We will March for the Human Enterprise of Science

500WS at the Women’s March in D.C. January 2017
We see no conflict in simultaneously marching for science and advocating for women, for marginalized groups, and for equality.

In February 2017, 500 Women Scientists published a piece explaining why we will march for science on Earth Day. Since that post, many have expressed their opinions about the march: that the march does not focus enough on science, that it focuses too much on science and not enough on the scientists, and that it focuses on the wrong people. There is truth in all these statements. The March for Science organizers have gone to great lengths to address the constant criticism, appeasing some while angering others. Though we are no longer officially partnering with the March for Science, 500 Women Scientists will be marching on Saturday to speak up for women and to promote a diverse and inclusive scientific community that brings progressive science-based solutions to local and global challenges.

Women in science are familiar with having to fight for our rightful place, and in light of the recent uptick in misogyny as well as attacks against facts and knowledge, we are more energized than ever to stand up for women and for science. Women often have to navigate toxic misogyny, harassment, and assault that are unfortunately all too prevalent in science (links: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and in many other male-dominated sectors. In addition to gender-based harassment and discrimination, racial discrimination and harassment as well as the harassment of LGBTQIA scientists are also common. Although recent cases have resulted in incremental progress towards addressing sexual harassment in science, the current administration’s attitudes and policies on issues of sexual, racial, and LGBTQIA harassment are at best unclear and at worst hostile. If current institutions and the federal government are not up to the task of ensuring safety and opportunity across the board, the scientific community that has recently stepped up to defend science must also work to make science a safe and welcoming space for everyone. As women scientists, we understand that unless we speak for ourselves, unless we speak for each other, things will not change.

We see no conflict in simultaneously marching for science and advocating for women, for marginalized groups, and for equality. We love science; that is exactly why we are urging the scientific community to have difficult conversations about the lack of diversity and inclusion in science. Today’s scientific enterprise is the remnant of a structure built to support and promote the interests of European men, historically diminishing and ignoring the contributions of women and other historically underrepresented groups. Science can no longer afford to continue doing so. We must be honest and accountable in our failings towards an open, just, and equitable scientific community. In a blog post in Scientific American, we started this dialogue, pushing for scientists to champion both science and an inclusive scientific culture. Science will be stronger for it.

The March for Science was partly inspired by anti-science rhetoric from elected officials and special interest groups that have a vested interest in casting doubt on scientific evidence. This tactic is not new. Denial of scientific facts and empirical evidence has occurred throughout history. Denying sound science is like denying the existence of gravity — it does not make you jump any higher. The tactic of limiting science by severely underfunding it is inherently short-sighted and intellectually dishonest. It undermines our ability to educate, to innovate, to make good decisions, and engage the public.

Until very recently, science as a whole has largely been insulated from overt attack, but the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, and others in and outside of science have always been under threat. We, the scientific community, cannot afford to confront only the threats to science without also standing up for even more vulnerable members of our scientific community. If we do not confront these issues in concert now, we will continue to perpetuate institutionalized biases and discrimination, both within science and in society.

Some prominent voices in science have suggested the march should be singularly focused, because we “can’t solve every problem all at once.” We disagree wholeheartedly with the implied sentiment. While in a literal sense, one march cannot solve every problem, it can provide fertile ground from which an inclusive and open scientific movement can grow. And we, as a community, can certainly do more than one thing at a time. It is possible to champion the role of science in society while at the same time holding the culture of science accountable. We will not celebrate science in a vacuum; scientists are people embedded in social, political, and historical processes. We will continually challenge the negative aspects of scientific culture as we aspire towards a more inclusive and just future.

This work will not be finished after the march, and with the march 500 Women Scientists will commit to the following action items — we ask you to consider the same.

  • We commit to championing the voices and careers of women and historically marginalized groups in science.
  • We commit to the work of dismantling the institutional barriers that prevent science from being an equitable, open culture.
  • We will not be unwitting benefactors of an unjust society.
  • We commit to the necessary process of being accountable for our own actions and our own incorrect assumptions.
  • We commit to share science; science is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, identity, nationality, or political ideology.
  • We commit to using our positions to advocate for fact and evidence-based solutions to improve people’s lives, from public health to clean energy.