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Speak Up or Not?

The recently announced March for Science has gotten some people wondering about whether researchers should be activists, write New York University's Ivan Oransky and Johns Hopkins University's Adam Marcus, the co-founders of Retraction Watch, at the Conversation.

They note that while the march was inspired by recent Trump administration policies and announcements, it is calling itself a "celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community," rather than as a protest march. However, some like Western Carolina University's Robert Young says this is a bad idea that will further politicize science, as he wrote in the New York Times.

Oransky and Marcus add that some researchers avoid speaking up because they worry that doing so will sully science and affect their funding. For instance, they note that in an an Environmental Science & Technology editorial, the University of California, Berkeley's David Sedlak argues that Virginia Tech's Marc Edwards, who called attention to the Flint water crisis, and others like him who have spoken out on climate change and other topics have an "crossed an imaginary line" that separates researchers and activists. He says this "undermines the standing of academics as objective seekers of truth" and "jeopardize[s] the social contract that underpins the tradition of financial support for basic research."

Oransky and Marcus argue instead that researchers who "scientists who accept funding with the tacit agreement that they keep their mouths shut about the government are far more threatening to an independent academy than those who speak their minds."