• The World View

    A blog from the Center for International Higher Education


Global Protest of Scientists

It is too early to know whether the March for Science portends a collective resistance that will be sustained.

May 7, 2017

Scientists and the broader public protested across the world on April 22, 2017. The marches created a space to demonstrate international support for science and to stress the importance of science in all of our lives. Besides the marches in the US, more than 500 marches took place in countries across the world. The main slogan of the marches was "Science not Silence" as it is crucial for people who support science to take a public stand and make their voices heard, now more than ever. The marches encouraged people to affirm the value of scientific evidence for policymaking in the interest of protecting the future of our world.

This emphasis on policymaking was not surprising as it appears to be a global trend that policymakers at both ends of the spectrum are rejecting scientific evidence. As a result, a broad range of academics from various disciplines launched a movement with the April march with the hope that it will be a jumping off point to begin a more active and visible protest.  Although various disciplines joined the resistance, in the US environmental sciences were especially active motivated by recently reduced funding due to the rejection of scientific evidence by the political elite. Remarkably, policymakers in the current US government doubt everything, including evidence of global warming and climate change.

The rallies challenged the ignorance that denigrates scientific evidence with the slogan “Science is not just an opinion”. This was a statement repeated frequently by keynote speakers at the March for Science in Amsterdam. A professor from earth sciences stressed that policymakers need to make decisions based on actual and current knowledge.  In a similar vein, a professor of empirical sociology concluded that by subverting scientists, politicians (and citizens) undermine the most reliable route to understanding and finding solutions for our most complex social problems.

Protests structured around the value of science are uncommon, as the Washington Post noted. It is important to recognize that this type of collective academic resistance is no longer constrained by national boundaries, but rather has emerged as a global protest where each country demonstrates solidarity with academics from around the globe on the one hand, while adding local agendas to the protests. Another important feature of this global movement has been the extent to which participation has crossed traditional boundaries, bringing together different levels of the academic hierarchy including rectors, professors, students and researchers, while uniting voices from different disciplines.

We need to be aware that academic collective resistance has been around for a while, with the latest form of resistance engaging academics from various disciplines to rally against increased managerialism in universities, constraints to academic freedom and budget cuts. An ongoing study by Leisyte & Hosch-Dayican (2017) explores the emergence of collective academic resistance in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium since the 2008 recession and that led to the current tendency towards managerialism and budget cuts with particular impact on scientific research in these European countries. The March for Science resembles some of the resistance activities identified by our research but also departs from these with the convergence of resistance across multiple boundaries simultaneously.

At the Amsterdam March, we observed cross-disciplinary activity at various levels. The  organizing team, the keynote speakers, and the supporters were very diverse in terms of the research disciplines represented. The backgrounds of the organizers ranged from neuroscience to classical composition and from cognitive psychology to strategic communication. The programme was designed to engage people from additional disciplines as well. Further, the organizing team, the keynote speakers and the endorsements encompassed a non-academic population as well. Museums, unions and student associations were represented among the supporters and speakers with the additional participation of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science.

Mobilization and communication were also key activities for the March for Science, but here we observed engagement with the broader society, scientist and non-scientist alike. Intensive promotion on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook attracted a broad audience. There were no barriers to participation in the way of fees or membership and people could attend spontaneously without the obligation of advance registration.

The March for Science was unique in its structure and activities centered around science as a shared value on a global scale. However, in order for the March for Science to gain influence and be recognized as a formidable type of collective resistance, a transition is required.

Despite its distinctive features, it is too early to know whether the March for Science portends a collective resistance that will be sustained and whether it will continue to call attention to the value of science. The website for the March for Science states “We are building an organization centred on informed advocacy, community building, and accessible education." The intent is clearly to continue to institutionalize this movement. One of the event’s organizers, Caroline Weinberg, has already expressed that now is the time to act and that the intention of the organizers is to create a platform for future efforts. If indeed new activities emerge from the March for Science, we might witness the crystallization of a collective global movement of scientists and non-scientists advocating for the value of science to society. In this way we may be witnessing the creation of a new global force to be reckoned with in support of science and enlightened policy. 


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