Yesterday, I marched for science. I was reluctant, the weather was cold and windy and threatened rain, I had a busy day ahead of me… but I did it anyway.
The numbers are still being crunched, but it appears that tens of thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. and at satellite events around the country and the world for a March for Science. This effort began apparently as a response to what an anonymous author said was a “throwaway line” calling for a science march on Washington based on proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding cuts by the new Trump administration (see this article in the Washington Post for more context). What evolved was a grassroots effort launched on social media that asked citizens to stand up for science-based policy decisions and an appreciation for the scientific enterprise in general by participating in a demonstration effort on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.
As the movement grew, many questions arose: was this a specific political statement, or just an opportunity to spread science awareness in a giant science-technology-engineering-mathematics (STEM) public outreach event? Was it strongly partisan (i.e., attacking specific policy decisions by a current Republican president and Republican-majority Congress), or was it important that it be strictly nonpartisan and nonpolitical? Would individual scientists who marched help their cause, or hurt their professional work (much of which is through government or government-funded employment)? Were some broader concerns internal to the scientific community (e.g., support for federal funding resources; increasing awareness and opportunity to promote diversity in all its forms in the training, hiring practices, and exectution of science; STEM education, etc.) to be addressed, specifically targeted as a focus, or blindly overlooked? How could one event do all these things and be everything to everyone?
The answer was: it couldn’t. And some arguments broke out along the way among organizers, supporters, and critics leading up to the day of the march. But, imperfect as it was, this event nonetheless managed to bring together a population of people marching for various reasons. It brought out scientists, educators, families, and general citizens. It brought out staunchly political activists supporting many of the above issues, as well as those quietly gathered simply to add to the numbers and show their support. The signs people brought were clever, nerdy, or even sort of lame. Many lacked artistic flair. In my city, Indianapolis, the gathering of people (and a few dogs) withstood the weather and listened to the assembled speakers for an hour, then walked enthusiastically for a few blocks to a local park, where an Earth Day event for families was kicking off for the afternoon.
Will the March for Science change the world? Will it change science, or politics? Will it change the lives of individuals who participated or supported from afar (and those that didn’t or wouldn’t want to for all sorts of reasons)? It’s certainly hard to say. Many articles and analyses have been written to consider the reasons this movement got its start (see, for example, “The ‘war on science’ doesn’t just hurt scientists. It hurts everyone.”). And now we will consider the aftermath. For example, just today science writer Ed Yong mused about “How The March For Science Finally Found Its Voice”, in which he describes perspectives from attendees he talked to along the march route in Washington, D.C.
So why did I, personally, march? I don’t like crowds and noise and finding parking for large events, I’ve never attended a political demonstration and have never wanted to, I don’t much enjoy speeches, and I wasn’t planning to attend the Earth Day event (I had other plans for my Saturday afternoon). But I joined a few people I knew and went anyway. I decided that, barring no other pressing conflict on my time, I had an obligation to extend my science outreach activity in my community to include attending this event. I work to train the next generation of scientists and increase the scientific literacy of non-scientists. I enjoy sharing science with children and families as an extension of my work. Politics aside, and as uncomfortable is it was, I felt compelled to stand up and lend my body to the photos showing support for science and its critical role in modern human society. So that was my scientific enterprise for one Saturday. And now we march on into a new week and see where it leads us.