March 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This march originated and has gathered momentum and support in response to the Trump/Pence regime's attacks on science in pursuit of their agenda. These attacks are widespread and targeted, driven by and in service of an ideological and political agenda.
In what follows, we walk through some of the key fronts of this regime’s attacks on science, why it matters to defend science, how this march originated, what lessons we can draw from this experience and some of the key ways communists and revolutionaries should relate to this. We will continue covering this over the next month and more, and would like to hear your thoughts and insights—and let us know if you want to volunteer for coverage of these marches or in any other respect.
I. The Regime’s Attacks on Science, Why They Matter—and Taking Them OnSoon after the inauguration, the Trump transition staff asked for lists of government officials who had worked on global warming. This had all the signs of gathering names for a witch hunt, occurring in the broader context of denial of global warming by Trump throughout his campaign, attacks on and threats to defund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and an escalating campaign by fascistic right-wing forces against climate scientists. Scientists started doing data dumps and taking other measures to protect and preserve precious research and findings gathered over decades—even as the regime initiated official muzzling of government scientists (see “Resist Trump’s Moves to Disembowel the EPA and Wreck the Environment”). Even while the disproportionate share of the impact of a warming planet will be felt by the masses of humanity in the oppressed nations, commonly known as the Third World, a significant part of the research on this is funded by and performed in the U.S., which also, till recently, has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the cause for a warming planet. This is a catastrophic threat, with planetary implications for billions of people potentially affected by rising sea levels, increased incidence and intensity of famines, droughts and hurricanes, and overall depletion of freshwater resources such as glacier melts. Driven by a profoundly anti-science and anti-environment ideology, the regime has also reissued permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Pipeline—both of which had shaped up to be major battle lines around the protection of the environment and the planet—while drastically cutting the budget for the EPA and appointing as its head someone who actually denies the very fact that the planet is warming due to greenhouse gases. However limited the 2015 Paris accord on global warming was in restricting and reducing the contributing factors to global warming, this regime is threatening to back out of it, leading to uncertainty and a possible collapse of the whole climate treaty and framework.
Not restricted to the environment alone, the Trump/Pence regime has also drastically cut budgets for major scientific and public-health institutions, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other scientific research agencies not directly involved in weapons production. This regime’s profoundly anti-scientific bent will manifest in further censorship of findings, muzzling of scientists, suppression of funding and restricting the role of science in public policy where it conflicts with their agenda or corporate interests. This is just a slice and sample of the widespread attacks on science already initiated by this regime. This regime’s Muslim ban and attacks on immigrants have also affected the scientific community, which in the U.S. is made up disproportionately of people who are foreign-born—and scientists have taken on these attacks as well, issuing statements against these attacks and calling for more inclusion and diversity overall. Revolution/revcom.us has been and will continue covering these attacks—and we encourage readers to correspond with us on this, reporting on instances of such attacks.
Along with attacks on science in realms such as public health and the environment, the dominance of the extremely anti-scientific Christian fascist ideological agenda is profoundly dangerous. One of the main lines of the fascist attack on science is on the fact of evolution, all life on planet Earth having evolved from common ancestors over at least 3.5 billion years—because it runs directly up against their literalist reading and interpretation of the Bible. These Christian fascists and Biblical literalists have waged well-funded and deceptive campaigns to undermine and even ban the teaching of evolution in schools—even though evolution is one of the most well-established and proven facts in the history of science—and to rally political forces to introduce Biblical creationism as science. Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education in this regime, is a Christian fascist, and historically has been deeply committed to impose this worldview on society. Now, with their hands on the levers on education, these forces can do great harm in this regard, denying generations of children the science of evolution and the scientific method.
Why is this significant and important, not only for scientific education but for the emancipation of humanity? Everyone needs to understand the basic facts of evolution as well as the essentials of the scientific method. Ardea Skybreak captures this in her book The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters:
"When people are deprived of a scientific approach to reality as a whole, they are robbed of both a full appreciation of the beauty and richness of the natural world and the means to understand the dynamics of change not only in nature but in human society as well."This regime’s attacks on science are occurring in the larger context of a wholesale assault on the very notion of truth as correspondence with reality (see “The ‘Alternative Facts’ of Donald Trump vs. the Truth”). Trump has become infamous for just making up shit, alleging things that serve his interests and agenda when it suits him. He has branded as “fake news” any reality or facts opposed to his agenda or critical of him, and his minions like Kellyanne Conway have branded their fiction and narratives as “alternative facts.” NO! This is, by definition, an oxymoron. While this wholesale assault on reality and truth has precedents in the fascist trajectory and social base represented by the Republicans, with media like Fox News or the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, Trump represents a qualitative leap beyond anything before.
Marches planned across the U.S. as of March 27, 2017. Map from March for Science
All of this forms the backdrop, context, target and compelling factor for the March for Science on April 22. Foregrounding the “celebration of science,” breaking down barriers for people to do science and access science, the mission of the march has a definite call to act:
In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?This is positive—and despite no explicit mention of the Trump/Pence regime in the mission statement, everybody knows what this march is about. This is similar in that respect to the Women’s March the day after the Trump inauguration. Also, very positive in the mission of the march is the overall sharp focus on scientific epistemology (how people acquire knowledge and how they know whether something is true, and the scientific method needed to do so), proceeding in basic terms from the standpoint of the world and the public domain of human knowledge, rather than narrow national U.S. interest of “making America great.” The mission of this march, now global, ends with, “We must take science out of the labs and journals and share it with the world.” (Emphasis added.)
People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.
This is a positive sentiment. Science matters!
The interview with Ardea Skybreak, Science and Revolution, On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian, demystifies and brings alive the import of science, showing why science applies to all of reality, natural and social. In the interview, Skybreak states that science is “...a very powerful tool. It’s a method and approach for being able to tell what’s true, what corresponds to reality as it really is.... Science is an evidence-based process.... Science allows you to confront and identify problems, to recognize problems and figure out how to solve them, rather than run away from them.... Without science you are at the mercy of being manipulated, of having your thinking manipulated and not being able to tell what’s right from what’s wrong, what’s true from what’s false.”
II. A Brief Note on the Origins of the March for Science—and Lessons to LearnThe origins of this march are both revealing of the large sections of people that detest what this regime represent—and the rapid mobilization that can materialize, if one is acting decisively on social contradictions and felt need, scientifically and in line with the interests of the masses of people.
According to news reports, Jonathan Berman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas, was increasingly horrified by this regime’s attacks on science, especially the initial reports of the muzzling of government climate scientists, and was coming to feel this unacceptable as he learned more. The mass outpourings the day after the inauguration, the Women’s March, inspired him. Confronting the need for something similar with the attacks on science, he took this to heart and acted on it. As the statement from the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, “Some Points on Strategic Orientation for the Next Period,” states, “This is what is needed, on a growing mass scale.”
Berman set up a Facebook page, and was soon joined by another co-initiator for the march, public health researcher Caroline Weinberg. According to news reports, the membership of the Facebook page grew from 200 the first night to 300,000 the next night. The positive factor was the certitude of the initial call they issued:
Although this will start with a march, we hope to use this as a starting point to take a stand for science in politics. Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science.There is an example of how small forces acting on profound contradictions with scientific certitude can make a big difference and materialize the necessary forces to do what is needed.
There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world. (Emphasis added.)
III. The Significance of This March—for the Crucial Political Battle to Oust
Politically at this moment, this march of scientists and those
in defense of science is significant. Even though it is not explicitly
or officially billed as an anti-Trump protest, this is the mass
sentiment driving the enthusiasm and organizing. Stressing the need to
ACT and manifest on the street, and an overall orientation of proceeding
from the interests of the world, this section of the people acting out
of character with conventional norms—“scientists on the streets”—can
potentially contribute to inspiring others, and to the mass resistance
needed to oust this regime.
This Fascist Regime, and for Making Revolution
Debate broke out early over whether this march is a good thing—a debate that is still continuing.
Robert Young, in an op-ed in the New York Times, said the march is a bad idea, that “...trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research and findings for their own ends.” A professor of coastal geology at Western Carolina University, Young recounted his experience of being attacked by global warming skeptics, real estate developers and others for research they found unfavorable, even though it was meticulous—and he dreads the increased polarization.
A number of scientists responded across the board, almost immediately, and this built greater interest and momentum for the march, even while strengthening the case that this march, in fact, IS a very good idea.
For example, without directly referencing Young, in a powerful editorial in Science, Rush Holt, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), responded to this controversy. After criticizing the Muslim ban in opposition to what is needed for science to flourish, he says what is “most troubling” is “policy-making that is based on ideological assertion rather than on verifiable evidence. Public officials citing ‘alternative facts’ leave scientists dismayed.” (Emphasis added.) This is important because science is an evidence-based process. Further, addressing concerns of scientists stepping into the political terrain, he states:
Taking action is the best course when science is threatened or when science can illuminate public issues. Scientists should not fool themselves with the misconception that politics is dirty compared to the scientific enterprise, and they should therefore avoid the fight. Nor should scientists think that by standing back and letting the facts speak for themselves, they allow reason to prevail and proponents of flawed policies to wilt.Overall, this call to act among scientists and those in defense of science can contribute to the movement needed to oust this regime. Those active in the political battle to drive out this fascist regime should boldly popularize and spread the stand, NO! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America, making the case for the urgent NECESSITY to drive out this regime, helping people draw conclusions on the qualitative character of how it is all part of and held together by a specific form of rule (fascism)—stressing the comprehensive nature of all this, and the need to defeat it as a regime. Projecting the actions of the scientists to other sections of society can also help further marshal and mobilize towards the NECESSITY/POSSIBILITY to oust this regime, a mood creating factor.
A scientist must take great pains to prevent ideology, bias, or wishful thinking from contaminating the collecting or analyzing of evidence—that is, one must avoid politicizing the science. But it is a fallacy to say the converse is true. One need not avoid—indeed, should not avoid—applying relevant science in political or societal situations where it can help address problems. The need to maintain the purity of the majestic scientific enterprise should not be used as an excuse for inaction. (Emphasis added.)
Other scientists, in responding to Young’s op-ed, drew upon the history of scientists in public life—like Albert Einstein speaking out against nuclear weapons—and called for a time similar to the 1960s when scientists were much more in the public eye and the public square.
Pulling the lens back, this political and intellectual ferment among scientists and those in defense of science is a good thing—and can potentially contribute to making revolution. In this context, a couple of points to consider:
First, making an actual revolution—and building a radically new and far better society and world—is complex. It requires science. And it requires leadership based on this science. Without this, even the most heroic struggles remain locked within this system's confines, and the world remains fundamentally unchanged.
The popularization around science and the scientific method among growing sections of people can potentially contribute to this multifaceted process, also potentially contributing to breaking the chains of religion and other forms of antiscientific thinking dominant among the oppressed of humanity.
Second, and more critically, this ferment and unsettledness presents opportunities for asking and posing big questions—not only how did we end up with this regime, but more broadly, on the history of this country, the nature of this society, and what will it take to get beyond all this (see the 3 Things1). Particular questions of whether science can be applied to society and the role of science in previous socialist societies2 are coming to the fore.
Let’s really take this opportunity to introduce the work and leadership of Bob Avakian (BA) to a section of people being thrust into political life, acting in ways they would not have a few months ago, asking questions they did not think they had. BA’s The New Communism represents a whole new framework for the emancipation of humanity on a thoroughly scientific basis. As Skybreak says in her interview, why would any scientist of good conscience not want to engage this? Drawing from the guidance of the RCP Central Committee statement “Some Points On Strategic Orientation For the Next Period,” connecting BA with those rising in the defense of science has a couple of critical dimensions, including:
* “Projecting a radically different and far better society that is represented in concrete and visionary form in the Constitution For The New Socialist Republic in North America (CNSRNA), authored by Bob Avakian. Particularly at a time when the question of how society should be organized, and on what principles, is much closer to the surface, this needs to be much more widely known. This Constitution represents a qualitative advance beyond previous socialist societies, and is a concrete application of BA’s New Communism—the result of more than four decades of work, scientifically summing up past communist and revolutionary experiences and theory, leading the revolution, practically and theoretically, in this country, and drawing from developments in other fields of human endeavor like the sciences, history, and art.” (from the Central Committee statement)
Along with the overall promotion and projection of the CNSRNA and the society it represents, the sections in the Constitution on Education, and Science and Scientific Endeavor, may be of particular interest to some in these strata.
* “Overarching in its import in this context and overall is the interview with Ardea Skybreak—further highlighted by its title/subtitle—Science and Revolution, On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian. In particular, the last section of the interview needs to be highlighted and called attention to as a model of a ‘Follower of BA’—not only in opposition to all the ridiculous slander of ‘cult,’ but, positively, as an embodiment and concentration of the radically different and far better world, of what it means to be communist in the vein of The New Communism—with the particularity of a scientist who is ‘An Explorer, a Critical Thinker, a Follower of BA: Understanding the World, and Changing It for the Better, in the Interests of Humanity.’” (from the Central Committee statement)
This assumes even greater import, now, and merits concentrated emphasis in popularizing and projecting. Addressing scientists in particular, Skybreak says in the interview:
I feel like saying to many of the natural scientists and popularizers of science, “Look, with BA, you have somebody here who's really good at applying consistent evidence-based scientific methods to both the analysis of current society and the pathways for change of future society. How can you not want to seriously examine and check this out?” BA is using the methods of science to better bring to light such things as: how human society is organized; what are the prevailing characteristics and features of modern-day capitalism-imperialism; why the basic laws of functioning of this system cause it to continually generate and regenerate certain types of problems that are deeply rooted in its material underpinnings, problems that are genuine horrors for the people, causing a great deal of unnecessary suffering for millions and billions of people here and around the world; why the prevailing system itself, because of its material foundations and ways it must objectively function to maintain and extend itself, is objectively, materially, incapable of fundamentally ever resolving these contradictions; and how, still on the basis of evidence-based science, we can actually analyze not only what's wrong with current society but also identify the material basis for transforming society in a much better direction, and ultimately in ways that would benefit all of humanity. Why would any scientist with a conscience not be interested in exploring the application of sound scientific methods to doing all of that?
1. 3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better:
1) People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.
2) People have to dig seriously and scientifically into how this system of capitalism-imperialism actually works, and what this actually causes in the world.
3) People have to look deeply into the solution to all this.
May 1st, 2016 [back]
May 1st, 2016 [back]
2. One of the oft-quoted examples of problems with previous socialist experiences is the role of Trofim Lysenko. He was an agronomist in the Soviet Union in the 1930s whose false science was given state backing by Stalin because it seemingly solved real problems of increasing agricultural yield to feed the people in a society with non-exploitative economic relations.
As part of a new synthesis of communism, and the need for a socialist society and transition building on but different than what has existed before, Bob Avakian has explored and analyzed this in detail, including in works like DICTATORSHIP AND DEMOCRACY, AND THE SOCIALIST TRANSITION TO COMMUNISM.