Scientists Will March on Washington on Earth Day

20 Mar

The March for Science will take place in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day. But will the scientists' protest strengthen or dilute the message of Earth Day, and does it matter?

Will the March for Science dilute the message of Earth Day activism or strengthen it? Photo: Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.com

Earth Day isn’t just for planting trees anymore.

On Saturday, April 22, scientists across numerous disciplines, from all over the country, will march for science in Washington, D.C.

“The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter,” the March for Science website reads. “It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.”

The march started as musings on a Reddit thread in the wake of the Women’s March on Washington. But the science community was galvanized into action by President Trump’s administration admonition that government researchers not communicate with the public.

The plan includes a large march in Washington, D.C., which will end with a rally on the Mall. There, marchers will have a chance to listen to speakers and attend “teach-ins” where scientists can share their research with the public.

Satellite marches are planned in more than 100 cities in at least 11 countries.

Inspired by the cat-ear hats that people were wearing in the Women’s March, StudioKnit shared patterns and a video tutorial for “brain hats” to wear at the March for Science.

But some are concerned that the march may do more harm than good.

“Trying to recreate the pointedly political Women’s March will serve only to reinforce the narrative from skeptical conservatives that scientists are an interest group and politicize their data, research, and findings for their own ends,” coastal ecologist Robert Young wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

There is also concern that the march may dilute or even eclipse the Earth Day message and any activism that takes place for that annual celebration.

However, others disagree.

“We feel that the time has passed for scientists to, in good conscience, stay out of this fight,” public health researcher and March for Science co-organizer Caroline Weinberg told The Washington Post. “There is no need to be partisan—politicians on both sides of the aisle are guilty of positions that fly in the face of scientific evidence—but it is not possible to ignore policy when it affects not just your jobs but the future of your field.”

In the past, scientists have taken a public stand on individual issues such as the arms race, environmental contamination, and political interference in scientific research.

But, says Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says those issues were less about science as a whole than about scientific issues. This type of activism hasn’t been seen before in the scientific community.

“As I understand it, the marchers want this to be a gigantic endorsement of the idea of science, the idea of verifiable evidence,” Holt said. “That’s new.”

Most scientists are somewhere in the middle: they feel science needs to inform policy, but they’re not sure about whether the march will politicize science to the point where it becomes a polarizing issue.

Caltech astronomer Mike Brown told The Washington Post, “Having a bunch of scientists marching takes the interesting thing about scientists away from them.” He suggested that instead of marching, researchers should conduct a teach-in instead.

But then he added, “I don’t know. These attacks on science are pretty unprecedented, and maybe all these softer ideas are just crazy.”

What do you think about the March for Science? Do you think it’s a good idea? What do you think of the fact that they’re doing it on Earth Day? Will it dilute Earth Day’s message and activism or strengthen it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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