Muggles for Science

march for science

Portland’s March for Science (Photo by C Coleman Emery)

Why we need politicians who are vigilant

We took to the streets Saturday (April 21, 2017) to join the March for Science.

Thousands met in downtown Portland at the waterfront to hear speakers try to raise our emotions about science before our orderly walk began through four usually-busy-streets now safely cordoned from traffic and free of onlookers.

The light rain in the early hours yielded to bursts of sunshine, revealing a range of signs carried by marchers: some hand-written and messy, and others professionally printed on shiny placards.

One group sported a school of salmon executed with mesh, fabric, paint and carved Styrofoam.

The three-foot fishes swam above the crowd, hoisted on backpack frames sported by the puppeteers.

Their message: Keep salmon safe

Other messages read:

Science not silence

Fund the EPA

Got polio? Me neither. Thanks, science

Some slogans were political and hammered at poor decisions fraught with opinion rather than fact.

Other marchers carried cartoons of the ill-informed US president with messages like:

Science Trumps Ignorance

But when I reviewed local news coverage of our march and national news about events in Los Angeles, London and Washington, D.C., the story was framed as scientists marching for science, who freely criticized poorly-informed policies and idiots who make policies.

For example, one National Public Radio report framed the event as “Scientists take to Washington” and a weekend story noted: “Out of the lab and into the streets, science community marches for science.”

My impression?

Folks marching in Portland were mere muggles.

The five-to-six thousand participants (the number reported by a local commercial television station) who took to the streets included scientists, teachers and experts, and I surmise that most of us are layfolk passionate about sound decision-making.

Every one of us is subject to the foibles of poor decision-making.

Mental heuristics that fool us are part of human nature and muggledom.

But we expect our policy-makers to be extra vigilant when it comes to critical decision-making that affects birth, aging, our health, our children, our food, our safety, our water, our air, our bodies and our futures.

In the past 100 days we have witnessed how decisions escape vigilance and ignore core ethical values that most of us hold dear: protect those who are most vulnerable to harm.

For example:

  • Why would someone in power appoint a key policy-maker who is responsible for sound environmental practices but has deep ties and professional commitments with industries that support pollution—pollution that research demonstrates—unequivocally—harms human, animal and plant life?


  • Why would someone cut funding for birth-control in the face of hard, concrete evidence that the US abortion rate is at a record-breaking, all-time low, and that birth-control reduces abortion rates?


  • Why would politicians make it more difficult for immigrants to work in our country when evidence overwhelmingly shows—over and over again—that immigrant workers add to the US economy in stunningly beneficial ways?


  • Why would someone believe that immigrants harm individuals when the facts clearly demonstrate that home-spun, US-born denizens have been allowed to purchase weapons reserved for war-time, and then slaughtered innocents at schools, movie theatres and night clubs?


  • Why would politicians pull funding from agencies that allow researchers to improve our embarrassing record of infant mortality (now ranked 27th behind other developed countries) and humiliating life expectancy rate (now ranked 17th)?

What possible rationale explains why a policy-maker would make choices that cause more harm to our economy, our health, our schools and our welfare?

Clearly politicians are making decisions that aren’t addressed by the March for Science: It’s not just poor judgment.

It’s because elected officials court interests that influence their judgments.

Whether it’s the National Rifle Associate or Exxon-Mobile, companies that invest dollars in elected officials are guaranteed a nod from the politicians they support.

And these interests diverge with Americans’ best interests.

Special interests depend on elected officials to keep their agendas warm.

Who keeps the US president warm?

One of the most egregious examples is the $1.8 million in contributions to Trump from the DeVos family—one of the richest families in America.

Family member Betsy DeVos has no training in education nor experience in public education.

In fact, neither she nor her children attended public schools.

Yet she was nominated by Trump to serve as Secretary of Education: a clear example of corruption and quid pro quo.

So, no: it’s not that we need more science, more facts and more evidence: they are already available for everyone to see.

What we need is critical thinking on the part of the muggles who vote.

Like the placard says:

Make American Think Again.


23 April 2017










About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, Climate change, communication, salmon, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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