guy – over the likes of Martin Luther King or Barack Obama – not only in the supersymmetric but also in political affairs because he's a rare example of a man who knows certain basic things about physics (but also the history of the human society etc.) that many others don't know or try to deny, a man who is clearly playing a grander game than just some mindless biased defense of a politically defined group.

Note that Gates was named to the National Academy of Sciences and also became a member of a small Obama's team of science advisers. This can make my support for him even more surprising for many of you. Bloomberg wrote [the text is shortened]:
Gates saw the bad effects and decided to avoid the march. A politically charged event indicates that scientists are driven by ideology, not by evidence. It's extremely dangerous to represent science as a political faction (he said at an AAAS event). “I don’t want to see a march that sets science against the president.” He also questioned whether there's a clear beef in the statement of purpose.
We also learn that Gates recently co-chaired a committee focusing on false positives in criminal forensic investigations. Not bad, Dr Sylvester! Isaac Newton had a similar job – going after the neck of those who counterfeit the currency, for example. ;-)

OK, I agree with every word of Gates', of course. Scientists simply mustn't become anything similar to a political faction. Someone's being excited about science shouldn't differ from someone's excitement about jazz or classical music (or her composing or performing them). Those people don't have their political parties because classical music and jazz are considered orthogonal to the political issues that really matter – and exactly the same should be true for science. If you think that science directly dictates the "right answers" to some most polarizing political questions, well, then it is not science what actually dictates them.

Scientists just cannot be understood as a political faction because a defining feature of science is that one is ultimately led by the evidence. In a political faction, you are directed by the predetermined or otherwise shared goals of the faction itself. These are incompatible pressures in general. If you're doing science, you just can't guarantee that you will keep on agreeing with a group of people. It's up to the evidence to decide what you will think! So you simply cannot understand yourself as a member of any durable faction. The very point of the scientific research is that such factions are temporary and should be reorganizing themselves.

The Bloomberg article also mentions Will Happer's opinions about the march. He's against simply because he opposes – just like I oppose – the basic underlying assumption that "being pro-science" is the same thing as "being anti-Trump". There's no reason to assume that Trump is anti-science. Happer talked about his discussion with Trump about Trump's uncle, the scientist. You can see that Happer is clearly closer to Trump than Gates but at the end, except for the different stress, Gates actually has said the same things. Gates also thinks that it's wrong to identify "pro-science" with "anti-Trump". Such an identification would bring extra political pressure on scientists who might think that to be viewed as good scientists, they have to be anti-Trump. But that's exactly as wrong as the anti-Jewish Deutsche Physik movement of Germany of the 1930s or any other example of politicized science.

Four days ago, Nature dared to admit that the march splits researchers. Unfortunately, Nathan Gardner, a medicine postdoc in Illinois, seems to be the only clear voice against the march that was quoted in the article (as far as I could see). (Taylor Tobin, a UIUC astronomer, is also mostly against but she sounds more uncertain about it than Gardner.) He says he doesn't like the march because it strengthens the belief of many Americans that science is leftist, scientists are focused on gender equality and identity politics, and close to Al Gore. And he obviously doesn't like it. Also, while the mission doesn't explicitly say that the march is anti-Trump, the participants uniformly seem to be anti-Trump which means that the march de facto is anti-Trump, too.

A very big fraction of the institutionally organized scientists in the contemporary era are leftists and many of them wouldn't protest if the scientific process were hijacked by left-wing politics – because they agree with that politics and the purity of science isn't too important for them. On the other hand, only a tiny number of scientists actually dream about the linking of science to the left-wing politics. And those will be visible at the marches – and I am confident that we will see that the marches will be small and only include a tiny percentage of the good scientists we know.

Whether it's explicitly stated or not, the hijacking of science by the extreme left-wing political faction is the main goal of the marches, at least in the U.S., and that's why every decent person should denounce the event.

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