This past Earth Day, 22 April, some 3000 people gathered at Museumplein, Amsterdam, for what could very well be the largest demonstration of scientists and science supporters in the Netherlands ever.
With an astonishing international dispersal, the March for Science movement has attracted myriad sympathisers, as many opponents, and dozens of opinion articles both urging people everywhere to take a stance for science and warning them of the perils of ever more politicised research.
Yet, our certainly scientific Wageningen community seems frankly oblivious to the global dispute. And the very few deliberations around the issue are both vague and ambiguous.
Put simply, we do not seem to have a clear idea of what we are marching for.
The WUR Facebook page limited its efforts to a single post endorsing the event’s goal to ‘defend the vital role science plays in our lives’. Defend it against whom? I wonder. An anti-science Donald Trump? Probably. Although that borders an oversimplification that just won’t do for neither science nor WUR.
The march was marked by contrasting feelings of celebration and opposition. There were the typical and expected ‘I love science’, ‘Science matters’, and ‘Science not silence’ signs. But one could also read things like ‘Corals not coal’ and ‘A woman’s place is at the lab’. There were shouts of ‘Science is democracy!’, quite an anti-democratic remark. ‘Science versus populism’ – what? There were even some distasteful signs mocking freedom of religion.
Among such muddled goals, a marcher is no longer sure what he or she is exactly protesting about. Was it a march for science? Scientific thinking? Or environmentalism? Perhaps gender equality? Freedom of speech? Were we arguing for more political influence, or less, or none at all? Did we march because we hate Trump? Or in defence of the EPA? Did we just do it to show we love being scientists?
If the goal was vague before, it is much more so now.
Public engagement will always get my two thumbs up. But taking the streets to incoherently ramble about any possible issue faced by the world today hardly seems like engagement. Certainly not engagement with science.
Perhaps we would do well to remember: the movement is called March for Science, not March by Scientists.