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Peter Doherty: why Australia needs to march for science

Nobel Laureate and Queensland medical researcher, Peter Doherty, writes in The Conversation (21.4.17) about the international 'March for Science' event, arguing that the movement aims to cause US legislators to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.

'To me, it seems the reason concerned people across the planet are marching [for science] today is that, at least for the major players in the English-speaking world, there are major threats to the global culture of science.

'Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.

'Contrary to the data-free “neo-con/trickle down” belief system, the observed dissonance implies that we need robust, enforceable national and international tax and regulatory structures to drive the necessary innovation and renewal that will ensure global sustainability and a decent future for humanity and other, complex life forms.

'Here in Australia, the March for Science joins a global movement initiated by a perceived anti-science stance in Donald Trump’s administration.

'... Ignoring, or denying, problems does not make them go away. Whether or not the message is welcome, the enormous power of science and technology means we can only go forward if future generations are to experience the levels of human well-being and benign environmental conditions we enjoy today.

'There is no going back. The past is a largely imagined, and irretrievable country.'

What happens when scientists stand up for science

Brian Martin writes in The Conversation (5.5.17) about last month's March for Science international event, arguing that it's not a new phenomenon that scientists who challenge the orthodoxy or policy positions suffer career ramifications.

'The 2017 March for Science was a powerful political statement by scientists. The marchers opposed political interference, budget cuts and lack of support for science at a government level. More commonly, though, scientists stay in their labs and avoid the public political spotlight.

'CSIRO scientist John Church – who initially acted as an individual (not a representative of his research institution) to "stand up for science" in 2015 – is cited as a recent example of the career ramifications that can flow from public activity.

'Actually, he’s not alone. For years, outspoken scientists have encountered career difficulties and personal repercussions.

'But climate science and the advent of digital and social media shape how scientists speak publicly about science now.'


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