It was not a particularly beautiful day today in New Haven, Connecticut. But everyone who gathered- some 2,000 strong- for the March for Science knew in advance that beautiful weather was unlikely. We knew it courtesy of meteorology, a science. An imperfect science, to be sure-but one we all count on just the same. Any time anyone checks a weather forecast, it’s a vote for science.
Despite the weather, I might have been dry and comfortable today courtesy of feathers, fur, or wool- had I been a duck, otter, or sheep- respectively. Those are adaptations, all, products of evolutionary biology and natural selection- which we understand courtesy of science.
Instead, I was comfortable and dry courtesy of Gore-Tex- a product of science.
Those who gathered under those brooding skies were overwhelmingly, and inevitably, those already convinced that immunization saves countless lives and is not significantly associated with autism; that climate change is real and we are complicit in it; and that this planet’s greatest treasure, its native biodiversity- is a product of evolution by natural selection over billions of years.
Our mission at today’s rally and march, I suggested, was to build bridges to those not marching with us- our neighbors, and coworkers, and cousins. Our mission was and is to build bridges that expand our reach and route of march, not burn bridges, and thus constrain them.
I proposed reminding those not marching with us, every chance we get, that the ACT of every tweet- sending organized electrons through cyberspace- trumps the content of any tweet repudiating the basic merits of science. But for science, no one would find their way to cyberspace in the first place.
Every tweet is a vote for the products, power and practicability of the scientific method- and I asked those assembled to tweet, and retweet that. I ask those of you amenable to do the same.
Some may be concerned that science is arrogant, and too sure of itself. But nothing could be further from the truth. Science is incredibly humble. It is riddled with doubt, and constantly prone to self-deprecation. It is all the stronger for it. As Bertrand Russell said: "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." Good scientists are wise enough to know how much we don’t know. The reason the best scientists sometimes lose out to hucksters in the court of public opinion is that the hucksters feign certainty, while the true scientists forever hedge.
Science can be wrong, and acknowledges it can be wrong. But when it is wrong, what shows us the error, and the correction- is more science, not denial or alternative facts. Science is falsifiable, and verifiable- but always by more science, not by those who find the findings of science inconvenient.
It is despite the humility of science and the assault of doubt that truths are established beyond the shadows: gravity is real, climate change and our complicity in it are real, immunization saves countless lives, the earth is billions of years old, our solar system is heliocentric, evolution is real- and on a daily basis, science is repudiated by those using the endowment of its methods. It is not a given, incremental advance of science for which we marched- it is for the methods that fuel the advance, allowing all the while for the route to truth to be both hard and tortuous.
So I asked those gathered today – and I ask you - to remind those not marching for this cause that the power, practicality, and proof of the scientific method are literally at everyone’s texting fingertips- presidential and otherwise.
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
Immediate Past-President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Senior Medical Advisor, Verywell.com
Founder, The True Health Initiative