12 December 2012

When British and Canadians are angrier than Americans

This was the scene in England in 2010:

This was at the Science is Vital rally, organized to protest planned budget cuts in the U.K.

This was the scene in Ottawa, Canada in July of this year:

This was at the Death of Evidence rally, organized to protest several changes, including budget cuts, in Canada.

Today, faced with the looming threat of sequestration (the so called “fiscal cliff”), which could cut basic research budgets something like 8%, this is the scene in Washington:

I am surprised that American scientists do not seem to want to demonstrate publicly that they are worried about how much funding cuts could hurt them. Instead, I just see the same low level drone of emails in my inbox from scientific societies asking scientists to contact congress and support research funding. But I’ve seen those emails for years, and there doesn’t seem to be any greater urgency this time. Maybe the leadership of those societies is convinced that sequestration won’t happen, just like the capping of the debt ceiling didn’t happen a while back.

What would it take to get scientists waving placards in the Mall in Washington, DC? I’ve speculated this might just be due to geography (the UK is smaller), but there is a high enough concentration of science on the eastern seaboard to make a decent showing.

And I know it’s not because Americans are more restrained than the Canadians or the British.

Science is Vital picture from here, Death of Evidence picture from here.


InBabyAttachMode said...

I was talking about something similar with colleagues the other day, and it seems like the US just doesn't have the culture for strikes. My French colleague and I both remember being on strike in high school and college several times to protest against things like increased tuition. It seems that here those things don't happen because people feel they don't have influence?

Mike the Mad Biologist said...

Because the scientific leadership (e.g., senior faculty) have too much to lose. They are doing well, and don't want to rock the boat. The current system, even with 8% cuts, works for them.

What do they gain from a strike or protests, other than being associated with 'unserious' people and a potential loss of future credibility?

Chris 325 said...

Why does a demonstration have to happen in Washington? If you want scientists on the streets waving placards in support of science, then ORGANIZE IT! A demonstration at UT-PA can get more media attention than something in Washington where the media is more concerned about scandals and political maneuvering than grassroots efforts. But whatever you do, sitting back and suggesting that scientists thousands of miles away from Texas should do something is assuredly less effective than society emails to Congress. And AAAS, FASEB, ASBMB, SfN, and others have plenty of ways to get involved that don’t include sending letters.

bwcorb said...

I think you also undervalue the impact of letter campaigns. The fact is - the federal budget in the US is a mess... and the NIH has been lucky to be in a position to not have its budget CUT in the past several years. Is it ideal? Far from it. But the letter writing, and advocacy of your colleagues (who don't just bitch on a blog) has had a marked impact on the debate, and continues to do.

Zen Faulkes said...

Chris 325: I'm not advocating scientists rally. This was an observation, not a recommendation.

BWCorb: Yes, I may have sounded too down on letter writing, but I do recognize the importance of being active. I didn't say anyone should stop writing those letters.

youngdoug said...

In the UK, possibly a couple of reasons:

1) Job security - there have to be clear and valid reasons for sacking anybody after they have been in any job for 2 years (and often before). Striking - when done 'right', is not a reason nor is protesting. Firing people for their politics is not really possible.

2) There is (subjective viewpoint here, but commonly shared) a strong streak of contempt/disrespect and laughter towards most symptoms of authority running through most stratae of society.