Science marchers call for reason

May 05, 2017

Tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers and their families gathered April 22 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the first-ever March for Science to demonstrate in favor of objective, non-partisan, evidence-based scientific inquiry and reporting, as well as policymaking and legislation traditionally guided by them.

"We're here to support fact-based policies," said Mike Liszka, electromechanical engineer at Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. and the Goddard Space Flight Center, both in Greenbelt, Md. "We want to discover a baseline by talking to others because we don't know if government is relying on scientists as much as it should. Effective communication by scientists is lacking, and we need to be more willing to talk to others who may not agree with us."

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Tom Gardiner, systems engineer for telecommunications and satellites at an undisclosed U.S. government department, added, "We're against the politicization of science, and how funding is being driven. If some people don't get the results they want, then they ignore and don't fund it. Russia tried this long ago. Numbers don't lie, but unfortunately people using numbers do. We know one person can't change much, but many of us can, so we need to keep asking questions; not live in an echo chamber; show up at events like this; vote; research the facts; and bring them to the people."

On the event stage, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, stated, "Science is the cleverest way to learn how things work, but it needs a free exchange of ideas, and we must defend them. Evidence should not be optional because it's the only way to make reliable public policy. These decisions should be based on solid

evidence, not wishful thinking. Science is society, government and civilization's best friend. Everyone should be asking, 'What's the evidence?' "

Out of the lab, onto the street

Though often a reticent demographic, about 45,000 marchers converged just west of the Washington Monument for the rainy Earth Day event, where they heard a series of short speeches by fellow scientists and supporters, and then marched with countless witty signs, chants and banners up Constitution Ave., before ending the march close to the U.S. Capitol building.

Speakers and marchers alike called on their fellow U.S. citizens and their elected legislators to follow the same logical principles in regulation and government, and pleaded for preservation of funding for crucial research and services. Many federal agencies, such and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others, are being threatened with crippling budget cuts by the Trump Administration, which has also appointed several cabinet members who are antithetical to the missions of their agencies.

Nationwide and worldwide

The event evolved from an organic social media effort that's just a few months old, and was one of more than 600 same-day marches in major and smaller cities across the U.S. and worldwide. Its fast growth is especially notable because most scientists, engineers and other technical professional are historically reluctant to speak out, typically content to not take political sides, and usually willing to serve in primarily advisory roles.

"We're marching today to stand up to fascist bullies. Science is under attack, the forces of darkness are at our door, and they're not going to knock," said John Moffit, consulting project manager at Zaetric Business Solutions LLC, who marched and spoke at the March for Science in Houston, which had better weather. "It's been a very beautiful day. Sometimes you have to go stand in the sunlight. We met wonderful intelligent people, and had conversations worth having. There was some talk of solutions, and some talk of hunkering down. We're hoping to raise awareness of the danger and violence that ignorance brings with it. This was also an opportunity for many people to just vent, and get better at standing up to bullies and fight, rather than crawl under a rock and hide. This is no time for fear."

Back onstage in Washington, D.C., longtime TV personality, Planetary Society CEO and science advocate Bill Nye, the Science Guy, stated, "The scientific process has enabled us to understand the laws of nature, build cities, govern effectively, explore space and know the cosmos. The framers of the U.S. Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8, called for 'promoting the progress of science and useful arts.' Science and engineering continue to drive today's economy. Without them, our economy would falter, and we'd be unable to compete on the world stage.

"Now, many of our leaders are actively suppressing science, whether it relates to clear water and air, or access to information. Some seem to think of science as separate from regular citizens, but from the numbers here today, it's easy to see that science is for us all. Science serves everyone, and so it must be used to help shape policy, give us a thoroughly informed and optimistic view, and dare I say it, save the world!"