Science AMA Series: Hi reddit! We are Daniel Pomeroy, Program Manager for MIT's International Policy Lab, and Robert S. Young, Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. We have both written op-eds on the upcoming March for Science. AUA!



Hi Robert, and thank you for being a part of this AMA.

If I understand your position correctly, you are opposed to a March for Science because you think it will not be engaging with the people who hold anti-scientific views. Further you are opposed to the MfS because it risks putting science in the middle of a culture war. Instead, you seem to be arguing that we (as scientists and ambassadors for science) should engage in more direct conversations with fellow citizens in churches, town halls, fairs etc. in order to humanize scientists and help people understand the value of our work. I hope this is a fair summary, and please feel free to correct me if I have missed your main ideas. I have a couple of thoughts on your position and would be curious to hear your response:

  1. I think engaging with people who are anti-science or who have a limited exposure to scientists and the scientific process is a great idea. That is one of the reasons I like Reddit and other forms of social media for discussing science. However, it isn't clear to me that this is mutually exclusive with a March for Science. In fact, I can see them achieving important, parallel goals.

  2. You worry that a MfS will politicize science, and put it in the middle of a culture war. But isn't that already the case? Look at the current administration's views on climate change, the EPA, the NIH and vaccines to name a few. And if the past couple years have taught us anything, it has to be the importance of optics - I think there is something symbolic, and important about scientists and their allies gathering together to say what we do is important. A MfS can't be the only action, but it certainly seems to me like an important action to help turn the anti-science tide that has been slowly gaining momentum.

  3. Maybe you can help me understand your thoughts on political marches in general. Did you consider the Women's March a success? Are there any examples of marches that you consider a success?


1) I agree that a march and reconfigured communication strategy are not mutually exclusive. But it will be difficult to control the message of the march. There is no "spokesperson." In addition, many of the folks that I believe we need to engage are simply turned off by marches and will immediately associate this kind of action with the political left, like it or not. Add this to the fact that the march has joined with the Earth Day celebration, and it plays right into the narrative of the skeptics that it isn't really about the science, it is about a liberal, environmental political agenda. 2) Of course science has always been "politicized' by societies when a particular world view is threatened. What I don't like about the march is the degree to which it will reinforce the portrayal of scientists as active members of the political left. This will be the case even if you say a million times that the march is non-partisan. 3) I think the women's march was different, but that is just me. My wife marched. She felt it was important. I am a pretty strategic guy. I want to protect science and scientists within federal and state agencies. I also want to find a way to introduce scientists and science to rural and working class America so that folks understand the importance of evidenced based decision-making for their economic and social well being. A march can't do that.

In the end, we are all on the same side here. Those of you who decide to march, I wish you well. If the march gets scientists more engaged in their local communities (planning boards, school boards, etc), it will be a good thing.


There have been a lot of discussions about the nonpartisan activism stance of the march. Coming from a social science field, non-partisan activism as part of a Neo-Weberian activist as teacher approaches seem to make sense for academics. It also allows groups to find underlying shared values and goals that they can then advocate without depending upon partisan rhetoric. But there have been a lot of confusions and criticisms about this (ex: assuming nonpartisan activism means being apolitical, which it doesn't.) Perhaps the confusion about the term hinders the message.

How do you feel scientists should collective advocate? Is non-partisan the way to go? Should they align themselves with particular partisan groups (or against certain ones)? What is more effective?


(Dan) I do think there has been a good deal of confusion over the difference between being political and being partisan. Science is inherently political, in the sense that science has political ramifications and science is largely funded through a political process. Being partisan, however, involves being aligned with one political party over the other.

In my article I make the claim that science is not and should not be partisan. Science is a method for exploring the world around us, therefore there is no reason it should be associated with one type of political ideology. However, it is hard for any topic not to become polarized in our current political climate. As a result, politicians, in my opinion, have attempted to make science a partisan issue.

What I suggest is that scientists should advocate in explicitly political ways. This would include supporting politicians who support science and opposing those who oppose science. Given the current political climate this would seem like a partisan endeavor, simply because there will likely be more support from one party over the other. However, as long as we lend our support in non-partisan ways (calling out people on both sides of the aisle when they misuse science and applauding both sides when they support science) I believe it is possible to break down partisan divides with political and electoral strategies such as this.

There have been a lot of discussions about the nonpartisan activism stance of the march. Coming from a social science field, non-partisan activism as part of a Neo-Weberian activist as teacher approaches seem to make sense for academics. It also allows groups to find underlying shared values and goals that they can then advocate without depending upon partisan rhetoric. But there have been a lot of confusions and criticisms about this (ex: assuming nonpartisan activism means being apolitical, which it doesn't.) Perhaps the confusion about the term hinders the message.

How do you feel scientists should collective advocate? Is non-partisan the way to go? Should they align themselves with particular partisan groups (or against certain ones)? What is more effective?


(Rob) Science is, and should be non-partisan. The scientific findings, on their own, are not political. the fact that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is not a political statement. It is the decision-making that is political. Scientists need to have a very careful understanding of when they are entering the "decision space" that belongs to policy-makers and regulators. Sometimes we are invited in. Sometimes we walk in. I am not saying that scientists should never cross the line between the science and the decision space, but it is important to be aware when you are doing so because that is the boundary between that providing the facts and deciding what to do about it. In my opinion, scientists should not align with any particular political group. That would be counter-productive. We simply need to do a better job explaining why science matters to everyone.

What is the actual impact on scientists of the current administration? Can you estimate? Is it worse on certain types of scientists and why? How does the federal govt. affect scientists (is it mainly grant dollars)?


(Dan) So far in this administration we have seen a number of concerning actions. A member of the transition team created a questionnaire attempting to identify climate scientists working the Department of Energy (DOE). A gag order was put in place preventing scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from speaking to the media. And the proposed presidential budget includes “massive cuts to several science agencies.” These are just a few examples that, in my opinion, signal what the new administration's attitude toward science will be and give us reason to keep an eye out for future actions.

That said, the most impactful policy that has been enacted so far is the the immigration order. Science is an inherently international enterprise that relies on a diversity of viewpoints to move us forward. This policy restricts the ability of scientists to work with international partners and is not based on any scientific grounds.

What is the actual impact on scientists of the current administration? Can you estimate? Is it worse on certain types of scientists and why? How does the federal govt. affect scientists (is it mainly grant dollars)?


(Rob) I don't think that we know the answer to this question yet. Certainly, what we have seen so far from EPA looks discouraging, but appointments to other agencies look more promising. The political appointees have not had much of a chance to meet the dedicated, career scientists within their own agencies yet. There is always the chance that evidence-based decision making will survive in many places. In my opinion, the march will have no influence on this dynamic at all, no matter how many people show up. Also, please remember that even if an agency makes a decision that you do not like, that doesn't mean the science has been completely ignored or obfuscated. At the end of the day, the elected and appointed policy-makers get to make the policy.

Clearly, the greatest concern at the moment is the administration's regard for climate science and climate scientists. They have proposed major cuts to agencies like NASA and NOAA that provide critical data to help us understand our changing planet. But, Congress still produces the budget, so we will see.

The federal government does provide significant funding for scientific research in the US, but federal agencies also collect, maintain, and distribute important data for all fields of scientific research. many of these databases also serve commercial interests ranging from shipping to agriculture. Again, congress has a say, so it is too early to panic.

Many satellite marches are planning expos to coincide with the march including things like booths for local science-related organizations, kids' science fairs, and various ways to meet local scientists. Does this different sort of activity change your views on the usefulness of the event?


(Rob) OK, I'll put my name at the beginning like Dan is doing.

The problem is that most of the satellite marches are in cities or urban areas that tend to already be relatively engaged in science. If the march organizers or sponsors can find a way to extend that kind of outreach to rural areas and working class communities after the march, that would be great.

Thanks for taking the time to share your perspectives.

I lived through the Canadian government's ideologically-driven experiment with the muzzling, marginalizing, and de-funding of scientific research (particularly on climate change).

Those actions had a palpable effect not just on the quality of the work being undertaken by government scientists, but on their morale and mental health as well.

My question, then, in two parts: 1. Are there any lessons that can be drawn from the Canadian experience with an anti-science administration (such as the work undertaken by Evidence for Democracy, 2. Whether scientists march or not, is any work being undertaken to provide support to the scientific professionals whose careers and principles are under siege?


(Rob) Please remember that federal agencies have gone through difficult times during previous administrations as well. Most of these folks know how to work within a charged political environment. In addition, we must remember that ignoring science to make a political decision happens with both Democratic and Republican administrations. It can be difficult for the civil servants themselves to speak out regularly, but when they do, we must provide support. The dedicated scientists in our federal workforce are our most important asset. I would hope that all relevant scientific organizations can find a way to give voice to their concerns and ensure their survival.

Dr. Young, how can we as scientists reach the non-scientific community without coming across as trying to act superior, as that will only widen the divide? And do you think there is a way to lessen the size of the echo chamber (as you say in your piece)?


(Rob) Well, that is the tricky part isn't it. Reaching out to the significant portion of "red state" America that is disconnected from the benefits of science and research is no easy task completed in a day or a year.

I would argue that we need to start with the basics. We need an outreach and advertising campaign that reminds people that science is a major part of their lives, and that scientists come from families just like theirs. NASCAR is full of science. Agriculture is applied science that sustains many rural communities. Their family doctor is a scientist. People who fish and hunt are often using the scientific method without even thinking about it. Many scientists are like myself. My sister and I are the first members of our family to attend college. My father spent his career Army. He fought in World War II and Korea. My Grandfather worked on an assembly line for General Motors in Pontiac Michigan. We are not the elite. We are patriotic, middle class Americans. Organizations like AAAS and AGU need to discover ways to introduce science and scientists to the rest of America in way that meets them where they live. I’m sorry, but if folks are dealing with low wages, disintegrating communities, and rising opioid addictions, you are not going to catch their eyes with diminishing polar bear populations in the arctic. The task to change our messaging and target our outreach is not easy, but it is not impossible. If the energy of the march can lead to a long-term commitment to understand why some Americans have become alienated by science, and the development of strategy to reach out, then maybe it will make a difference in the long run. Join me in trying.

Each of your articles promotes the idea that storytelling and engaging with people in settings like schools, churches, and town hall meetings. One of these articles highlights some success with the issue of gay marriage in the Boston area, while the other shows how things went wrong when trying to present policymakers with high quality data about rising coastlines in North Carolina.

There are some very important differences in that LGBT rights in Boston is a social issue with no real economic impact on the local community, and the location tends to favor liberal politicians. The other is a scientific issue in an area which typically leans conservative, and there are economic implications brought on by the data.

Given this, what is your basis for promoting the idea that a story telling and local engagement approach in conservative areas regarding scientific issues which may have a negative economic impact for the local community is an effective strategy? Are there any good examples of this strategy being employed and causing a significant enough change in local opinion to suggest that voting practices changed in regions where science had previously been rejected due to the data not saying what they wanted it to?


(Rob) We need to connect the science with people's own self interest. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all ultimately selfish beings trying to take care of those we care most about (ok, maybe some of you are true altruists). Climate change and sea level rise are already having economic and social impacts on coastal communities. In some places it is obvious and the response has been bi-partisan:

In some areas, the changes are more subtle, but still important. We need to make it personal. The stories can't be about polar bears. The stories need to be about nuisance flooding, and agriculture, increased salinity in groundwater.

Dr. Young,

What would it take to make you change your position about the March being a bad idea? And what evidence do you have for your position?

Because there exists both peer-reviewed evidence as well as an example from recent history that suggest you might want to reconsider.

There's the recent study showing that scientists don't lose credibility by talking about politics.

And the NYTimes op-ed explaining that in Canada, when Harper attacked science, it was a March that seemed to turn the tide:

Fearing the continued erosion of even the most basic protections for food inspection, water quality and human health, Canadian scientists filled Ottawa’s streets in the Death of Evidence march. That theatrical mock funeral procession became something of a cultural touchstone. It was a turning point that galvanized public opinion against Prime Minister Harper’s anti-science agenda. By the next election, Justin Trudeau’s center-left government swept in on a platform that put scientists’ right to speak and the promise of evidence-based decisions alongside job creation and economic growth.


(Rob) I guess I don't have any evidence beyond the fact that I live in rural America and my extended family is from rural America and I know they will not be convinced or even reached by this march. I have never said scientists should not talk to decision-makers or even acknowledge the nature of politics. In fact, that is what I do every day. We will not gain credibility from marching. I find the Canadian example a little problematic. The Canadian electorate is different from the American electorate. Many polls have shown that a significantly higher percentage of Canadians not only support the scientific basis for climate change, but support international action to mitigate. Americans have much further to go on this. I am not convinced that theatrics will change the minds of a significant block of American voters.

After disagreeing with your opinions on the march, I read your opinion article. And I did a complete one eighty. My question is that even with the good staying locally, President Trump will not pay attention to the small things. How will and what do we need to do to grab his attention and say that science is here to stay?


(Rob) I am not sure that anybody can grab Pres. Trump's attention (I better stop there). I think that you should focus your energy at the local level first. Attend planning board meetings, school board, town council. Speak up for evidenced-based decision making and the appropriate consideration of scientific facts.

Dr. Pomeroy, you've argued that, despite potential initial negative consequences to science from being seen as 'agitators', if we want science to be part of society, we have to organize and advocate loudly for its place. What do we risk, in the long-term, by doing so?


(Dan) Personally, I do not see significant long term risk. I do agree with the people who are concerned about science becoming partisan that we have to make sure we don’t allow ourselves to be blinded by political ideology. Practically speaking, this means holding elected officials accountable to supporting and properly using science regardless of their political party. I think as long as we do this effectively advocacy for the role of science in society and policy making will be net positive.

Science is clearly under attack by the GOP and the Trump administration. I'm someone whose career would have been derailed by some of the cuts suggested by the current administration ( - tell your friends to tweet/submit their stories!), I'm obviously fairly sensitive to this.

Dr. Young, you've argued that we should not protest these cuts and this pervasive anti-science attitude because it risks out credibility, despite peer reviewed evidence to the contrary ( ) and your own anecdotes of already being ignored by GOP policy makers since we're seen as easy targets. So, what do we gain by not fighting loudly and publicly for science to have a seat at the policy-making table?

How will that strategy play out - both now and over the next ten to twenty years?


(Rob) Please understand that there is a difference between fighting the cuts and anti-science attitudes through a march and fighting the cuts and anti-science attitudes through more strategic actions. No one is arguing that the march will solve any of these issues. The article you cite has no relevance to the public perception of scientists marching in protest. Sometimes, the bravest and toughest action is to be quiet and patient. Often the toughest thing is to win, but not say anything about it because embarrassing the other side will backfire. Yes, we should fight for science. And, maybe things will get so bad that mass demonstration will be needed. I do not think that we are their yet. Sea Grant is not dead yet either. There are many supporters of Sea Grant on both sides of the aisle. Congress will have a say. I remain optimistic. I have many, many friends in SG around the country.

The Women's March has been extremely active in the weeks following their event by helping to organize further protests and promoting advocacy to Congress. What would you want to see the March for Science do in the weeks and months following their own march, especially considering their enormous email list and social media following?


(Dan) I believe Rob and I largely agree that this is most important question facing the organizers of the March for Science. Marches on their own have very little impact beyond getting people involved in a movement. From my organizing experience, once they take the first step, it’s very important to continue to give them tangible actions to sustain that momentum. Personally I would like to see people more civically engaged by meeting with their representatives, explaining the policy implications of science, and getting involved in political campaigns.

Rob seems interested in getting scientists more involved in their local communities and reaching out across cultural barriers. I believe this strategy is just as valid and important as my approach. I’ve encountered this difference before and usually describe it like this: Robert is working on a hearts and minds whereas I am focusing on an explicitly pragmatic political strategy. To be successful you need both.

In the LGBT rights context this would be the difference between who focused on changing the social acceptance of LGBT people through education and the activists (like myself) who were going door to door collecting signatures in support of marriage equality. We certainly need scientists getting involve in local civic groups, demonstrating how science can improve their communities. This will encourage a culture that understands and therefore is sympathetic to the role of science in society. However, we need to be able to respond to the immediate attacks on science, which will involve playing in political spaces, including opposing policies and politicians that are bad for science and supporting ones that benefit science and society.

In either case, I hope that the organizers of the March are developing ways to connect the people attending the march to people and organizations working on both strategies (and have offered to help them if they need it!).

After the march, what are some ways that scientists, educators, and science enthusiasts can continue to carry its message forward? How do we, as individuals and as groups, promote scientific understanding and evidence-based policy? How do we ensure that the March has ongoing effects beyond its immediate statement?


(Dan) I think that both Robert and myself would agree that the March for Science as a stand alone event will have very little impact on the treatment of science by policy makers and society. It’s very likely that those who already support science will see the event as positive and those who oppose science will see out of context news coverage (e.g. a conservative outlet showing a montage of the most partisan or offensive rally signs) that reinforces their world view.

As someone who has organized many marches and protests, I think people are focusing too much on the direct impact of the March. As an organizer, I recognize the most important impact of an event like this is to provide an entry point for people who want to join your cause. Robert and I both make the point that those who attend the March need to take that energy back to their community and get to work.

For example, after the 2008 elections I joined the board of a local grassroots LGBT rights organization. The group had a few very energetic people who were always looking for the next thing to hold a protest about in downtown Boston (one of the most LGBT friendly parts of New England at the time). I knew these protests would be a total waste of time unless it lead to impactful political action. Therefore, at every rally I organized a volunteer team to go through the crowd armed with clipboards to get the contact information for as many people who attended the rally as we could. We then used those lists to recruit people into phone banking operations that targeted registered voters in places like Maine, identifying supporters of marriage equality and asking them to contact their state representatives. That’s where the real impact of the rallies appeared.

Hey Daniel, thanks for doing this AMA; I notice you're calling for questions about the march, but I figured I'll try my luck with a non-March related question.

You have what seems like a really cool alt-ac gig with the Policy Lab at MIT. Alternatives to academia have been a hot button issue in the academic community for some time now, but in light of the impact of the proposed budget cuts on the American research community, the question of what new PhDs are to do in a shrinking academic job market assumes a new kind of urgency. Could you talk about what experiences and opportunities brought you to science&education policy, and what you see as the negatives/positives of the job compared to traditional academia?


(Dan) Quick response:

My three step transition from academic research to public policy was 1) An internship at the Union of Concerned Scientists 2) Mirzayan Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (science policy fellowship) 3) AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship

Now very fortunate to use the skills I learned at these amazing organizations to now help scientists and engineers at MIT engage in policy.

Pros: Less competitive than the academic track, more control over where you live, more short term impact Cons: No tenure and no sabbaticals

Hi Robert and Dan,

Thank you for doing this AMA.

I think (and based on experience) engaging people in their communities and communicating science in the language and context that they would understand is effective. But I also think there is value in showing solidarity to support and advocate science-based policy making by way of the March. I understand that some people are reluctant to join the March based on their opinions against it. Anyway, my questions are 1) what advice can you give to people who do not fully support the March for Science but would want to start supporting the cause in different ways? and 2) are there groups people can join that are actively engaged in reaching out to their representatives and other community members?


(Dan) Marches are not for everyone! However, there are plenty of ways to get involved depending on what you are passion about. If you care about using your science to engage with local communities join the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Science Network. If you want to work on national issues check out AAAS’s Force for Science. If you care about engaging in the public policy making process (and meeting others who are interested in science policy) you can join “Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy (ESEP).” Also be sure to check out your professional society (for example the American Physical Society), which often take policy positions on behalf of the community. There are many ways to get involved!

How concerned are you that scientists taking political stands will cause politicians, fairly or unfairly, to present scientific findings through a political lens as a way to shape the conversations as partisan issues?


(Dan) Politicians largely run on political platforms with clear goals for what they want to do once in office. As a result they are largely in the business of finding arguments in support of their case. Therefore, whenever science conflicts with these goals it will be politicized. I think this will happen regardless of whether or not scientists get involved. So, if science is going to be used as a political football either way I’d rather be in the game than standing on the sidelines.

Honestly, what is your biggest fear under the Trump administration? How far, realistically, do you think the current administration would go to suppress the science community?


(Rob) My biggest fear is that the work environment will become so toxic that many of the dedicated scientists filling our federal science and regulatory agencies will leave. They are our best hope and our best communicators at the decision-making level. They need our support.

First, thank you both for doing this AMA! I am a 2017 JD/MPH (Epi) candidate currently considering PhD in Epi programs. I chose a dual degree path because I love the law and I love science and I think the path between the two needs to be mended. But 3 years of law school has taught me that scientists, for the most part, are at an extreme political disadvantage. Like Mr. Pomeroy expressed, I believe scientists need to learn how to navigate the realms of policy and fight for their work. But like Mr. Young, I also believe that we cannot continue to alienate the public or our public servants. My questions concern how we--especially us interdisciplinary folks--can mobilize the support for the MfS into a real discussion with stakeholders about necessary policy changes to support science? What should that conversation look like? What sort of tangible steps should be taken? If you could harness the skills of a lawyer in the public sector, what do you want that lawyer to do to support you?


(Dan) I'm running out of time before my next meeting but wanted to give a quick answer: The way I've been most successful in engaging lawyers in science policy problems is to help scientists write public comments to federal regulations. Lawyers are useful both in explaining the legal details of proposed rules and in making sure the scientists responses are framed appropriately for policy makers. I'm sure there are other ways too, but that's one big one I've seen!

Hey! How did you guys end up doing a joint AMA? Do you know each other? If so, do you discuss these issues with each other and do you have any advice about discussing things you're passionate about with people you disagree with?


(Rob) We did not know each other. I guess we both communicate for a living so we ended up here as a chance convergence. My advice for discussing things with people you disagree with is this: Listen more than you talk. You will be better off in your next conversation. When/if scientists begin an effort to engage rural and working class America we need to make sure that we ask questions and pay attention to the answers. We are not the gods of all knowledge.

Hey! How did you guys end up doing a joint AMA? Do you know each other? If so, do you discuss these issues with each other and do you have any advice about discussing things you're passionate about with people you disagree with?


(Dan) I wholeheartedly agree!

Also I think we're both here because we wrote slightly opposing opeds about the science march... or, more specifically, Rob's article inspired me to write a rebuttal. In the end I think we agree more than we disagree and just have different strategies to achieve the same goals.

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions!

I think it's really interesting to see these two perspectives on the March; they definitely echo some of the discussions that my colleagues have been having as they wrestle with the decision on how (and if) to participate. Both of you have different takes on what the potential impact of the March will be, which seem to be at odds with one another. Since the March is definitely going to happen, what do you think could be done to best manage those impacts, and channel them into future actions?


(Rob) For the leaders of our major scientific organizations, we need an overhaul of how we reach out to the public. I admit that we will not change the minds of the professional science skeptics, nor the seasoned radio and TV obfuscators. But, that should not be our goal. We need to build bridges over and around those who make a living politicizing science to communicate directly with that segment of the American electorate that does not know us, has not met us, and is skeptical of our motives. These people will not hear the “good” news of the March for Science because they get their news from completely different sources than you do.

For individuals who attend the march, I challenge you to return to your communities and find ways to reach out to groups that you have never considered before. Introduce yourself to local civic groups (like Kiwanis or Ruritan). Have a booth at your county fare. Talk to people you know who have differing political views and respectfully answer their questions. The battle for truth and science will be won through personal interaction, not through a march.


This is unfortunately not a very scientific question.

I'm a city planner and I until recently hoped to do a PhD in environmental planning connected to public policy. I'm very much of the "cities are the places to push for sustainable practices" mindset.

I've been remarkably discouraged by current events and I'm wondering if you have any advice on how not to feel like none of my efforts will make a difference. How do you get through the day?

Thank you.


(Rob) Planners have tough jobs. You are the bridge, in many ways, between science, decision-making, and the political bosses you work for. My advice to you is don't give up. Every small victory you have for wise planning is still a victory. I lose far more political battles than I win. But, quitting would mean that I win none. Working on the local level is critical. Don't quit. If you add up the small victories of thousands or tens of thousands of us, we move the world forward.

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