Who’s Marching for Science—and Why? Here Are 15 Answers

Alexander Zwissler, , | March 15, 2017, 3:46 pm EST
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UCS is partnering with both the March for Science and the Peoples Climate March.  UCS encourages scientist and nonscientists to participate in one of the 350+ local March for Science events on April 22 and then join the Peoples Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29.


 

The role of science in society has been debated for thousands of years.

But while science and its impacts on beliefs and our world will always be the subject of some debate, in general it has been the accepted norm that the scientists themselves should largely stay on the sidelines.

Scientists should avoid politicizing their work, leaving it to policymakers to determine how their findings are implemented . . . right?

The recent election has triggered a reevaluation of this norm.

The date is now set to March for Science on April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world.

Almost as soon as the call went out, so did the debate within the scientific community about whether and how it should respond. Do scientists have a moral obligation to stand up for their work? Or do they compromise their objectivity by taking a formal stance that can be (fairly or unfairly) aligned with political values?

Media and well-known scientists have published their personal opinions, but I wanted to take it one step further. I wondered what leading scientists, academics and science educators think about the March for Science — so I asked them, fifteen in all.

The question was simple: are you going, should others go, and why or why not?

The responses were insightful and passionate.

My main takeaway? Failing to act is not an option.

The March for Science is a signal to citizens and politicians from coast to coast, demonstrating that we will not stand by while hundreds of years’ of scientific inquiry are brushed aside.

But the follow-up question is perhaps the most important: is marching enough?

While the March for Science is seen as an important step for science advocacy, some are rightly worried that it will be a one-day news story that quickly passes without influencing action or policy.

Read on to see how some of the brightest minds in the world of science are approaching this key inflection point.

*     *     *

Dennis Bartels, science advocate and former CEO, The Exploratorium, San Francisco, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

There is a threshold when your silence becomes deadly. I believe we’ve reached that point. We follow in a very rich tradition with far, far braver path makers who had much more to lose. It’s the least we can do, and perhaps only the beginning.

Your lives and the future of your children, and their children, and the species as a whole is in much doubt. Don’t look back and wonder and wish what you should have done back when. We’ve reached the inflection point. I truly believe that.

*     *     *

George Cogan, Chairman of the Board, The Exploratorium

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I believe people trained in the methods of science are better citizens. I wish there were more than a couple of scientists in Congress. I have not typically been involved in politics, but I plan to march as a concerned citizen.

Some believe the inexorable march towards truth is best served if scientists avoid politics. I agree in general. Scientists who ‘market’ their findings are marginalized for this reason. However, when the science is settled, the stakes are high, time is short, and political action is essential to drive change, scientists have a moral responsibility to become involved in politics.

I would like to see non-scientists join scientists at this march.

*     *     *

Ellie Cohen, President and CEO, Point Blue Conservation Science
@ecohenpointblue

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

I have concerns about my greenhouse gas footprint so will not go to DC, but will attend the March in San Francisco.

Science helps humanity discover and illuminate truths, upon which policy makers can act to better the lives of the people they serve.

With non-partisan messaging and trained messengers, the March is an opportunity to train and catalyze scientists to communicate with multiple audiences across the political spectrum. Since science by definition is not dogmatic or partisan, scientists should advocate for science and scientific findings, and participating in the March is one way of doing just that.

Along the lines of Rabbi Hillel’s sage words from 2,000 years ago (If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?), if scientists don’t stand up for science, who will? And what better time than now?

Note: Dr. Cohen’s views are personal and do not reflect the view of Point Blue Conservation Science.

*     *     *

Molly Demeulenaere, President and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa, Fla.
@MOSIMolly

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I am participating in this March to stand up for the scientific process and the people that dedicate their lives to learning more. I also believe that we need to encourage all people to be curious about the world around them, learn to think critically, and understand the importance of research and how it can play a role in their lives. For me, this March for Science advocates for what I believe this world needs.

Messages are stronger in numbers. Having a clear message that everyone speaks to is crucial. This March can bring people together to share knowledge and stand up for what we believe in.

*     *     *

Beka Economopoulos, Founding Director, The Natural History Museum, Brooklyn, NY
@bekamop

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Scientists are heroes, they solve problems and protect the people and places we love. Medical research, climate science, and research on lead levels and water quality protect us. These are the kinds of science that are in the crosshairs. These attacks on science are attacks on our families, our communities, and our collective future.

For too long we’ve relied on facts and evidence to speak for themselves. That strategy has failed us. The March for Science is a coming-out party for a movement of scientists and supporters who are speaking out in the public sphere. It isn’t partisan, it’s patriotic.

*     *     *

Kirsten Ellenbogen, President and CEO, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, Ohio
@kellenbogen

Are you going to the March? Yes, satellite march

Should others go? Yes

We are more involved in our local March for Science. We’ve had difficult conversations about whether we should march together as the science center in an official capacity.

We are talking with the directors of three other informal science education organizations locally and we know this is an important moment for science, scientists, and future scientists in our community.

*     *     *

Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, Cal.
@GlobalEcoGuy

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

It’s time to stand up for science. If we don’t, who will?

Of course others should go. The War on Science is a war on everything we care about — our health, our safety, our economic competitiveness, and our future. It belongs to everyone.

*     *     *

Peter Gleick, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences; MacArthur Fellow; and Co-founder, President-Emeritus, and Chief Scientist of the Pacific Institute, Oakland, Cal.
@PeterGleick

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

Scientists have always worked in the public interest, and while public communication and advocacy are difficult for some scientists, we’re faced with unprecedented threats that must be countered. One way is to exercise our First Amendment rights to protest, speak, peaceably assemble. I plan to exercise mine.

It is up to each person, individually, to decide how to address the threats to science that we face. I can only act on my own.

*     *     *

Paula Golden, President, Broadcom Foundation, Newport Beach, Cal.
@PaulaGolden48

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

We must resist the anti-science fake facts of the Trump regime and the right wing Republican Congress — on the streets, in the press, in the courts and at the polls. This march is a wake-up call to the nation.

Numbers count! March in DC or at a rally in your city and town. Send out the message on your Facebook, twitter and Email account.

*     *     *

Kishore Hari, Director, Bay Area Science Festival, University of California, San Francisco
@sciencequiche

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I’m one of the leaders of the movement. My family is here in this country because my father was given admission to a science program. Science is much more than a pursuit of knowledge — it’s responsible for my existence.

Science’s core integrity is being questioned, its value to our local communities and economic future is being derided, and the importance for evidence and facts is being questioned. We have an opportunity to join forces with all the science advocates and enthusiasts to show that there is a large community who believe in the pursuit of truth and evidence.

The largest mobilization of these communities is a statement that we stand together in support of an institution that has brought so much prosperity to billions and is the economic engine of our future. We have never stood in solidarity with each other — this is first of many opportunities to walk hand-in-hand.

*     *     *

Dan Kahan, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale Law School

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Don’t want to give advice

Trump is devaluing the currency of facts in our democratic discourse.

Every profession, every citizen, should make unmistakably clear their opposition to what is happening — and their support for the dignity of one another’s calling.

I don’t know what the message of such an action would be. But I do know that exposing and opposing the insidious objectives of those who mock truth is the right thing, intrinsically, as a moral matter. While respecting others who have concluded otherwise, I am grateful to those willing to make the effort to protect these fundamental principles.

*     *     *

Daniel Kammen, Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley
@dan_kammen

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Science is critical to human innovation, equity, and progress. The threat that this new administration is presenting to science is unacceptable. I currently serve as Science Envoy for the U. S. State Department.

*     *     *

Troy Livingston  Director, Science Gallery Lab Detroit
@Troybur

Are you going to the March? No

Should others go? No

I believe strongly in the values inspiring the march. But I also believe it will be a mostly white, mostly privileged and elitist group who will not be or appear inclusive of all people.

Unintentionally, marchers may reinforce the negative stereotype that science isn’t for everyone.

Finally, I believe that the millions of dollars marchers will spend would have had more tangible benefit advocating for science if they went into the accounts of AAAS or the Union of Concerned Scientists or similar organizations.

I’m all for political activism, but I worry, just like with the women’s march, that many people will call this march their contribution to this cause and leave it at that.

What will matter most is not what happens on the day of the march but everything all of us have done and will do every other day of the year.

*     *     *

Anthony (Bud) Rock, President and CEO, Association of Science-Technology Centers

Are you going to the March? Maybe

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

In the national (and global) discussions of so many critical issues today, science is finding its voice. This is not simply in response to recent challenges to broadly accepted scientific research in areas such as climate change, vaccine safety, or environmental sustainability. In a much more profound way, it is all that science represents — its purpose, its process, its accomplishments, its impacts — that reaffirms the importance of decisions and actions across all segments of society that are factual and evidenced-based.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) joins the many organizations that call for a collective voice on science. As an association, we must, however, also respect the diversity of views within our membership as to how to be most effective in this messaging.

ASTC hopes, however, that all of our member institutions will use every available opportunity to open our doors and engage our visitors in our essential mission to inspire people of all ages about the wonders and the meaning of science in their lives.

*     *     *

Dr. Martin Storksdieck, Director and Professor, Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Oregon State University
@Storksdieck

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Yes

Alan Leshner summarized it nicely at this year’s AAAS conference: You can’t not speak out for science, but you have to worry about the way it will be perceived.

The other issue: If there is a March with a broad goal to showcase the benefit and need for evidence-based decision-making, the value of basic and applied research, and such, then there better be a lot of people marching across the country.

*     *     *

Dr. Susan Weller, President, Entomological Society of America

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

Science is about curiosity and following where your questions lead you. From this curiosity, humans have been growing our knowledge for centuries.

For entomologists, this curiosity drives us to ask how mosquitoes spread disease and how a bee finds her way back to the nest.

I look forward to celebrating science on April 22nd here in Nebraska. Our new museum exhibit opens that day, showcasing University of Nebraska-Lincoln research on parasites. Mosquitoes that carry dengue or Zika don’t care who you are — they just make you sick. Let’s show the world that science matters in their lives and that scientists work hard to make a positive difference every day.


Alexander Zwissler is CEO at Einstellung Labs, where he works with nonprofits and organizations in the science and education space.

Posted in: Science and Democracy Tags: ,

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  • Rusty Shackelford

    Very interesting perspectives here, but nothing you wouldn’t expect. The current administration seems to be relying on the…. let’s say under-educated demographic to accept systematic denial of science. It makes you wonder what the government is REALLY up to. You know, besides separating scientific findings from legislation and regulation.

    – Rusty Shackelford.

    • Alexander Zwissler

      The denial of science is an extremely complicated issue, one that frankly has little to do with educational attainment. If you’re interested , you can read more about here http://www.einstellunglabs.com/blog/ , where I spent a few years digging in to it.

  • WorkingClass

    “Trump is devaluing the currency of facts in our democratic discourse.” — That says it all right there.

    • Alexander Zwissler

      Yes, I particularly liked Dan’s comment there. Thanks for yours!

  • Alexandra Hall

    Fascinating piece. Thanks Alex! I’m not marching because the logistics for a self employed mom are hard enough. But also because I believe I can have more impact by being more vocal and involved in my local community. I live in an area that has a lot of pseudoscience believers (Santa Cruz Mountains), anti vaxxers, woo mongers, people who fear GMO’s and think that organic is magical and cleanses are doing more than lightening your wallet. It is fundamentally the fact that we, as scientists, allow the promotion of nonsense and pseudoscience in our communities – often without speaking up for fear that you’re offending someone – that is contributing to the problem. I’ve decided that I’m willing to offend in the cause of improving science literacy if that’s what it takes. Many adults are lost causes, but their kids aren’t. Support your school science fair. Call out your mommy friends as nicely as you can who ask for medical advice for their kids on Facebook. Offer to put on extra curricular classes in critical thinking. Get your booster shots and promote the fact that you did and why it’s important. Attend the community hearing on a new cell tower and be prepared to talk about power laws. Be vigilant about the separation of religion and public education (horrifying how many states want to add creationism into science classes, or how many schools tell kids that they need to have religion or ‘spirituality’ in their lives to be ‘well rounded’). Raise the issues whenever you can. Recently I commented to our local grocery store owner that I was tired of seeing things like ‘non GMO’ on salt. He laughed and said he’s contemplating marketing a line of ‘grass fed salmon’ to get the discussion going. It’s a start.

    • Alexander Zwissler

      Can I invest in grass fed salmon?

  • Sailesh Rao

    The anti-science stance of the current administration deserves to be condemned, but we, scientists, also have a lot of soul searching to do within our own organizations. When the AGU Fall Meeting, the largest gathering of climate scientists in the world, serves steak as the main course at its Annual Banquet dinner, it is clear that the AGU is not even reading its own IPCC report (specifically, AR5, Working Group 3, Chapter 11). If we, scientists, are pretending that the cancer of our excessive consumption is good for the planet, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Trump administration is now pretending that the fever of climate change is also good for the planet.

    • Alexander Zwissler

      As always Sailesh, you bring us back to earth…nice hearing from you…trust you are well.

      • Sailesh Rao

        Nice to see you back as well, Alex! As you can imagine, my work at Climate Healers has been an uphill battle. I’m speaking more and more to school kids these days. For example, here’s a question that I pose in my talks that illustrates the point that I’m trying to make here:

        Imagine a weight-lifter who’s lifting five times his weight above his head, who discovers that he’s on quicksand and that he’s sinking. He calculates that his weight alone is too much for the quicksand to bear.

        What is the first thing that he should do?

        a) drop the weight he’s lifting,
        b) double the weight he’s lifting,
        c) perform a liposuction to slim down to 1/6th his weight.

        During my talks, every school kid chooses option a).

        To put this in context, in his PNAS paper from 2008, Barnosky estimates that the biomass of humans today is more than double the biomass of all wild megafauna from 10,000 years ago. Our weight alone is too much for the planet to bear. In addition, the IPCC AR5 WG3 Chapter 11 shows that the animals we farm are consuming almost 5 times as much food (7.27 Giga tons of dry matter biomass per year) as all humans (1.54 Gt).

        And yet, the UN FAO chooses option b) as it is vowing to double livestock production by 2050. The population “bombers” choose option c). Meanwhile the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report of 2014 (2016) has found that 52% (58%) of all wild vertebrates got destroyed between 1970 and 2010 (2012). At that rate, 70% of wild vertebrates have been destroyed by now and we are on track to wipe them all off the face of the Earth by 2026. We are definitely on ecological quicksand here! And yet, I cannot name a single major environmental organization or science organization that chooses option a).

        This is why I find the blatant planet destruction of the Trump administration easier to deal with than the stealth planet destruction of our so-called friends.

        But I trust that it’s not too late. Here’s wishing that our friends would all drop the weight that they are carrying around before marching…

  • Renny

    Science definitely needs to have a place in politics, now more than ever due to all these “alt-facts” being peddled out as if it were the truth. We can’t just sit around and let these people bulldoze us,

    • Alexander Zwissler

      Well Renny, I think many people agree with you…now let’s see if they turn out in numbers in DC and around the nation.

  • NIGEL STEVENS

    Wow, great compilation of perspectives here. I especially like George Cogan’s line – “I wish there were more than a couple of scientists in Congress”. So true. Kind of scary to think that many of the people representing us could get outwitted in the science space by your average 7th grader!

    • Alexander Zwissler

      Thanks Nigel…great points!