There is a growing disparity between scientists’ and the general public’s views on a number of issues central to public policy, such as the safety of genetically modified foods and pesticides, human activity as a cause of global warming and childhood vaccinations.
The public seems increasingly comfortable rejecting broad scientific consensus to favor opinions based on little more than conspiracy theories. Today’s polarized political discourse risks mischaracterizing scientific facts or simply ignoring them. This stands to exacerbate the problem.
These worrying developments have prompted scientists to decide that it is now time to step out of our laboratories. We will voice our concerns in the streets in an unprecedented March for Science to take place on Earth Day, April 22, in Washington, D.C., and many cities around the world including Los Angeles.
As the nation’s future leaders and innovators, UCLA students of every discipline should take a stand for scientific and intellectual integrity by participating in this march.
This is a pressing issue that demands action. The fundamental principles of society that we have thought immutable – freedom of speech and expression, and the value of scientific knowledge, of reasoned debate and of cultural diversity and inclusion – are under threat. It is precisely these shared academic principles, along with the government’s sustained investment in the arts and sciences, which have made the United States a premier destination for the brightest minds in the world. They aspire to come here to study, teach, research, work and innovate.
This is the legacy we must defend. The stated mission of the march is to champion robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. It also aims to unite scientists as a diverse and nonpartisan group, to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.
I will be joining the March for Science to defend these values and celebrate the discovery of lung surfactants and medical advances in neonatal care, which allowed my two premature babies to survive complicated pregnancies and thrive to become healthy teenagers.
We will also prepare a list of signatories of the academic-values.org declaration where faculty, students and staff in United States colleges reaffirm basic scientific and democratic values. It already has nearly 1000 signatures from over 100 academic institutions, and will be handed out to policymakers during the march.
I invite you to join me in this endeavor. As a group, we scientists tend to be introverted and enjoy the seclusion of our laboratories. When spotted in public, we often appear absent-minded, caught scribbling equations on napkins or talking and gesturing to ourselves. Save for sporadic appearances by personalities like Carl Sagan, Jacques Cousteau or Richard Dawkins, we prefer to stay away from public life. However, new political winds, carrying the smell of disdain for the arts and sciences, has mobilized the entire academic community in ways we have never experienced before.
Think about how science has benefited your family, and how it shapes nearly everything you do in your life. We must demand that the United States remain the best place to do science in the world.
As Isaac Asimov once wrote, “unless we continue with science and gather knowledge, whether or not it seems useful on the spot, we will be buried under our problems and find no way out. Today’s science is tomorrow’s solution – and tomorrow’s problems, too – and, most of all, it is mankind’s greatest adventure, now and forever.”
Let us stand up and call for our best scientific knowledge to guide our decisions and policymaking, and embark on that greatest adventure to build a better and more beautiful world for all.
Ringach is a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA.