WASHINGTON — Congress’s one PhD-trained scientist is planning to join the march on Washington on April 22 — “not as a Democratic member of Congress, but as a scientist.”
Thousands of scientists and science advocates are expected to participate in the March for Science, and Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois, a Democrat and physicist, will join them. He’s even planning to return three days early from a congressional recess to attend.
But as to whether he views his participation as a rebuke to the president, Foster said, “The march itself is nonpartisan. It is in support of science, and I think that it’s an important distinction to be drawn.”
That line, between a political march and a partisan one, has remained at the center of the pre-march discussion. Like the Women’s March on Washington, the March for Science will inevitably be viewed by some as a rebuke of the current White House and Republican-controlled Congress’s science policies.
But in Foster’s view, there’s a way for scientists to be political without really getting political.
“One of the important lessons that all parents should be taught in raising a child is to criticize the behavior, not the child,” Foster said. “So when I see anti-scientific policies by any agency, any politician, I criticize the policy and don’t turn it into a partisan criticism. I don’t generalize to their entire party. But if you see a specific policy that is inconsistent with the known principles of science, every citizen who is also a scientist should speak out.”
The science community has found plenty of objectionable behavior in the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The White House budget outline proposed major cuts to the NIH, the chairman of the House science committee recently questioned the credibility of Science magazine, and Trump has yet to appoint a director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Luckily, Foster said, the scientific community has recent experience picking apart only the scientific aspects of a contentious debate while leaving the politics aside. Look no further than 2015 and the Iran nuclear deal, Foster said, which he supported after extensive technical review.
“The analysis of the technical aspects should be kept scientific,” Foster said. “The scientific community spoke out, correctly, in support of the technical aspects. But most scientists were respectful also that there was a second part of the decision that had to do with diplomatic and psychological analysis of what Iran would look like the day after we voted it up or down. That’s a non-scientific decision that you have to keep separate.”