Science

Our revolution is a joke

I nearly didn’t go on the science march / the march for science / the super happy fun time science party on Saturday. I hadn’t been intending to, for reasons covered far better here, here, and especially here and post-hoc here (I’d like to buy the author of this one a beer just for the phrase “public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art”). But while marching for science probably does nothing, sitting at home definitely does nothing, so I figured I’d go along for a bit of political protesting.

[side note: yes, I think it’s political. Science itself is, or at least should be, apolitical; but saying that political institutions like goverments should take scientific research seriously and make policies based on carefully researched and analysed evidence is still a political position]

I had a sign and everything. As 1) not that many people who weren’t already marching gave knew or cared about it, and as 2) signs that say “yay science!!1!” or signs that are very clever and obscure science jokes are pretty much useless, mine was mostly aimed at the other marchers:

post truth post modernism

I was trying to say that the post-truth politics that many academics were marching against and the post-modernist discourse that many of the same academics support are two sides of the same ideologically-motivated, evidence-free, autoethnographic coin… but it wasn’t very good, because it didn’t make BuzzFeed’s Literally Just 35 Signs From The Science March That Will Make You Laugh listicle. Which is a shame.

I’m not a historian, but I’m pretty sure that protests which were ultimately effective had a better message than just pop culture references, irony, or pith:effectiveness of protest vs ironic pop culture memes

Of course, with so many funny signs on display, a lot of people looked like they were having a great time. I’m glad that they were out in the sunshine enjoying themselves, but there’s a time and a place for it, and a serious political protest is not that place:

carnival vs serious political protest

After the rally in Parliament Square was done, the organisers and speakers all got on stage and sang Monty Python’s Galaxy Song, because the perfect way to trivialise a serious political point about the lack of evidence-based government policy is to make the headline act a load of awkward British people mumbling a twee song from an absurd musical comedy film:

pie chart of serious protests

All this is incredibly frustrating, because I agree with the general motivations for the march. I want what those people want to happen to happen. That’s why I was there.

But this isn’t going to help.

I’m not really sure what will help either, to be fair. As a scientist, my PhD was about how we can learn and process the sounds of words, not how we can hold governments to account. But as scientists, we can start by cutting out the jokes. After all, when we want our articles to be taken seriously, we keep the titles serious because articles with funny titles get fewer citations and less attention; why should it be any different for our protest signs?

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