Science societies have long shunned politics. But now they’re ready to march.
By Sarah Kaplan
Feb 24 2017
Some of the nation’s biggest scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, are partnering with grass-roots organizers to plan the March for Science, an Earth Day rally in Washington and cities around the world aimed at defending “robustly funded and publicly communicated science.”
The news signals that the effort, spawned from social-media musings in the days after President Trump’s inauguration, has officially gone mainstream.
Such coordinated activism is a big change for scientists and the societies that represent them. Researchers have long been reluctant to dive into political debates out of concern that their work will be perceived as partisan. But the community is increasingly worried about eroding public support for science, and it’s ready to speak up.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rush Holt, chief executive of the AAAS. “In the past, there have been marches for one aspect of science or another or for rallies for funding for medical research. … But this was not organized by any interest group. It’s a spontaneous display of concern about science itself.”
The March for Science is slated to take over the Mall in Washington on April 22. The Earth Day Network is co-organizing the event, which will involve speeches, a teach-in, musical performances and a march through Washington. Supporters from nearly 300 cities in 30 countries will hold satellite marches on the same day.
The people behind the march are mostly scientists and educators at the beginning of their careers. Few have activist backgrounds, and none has organized an event on this scale. But in the month since the event’s conception, they’ve managed to get some of the biggest names in the American scientific community on board. The march’s other major partners are Sigma Xi, the 100,000-member honor society for scientists and engineers, the Entomological Society of America, the climate action advocacy group NextGen Climate America, ScienceDebate.org and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In addition, organizers say that more than 50,000 volunteers have signed up to help with the event. In a private Facebook group, more than 800,000 people have said they’ll be attending.
“This started as an idea, but it’s rapidly actualizing into a global movement,” Valorie Aquino, one of the march’s three national co-chairs and an anthropology PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico, said in a statement. “Scientific integrity serves everyone, and we need to speak out for science together.”
That AAAS and others have joined the effort is a sign of the community’s growing dissatisfaction with the “stick to science” mentality.
“Some people for a long time believed that if scientists would just dispassionately provide data, that science would not be politicized,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That turned out to be a misjudgment of colossal proportions.”
At the American Geophysical Union’s meeting in December — the first major conference of earth and atmospheric scientists after the election — there was a pervasive sense of anxiety about what the Trump administration would mean for science. The transition team had already sent a letter to Energy Department officials, asking them to name employees who worked on climate-change research. Several of Trump’s nominees had previously expressed doubt about the reality of man-made climate change.
Colleagues stood in clusters during the meeting’s poster sessions, discussing the developments, debating what they should do.