On Saturday 22 April, all over the UK, scientists, researchers and the rightfully concerned will march in solidarity with their colleagues in Washington DC and across America.
They’re taking to the streets and attending rallies to defend their work in the face of a hostile and unpredictable US administration. The date is of significance, as it’s also Earth Day, a long-running campaign which raises awareness of issues around the environment and climate.
Fighting for the future
It’s astounding and yet oddly predictable that Mr Trump has yet to appoint a science adviser and additionally, he’s vetoed communications from scientific agencies. Throwing petrol on an already raging fire, he’s also anointed a fossil-fuelled cabal of climate sceptics for his cabinet. If that doesn’t inspire you to show solidarity with fellow fact-lovers and make you holler for the future of the planet, perhaps you’re in the wrong game. You might want to check the mirror to see if you have a reflection.
While Trump’s lack of scientific acumen spurred this movement into action, it’s not all about him. Participants in March for Science UK will join hundreds of thousands of people in more than 400 locations across the globe to celebrate scientific progress, raise awareness of scientific discovery, and defend scientific integrity.
Love from London
Story Sylwester, March For Science London organiser, said: “From the foundation of the Royal Society and the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the 17th Century, to more modern institutions such as the British Library, the Francis Crick Institute and the Wellcome Trust, London has long been a bedrock of scientific inquiry. The London March for Science is an opportunity for scientists and science enthusiasts to come together and defend the scientific integrity, inquiry and curiosity they love.”
Madonna once sang, ‘music makes the people come together’ and now it seems that Trump and Brexit are having a similar effect. David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh agrees. “Scientists are not famous for their camaraderie,” he told the Science Media Centre”
“We are trained to question, criticise and, where needed, contest each other’s work. We compete for funding, vie for tenure and race to be first to a new discovery. That we are now marching together is testament to just how threatened our disparate community feels.”
Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes puts it plainly “The facts don’t speak for themselves because we live in a world where so many people are trying to silence facts.”
In her book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes charts the misinformation and waves of dishonesty from the tobacco industry onwards. The historic dismissal of scientific evidence from big business is echoed today by climate sceptics, anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements.
Very British Brexit
Last year over 40,000 scientists in the UK signed a petition stating that they wanted to keep access to EU collaborations and projects after Brexit. The concerns around this issue continue to needle the scientific community and yet clarity isn’t any closer.
In 2016 the UK government announced an extra £2 billion in funding for research and development in the UK by 2020, but it focused on technology rather than broader based science projects.
It’s still a mystery as to whether that money is scheduled to replace the £1 billion that the UK wins in grants from European programmes each year. The March for Science is just one way of keeping this issue on the agenda and engaging the public in a topic that they may believe is academic and of little relevance to their lives.
Bumps and hiccups
The road to the March for Science hasn’t been free of collisions and diversions. In the US, scientists have been arguing about whether marching for science is ‘too political’ and there has been some discussions around diversity which proved (rightfully) embarassing for the organisers.
UK organisers are less burdened by these issues, admitting that while the march is non-partisan, you can’t get away from calling it political, because it’s calling for politicians to value science.
Clare Taylor, General Secretary of SfAM encouraged delegates at the recent ECS Research Symposium to join the March and appealed to a wider audience:
“In a time of alternative facts and ‘anti-experts’, the global science marches taking place this weekend are an opportunity for the whole scientific community to come together and stand up for science. Along with the many flavours of scientific professionals, we hope to see supporters of science and science enthusiasts gathering to celebrate the importance of science in all of our lives, and to send a strong message to policy makers that we believe in the positive impact that science makes to us all.”
The March for Science will take place globally on Saturday 22nd April.
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