COMMENTARY

Why I Am Going to the March for Science: One Doctor's Perspective

Zackary D. Berger, MD, PhD

Disclosures

April 14, 2017

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Editor's Note: The April 22 March for Science has aroused passion on the part of both participants and those who argue that healthcare professionals should not participate in overtly political events. Medscape invited commentary on both sides of the argument. Dr Zackary Berger, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, presents the arguments for participation. This commentary has been edited for clarity.

When thinking about why physicians or any clinician should participate in the March for Science, it is important to address an objection that has been frequently raised, because I think it applies to medicine and to healthcare as a profession. This objection very often takes the form of people saying that science is not political and that this March for Science is a political act.

First, we should be clear at the outset that the March for Science is a political march. In a broad sense, politics is the interaction of groups of people in a society. In a more narrow sense, we have had significant political upheaval—not for the good—in the past few months. The March for Science is a political act. That is clear to anybody who really understands what the March is about.

Further, I think it is obvious that science is a political endeavor. Throughout history and to the present day, science has always been a political endeavor and will continue to be into the future. Defining what is science, who gets to do science, what we think is worthy of being called scientific truth, how science is funded, how scientists are viewed as professionals, how their recommendations or assessments of the truth are to be factored into our life as people or our nation... All of these are political activities.

It seems obvious to me that the March for Science is political because science is political. People have many different reasons why they may participate in the March, so I cannot speak to everybody's reasons. As an individual, not even as a physician, one reason I see to participate is in recognition that science is not some sort of idealistic thing up in the clouds that is not part of the affairs of people.

Rather, science is based on institutions which are threatened. It is based on people who create the science in academies and universities, people who support those laboratories where science is done, and people who are supported by government and other institutions to truly think about these important issues. Public policy is something that interacts with science. All of these things are important.

Viewing this as a physician, I realize that it has never been the case that healthcare or medicine has been apolitical. To put it more positively, medicine has always been political. To paraphrase the famous German sociologist Rudolf Virchow, medicine is politics.[1]

Participating in the March for Science is a chance to do two things:

  1. One is to show that healthcare in its various forms—medicine, health systems research, patient-centered research, public health—are all scientific institutions that are based in empirical thought and research. Our institutions need defending in this political moment. These include organizations such as the Agency for Healthcare, Research, and Quality and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, not to mention the National Institutes of Health and reproductive care in hospitals and centers like Planned Parenthood that support female reproductive health. All of these evidence-based activities should be supported in this moment.

  2. And second, as a physician, I think it is our professional duty to participate in the political betterment of society. We need to do that on an empirical footing. We need to do that based on ideology and morals, obviously, but also based on the collection of data that allows us to figure out what to do. That is a scientific act.

For all of these reasons, because science is political, because medicine is political, because politics means participating in the betterment of society, ideally on the basis of shared principles and shared commitment to facts—all of these are reasons to participate in this march and why I will be doing so, proudly, as an individual, as a citizen, as a clinician, and as a physician.

I have written a short essay about these topics which is available online.

I encourage anyone who can, clinicians and physicians, to join me—not just in this march, but in the political betterment of society, which is so needed in these days. Thank you.

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