Like many of my fellow educator-scientists, yesterday I had the honor and privilege of joining a March for Science. Since I live in a small town in the middle of “what mountains? they told me there would be mountains!” Colorado, I had to travel to Denver to join up with the big city folks and their March.
Bright and early yesterday morning, I packed up my daughter and her friend (both currently my biology students) and we hit the road for the 2 1/2 hour drive through the moonscape that is eastern Colorado. We were rewarded for our efforts with a pretty steady sprinkle of rain the entire drive, which is a blessing in these parched high plains.
We decided to take the RTD commuter train from near the airport, so I suppose we did our part in using public transportation on Earth Day, but mostly I didn’t want to try to fight thousands of people for parking downtown. A smooth 1/2 hr later we pulled into Denver’s Union Station at which point we headed down the 16th Street Mall towards the Capitol.
While on the ride in, I’d felt a little self-conscious about carrying a big sign on a stick, but once we hit the Mall we fell in with lots of other sign-carriers of all ages who were heading in the same direction.
Our timing was spot on and we managed to cross paths with the March just as it got underway.
We stopped by several tents set up for the “teach-in” on the Capitol grounds and got to see some fun demos with Tesla coils, liquid nitrogen, and the classic crush-a-can with air pressure. We were surprised at the heavy presence of secular humanist organizations and wondered where the religious scientists’ tents were.
We wandered up the Capitol steps just in time for some of the major speeches of the day, most given by state reps.
The crowd up at the top of the Capitol steps by the speakers seemed strangely sparse, but then I realized that we had beaten the crowd up the hill so they were behind us.
One of my key takeaways from the speeches was that we collectively need to move the conversation away from belief vs nonbelief for the biggies like climate change and evolution. Instead, we should use the terms Accept or Deny, as several speakers did.
Belief is something to be treasured, something to fight for because it’s important to how we view the world. But belief is inherently non-falsifiable. This is fundamentally different from how science operates.
Science requires us to provide proof that certain phenomena operate as we think they do. Piles of evidence are put forward, sorted out by peer-review, and modified over time as new evidence arises. This results in a Theory built by consensus across multiple individuals, many of whom have competing beliefs about the issues at hand. But in this scientific consensus, the opinions don’t matter, the data does. Individuals, corporations, and elected officials can either accept the reality of the world as measurements indicate or they can deny the validity of that data.
Is the Earth warming up over time? I might wish that it were not but countless observational studies tell me it is. Do species change over time to become different than their ancestors? Absolutely, even though we can hold different opinions about Who or what is behind the mysteries of why certain species exist today.
As I wrap up another school year with a major Evolution unit in my biology classes, I’ll try to use this Accept or Deny language a lot more and try to help students do the same.
If only we could do something for those folks who proudly deny every inconvenient truth…