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04/25/2017

Why I Marched

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

This past Saturday, I donned by pink knitted brain hat and joined 40,000 other scientists and allies in Chicago’s Grant Park. This unprecedented gathering was to make a statement that science is important and should be publicly supported. The march was a protest against proposed budget cuts for the EPA, NIH, CDC as well as the dismissal of scientific facts by elected officials. The March was not partisan but it was political, sending a message that federal support for science should be unwavering.

To see so many people out to support science was exciting. I saw creative costumes such as an 8-foot long, articulated dinosaur skeleton, bees, and a plush microbe. The signs were equally creative: “Spock Kitty says supporting science highly illogical,” “Science is like magic, but real,” “Silence, not silence,” “There is no Planet B,” “Science is not a liberal conspiracy,” and “Science is patriotic” among others. Perhaps most surprising to me were those present who were members of the far-right religious communities with their signs that expressed Bible verses supporting the discovery of knowledge and even a placard listing clergy who were also scientists. Science does reach across the partisan aisles.

The March was surprisingly quiet. There was little chanting of slogans as we moved slowly down the park paths. I stood by a graduate student union group that were discussing their publication plans and hopes for finding funding for their doctoral projects. I overhead others talking about how they were grateful that research led to a cure for their cancer. This was a science lovefest.

Of course the March was not without its critics. One concern was that although the signs were very funny to those in science, many of the sayings were esoteric and would not be understood by the general public. Signs that made puns of science often made this seem like a march of scientists rather than a march for science. The former creates a further divide between scientists and the rest of society, while the latter builds links across communities.

How should a bioethicist react to these efforts? After all, most of us are not scientists, but we are closely affiliated with the STEM disciplines. Without science and medicine there would not be a need for ethics consults and committees or IRBs and clinical ethics research consultants. Neuroethics and Genethics only exist because of our science allies. If the NIH loses much of its funding, not only scientists and students, but those who work in these areas of bioethics will suddenly find themselves without the grants that make their work possible.

Given that the current political climate seems to view good ethics as something dismissible and flexible, I wondered if there could ever be a “march for ethics” or even for “bioethics.” I imagined we would knit hats with question marks and brandish signs such as “Good ethics makes for good science,” “Got ethics?” and “We Kant live without ethics.” After a few moments of daydreaming, I realized that this would be unlikely to happen. We are too few in number and have a professional organization policy of not taking positions

For me, my bioethical response was to participate in the march; to show solidarity for the rigorous, ordered, and logical pursuit of knowledge. Did you march? Why did you march?

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