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This Saturday 22 April 2017 is the first March for Science, an organized moment for people around the globe to gather in support evidence based discovery. I’ll be marching in Seattle. Saturday is also Earth Day, a movement which saw its beginnings back in 1970 when millions of Americans rallied to support healthy, sustainable environmental choices. While both of these causes may have been born out of political frustration, their missions span those boundaries. No matter your opinion on how government and collective action can solve the myriad challenges that our Mother Earth faces today, I hope you’ll join me on Saturday at a March for Science or Earth Day event in your community.
Science, specifically the scientific method of hypothesis testing, is a broad problem solving framework applicable to problems across subjects, industries, and generations. It gives us structure to approach the unknown, and allows progress even in the light of failure. Science tells us to consider what we know, make a prediction, and put it to the test. Often the prediction will be wrong. Often when an experiment is completed it may leave more questions than answers. As much as today’s society is all about answers and progress, new information is not a failure in the eye of Science. Where would we be if every negative result became a stop order? Edison reportedly failed thousands of times while working on the incandescent light bulb and other inventions. I march because Science is a problem solving framework that helps us correct our mistakes.
Science may adapt to help us learn from failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Science asks humans to be objective when observing and reporting results. As a pattern-seeking species, that task is incredibly difficult, even when experimental controls are in place. Many career scientists, even academics and others in public positions, have incentives that may compete with the guidelines that science provides for experiments. Publication quotas for tenured positions. Financial rewards or promotion for positive results. Journals favoring significant results over negative findings. (For the interested, I highly recommend this FiveThirtyEight piece about P-hacking.) Scientists can’t just be experts in their own field. Experiments bring up questions in statistics and ethics, and without a comprehensible and accurate summary, findings can fall flat. I march because the people who dedicate their lives to science deserve credit for more than discovery.
Wherever you participate on April 22, make a plan now for a couple key things and you’ll be more likely to get out there and stay a little happier on Saturday.
The scientific method doesn’t end with a negative result. Every day is Earth Day. Use April 22 as a chance to find a community where you can continue to support the causes you care about.