Tomorrow is the day of Marches for Science. The idea of a march for science has somewhat divided people, although along rather predictable lines. There’s concern that it will be seen as politicising science. There’s concern that it will be seen as a march for scientists, rather than as a march for science. There have been issues related to inclusivity and diversity. Science should aim to be inclusive and diverse and should aim to avoid being seen as being associated with mainly one group; some of the rhetoric around these marches did not make this sufficiently clear.
My own view is that even though this hasn’t always been promoted as carefully as it could have been, I think it is good to see people who are passionate about something trying to stand up for what they believe in. The intention, as I understand it, is to highlight the important role that science plays in our lives and to protest against attempts to undermine our scientific understanding when it presents results that are inconvenient to some.
I was, however, wanting to make a fairly simple point, because this is – I think – a fairly simple issue, and scientists (well, myself, at least) have a rather simple view of this. As far as I’m aware, people who do science (and, by science, I really mean research in general) are ultimately interested in trying to understand whatever system it is that they are studying. They believe that they can gather information about that system and analyse that information in a way that will allow us to improve our understanding of the system being studied. They also believe that this information should be made available to society in general and that it should be used to inform decisions that influence how we live our lives.
There are, of course, strong caveats. This information does not – by itself – tells us what decisions should be made, or even how we should live our lives. There may be some things that we (as a society) decide should not be studied. This information may also allow for certain things that we might choose not to do. There may even be cases where we make decisions that seem at odds with the available evidence. There will also be many occasions where other factors, that are more difficult to quantify, strongly influence what we might choose to do.
However, most scientists (as far as I’m aware) think that an informed society is better than one that is not informed. They believe that we should at least accept this information, even if we end up doing things that seem counter-intuitive, given that information. If we start (as seems to be the case) justifying views on the basis of rejecting information that is regarded as reliable and well supported by the evidence, then that would seem to suggest that these views are not well informed.
At the end of the day, science/research provides valuable information that can help to inform society and we should be willing to recognise this, even if some of what is presented is inconvenient; people, especially those who represent us, should be able to defend their views in the light of the available evidence, not reject the available evidence when it appears to be at odds with their views.