Yom HaShoah and the Science March

Today is Yom HaShoah, holocaust remembrance day in the Jewish calendar, the day to remember all the lives taken and the generations that never came to exist. Saturday, across the country many people took to their city streets to march for science, as I did here in Ann Arbor. How are these two things related? As the official March for Science organization struggled to find its message, the connection between these two things is more important than ever. Leading up to the march I was conflicted, along with many of my colleagues, about whether to march when the official movement seemed to shy away from getting too political, emphasizing a “celebration of science.” In the process they alienated some of the most vulnerable members of the community, and many of those with the most experience in protesting and political movements — many scientists of color, in particular, refused to march. And I don’t blame them.

On this Yom HaShoah especially, I cannot take a stance of unconditionally celebrating science. Many people pointed out leading up to the march that universal objective truths should not be confused with science, the human-led discipline. Science has been the justification for many terrible atrocities, and still is. It was not a new notion during the holocaust that drove the classification of  people as sub-human because they didn’t fit a biological, scientific (some surely argued objective) standard. Nazi doctors in concentration camps experimented on prisoners for medical research just as American doctors did to prisoners, and mentally ill patients. Speakers at the Ann Arbor march rightly pointed out uncomfortable truths about science, imploring us to demand a better, more ethical science.

Progress in ethical standards and guidelines for best practices did not just come from a group of people celebrating science. This progress largely came from those close to or affected by the horrible things science had justified. Science is not the thing we need to march for. Careful and thoughtful reasoning that considers all the evidence, the historical context, and ethical consequences of decision making — that is what we need to emphasize. We must march for a future science discipline that properly represents all voices (which it definitely does not).

Today I take a special moment to remember my grandparents, whose lives were surely shortened by what they endured, who worked to provide a comfortable and privileged life for me. I would not be a scientist without their perseverance. Today I remember over 10 million slaughtered, through cold, calculated, and scientific means. Science, the human-led discipline MUST go hand in hand with ethics. It MUST not ignore its history. It MUST represent all voices. We still have a lot of work to do.

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