March for Science Spawns 600+ Rallies in 68 Countries
Scientists and their supporters marked Earth Day Saturday by rallying in more than 600 cities in 68 countries, making the March for Science the world’s largest-ever coordinated event for evidence, data, and the health and environmental benefits that science delivers.
The rallies drew “hundreds of thousands of climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers, and other supporters of science,” The Guardian reports. “A common theme among protesters was a worry that politicians have rejected science-based policies.”
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
In Washington, DC, “somewhat fewer” than the 150,000 expected braved bad weather to hear a lineup of speakers that included ex-UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann, and Jane Hirshfield, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
“There’s very low morale among government scientists because science is under assault from this administration,” Mann told Guardian reporter Oliver Milman. “That being said, events like this will lift the spirits of scientists. They are finding a voice.”
A common theme across the rallies was that scientists are coming out of their labs and out of the field to explain their work, build public support, and counter the ideological attack they face. “I’m encouraged by the marches I’ve seen already taking place around the world,” said Rush Holt, a former member of Congress who leads the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “For generations, scientists have been reluctant to be in the public square.” Now, “there is a lot of concern.”
Although many of the signs at the DC rally took direct aim at the Trump administrators, organizers were determined to hold an event that focused on the inherent value of science. “Science has always been political but we don’t want science to be partisan,” said engineer and TV science star Bill Nye (aka Bill Nye the Science Guy). But he warned that science is in a “dangerous place”, where “objective truths have become set aside and diminished, and lawmakers are acting like a strong belief in something is as valid as careful peer review.”
In The Guardian, New York-based science communicator Lucky Tran was more direct.
“I’m marching for science today because I’m mad,” he wrote. “Yes, I’m a mad scientist. I became a scientist because I wanted to help people. In my career I’ve researched gene therapy, how to engineer new antibiotics, and how to make better cancer drugs. But now what I do and care about has come under attack. I’m mad at politicians for hijacking science for their own selfish interests.”
In Ottawa, Katie Gibbs, founding executive director of Evidence for Democracy, traced Canadian scientists’ largely successful five-year effort to roll back the muzzling and budget cuts they faced under the Stephen Harper government. At the time, she said, Canadian researchers drew inspiration from their U.S. cousins, and now they’re determined to return the favour.
“Some of the signs we’re seeing are spreading the message that science matters, evidence matters,” CBC reported from Parliament Hill. “They are saying that any politician who tries to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science, particularly climate change, is a risk, and they want to speak out against that.”
Despite major gains since the change in government in Canada, the Ottawa rally pointed to last week’s report of the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, which pointed to the decline in federal support for research.
“Across Canada, labs are closing, graduate students are losing their research jobs, and some senior scientists are facing the grim reality that they might have to abandon decades of inquiry, leaving important scientific questions unanswered because there’s no way to pay for the research,” CBC reports. “By early summer, nine out of every 10 health researchers who applied for research money from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) last fall will have received a rejection letter.”
“We had grown up in an era where if you wrote a good grant, you had a heck of a good chance of being given the wherewithal to get on with asking and answering a question that excited you,” Naylor told the national broadcaster. “To have that sense that the next generation has been robbed of that opportunity, despite in many cases fabulous training, was a real eye-opener for us.”
In the U.S., in particular, March for Science organizers are looking at how to translate the momentum behind the rally into a lasting political force. “A march is great and all—it’s great to show power and show force,” said Blue-Green Alliance Vice President Mike Williams. “But a lot of the focus is on how do we turn this into a true, big, deep movement-building effort?”
One part of that change is already afoot in the California congressional district that includes the site of the Aliso Canyon methane leak. Last week, the Washington Post ran a profile of volcanologist Jess Phoenix, who decided to run for office after concluding that the Republican incumbent was too slow to respond to the disaster. When a reporter asked if she was nervous about the campaign, she pointed back to her day job.
“I walk into active volcanic eruptions,” she said. “Congress? Come on.”