Apr 202017

  by Bill Onasch

Popular Science Demonstrated

America has long been noted for our various issue-focused protest movements demonstrating their strength in the streets. But Saturday’s March for Science is a unique new entry in to such nonelectoral politics.

Of course, there have always been prominent individual scientists such as Barry Commoner, Linus Pauling, and James Hansen who have been social, even political activists. There are various scientific associations who sometimes issue peer-reviewed statements on politically controversial issues. But never before have thousands of scientists pledged to march in the streets—inviting us lay persons to join them—in defense of science itself.

It is to their further credit that they chose the too long neglected Earth Day to demonstrate. I wrote about the seminal impact of the first Earth Day in the April 29, 2015 WIR.

The March for Science is a response to the odious rise of the political and theocratic far-right who find science interfering with their reactionary agenda. Above all there are scurrilous attacks on climate scientists. Today these are spearheaded by the President of the United States who is getting rid of nearly all employed by the EPA.

There are also still Christian extremists, invigorated by a friend in the White House, who vilify–and try to ban from classrooms and textbooks–Darwin’s nineteenth century breakthrough contribution of Natural Selection because they see it conflicting with their literal interpretation of biblical texts.

Those threats alone are good reasons to back those defending scientific methods that are indispensable to human civilization. My wife Mary and I, along with friends and colleagues, are planning to join the Kansas City support event–even if it means getting soaked in a predicted cold rain–and I urge you to support your local effort if you can’t make the big one in DC.

But science has seldom been privileged to work in labs, or postulate in proverbial Ivory Towers, pursuing pure science. The basic tools they often need such as Super-computers, electron microscopes—not to mention orbiting satellites, particle accelerators, or deep space rocket journeys—require the deep pockets of big corporations and governments. Those institutions dominating capitalist society expect practical results enhancing profits in return for their underwriting of science.

Cliff Conner, an author whose perceptive views about science I’ve followed for decades, recently wrote an apropos article entitled The Tragedy of American Science. He accuses ruling class corruption of science as the source of this vicissitude,

“Science is presumed to be a reliable source of knowledge based on objective fact rather than subjective bias. By definition, that requires research to be conducted impartially by scientists with no conflicts of interest that could affect their judgment. But a science harnessed to the maximization of private profits cannot avoid material conflicts of interest that are anathema to objectivity….

“The science of the United States is the major component of world science—as American science goes, so goes science in general. The American federal R&D [Research and Development] budget is larger than those of Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan combined. American science’s primary competition vanished in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 1998 science in Russia and the other Soviet spin-offs was on the edge of extinction, surviving only by means of charitable donations from abroad.”

While scientists today are no longer burned on the stake like Bruno, or confined to house arrest like Galileo, many are legally bound to remain silent about inconvenient truths they discover. Past editions of the WIR reported on how scientists working for the company now known as ExxonMobil were among the first to raise concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels–but their work was long kept top secret. Government scientists briefed President Johnson about global warming in 1965—and were warned by LBJ to keep their “theories” to themselves.

While medical science has enabled those who can afford it to live decades longer than their grandparents, a lot more money is poured in to military science developing stealth aircraft, submarines that can remain submerged for months, deadly drones that can be precisely guided by operators thousands of miles from their targets.

Science has enabled AgriBusiness to gain perpetual monopolies of GMO crops–also often dependent on herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers from the same companies–that are causing great long term environmental damage.

Sometimes corporations sponsor outright “junk science” as a propaganda antidote to genuine science that threatens bottom lines. A prime example is a so-called “Clean Coal” alternative to the palpably dirty stuff still used by many power plants—and exported to greenhouse polluters around the world. This magic clean carbon science fiction is as close to reality as the synthahohol dispensed from replicators on the Starship Enterprise that gives you a pleasing buzz without making you drunk.

The list of suppressed and perverted science is too lengthy for this missive. It poses many ethical dilemmas for scientists. But they are not the primary culprits–nor can they alone fix these problems. Conner writes,

“The campaign of Bernie Sanders brought the word socialism into the public discourse as something other than a swear word for the first time in most Americans’ living memory….The Bernie Sanders experience once again reveals that there is no ‘progressive wing’ of the Democratic Party that can offer a genuine challenge to the corporatization and militarization of American science…

“The hopeful note in all of this is that replacing the current science-for-profit system by a science-for-human-needs system is not an impossible, utopian dream. To make it a reality, however, requires a fundamental restructuring of our society. That is the great, daunting challenge facing today’s youth and the generations to come. It is by no means melodramatic to say that the survival of the human race depends on their success.”

Workers and farmers of this country, and around the world, should welcome the initial effort by scientists to join us in the streets to begin to address the overarching crises that threaten humanity’s future. Those can only be satisfactorily resolved by applying scientific methods in both our biosphere–and the struggle between classes.

All Out for the March for Science!

Other Upcoming Events

* April 29 Peoples Climate March

PCM Poster (English), Cesar Maxit

The main event of the March for Climate, Jobs, Justice will be in Washington DC, expected to draw hundreds of thousands. At least dozens of local support actions are being built by hundreds of Partner organizations–that I am proud to say includes Kansas City Labor Party Advocates. The Kansas City action will be at Washington Square Park, across Main Street from Union Station at 1PM.

* May 1 International Workers Day

There doesn’t appear to be any national clearing house for numerous May Day strikes and demonstrations around immigrant and women’s rights, Fight for 15, and other issues. In Kansas City, after a day of strikes by low wage workers there will be two rallies—connected by a march—downtown. Organized by Stand Up KC, Fight for 15, and the Missouri NAACP, demonstrators will assemble at Allis Plaza, 12 & Wyandotte at 6PM; march across 12th Street; rally on the steps of City Hall.

The next WIR will include any updated information.

That’s all for this week.

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