Like so many before me, I have at last decided to create a blog where I can share my thoughts about science, scientists and scientific activism. Most of us can easily understand the the former two concepts; fewer of us have experience with the latter. To be a scientific activist, you simply need to understand and embrace the scientific approach to understanding the world and to support and defend this approach where ever possible, particularly when it is threatened by opponents.
The need for scientific activism is tremendous; we can see that quite clearly today. Our point of view is needed because there are so-called activists who are working tirelessly to erode science, scientific progress and their impact on our society.
There are some that argue that the behavior of humans plays little role in observable climate change. They use their political force to suppress scientific data on this point. They malign scientists and lie to the public about the facts that are all too apparent.
There are some that argue that vaccines “cause” psychiatric and medical problems in children, particularly autism spectrum disorders. Even though scientists, many of whom were open-minded to the possibility of such a link, have generated fully transparent data to the contrary, they are not convinced. They shout down their opponents and try to squelch fair and honest conversation about alternative theories explaining these conditions.
There are some that believe that scientific study of the health problems in marginalized populations – for example, people whose sexual behaviors do not conform to the so-called norm – is valueless. Legislators decry national spending on these projects, challenging projects that fund anything from HIV prevention efforts in sex workers to research on smoking cessation projects that target LBGT individuals, and some of their constituents mimic their perspectives.
And of course, there are many who object to the approaches used by scientists, particularly the involvement of animals in biomedical and behavioral research. Out of ignorance, animus or some combination of the two, they falsely claim that study of biology in typical laboratory animals (mice, rats, primates, fish) fails to illuminate human biology. They willfully deceive the public about the nature of research and of animal welfare in laboratories. They threaten and intimidate scientists to suppress their work.
Most of us became scientists because of a deep passion to tackle the very serious problems that surround us; we sought to cure the environment, to cure disease in those around us or – perhaps – simply to cure ignorance with a healthy dose of knowledge. We each need to find that passion again in order to motivate our advocacy.
As I wrote in a Letter to the Editor of the Daily Bruin earlier this year:
The people that … protest against research … call themselves activists, but they are not.
Instead, the people that act to achieve real change, real progress and real advancements are the scientists…
We are the real activists striving to make the world a better place, and we commit ourselves to continuing to make scientific progress despite the screams, threats and mayhem coming from those opposed to it.