Bioethics Blogs

The Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective?

By Jennifer Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. She is also a member of the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN.net), which offers pro bono data science and research to organizations seeking to implement positive social change.

I believe in protests. I attend them, I endorse them, and I think that they make a difference. Raising political consciousness in the scientific community in any form seems like a good thing. The Science March moreover seems like a great opportunity for a community of people sharing common livelihood to advocate for the importance of their work in policy-making, as it relates to nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, vaccination, and so on. 
But while I plan to attend the March for Science in New York, I’m hoping to use this article to examine, articulate, and hopefully mitigate the slight unease that’s been growing in me surrounding some of the language that scientists have been using to describe the march (both critics and proponents alike).


Let’s start by pointing out that protests are effective for a number of reasons— they can apply pressure for lawmakers to advance specific aims (for instance, the passing of a bill). They can also act as a springboard for awareness— a starting point for deeper and more nuanced dialogue. In absence of particularly well-defined specific aims, the Science March might function primarily in service of the latter objective, among others.
Critics like Robert Young have tried to pin their unease on bad optics — they worry about a perceived “loss of objectivity,” or the so-called “politicization of science.” These critics fear we will lose our moral high-ground as calm and objective voices of pure reason in the public eye.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.