Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 3:51 pm | Fair 76º


Ken Macdonald: Now Is Indeed the Time to March for Science

The first nationwide March for Science will occur Saturday, April 22 (the same date as Earth Day) at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and at hundreds of other cities around the country. In Santa Barbara, it will begin at De la Guerra Plaza at 11 a.m., followed by a march down State Street and ending at the Earth Day main stage to Alameda Park about 2 p.m.

The purpose is to remind us all of how important science is to a civilized and prospering society.

According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, science is “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” It further defines the scientific method as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

So why is there a march for science now?

Science has been under unprecedented attack, and some of the attackers now run our country. For example, Victoria Herrmann, who is managing director of The Artic Institute and National Geographic Explorer, has reported in The Guardian (March 28) that data sets pertaining to her study of arctic permafrost have been deleted from government computers.

She says, “This is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.”

This is the 21st-century equivalent of book burning.

Also concerning is that there is no presidential science adviser (who is also the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy). In fact, some on President Trump's transition team call for the abolition of the OSTP, which would block the president from access to pesky scientific and technological advice. Not having any informed advice has made it easier for him to propose slashing in his first budget 18 percent from the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent from the Energy Department’s Office of Science and 31 percent from the Environmental Protection Agency.

There is just one hire in science and technology, a deputy chief technology officer named Michael Kratsios. He received a bachelor of arts degree in politics from Princeton in 2008 and has no scientific training. Previously he was chief of staff for Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley investor (PayPal, Facebook) who is one of the president’s wealthiest supporters.

So we have one person, with no education in science or engineering, advising the president on crucial scientific issues. Former President Obama turned to his science adviser and the OSTP during crises such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the nuclear spill in Fukushima in 2011 and the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010. He also had a science adviser named weeks before he was inaugurated. Kumar Garg, a former OSTP senior adviser, said, “They [the Trump administration] are flying blind when it comes to science and tech issues.”

So now is indeed the time to march together to remind our leaders of the urgent importance of science to society. Let’s hope that nothing serious happens before they wake up.

Speaking of science and nature, there are some spectacular happenings in our own backyard. In addition to the marvelous wildflower blooms, the gray whales are heading north with their babies, many of them close to shore. Its part of the longest mammal migration on Earth (more than 10,000 miles), from the lagoons of Baja California, where mating and birthing occurs, to Alaska and the Arctic, where they live and feed. Catch a ride on one of the whale boats for the best views. My favorite is the Condor Express.

Science can be fun, too!

— Ken Macdonald is an oceanographer and professor emeritus in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Earth Science. He has been affiliated with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and has led deep-sea dives up to 15,000 feet in the submersible Alvin. He is a naturalist for Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands National Marine SanctuaryClick here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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