April 22nd marks Earth Day, a time for citizens to raise environmental awareness and provoke policy changes. This year, Earth Day coincides with the March for Science, an event intended to rebuff efforts to de-legitimize the scientific method and to galvanize public support for evidence-based policies.
In preparation for the march, Science Node is providing a space for science marchers to express their motivations and hopes for the event. We have several articles lined up and welcome additional input from science marchers around the world. If you would like to contribute, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We begin our March for Science coverage appropriately enough in Boston, the birthplace of seminal scientist, inventor, and founding father Benjamin Franklin. Boston also marks the spot where many patriots sacrificed much for the establishment of the young republic.
The March for Science picks up the mantle of resistance against tyranny on April 22, this time rising against anti-intellectualism and open hostility against the principles of rational discovery upon which our founders built our nation and the modern system of democratic, representative governance.
Take it away, Boston . . .
I shifted in my seat so I could get a better view of Graciela, a science teacher talking about our essay contest. Relating how a third grader had signed an essay with an exclamation point – her enthusiasm was infectious.
Graciela’s story reminded us why we were doing this. In less than a month we would be hosting the March for Science Boston, bringing together groups from all over the greater Boston area to celebrate, defend, and support science.
The idea for the march emerged as a suggestion on a popular forum and quickly spread through social media like wildfire. Facebook groups, slack channels, Reddit subs, and Twitter accounts popped up across the world.
Like many grassroots organizations, the early days of the Boston March were chaotic but impassioned. What started as a plan for a relatively small rally was adjusted when we saw 50,000 people had signed up on Facebook. None of us had done anything on this scale, but we were willing to make it happen.
We didn’t know one another prior to the announcement of the march. We did not have a date or a location yet. We came from different backgrounds and were at different stages in our careers.
But we all shared an interest in crafting an event that would bring together academics, students, industry, and the public in support of science. We saw our role as educators, able to sieze the moment to talk about how to advocate and support science, how to improve science from within, and how to inspire.
Talk is cheap
This shared focus united us and we built our team one by one. Science and academia often talk about interdisciplinary work and the need to collaborate with members of the community. But often that is all it is – talk.
We have become complacent squirreled away in our departmental comfort zones, venturing out only for conferences and classrooms. It has been inspiring to see how the March for Science has broken down those barriers.
Our team includes undergraduates, graduate students, and professors. We have activists, industry scientists, and stay-at-home parents. We have committee leaders from various national origins, ethnic and racial backgrounds, faiths (and non-faith), ages, sexualities, and genders.
In some ways, the march has provided the opportunity to attempt an ideal model of a team that is diverse, interdisciplinary, and collaborative. As a group, we have greatly benefited from the creative problem solving that has come out of such a varied team.
Strength through diversity
However, the experience has also highlighted the problems that still exist both within science and without. Not only have we encountered difficulty convincing some communities that they are welcome at the event, but building a diverse team is not as simple as putting out a call for volunteers.
We have had to face the embarrassing homogeneity of our own fields and social networks and find ways to reach out to scientists and community leaders from different backgrounds.
This experience has shaped our own approach to the march as well as our goals for after the event. We have actively worked to bring in diverse groups of people as collaborators to help us co-construct an inclusive march. But organizing the march has also encouraged us to spend more time stepping back and listening to others.
We have become complacent squirreled away in our departmental comfort zones — It has been inspiring to see how the March for Science has broken down those barriers.
Doing so has allowed fantastic ideas for after-action programs to emerge, such as developing a scientist mentorship program in failing public schools. It has also motivated us to include speakers who can talk about their own experiences of discrimination, underrepresentation, and silencing in science.
Organizing the March for Science has helped us think about many of the issues facing science in new ways. It has also helped focus our concern over national changes.
The current proposed budget slashes funding to the National Institute of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and many more scientific agencies. These funding cuts will harm the economy, put lives at risk, and stall scientific developments.
When these cuts were proposed, many scientists who were previously reluctant to step into the political sphere began to express their concerns. However, at the beginning, the grumbling and frustrations blended together like an orchestra warming up. Scientists’ voices were noisy but unfocused.
Together with direction from organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the march has helped to refine scientists’ messaging. We are discovering how to better articulate the ways that these issues link together and how to lift one another up – rather than fight for attention.
It is our hope that the legacy of this March for Science will be to take the cacophony of different fields all protesting at once and unite them in a melody that expresses, unites, and inspires.