Culture

I went to the March for Science and the signs are troubling

Commentary: Thousands of people marched. But was there a message that will persuade the broad masses?

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


It's baseball season.

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Donald Trump has shown how tiny soundbites can turn into earfuls.

The truth just doesn't cut it anymore.

You have to have short, memorable phrases that stir emotions and make excellent Twitter hashtags.

"Build That Wall," "Fake News" and "Make America Great Again" might be full of wind, but they move and stir many branches of society.

So I went to Saturday's March for Science in San Francisco not so much to people-watch but to see if someone could come up with a pithy phrase that would truly send a message about science to everyone.

I stared at the hundreds of signs and put them up for peer review. Well, I did spend a few years in advertising.

A significant proportion of the signs were personally aimed at President Trump, which seems a touch narrow-minded and plays into his Twittering fingers. He isn't the first on his party's side to negate science.

So while many might have been amused at a sign that read "Trump doesn't believe in climate change because he can't imagine anything hotter than his daughter," it's not quite the heart-winner that scientists need in order to make their case.

Some signs were rebuttals to presidential tweets. For example: "I'm not getting paid for this. Trust me, I'm a postdoc" is funny, for those who know how little postdoctoral fellows are paid and that Trump insinuated that anyone who marches against him is being paid. But to a broader audience? Not quite.

It seems clear that while the scientific marchers had put in a lot of effort, there were many in-jokes that wouldn't translate to the masses.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate," may be amusing, but again, only to scientific minds.

At a relatively sublime level, there were "Copernicus died for your sins," "Science gives me a hadron" and "Girls just want to have funding." Still, though, I couldn't find anything that would make a Trump supporter -- or even a fence-sitter -- care. Too many signs, indeed, smacked of superiority.

Science is long-winded, complicated and intellectual. Human minds are, too often, visceral, prejudiced and ineffectual.

Many scientific marchers had plumped for rational messages. Those often these fail when it comes to persuasion.

"Science, not silence," is simple, but not enough of a grabber. Worse, at least one marcher worked in tech and believed in his craft a little too much. Hence: "Launch software, not missiles."

It's hard being the not-so-sexy good guy in today's world. Too many people believe we are heading in a bad direction. They're easily convinced that good guys are bad.

One marcher thought he'd latch on to the fact that it's baseball season: "Remember, nature bats last." Which is likable, but still no home run.

"Dear science, thank you for curing my cancer," was both rational and emotional. Yet it's still not broad enough.

Then I spotted someone who understood the magnitude of the whole problem.

"I can't believe I'm still protesting this shit," said the sign. It was held by a little boy, aged perhaps 9 or 10.

Exasperation from a little boy.

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It goes for the emotions. But whom will it persuade, who isn't persuaded already?

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Well, it's rational.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET