April 12, 2017

March for Science – will you or won’t you?

Posted by Laura Guertin


What is the March for Science?

It’s hard to believe that January 25th of this year was the beginning of an incredible dialogue and spark for action across the globe. The March for Science has come far in a short time, with at one point having 21 stated goals (article by Ed Young in The Atlantic) and many challenges in how they were addressing politics and diversity (including the figureheads selected for the march).

The March for Science (https://www.marchforscience.com/) is more than a one-day march – it is a volunteer-run organization. Their mission statement: “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.” One can also find online the organization’s core principles and goals as well as their diversity and inclusion principles

The March for Science is taking its “first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments” with a march on Earth Day, April 22. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, the March’s organizers say they aren’t just fighting for more funding for science, or more influence in policy, but also to raise awareness about the type of research they are doing. More than 170 organizations have become official partners with the March for Science and have issued statements of endorsement, such as AGU. As of the writing of this blog post, there are 514 satellite marches taking place across the globe that can be searched via this interactive map.

One interesting note – this year’s March for Science is not the first time U.S. scientists have come together to march in support of science. I encourage you to read this Science article on the 1970s organization Science for the People.

Should scientists march?


Not all scientists are on board with the March for Science. Coastal geologist Rob Young wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times. His concern: “A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.”

One article in Vox says that it is awkward for scientists to march, that scientists really don’t need a march but a marketing campaign. Some have expressed concern that scientists will lose credibility for marching. (Although a Pew Research Center survey in 2009 found that 76 percent of Americans “say that it is appropriate for scientists to become actively involved in political debates.” This finding is supported by additional work reported in The Atlantic and the journal Environmental Communication.)

Gretchen Goldman from the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, as many others, there have been challenges with the everything from the March’s mission to messaging. But she believes “the movement for science must be unapologetically inclusive… We need to do better. Dialogue is important. Calling out missteps when we see them is crucial. As scientists and organizers, we must remember to listen, respond in earnest, and elevate messages of those marginalized or excluded. This is what makes a good ally. Indeed, this is what makes a good scientist.” Gretchen is not just marching for science this Earth Day, but marching for equity, inclusion, and access.

Peter Gleick has written about why he’s marching, and so has Eric Holthaus. and Ayana Elizabeth JohnsonJane Goodall has added her support to the March for Science (she’ll be there as a full-size cardboard cutout!). The Brain Scoop at The Field Museum has created a video where the museum staff and scientists state why they will be marching for science.

Here is one more of the many reasons why scientists are marching.

Since the march is happening, I’d like to set aside the conversation about whether it is a good idea or not. Like the Women’s March in January, it is going to be a part of our experience of this moment in history. I am joining the remarkable conversation that surrounds the march because I think I can be one of the voices that helps make it a powerful event that sparks a wave of advocacy and activism—but only if we avoid falling into the same patterns that have stymied public engagement with science for almost half a century. Marching is not a way to tell people things they do not know; it is a way to share our experiences of science. — (Megan Halpern, 2017, American Scientist)


Is the March political? Should it be? What does that even mean?


In his recent article in TIME Magazine titled “The Single Shining Hope to Stop Climate Change,” climatologist Michael Mann stated that, “Science has no political affiliation and shouldn’t be a political issue. Chemistry and physics don’t care who is president or which party runs a parliament.” Whereas public health educator and science writer Caroline Weinberg was quoted in Science stating, “The point of science is getting to the truth and helping us understand the world, and acting as though this has no role in politics is ridiculous.” Megan Halpern writes for American Scientist that, “science is political: it always has been and always will be.”

Are we all defining and using the term “political” the same way? Jonathan Foley. at one point in the interview, he encouraged scientists to become more political. (*note the emphasis in his quote is mine)

“‘Politics’ with a lower-case ‘p’… if you go back to the Greek word, politics means the affair of the city. It just means how we govern ourselves, how do we talk about things, how do we solve our problems. So science has to be part of our political discourse, it has to be a part of what we talk about on a daily basis, just how do we solve our problems together. So many of these issues touch on science and technology. Now ‘politics’ with a capital ‘P’ like running elections and partisan politics – that, science should have no connection to at all, I agree with that. But we should be connected to everyday conversations, whether they are in our town halls, our halls of Congress, or in courts. And science must be part of that because science is so central to so many of those issues. And if scientists aren’t in the room, who is? We’re the only profession in the world that seems reluctant to even talk to our fellow citizens about the things we know about.”  —  Jonathan Foley on KQED News (interview from 1:30-9:58, text from above from 8:30-9:50).

Whether individuals want science and politics to be connected, these two terms are forever joined in this conversation on the March for Science. A recent Nature editorial summarizes the connection: ” …yes it is true that the march blurs the lines between science and politics. But that line is already much fuzzier than some try to argue. It is possible to care about science and scientific thinking while ignoring the political context in which it operates. But it is difficult to do that and demand change at the same time.”


But what will I wear?

And then, I haven’t even mentioned the discussion on what people are going to wear. Mashable says that, “delightfully geeky beanies are the perfect headwear for scientists.” But not all agree.

“…getting the visuals right could help the march spread its cause of “robustly funded and publicly communicated science,” while the wrong look might weaken the message — or send a different one altogether.” — (Preston, 2017, for Racked)

To March or Not To March….

In the end, please fill out this survey for Nature and/or this one from PBS News Hour to let them know if you are attending a March for Science and the reason for your decision. AGU would also like to know if you are attending the DC march or one of the satellite marches (see map). And check out the resources AGU has compiled to enhance your experience before, during, and after the March.

For additional resources, you may want to check out the NCSE Science Teach-In Toolkit, as well as the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund blog post on Useful Steps for Marching (And Other Active) Scientists.

Note that things won’t end once the March concludes. Check out this article in Science, and stay tuned…

“The march isn’t going to change anything unless we keep it going after April 22,” Caroline Weinberg, one of the March for Science organizers, said. “After April 22, we’re transitioning from organizing marches to a global organization focused on science education, outreach and advocacy.” (from Climate Central)

If you are looking for me this Earth Day, I’ll be participating in the March for Science in Philadelphia, sporting my purple AGU March for Science long-sleeve shirt. I’ll be posting my experience and reflections about the event later this month.

Download your own AGU “Why I March for Science” sign here.