April 15, 2018
As scientists and science supporters across the globe gathered for the March for Science on Saturday, April 14, the city of Philadelphia literally took a stand for science. The Philadelphia Science Action (PSA) organization decided to organize a rally instead of a full march with a focus on impacts over the past year and actions people can take to show their support for the sciences. I was honored to be asked to serve as one of the nine speakers (six scientists, three students).
My task seemed simple at first – I was asked to share my insights regarding the impacts of recent policy and funding shifts on teaching and research efforts at the collegiate level. I was given a 12-minute block of time to present. I started framing what I would say. I reached out to Dr. Sarah Fortner at Wittenberg University and Dr. Pranoti Asher at AGU for additional ideas. In the end, I didn’t hold true to all of the original focus, but I was true to myself and what I believe were important points to make to an audience filled with scientists, students, and science supporters.
(And I kept the speech shorter than 12 minutes – it was a warm, 85-degree day, with the Sun streaming down on us. I didn’t want to lose my audience, so I used fewer words with greater enthusiasm. It was a winning formula!)
Below is the text of the speech I gave. I also captured my experience throughout the day in a series of tweets I posted on my Journeys of Dr. G blog. I hope by posting this content online, we can be reminded well after April 14 of the importance of speaking up for science and for evidence-based thinking.
Speech given by Dr. Laura Guertin, Professor of Earth Science at Penn State Brandywine, at the Philadelphia Rally for Science.
Ensuring sufficient supplies of clean water.
Developing energy to power the nation.
Building resiliency to natural hazards.
Providing raw materials to society.
Confronting climate variability.
These topics and more have been listed by the American Geosciences Institute as America’s – shall I expand that to include global – critical needs. To address these critical, societal needs, we need science information, we need scientific research, we need to increase our ability to strengthen economies and protect public health and safety while living on Earth in a responsible and sustainable manner.
I hope you will indulge me for a moment while I share with you a short example of the work of the federal agency NOAA. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the acronym N-O-A-A, it stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Part of NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, and to share that knowledge and information with others.
NOAA’s National Weather Service and its National Hurricane Center had a busy year in 2017 monitoring the North Atlantic Ocean’s tropical cyclones. But did you know that in 2017, the United States had twice the property damage of the 2005 hurricane season – but only 20% of the lives were the lost. Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the 50 inches of rainfall they received was predicted one week in advance (one week in advance!). How did we know that, and how were we able to prepare for this? NOAA’s satellites allowed for Earth system observations and modeling, to help save lives.
And who are the people of NOAA, making these observations and issuing these warnings? To my fellow educators, please be reminded that these NOAA employees – the NOAA scientists, innovators and communicators – started in our K-12 classrooms, and have come through our universities. We trained these individuals to be problem solvers, to think critically, to pursue innovative engineering designs and solutions. Our best practices in the classroom, the laboratory, and the field have trained and continue to train the next generation of individuals to address our critical, societal needs!
Now make no mistake – at this moment in time, I am devastated to see funding cut for science teaching and research in primary, secondary, and higher education. I truly fear that educators are going to face increasing challenges in facilitating student learning of science content and student development of supporting skill sets. Our graduates are going to struggle to make the contributions to science and society that are so important for the health and well-being of our planet.
And in this age where anyone can post anything real or fake on the internet, where the Pew Research Center reports that 2/3 of American adults get their news on social media, and where professional athletes are on record stating that they believe the Earth is flat and that dinosaurs never existed – we need to work on building the scientific literacy as well as the information literacy of our students and society as a whole. We need everyone, scientists and non-scientists alike, to have a basic, fundamental understanding of science, of the process of science, and to have the confidence to share and communicate science from sources that are current, reliable, and unbiased.
For example, if I go back to my first statement about ensuring sufficient supplies of clean water, essential to all life on our planet, we need scientists to monitor the quantity and quality of surface and groundwater. We need scientists to identify sources of water contamination. We need individuals across all STEM fields to develop and maintain the infrastructure to deliver safe water to our homes and schools.
And, we must incorporate social justice with our scientific teaching, research, and dissemination. We must increase our equity and inclusion efforts. We must be thoughtful and intentional about using science as a tool to improve the human condition and create more equitable communities for all. We must involve those who are stakeholders of a scientific investigation in the design and implementation of solutions. We need speak up and speak out when science issues and policies promote inequities in power and people.
We need clean air. We need clean water. We need clean energy. We need a sustainable agricultural system. We need to confront the realities of climate change.
And we need to applaud the advocacy efforts of organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Geophysical Union, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, 500 Women Scientists, the Earth Science Women’s Network, and so many others – in speaking up for science,speaking up for scientists, defending the scientific process, and working towards science-informed policy. As educators, we must support these organizations and add our voice to theirs, so that we also can advance science, advance literacy, and help decision makers make informed policies and practices so that planet Earth is sustainable for many generations to come.