Dateline: Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2017
We marched …
As the March for Science Chicago website proclaims, we marched
• To bridge the distance between science and society
• To showcase Chicago as The Science City, and
• Toward an ethical science.
We marched for a more human science. We marched because we
• Support the scientific community, and want to
• Safeguard the value and funding of the scientific process.
We marched to
• Celebrate the role of science in society, and to
• Encourage scientific curiosity and exploration.
As with many things these days, the March for Science began on social media. Inspired by the January 21st Women’s March, a group on Reddit discussed doing a similar event to support science. The conversation quickly migrated to a Facebook page that jumped from 200 followers to 300,000 in less than a week. After all, the United States had just elected a climate change denier who was threatening to dismantle the EPA, cut back on scientific research, and who almost immediately purged from government websites the taxpayer funded research data on climate change, in effect stealing our tax dollars by denying us access to the data our dollars had secured. The day before the March, the March for Science Facebook page stood at 530,482, with tens of thousands of others following the March for Science pages connected to their own cities, both in the U.S. and around the world, 609 cities from Amsterdam to Zagreb, with 10 satellite marches in Illinois alone. (You can see the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) interactive map here.) By April 23, the number following the March for Science page stood at 567,865, over a 30,000 person increase in just a day. So marching does raise awareness and helps build a movement.
The Science March already has a Wikipedia page, and one section recounts the way in which previous American leaders have embraced science.
“Several Founding Fathers of the United States had an interest in science. Benjamin Franklin was a scientist with his foundational discoveries on electricity. Like Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and George Washington were all avid students of the natural and physical world.
A number of later presidents had interests in science and promoted pro-science policies; these include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama. A 2010 editorial in the scientific journal Nature warned of ‘a growing anti-science streak on the American right’ and argued that the rising trend threatened the country’s future, which ‘crucially depends on education, science and technology.’ Writing in the Scientific American, Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of The War On Science, wrote: ‘It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience.’” (Wikipedia)
Ironically, for a country that has been in the vanguard of scientific research for generations, a country that has been the research and development engine of the world for over 200 years, a country that has had more Nobel prize winners than any other country by far in chemistry, physics, economic sciences, physiology and medicine, 328 all told, we have slid badly in recent years, as our political leaders have increasingly taken oppositional stands to the findings of science, particularly in the area of climate change. There is no longer any guarantee that the findings of science will guide policy.
As a side note, quite a number of those Nobel award winning scientists were immigrants to the United States, drawn here by the research opportunities afforded at our stellar universities and by our government’s support for research, immigrants from China, the UK, India, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, and Italy, to name a few. But that was before “immigrant” became a dirty word in some quarters.
“According to organizers, the march is a non-partisan movement to celebrate science and the role it plays in everyday lives. The goals of the marches and rallies were to emphasize that science upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest. The march’s website states that an ‘American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.’” (Wikipedia)
And so we marched. In Chicago, we marchers had a beautiful sunny day Saturday. Over 40,000 of us streamed from Grant Park to the Museum Campus where Earth Day stands and activities were set up behind the Field Museum. We were students, and teachers, children and parents, nurses and scientists, young and old. One woman’s sign featured a picture of her as a child attending the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. And she is still fighting the good fight.
Other signs proclaimed “Love Your Mother” over a picture of Planet Earth, and “There is no Planet B.” Some were blatantly political, playing on Donald Trump’s name and image or repurposing the Hillary Clinton slogan “I’m With Her” with an arrow to a picture of the Earth. Others focused on various reasons why science is important. It saves lives. It saves the air and water, which ultimately make our lives possible. Science people tend to be smart so many of the signs were clever and people were snapping pictures by the dozens, asking folks to hold their signs steady for immortality or Instagram. Most of the signs were handmade, and in the days leading up to the march, Facebook had photos of people gathered in families and church and community groups making those signs. So much for “paid protesters.” What was particularly heartening was to see young children, old enough to do science, proclaiming their love for it, and so many high school and college age students supporting scientific research and science-based policy. Peer review got a lot of shout-outs. “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” So did bees and beer, both of which depend on science, albeit in somewhat different ways.
On the march, I met Alice Miller. She’s a 4th grade teacher at Sandridge Elementary in Lynwood, Illinois, which is not far from where I live. Small world. We talked about the fact that with the predominant emphasis on English and Math, very young children are not getting much time to engage in science during the primary grades, at the very age when they are bursting with curiosity about the world and are keen observers of it. What a waste! We exchanged contact information. I would love to visit her classroom. She’s a teacher who avidly seeks ways to provide her students with more opportunities in science.
But here’s my biggest takeaway from yesterday’s march, something that struck me in that sea of signs, among those thousands of marchers. In what kind of crazy upside down world, do tens of thousands of people across the planet rearrange their lives, some of them traveling a great distance to do so, because they feel they have to defend something as obviously good for humankind as science is? Think about that for a moment. It’s like thousands upon thousands of people marching to say “let’s keep motherhood a thing we humans do,” or “we support the sun.”
On April 22, 2017, all across the Earth, from Amsterdam (3,000) to Zagreb (1,000), tens of thousands of people marched. We marched because something critical to humanity’s survival is under attack. We marched to support the obvious, to defend the essential. We shouldn’t have to.
You can learn about Golden Apple’s STEM Institute here.