Last Saturday, the world saw a flurry of support for science.
The turnout was staggering: tens of thousands of protesters over 600 cities. The mood was celebratory.
“Instead of the usual fury that descends upon any protesting bunch," wrote Harold Stark for Forbes, "the people who marched for science, laymen and scientists, scholars and educationists, professionals and entrepreneurs, chose a decidedly jubilant approach to be their clarion call for awareness. You could see the passion in the eyes of the crowd, their planet is in ruin, their country is falling to misinformation and bureaucracy, but they are still happy to be here.”
The vast majority of media outlets painted this rosy picture of the marches. The New Yorker ran a glowing article with the headline “The Usefulness of a March for Science”. Of course, signs with science-based puns captured the public’s imagination--you can see compilations here, here, here, here, and here.
On the ambivalent side, Jeremy Samuel Faust, a physician and instructor at Harvard Medical School writing for Slate, took a Periscope tour of a number of science protests around the country and was disturbed most by how broken our general understanding is of ‘how science works.’ He took the march as an opportunity to summarize how we cherry-pick the science we like no matter which part of the political spectrum we’re on (see GMO’s, diet soda and strokes, vaccines and nuclear energy).
In a similar vein, David Ropeik, journalist, author and specialist on risk perception, incorporated the messages of the marcher’s signs into his opinion about the march. Ultimately, he felt the message of the march failed because it was aimed at objective, capital "T" Truth, which the scientific study of human cognition tells us is unobtainable and marred by our tribal instincts.
Breitbart was predictably sunny with Chriss W. Street deriding the march as a chance for the Earth Day Network to rebrand as a social justice cause. His red baiting peaked with the realization that Saturday was, not coincidentally in his estimation, Vladimir Lenin’s birthday.
Fox News James Rosen, reporting live from the march in Washington D.C., noted the march was a great opportunity to celebrate commerce. His favorite item for sale: Bernie Sander’s rolling papers with the words ‘Feel the Burn’ on them. On Fox’s opinion side, Michael Guillen, Ph.D., formerly with ABC News, now a columnist for Fox News, laments that political activists hijacked the march. He takes particular aim at the event’s co-chair, Bill Nye, who he deems ‘barely even a scientist’.
Jacquelyn Gill, an assistant professor at the University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology, participated in the Stand Up for Science Rally which was featured in last week’s Leading Edge, reflected on the March for Science in a Washington Post op-ed titled “The “war on science” doesn’t just hurt scientists. It hurts everyone”.
Gill had been an early organizer with the March, but recently split with the organizing committee because of differences in messaging. In the op-ed, she says the March has made the scientific community look in the mirror.
“The March for Science may have been envisioned as a response to external attacks, but it has — perhaps even more importantly — catalyzed much-needed discussions within our community about science’s political intersections.“
For scientists, Gill says public involvement will be key for moving forward.
“The age of ivory tower science is over, and it must not return. Scientists are everywhere: in classrooms and churches, factories and farms. We’re on sidewalks, in cafes, on the airwaves and in your Twitter feeds. Public support for evidence-based decision-making, and the institutions that do and support science in the public interest, can grow only if the public values science, understands how it works and what our agencies do for us.”
On April 29th, one week after the March for Science and officially Trump’s 100th day in office, the People’s Climate Movement March will take place in Washington DC. The organization is focused on demanding action on climate change. Building off the momentum of the organization’s 400,000 person march in New York on the eve of the UN Climate Summit in 2014, they hope to continue to place pressure on the Trump administration by “literally” surrounding the White House. In a press release Paul Getos, the National Coordinator for the People’s Climate Movement states:
“At 2 PM on April 29th, tens of thousands of people will encircle the White House in Washington D.C. to directly confront Donald Trump and challenge those who are pursuing a right-wing agenda that destroys our environment while favoring corporations and the 1 percent over workers and communities. This administration continues waging attacks on immigrants, Muslims, people of color and LGBTQI people everyday. This moment will be the highlight of a day that will begin with a march leading from the Capital to Washington Monument.”
For more on the ongoing friction between scientists and the Trump administration, follow our reporting for the PBS NewsHour:
Banner image credit: Fedor Kossakovski