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Today I will march for science. And this is the speech that I’m not going to give

I’m taking part because I am part of a global community and because Trump’s actions affect us all. And I want New Zealand’s politicians to understand this, too, writes Shaun Hendy.

At 1.30pm this afternoon, I will be marching from Britomart up Queen Street to the Band Rotunda in Albert Park, along with many other Aucklanders who value science. This is our chance to contribute to a global event that was inspired by the Women’s March, and triggered by the arrival of a US President with a fragile relationship with reality.

When we arrive at the Rotunda, I am going to read a few poems. What follows is the transcript of the speech that I’m not going to give.

Should Kiwis care about what Trump does to science on the other side of the world? Yes. When science takes a hit in the United States, it suffers in New Zealand too. The US cut its geothermal research programme in the late 1980s, and as a result, New Zealand’s geothermal capability almost collapsed, making it much harder for us to increase our geothermal energy generation right up to the present day. Trump’s cuts to climate change research, in which the US leads the world, will hurt the rest of the world’s climate scientists, harming us all in the long run.

I’m not marching for the scientists who may lose their jobs. When funding is cut and jobs are lost, it is not great for science, but life for scientists generally works out ok. The geothermal scientists who lost their jobs in the 80s all did rather well, working for industry armed with the bargaining power you get when the world neglects to train your replacements.

I am marching because governments need science and science needs government. Your inner neoliberal – that part of your brain that can anticipate the contents of an Act Party tweet before David Seymour has put away his phone – may balk, but economists are pretty sure about this: knowledge is what makes our economy and society possible today, and much of that knowledge is paid for by the taxpayer.

I will also march because the Trump administration has been even more intent on laying waste to human rights than it has to science. Trump’s attempts at travel bans deserve to be protested by scientists not just because they hurt science, but because scientists must also respect human dignity and diversity. The scientific community is learning the hard way that it cannot tolerate researchers who refuse to work with people on the basis of their place of birth, gender, or religious beliefs. Likewise, scientists should have no tolerance for politicians whose policies use these characteristics as a basis to single out people for harm.

Science has a chequered history here, which may make it no worse than many other human endeavours, but few professions claim the high ground to the extent that science does. Scientists are often reluctant to acknowledge this, but a glance around most scientific tea rooms will generally leave you with an eyeful of the pale, the stale, and the male. And although I bring a dose of this myself to the march, I’ll be there to protest the attempts of the most scientifically, militarily and politically powerful country in the world to target people who are less privileged.

The Women’s March, Paris, on January 21. Photo by Christophe Morin/Getty Images

I will march because science is political. Captain Cook’s first journey to the Pacific was undertaken with an admirable scientific goal – to help measure the distance from the Earth to the Sun – but his bosses also had their eye on extending Britain’s colonial reach. Faster than you could plead “Not guilty, m’lord,” one of my ancestors found himself on a ship to Botany Bay. In the end my ancestor prospered, while the indigenous Australians he encountered suffered terribly, along with their descendents. Science has consequences, not all of which are beneficial, and so scientists should be very concerned when the politicians who pay for their science abandon tolerance and respect for others.

Some scientists have asked to be left alone in their labs this weekend to get on with their work. I would still encourage them to come along, if only to acknowledge how fortunate they are to have a lab to retreat into – in science there are inequities and power structures that prevent or make it harder for some groups of people to become scientists in the first place.

I’m going to march to Albert Park today because I am part of a global community and because Trump’s actions affect us all. I will march because I want New Zealand’s politicians to understand this too.

And then I am going to read some poetry.

See also … Nicola Gaston: Why scientists need to go to the barricades against Trump – and for the humanities
John Pickering: Why I won’t be joining the march for science


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