Friday Action Item: Science

The Greek goddess Athena, patron of knowledge, craft, wisdom — and strategy. (Flickr: Ed Lim)

Now that we’ve posted a few of these Action Items, I want to step back and add an important caveat to this idea of small things to do in the wake of a devastating political reversal. These posts are intended to highlight things we think our readers may not already be doing — and we definitely want everyone to do all the things. It’s important to remember, though, that those of us who work in science, education, and science communication have already committed our daily lives to opposing the incoming administration.
In the last few weeks, I’ve returned several times to history professor Timothy Snyder’s list of principles for life under an authoritarian presidency, published just after the election. This one, in particular, has been helpful:

Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

If you’re a scientist or a science educator, you’re already part of an institution that needs defending — maybe a university campus, a whole field of inquiry, or a single classroom. Continuing to do and teach science in the coming years will be, in itself, an act of resistance.
Do you study part of the living world threatened by climate change or habitat destruction? When the EPA is run by one of its most dogged enemies and the Secretary of the Interior wants to cut Federal power to protect wilderness, you’re a voice for the voiceless.
Will your research help make the world greener, more equitable, or kinder? When the Secretary of State is a billionaire oil company CEO with a history of buttering up dictators, you’re a subversive.
Do you design experiments, organize data, and build systems to separate real patterns from statistical noise? When the president reimagines reality to better suit his wishes, you’re a revolutionary.
Are you figuring out how to keep a research program going without any certainty of Federal funding? You’ll be rebelling against the leadership of the House Science Committee and the White House itself.
Do you teach students how to find and evaluate evidence, and to practice critical thinking? In the era of fake news, the hope of the future is in your hands.
As California Governor Jerry Brown said in a recent, rousing speech to the American Geophysical Union, all of us working in science are “foot soldiers of change, and understanding, and scientific collaboration.” So that’s the Action Item for this week, and every week: keep right on sciencing.
See you in 2017.

About Jeremy Yoder

Jeremy B. Yoder is an Associate Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge, studying the evolution and coevolution of interacting species, especially mutualists. He is a collaborator with the Joshua Tree Genome Project and the Queer in STEM study of LGBTQ experiences in scientific careers. He has written for the website of Scientific American, the LA Review of Books, the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Awl, and Slate.
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