Ideological purity tests are not the way to build public engagement with science

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Undark is running an op/ed by Aspen Reese, a former visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, about the recent (and ongoing) flap concerning the politics of a museum trustee, Rebekah Mercer: “There’s an Anti-Science Conservative on Your Museum’s Board. So What?”

I find my opinion on this series of events closely aligned with Reese’s.

If the stated intent behind all the hullabaloo is to protect the reputation of the institution, garnering it a new one of being anti-conservative seems very dangerous indeed. We must not bar the doors of scientific institutions to anyone, whether it’s done explicitly, or by making them feel, as a class, unwelcome. Science cannot be known purely as a place for liberals. It has to be inclusive to be done right, for in trying to describe the world we must necessarily include all of it. Scientific institutions may feel more comfortable in the absence of dissenting voices, but by excluding people on the basis of their politics, those same institutions would sacrifice the opportunity to share science where it is most likely to win new converts to reason and empiricism.

As we repeatedly tell students, science is not a series of facts about the world. Science is a methodology, a way of finding better and better descriptions of natural phenomena by means of observation and deduction.

My science does not yield to any politics, and I find it neither necessary nor desirable for all scientists to agree with any set of political notions. If we base the public support of the scientific enterprise on ideological uniformity, science will indeed find itself in a precarious position.