27 April 2017

Why some of the best March for Science signs were also the worst.

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Shane M Hanlon & Olivia V Ambrogio

The March for Science was the largest gathering of scientists in our lifetimes (so far). Thousands of scientists turned out in cities around the world to stand up for strong science, and that was an impressive and inspiring thing to take part in. But a march isn’t just about the people, or the work they’ll (hopefully) continue to do afterwards to build dialogues and support science–it’s about the signs.

Practically the moment that the march was announced, conversations started around what kinds of signs people were going to make. Scientists can be creative in a uniquely nerdy way, a quality that can translate to fun, thought-provoking, quirky, and sometimes hilarious signs. But to our scientists-turned-scicommers’ minds, some of the best signs, from a scientist’s perspective, were the worst signs to everyone else. Let us explain.

The goals of the march were many; however, one overriding goal was to ensure that scientists and non-scientists alike promoted the value of science. That’s why some of the best signs were also the worst…from a communication perspective.

Science is essential (“Good” signs)

These signs had clear, powerful messages that humanized science or scientists and emphasized its benefits.






When it came to deciding which signs didn’t hit the messaging mark from a communication standpoint, our takes differed slightly. So, we decided to give a “greatest” hits of “could’ve-been-better” messaging.


I saw the sine (Shane)

Personally, I agreed with the sentiment of some of these signs, but as a professional communicator, I couldn’t help but think about the power of positive, vs negative, messaging. 


Then there were the ones that were  sooo sciencey. Again, my inner-nerd rejoiced, but I couldn’t help thinking that these were the signs that would be showcased in the news in days to come as examples of the “science elite”, marching for inside jokes. 



You’re blinding us with science (Olivia)

As with some of the ones Shane has highlighted, these signs–although often hilarious to me–would have been better on T-shirts or placards at a scientific conference. When they’re out there in a march whose messages are intended for everyone, they can leave some people out, or–worse–leave some people feeling deliberately excluded.





Here’s the thing. We LOVE many of these signs. As scientists, we get and appreciate the humor. Science is awesome, and can be awesomely punny. And the March for Science was a march…about science. Many of the participants were scientists or science-enthusiasts who get the jokes. But many weren’t, in addition to those looking in from the outside.

In spite of our criticisms, the signs only really matter for a moment. What really matters is what we do now, and in the future, to ensure that science is accessible to everyone.

Now we take action. We’ve identified 5 actions post-march that can ensure support for strong science. Make your voice for science heard. And feel free to throw in some puns (in moderation).

-Shane M Hanlon and Olivia V Ambrogio are part of AGU’s Sharing Science program.