The Republican Party and the Trump administration do not have the best relationship with the scientific community. Since coming into office, Trump has attempted to slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency and stifle research into global warming. He has begun to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations and approved construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to global warming as a hoax invented by the Chinese to harm American businesses. As Trump and the GOP have embraced policies regarding global warming, evolution, among others that run contrary to scientific consensus, the scientific community has begun to push back. A January article in the Atlantic pointed out an increasing number of scientists are contemplating runs for political office. On April 22, the March for Science will occur in Washington D.C. and other cities around the country. The organizers of the march explain that “Science, scientists, and evidence-based policymaking are under attack. Budget cuts, censorship of researchers, disappearing datasets, and threats to dismantle government agencies harm us all, putting our health, food, air, water, climate, and jobs at risk.”
Some in the scientific community have decried the increasing politicization of science, claiming that science transcends politics. This tweet from Michael Shermer, a columnist for Scientific American and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, highlights the problem.
Science is universal, international, inclusive, nonpartisan, a-political, a-gender, a-race, & a-ideological. Don’t inject identity politics.
— Michael Shermer (@michaelshermer) March 23, 2017
As numerous scholars, like David M. Perry and James Walters have already pointed out, this attitude ignores the ways in which science has served exclusionary, partisan, political, gendered, racial, and ideological purposes. It pretends that the people who perform scientific research are not influenced by the same biases, prejudices, and cultural attitudes as everyone else. Furthermore, this view presents science as some sort of pure or exceptional knowledge that exists independent from the people who created it.
Even the most cursory glance at the histories of the science of homosexuality and disability reveal the lie embedded in Shermer’s sentiments. The medical community treated homosexuality as a mental disorder for decades, advocating horrific so-called treatments in search of a “cure.” The second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published in 1968 characterized homosexuality as a mental disorder and remained in the DSM until 1987. The best practices for “curing” homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s involved electro-shock and conversion therapy—the latter a practice reportedly endorsed by Vice President Mike Pence. It is also important to remember the lives and stories of the victims of these policies. In 1952, the mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing accepted chemical castration after admitting to homosexual affair (homosexual relations were against the law at the time). Stripped of his security clearance and denied entry into the United States, Turing committed suicide in 1954. While no sensible person today believes that Turing did anything wrong—in 2013 Queen Elizabeth II pardoned Turing for his crimes—hatred of homosexuals in the name of science denied Turing’s humanity and the humanity of millions of others like him.
Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, applied his famous cousin’s views on the evolution of plant and animal species to humans. Galton believed, along with many leading scientists of his day, that human traits, like intelligence, were passed down solely through genetics. Selective breeding of people with the right genes could create better and better humans. The people with the right genes tended to be white, Christian, and of European descent, reflecting the background of the scientists who created the movement. Eugenicists believed that people with less desirable traits, like those with disabilities or other vaguely defined ills like immorality or criminality, should not be allowed to reproduce. Eugenics provided a scientific veneer to racial discrimination, justifying the need for anti-miscegenation laws and bans on interracial marriage. While eugenics found its fullest expression in Nazi Germany, the Holocaust did not end the movement completely. From the late 1920s through the 1970s, Americans forcibly sterilized thousands of mentally and physically disabled Americans under the guise of eugenics. Supporters justified the denial of basic human rights in the name of science.
Like any field of knowledge, modern science is a product of its historical environment. And removing it from its historical context dishonors the memory of those who suffered and died in its name.