This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe will participate in the second annual March for Science, a non-partisan movement to promote the role of science in public and political life. Unfortunately, political developments under the Trump-Pence administration have made the effort to restore respect for science even more vital than it was just one year ago.
As transgender advocates, one of whom is a transgender scientist, we are appalled at the attacks that this administration, abetted by Congress, are leveling at science-based approaches to public policy. Throughout the last year, the administration and Congressional leadership have consistently elevated ideology over evidence. Whether by rejecting the robust international consensus on the reality of climate change, silencing scientists and public officials who support evidence-based policy-making, or dismissing data that do not fit its political agenda, our nation’s political leadership has made no secret of its disdain for the objective rigor of good science.
This backward-facing trend is bad policy—it threatens previous advances in transgender rights and related goals of reproductive, racial, and economic justice—and it is bad for people.
Last December, for example, the Washington Post broke the news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Trump Administration had banned the words “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “diversity,” “entitlement,” and “fetus” in official documents. Such political censorship hinders policymakers and advocates in crafting and implementing effective public health policy that addresses the needs of America’s diverse communities.
Under the threat of censorship and ideologically-motivated budget cuts, federally supported programs that provide critical medical and public health services will face a precarious future—or may shut down entirely, depriving millions of people, especially the most vulnerable, of protections from preventable deaths due to injury and disease.
Similarly, the administration recently reiterated its intent to bar transgender people from serving openly in the military, flouting a recommendation from its own military leadership that was based on careful consultation with medical experts and in line with the scientific consensus in the field of transgender health. If the administration’s hand is not stayed by the courts, the estimated 15,000 transgender troops currently in the military may lose their jobs.
What’s more, a recent study of almost 28,000 transgender people nationwide showed that transgender communities still face life-threatening discrimination in areas of everyday life such as health care and housing. This administration’s move to deny transgender soldiers the right to serve their country is part of a broader effort to further marginalize transgender people and deprive them of basic rights and protections.
And so, this month and beyond, we must continue to march and continue to fight, to show that we won’t let the enemies of science get away with it.
Last year, one of us had the honor of speaking at the inaugural March for Science in Washington, D.C. not only about the importance of science, but about the duty of scientists to remember that science is objective, but it is not neutral. “Advocacy” is not a dirty word. It is a vital strategy for destroying the walls that this administration is attempting to build to keep science from impeding its poisonous and hyper-partisan agenda.
Now more than ever, it is important to advocate for good policy backed by good science—rigorous, evidence-based, reproducible science. By contrast, this administration’s proposal to bar transgender people from fully participating in civic life, its threats to the integrity of our nation’s public health infrastructure, and its myriad other attempts to deny the importance of sound decision-making are the political equivalent of junk science.
The saying goes that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. This is such a time in the United States. Scientists cannot pretend to be above the fray: science is objective, but it is not neutral. As scientists, as human beings, our mandate is clear. We must each stand up for what the evidence shows to be true and stand together in shaping a future in which all can thrive.