Contributed by Ben Wilson
It is heartening to see so many scientists taking to the streets around the world. Big marches took place in many cities yesterday. Tens of thousands of scientists marched in Australia too.
Altogether there were about 500 marches across the world. In Australia, crowds gathered in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Brisbane and Townsville and some other places.
Some of Australia’s brightest minds stood up to speak. Here in Melbourne, former politician and now honorary professor at Melbourne University and a fellow at the Australia Academy of Science, said that politics was being guided by “fake news”, “alternative facts.”
“It’s driven by opinions rather than knowledge. Politicians no longer ask if it’s true, rather, whether it will sell. We choose the bits we’re emotionally attached to and feel comfortable with,” he said.
Statistician Terry Speed, who heads the laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, spoke passionately about the need to dismiss the “small but very loud” group of people trying to reject scientific evidence, particularly on the topic of climate change.
One of the organisers of the Sydney march, Stuart Khan said “that the gaps that we see between what science tells us and what we actually see being translated into policy is very large…”.
Among the thousands attending the Sydney rally was former Liberal leader John Hewson, who told AM ahead of the march he was concerned about “the lack of evidence being used as the basis of public policy”.
Scientists coming out and making a stand is important, because the attack on science is sinister, aimed at fooling us and legitimising a horrendous world view. This is a world view that puts forward that there is no global warming, that it is right to make based race or ethnicity, that new ideas are a threat to our way of life and what others say should be suppressed, because they must be trouble makers. It doesn’t matter whether or not this is in accord with well researched facts.
In this view of the world, anyone who does not agree is branded guilty of not telling the truth and if this is too hard, insisting that there are alternative facts.
Scientists have angered vested interests, not only in relation to the connection between carbon emissions and global warming, but between smoking and cancer and pharmaceutical companies and the availability of treatments. It has happened with other cases. Vested interests have a motive to de-legitimise science and they provide money and backing to political parties and politicians.
This is how in the United States the proven and well documented concept of evolution of life has been suppressed into merely and opinion and creationism inserted into the curriculum of some schools. This is only one example and the pressure is on here in Australia too.
It does not stop at this . Scientists as a group, are increasingly held up for vilification and science funding a waste of resources. That much of what makes our lifestyle possible has come about because of the work of scientists and science is denied. Science is being progressively defunded. The anti-science crusade threatens our future.
More fundamental is that it threatens the right to question, to think outside the box and therefore ultimately, the right to free speech. These ingredients are essential to science and also, to our wellbeing as citizens of society.