Conscience of a Scientist

Joshua S. Weitz
Apr 22, 2017 · 4 min read

Remarks for March for Science, Candler Park, Atlanta, April 22, 2017

Thank you for coming to Candler Park this afternoon to march for science and in solidarity with scientists. Thank you especially for coming early to listen, to reflect, and ultimately, to walk a path of informed engagement. There is much at stake, from the health of science to the public health of our communities.

For my part, I have come here to relay a simple message: we do our best science together.

Scientists come here from all over the world to develop the next antibiotic, the next energy innovation, the next smart material, and the next approach to mitigate threats to our planet. Decades ago scientists fled Europe in the midst of war. Others come today because they want nothing other than the chance to work right here in America at the very edge of discovery.

The discoveries that begin as basic research projects at America’s laboratories have the potential to benefit us all. These discoveries are made possible through the joint work of scientists, whether American-born, naturalized citizens, or citizens of other nations.

If we forcibly remove, intimidate, or disrupt these global teams of discoverers we weaken the entire project of science and all those who could be helped by it.

We cannot and must not let this happen.

This is why so many scientists spoke up when members of communities throughout the United States were transformed earlier this year through writ of executive order into a threatened group.

At Georgia Tech alone, many more than 100 members of our university community were affected. Should we remain silent? And, even if those affected were not our colleagues, not our students, and not our friends, should we still ignore the injustice?

I am proud to report that the Georgia Tech community is better than that. The Atlanta community is better than that. Georgia is better than that. Indeed, America is better than that.

Federal Courts have ruled that the executive order on immigration issued by President Trump was unconstitutional. Together we have shown that the order contradicts the enduring spirit of this nation of immigrants.

To stand up for scientists and science, we must be willing to stand in solidarity even if we are not directly affected by the literal terms of a particular policy. To stand up for scientists and science, we must accept that each unjust or unsound policy is not a distraction.

The travel ban was defeated but it was not a distraction. Making it harder for scientists to join us for short- and long-term projects is not a distraction. Calls for renewed skepticism on the efficacy of childhood vaccines and human-induced climate change are not a distraction.

Who amongst us wants our children to be at greater risk for lethal and wholly preventable diseases? Who amongst us wants water we cannot drink, air we cannot breath, and land that cannot sustain a garden? Whose interests does it serve to underfund the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, or the Department of Energy, and other critical organizations whose work is enabled by the best science?

Together, such policies and budget cuts undermine scientific research and oversight that serve the public good.

There must be a different way.

Supporting scientific research requires that we make an investment, most of all, in people.

Instead, ongoing attacks on science, facts, and evidence send a very different message. The message we send to scientists from the Middle East echoes in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. It is a message that says you are not wanted here. It sends a message to American-born and naturalized scientists: we do not want your project to succeed.

At Georgia Tech, I have welcomed students from Georgia, California, Virginia, and Illinois, just as I have students from Mexico, Bosnia, Israel and Iran. We need them all here because the challenges are many and the hour is late. But it is not so late that we cannot yet change our lives and our world for the better.

Collective action is required to ensure science can serve the public good. It requires solidarity. It requires that we act on the moral imperative of our conscience. It requires that many of us step out of our laboratories and use our voices no matter how imperfect they may be.

A few of those voices are here on the podium today. I am proud and humbled to join them but prouder still of all of you who have gathered. The fact that so many are here today shows that we scientists and truth-seekers are ready to change our nation and the world for the better.

We have come to say that just because we are scientists does not mean that we have abandoned our right of free expression and assembly.

We have come to defend the use, integration, and essential nature of science to the advancement of society and to advocate for science-informed policies that enable a more verdant future for all.

We have come to ensure that through our actions, as part of a global team of discoverers, merging evidence and enquiry via the scientific method, we will continue our work to improve human and environmental health.

Our best science stems from a deep well of purpose. Our best science is done with a spirit of wonder and curiosity. If supported, the discoveries we make will be of service to those who may never see the inside of a laboratory but deserve the fruits of our labor.

This is why so many of us are here today and so many more of us must step forward, together.

Joshua Weitz is a Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences at The Georgia Institute of Technology. The views expressed in this public talk are those of the author only.

Joshua S. Weitz

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Professor, School of Biological Sciences; Director, QBioS PhD; Georgia Institute of Technology