This Saturday, Pesticide Action Network will be in the streets of San Francisco, marching for science. We march because we believe that the freedom and ability to conduct independent science, by and for the people, is critical to our collective ability to create a healthy, just and sustainable world. We march to reclaim science from corrupt corporations and to defend the practice of science from those in power who would use it to oppress vulnerable peoples or who wish to deny the existence or emergence of inconvenient scientific truths.
We march also to honor and lift up local and Indigenous science, which has so often been violently suppressed or ignored, but which for millennia has provided sophisticated concepts, insights and frameworks with which to understand, guide and transform human life and relationship to the Earth. We march, therefore, to draw attention to the plurality of sciences and knowledge systems that are dedicated to justice and the liberation of all beings.
In any conversation about the role of science in society today, we must ask whose science we are talking about. The answer to the question of who benefits and who is harmed by “science” rests in the answer to the question of who defines and controls it, and towards what ends. While scientific inquiry is one powerful way in which we can better understand the world, and thereby make wise decisions based on the evidence emerging from this inquiry, the fact is that science is not and has never been neutral nor value-free. We know from history that science has been used brutally to violate entire peoples and to justify the destruction of their cultures and livelihoods.
Recognizing this, nearly fifty years ago, a group of scientists in the U.S. founded Science for the People to counter the militarization of science, the corporate control of the research agenda, and the elitism, racism, sexism and classism in science. They called for a politically and socially engaged science, by and for the people, to challenge the status quo, democratize scientific institutions and processes, and advance the cause of justice. This is precisely what we need today. I am hopeful to see that a newly revitalized Science for the People has recently re-emerged.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, hundreds of Indigenous scientists, educators, traditional practitioners, youth and elders issued a statement endorsing the March for Science, while simultaneously calling for a broader understanding of what “science” is. They remind us non-Native people that “long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here [who] engaged in the creation and application of knowledge which promoted the flourishing of both human societies and the beings with whom we share the planet.” They point out that Western science, while a powerful approach, is not the only one, and call eloquently for a plurality of sciences and multiple ways of knowing the world.
Indeed. Going further, the Zapatistas challenge us to reimagine science as a “tool of resistance.” Peasant-led agroecological institutes in Latin America and farmer-led networks of collaboration with scientists in the Philippines prove this to be possible. While such “diálogo de saberes” or “dialogue among knowledges” may not be very visible at the marches taking place around the country this weekend, the wisdom and calls for bringing forth a people’s science resonate deeply.
Corporate capture of public science
In sharp contrast, Trump’s attacks on science have been at once small-minded and vindictive (e.g. scrubbing the words “science” from parts of the EPA website and proposing deep cuts to the agency mandated to protect our health and environment) and wildly dangerous, putting the lives of billions of people across the planet in jeopardy.
By rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence documenting human responsibility for climate change and threatening to pull the U.S. out of the global climate accords, this administration has set us speeding down a path towards irreversible climate chaos.
Meanwhile, Trump’s newly appointed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, in his very first decision refused to ban Dow’s brain-harming nerve toxin, chlorpyrifos, against the recommendations of his own agency’s scientists. As PAN's Judy Hatcher said,
Tearing down the agency charged with protecting the environment is an anti-democratic move, intended to shut out the workers, health professionals, academics and concerned citizens who want the EPA to do its job."
While Trump’s assault on science appears far-reaching, we should keep in mind that he has actually been shrewdly selective in his choice of targets. As Eric Holt-Giménez of Food First observes, Trump’s anti-science attack “may well cripple the EPA, public science and climate science, but it won’t affect the corporate science of the petroleum, extractives or industrial agricultural industries.”
Corporate capture of science combined with Team Trump’s embrace of “alternative facts” (aka outright lies) threatens the health and safety of our families and communities; our soil, water and air; and the integrity of ecosystem functions critical to our survival.
In this scenario, corporations win. The public loses, particularly the most vulnerable in our midst. People facing direct harm include rural children exposed to brain-harming pesticides like chlorpyrifos, farm families and workers who face continued risk of cancer due to Monsanto’s manipulation of EPA’s scientific review of RoundUp, and poor communities in the countries most vulnerable to disruption caused by the corporations and politicians driving climate chaos.
Ultimately, the Trump administration’s swipes at publicly-funded research, and political supression of local and Indigenous communities conducting their own scientific inquiry, represent an assault on a fundamental aspect of being human: the right to ask questions.
We need strong public interest sciences as well as grassroots sciences, because these approaches — along with open, transparent public dialogue and debate — help us to investigate, better understand and repair our relationship to the world in which we live.
Stand up for sciences in the service of democracy, justice and liberation. Join us this Saturday in marching for sciences by and for the people.
Photo: Steve Rhodes | Flickr