Advice for Scientists from a Fan

1*kwiNY-8vonJm3sIBdwogAwHay fever could not stop this family of a biologist, a kid who is interested in EVERYTHING, and a writer from attending the Sacramento March For Science. It was a wonderful event that I was proud to have participated in.

I lurked on the March for Science Facebook thread on and off as this march was being planned, and Science People, as a friendly layperson, I have Thoughts.

1. Get intersectional.

You are not practicing science in a vacuum. You are practicing a field which does not have a glowing history with women, people with disabilities, people with color, or people who identify as LGBTQIA. Face this history. Educate yourself on it. Stop saying that science should not be political – it is political and it has always been political. Stand up for vulnerable populations with your bodies and your voices, and help both professional and laypeople understand the ethics which should be guiding science today, and what science today teaches us about poverty, racism, sexism, and so forth. This is part of your job.

2. Reach out to the public – nicely.

The world is full of people who don’t know about science. Many of them are not idiots – they just never had a chance to learn. Stop making Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse  Tyson do all the work! Be confident, be proud of your accomplishments and your knowledge – but don’t be a snob. Maybe you can analyze the genome but you can’t unplug a toilet. We all have our areas of expertise.

3. LEARN.

I know, you are scientists, you are always learning. Learn about things that aren’t in your field – it will make your science more effective.

In the weeks leading up to the march, many worried that being inclusive would be too political. The fact is that not being inclusive is also political. There is no neutral ground, and there never has been – our choices about who is allowed to practice science, how we conduct it, what we fund, and how we interpret and use findings has always been shaped by political and social factors. The findings themselves may be neutral – gravity is real whether I choose to believe in it or not. But the field in which those findings are discovered is not and cannot be a neutral one because we are people who function in a context of other people.

Any scientist, but especially those interested in science advocacy, should have at least a passing familiarity with some of the issues historically and currently that shape the way vulnerable populations might look at the scientific field. For instance, scientists should know something about the history of eugenics and forced sterilizations in the United States of America. They should know about the American history of using African-Americans for scientific research without their knowledge or consent. They should understand at least something about historical efforts to “treat” homosexuality as a mental illness. And of course, scientists of all genders should understand the struggles women face with sexual harassment in STEM fields today.

Understanding social issues makes science better, just as science has the potential to make social issues better. The march was a powerful step (no pun intended). Keep going!

 

 

 

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