When scientists communicate with the public about politics, they often frame the issue as “science vs. politics.” For instance, some scientists champion speaking truth to power, while others suggest that they stay out of the political fray altogether. Both arguments assume that science and politics are independent and mutually exclusive. Furthermore, they presuppose that science could and should remain politically neutral. I’d like to discuss why this framing is problematic and how we might instead understand the political role of science. Since Earth Day is just around the corner, let’s focus on climate science in the public discourse.
This same science-vs.-politics framing has arisen in the discussion of the recent actions of the Trump administration. Many scientists and science supporters consider the White House to have an “anti-science agenda,” especially regarding environmental science and climate change. This agenda included a temporary suspension of all Environmental Protection Agency grants, removal of the White House’s climate change webpage, and restriction of public communications for agencies such as the National Park Service. In response, many scientists condemned the White House’s actions as politics interfering with sound science. Following the Women’s March on Washington, they focused their energy toward a public demonstration, now officially “the March for Science,” which is planned for Earth Day (April 22) 2017.