On February 10, a user posted a new take on the classic “don’t tread on me” protest image in the r/MarchForScience subreddit. Instead of two snakes, they used the double helix structure of DNA.
Immediately, there was criticism.
“Your helix turns the wrong way,” one person wrote.
“I like it. However, as a physicist, I can't help but feel left out. It feels very much biology centered,” another said.
“As a geologist, I have a tough time with not treading on the Earth,” another noted, “but I don't have a better idea. Maybe ‘Don't erode our science’?”
Infighting is natural for any protest movement. However, the group planning a “March for Science” in Washington, D.C., and other cities for Earth Day, April 22, is especially detail-oriented. Memes with quotes from famous scientists on the Facebook page are fact-checked. Comments are replied to with “.” The idea of bringing signs was attacked for promoting litter (“This is on Earth Day for Newton’s sake!”). And there is extensive bickering over the precision of any science-based imagery or catchphrase.
It started with the logo, which incorporates the outdated, but highly recognizable, Bohr model of the atom. This drew ire online.
“Using an outdated model of the atom only further legitimizes the right’s claim that scientists don’t fully know what they’re talking about,” one user wrote. “Why are there three electrons with well defined positions and elliptical orbits in the lowest energy state?” asked another.
Meanwhile, others were uncomfortable with the language used by organizers.
“The current statement of who can participate, invites ‘anyone who values empirical science’ as the ‘only requirement,’” one user wrote. “But science and empiricism are not the same thing.”
“Using an outdated model of the atom only further legitimizes the right’s claim that scientists don’t fully know what they’re talking about.”
“Science is a creative process for producing falsifiable explanations, and method for examining those explanations in light of evidence,” the user wrote. “I'm not arguing for replacing the participation requirements with the full text of ‘The Logic of Scientific Discovery.’ But I wonder if it’s possible to come up with something a bit more nuanced... Deficiencies in public understanding of what science really is (and scientists’ effectiveness in communicating that) are part of the reason we face the problems we must now confront.”
One thing top scientists do seem to agree on is that the Donald Trump administration, backed up by a Republican majority in Congress, is preparing to institute policies that will undermine the state of science in the U.S., especially in the realm of climate change.
There are signs already that the new administration and its appointed agency heads want to restrict government scientists from speaking to the press. Advocates have compiled a list of upcoming legislation that threatens ecology and the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. And of course, there is a Whitehouse.gov petition to restore information about climate change to the government’s website.
Scientists disagree on what to do, however. Some feel that marching on Washington would undermine their credibility. “Trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research, and findings for their own ends,” wrote Robert S. Young, a coastal geologist, in a New York Times op-ed.
Supporters of the march say it’s fighting back against the politicization of science. “The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter,” according to the March for Science website. “It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.”
At this point, it appears that the march is happening and the outdated atomic logo is here to stay. That leaves organizers and participants with another major decision to make: what to wear.
Citing the pink “pussy” hats worn during the Women’s March in January, which made the protest look cohesive in photos and news reports, one person suggested lab coats. That was quickly rejected because many scientists don’t wear lab coats. Respirators were proposed as a way to tie in environmental abuse, but criticized because Washington, D.C., has laws against wearing a mask to protest. Other proposals included caps and gowns, snorkeling masks (to symbolize rising sea levels), Bill Nye get-up, and green hats.
The last idea seemed to get some traction. “It might be helpful to have a specific hex code for the color, as well,” one supporter suggested. “Something bright like #73e204 could be fun.”