Science, not silence

 

We, the people, march for science and knowledge to be reaffirmed as fundamental to the democratic decision making that supports society in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We add our voices to the chorus supporting US and international scientists who oppose recent political events that damage and undermine science and its use in the public interest.

We stand in solidarity with those academics, scientists, and public servants in Turkey and the US (and other places) whose expertise is questioned because it is politically expedient to do so.

We gather together, as citizens of the planet, to march on Earth Day, 22 April 2017, as planned changes to the management and storage of climate change data in the US, and attempts to silence scientists, have brought the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

We acknowledge that in Aotearoa New Zealand the scientific community has yet to live up to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and that there is an ongoing process of decolonization required to achieve greater inclusion of Māori in the scientific community.  

Science has been defined as ‘the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence’. We affirm that the value of science and other human knowledge are based on the principles that underpin the generation of knowledge, as for example given in the Code of Professional Standards and Ethics of the Royal Society of NZ. Attempts to undermine or dismiss the integrity of scientists and scholars harm all of us.

As scientific knowledge is for all of us, we protest the silencing of scientists. We protest the denial of established climate science, for the sake of the serious human rights violations that will follow from our continued inaction. We protest the injustice of laws that exclude people from scientific communities on the basis of their country of birth, race, or religion. We protest the marginalization and exclusion of women and minority scientists, whether as a consequence of historic discrimination and colonization, or through continued inaction. Scientific knowledge is for all of us: as such, scientific progress is inextricably linked to the progress of human rights.

In the New Zealand context, the concerns that have led to the US Marches resonate. The dismissal of scientific voices by politicians is perhaps best encapsulated by our former Prime Minister’s dismissal of concerns about the impact of our dairy industry on water quality with the statement on BBC’s Hardtalk (2011) that the scientist was merely “one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview”. A 2014 proposal to create a ‘Code of Public Engagement’ for NZ scientists also led to serious concerns being raised about the ability of scientists to speak publicly, and in their area of expertise, when needed.

Climate change, earthquake resilience and freshwater quality are only a few of the serious issues that depend on science and knowledge to protect the New Zealand public: it is not for scientists that we march, but to protect and insist on the ways in which science and knowledge are a shared human good. Scientists are often uncomfortable with making political protests, in the belief that scientific evidence should not be affected by political choices.  There may be a range of policy positions and prioritisations that are rational responses to scientific data – for example the kinds of policy choices that will be necessary in formulating a global response to the problem of climate change. However: political decisions to ignore or undermine the provision of scientific data require a response.

We believe that the March for Science in New Zealand must be non-partisan. We welcome participants from, and supporters of, any political party in New Zealand – what we march for is the ability to make good, long-term policy through multi-lateral agreement, on the basis of respect for knowledge and evidence. To move towards this goal, we need to stand for the values of science – together. We wish to absolutely clear that the March is open to all who care about what science stands for - both nationally and internationally.

On this day we ask all political parties and employers of scientists and researchers to commit to honour the principles of scientific integrity.