Marching for Science in Washington D.C. and Boston

On April 22, 2017, the March for Science took place at locations across the United States. As a “diverse, nonpartisan group,” the goal was to celebrate science and “encourage the public to value and invest in it.” Read reports from two Ph.D. students in Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Vermont who attended marches in Boston and Washington D.C.

CMB Ph.D. student Phill Munson
CMB Ph.D. student Phill Munson

From Phillip Munson at the March for Science in Washington D.C.
Steady rain with some downpours did not dissuade the crowd from gathering on the National Mall early in the morning on Saturday, April 22nd, intentionally coinciding with Earth Day. Our purpose was to demonstrate that science and those that pursue it are mainstays of freedom and prosperity. We also united around the premise that the policy decisions of those in power should be grounded on fact and evidence. There is so much at stake, from medical advancements that benefit human health to the very fate of our planet.

The March for Science is the beginning of a much needed movement to promote science and communicate its vitality to the public. And this truly is the very beginning. Indeed, this march was a celebration of science as it should have been, but in some ways it was underwhelming. We can do better by fostering passionate leaders and captivating spokespeople to generate enthusiasm. Sure, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are cool, but we need more than these two well-known public figures. We need more scientists who can fire up a crowd, and we need to develop messages that resonate with the public. Offering more opportunities for scientists to develop communication skills would be a start. Science programs could help this cause by providing students with the proper avenues to pursue careers in science communication, or at the very least training to become adept at communicating our science to the public more effectively.

But this is okay, for now. We are scientists; our job is to solve problems. Our problem here is one of communication, and this march provided the appropriate medium for diagnosing it. I am thrilled that the March for Science got the ball rolling. Now, we need to keep it moving and build the momentum. We must demonstrate our enthusiasm. We must make our message clear and understandable to diverse groups of people from many backgrounds. We must acknowledge opposing viewpoints with reason. We must become politically engaged, at least to some degree. Call your congressmen and/or congresswomen or other representatives and tell them who you are, what you do, and why funding science is fundamental to our democracy and our species (find them here: Science is political, and has been for a long time. Recall that in 1633 Galileo Galilei was persecuted on the political grand stage for stating the radical notion that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

The March for Science has me hopeful, not only as a young scientist, but as a citizen who values progress, discovery, and humanity. As a whole, we must vociferously defend truth and resist the crippling ignorance that denies it. The American patriot and second President of the United States, John Adams, was right on when he said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

CMB Ph.D. student Wyatt Chia
CMB Ph.D. student Wyatt Chia

From Wyatt Chia at the March for Science in Boston, Mass.
It was a rainy day, which I did not anticipate since the weather forecast said otherwise. But this did not stop me, or anyone else from coming out to show their support for science in Boston, through a rally at Boston Common.

There were a great many posters and signs at the rally, but the one I liked the most said: “So severe even the nerds are here.” It actually received a shout-out from the host! As we heeded the call to defend science, it was warming that people from all walks from life, not just scientists, came out and marched with us.

Fundamentally, science is straightforward. We make an observation. We hypothesize. We test out the hypothesis. The cycle goes again, and we refine the initial theory to get closer to the truth. In this cycle, the power of science is vast. By acquiring more knowledge and understanding of the world, science has helped improved countless lives, and it continues to do so. But as scientists, we might be falling short on communicating to the public. By staying in the ivory tower, we forget to reach out to the people we serve. To quote Dr. Dava Newman, the former deputy administrator for NASA who spoke at the Boston event: “It is only through infinite diversity and infinite combination that science can move forward, not by division of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other artificial line.”

The passion at the rally was enormous. The energy is high. So let’s not waste it. Dr. Newman calls us the “Mars Generation,” the scientists and thinkers who will get “boots on Mars” by the 2030s. Let’s take up the challenge to advance science, to promote quality education, and to reach out and bring everyone together so that we will leave the Earth a better place for the next generation, and conquer the final frontier.

What are your thoughts about this topic?