03 February 2017

An outsider’s perspective on protest

Here is the latest criticism of the March for Science.

William Happer, a physicist from Princeton University who met with Mr. Trump before his inauguration and who has been cited as a potential science adviser to the administration (said) that scientists could risk losing some of their public support with a large-scale protest.

“It’s quite possible that this kind of public exercise could actually be bad for science — it’s like the toddler banging his spoon in the highchair,” he said. “It may not turn out to garner a lot of sympathy.”

Comparing a peaceful protest for science, by a group that is highly educated and slow to enter the political fray, to a baby’s temper tantrum is insulting. As a potential advisor to the administration, Happer has a vested interest in trying to dissuade scientists from protesting.

Between now and 22 April 2017, when the March for Science occurs, many more people will try to tell scientists all the ways that a peaceful protest could (as in maybe, as in might, as in hypothetically if some bizarre circumstances were to occur) make the situation for science worse than it is now. 

I am no social scientist, nor historian. But it seems to me that this pattern has occurred in the past:

There is unfairness in the world. People, justifiably upset, organize against it. Some people plan public protests about that cause. Others warn that the public protests will hurt the cause, and instead advise people to “work within the system” for change. For instance, Randy Olson asked if a public protest for science was more or less effective than a petition.

But the naysayers never seem to be able to point to cases where movements were clearly halted because of protests (possible exception: violent protests), or cases where not having protests yielded demonstrable progress.

Petitions rarely make national news or become events that people remember years later. On the other hand, protests often become important cultural touchstones for the communities involved and go down in history.

Related posts

March for Science and Reviewer Two

External links

March for Science
‘Listen to Evidence’: March for Science Plans Washington Rally on Earth Day
Will a March Help Science?
Scientists plan to march on Washington — but where will it get them?
In Age of Trump, Scientists Show Signs of a Political Pulse
Why I’m marching for science
The War on Science Is a Trap
I’m going to #sciencemarch in Washington. Here’s why
A lot of Americans don’t know a single scientist. We need to fix that
The March For Science In Washington Is Political Whether You Like It Or Not
Out of the lab, into the streets: Scientists, feeling threatened, plan an Earth Day march
The ‘March for Science’ is gaining mainstream momentum
Science entering a new frontier: Politics


practiCal fMRI said...

There are other tactics available, not just petitions and demonstrations. Both of these are essentially the actions of individuals designed to aggregate to some sort of message. Fine. But smart, professional organizations - say, US car manufacturers, to use a random example - understand that lobbying with one voice can often bring about better results. Where are the scientific societies? All over the place. At last count I saw one single letter sent to POTUS by AAAS on behalf of a couple hundred universities and societies. The letter failed to mention any negative financial repercussions of the ban - that is the language POTUS understands - and since the letter there's been.... crickets. Was a follow-up letter sent to the new Sec. State Tillerson? If it was it's been below the public radar.

As long as scientists talk with multiple voices and don't connect the dots in such a way that something with a dollar sign is found at the end, we are divided, conquered and irrelevant as a consideration as far as the White House is concerned. We have nothing to offer them, or hang over their heads. Bad move. We'd better wise up and fast or this clown show will go on with us hanging on for grim whatever. We'd better find a way to pay the ante and get in the game. Maybe I'm wrong but demonstrations or petitions are unlikely to get it done. I'll close with a reminder that there was a rather massive demonstration two weeks ago tomorrow. Anyone remember it? I bet it gave POTUS all of about six milliseconds of pause before he pulled his next stunt.

Mike Taylor said...

Zen, I think you are right on target. Certainly nothing Happer has to say should be taken at face value. I am particularly taken by your observation that "The naysayers never seem to be able to point to cases where NOT having protests yielded demonstrable progress". Precisely.

practiCal fMRI, I'm not following the part where getting scientific societies to speak (a good thing) means that a mass demonstration is not ALSO a good thing. Must we pick just one form of response to the Trump Regime and stick to it?

Anonymous said...

You're assuming the peaceful part, which is the concern many of us *should* have given recent events. Well-intended protests are being subverted by 2nd and 3rd party groups with different motives, sometimes violent and sometimes narratively self-defeating. Why do you expect this be different, especially given the poor transparency and organization to date?

Posting anonymously because it's required in today's climate. The concern is not from the right...

Mike Taylor said...

Really, anonymous? How many violent incidents arose from the half-million-strong Women's March?

-- Mike Taylor, not anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Sometime violent. Reading is fundamental.

And it was certainly narratively self-defeating.

Anonymous said...

and right on cure: http://acsh.org/news/2017/02/02/why-scientist-wont-be-attending-science-march-10811

Mike Taylor said...

So you are not able to point me to a list of violent incidents.

Perhaps because they didn't happen.

I won't be feeding this anonymous troll any more unless I some actual evidence.

Anonymous said...

LOL, yeah, Berkeley, NYC, Portland, Ferguson, Baltimore (and that's just off the top of my head)... those progressive riots did not involve violence?

The reality is that large-scale protests tend to devolve into left-wing shitshows. This is showing all the early signs of the same.

Scientists should stay away from this burgeoning disaster. Going after the administration for having done nothing is, frankly, strategically stupid. Both republicans and democrats have been good to science at all levels. Dragging those of us into a political fight is going to end badly and erode the public's trust unnecessarily.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can get Ms Judd and Madonna to speak. After all, they did such a great job motivating the public and the >50% of women that voted for Trump in the Woman March LOL