Why people are marching for science: ‘There is no Planet B’
By Joel Achenbach, Ben Guarino and Sarah Kaplan
Apr 22 2017
Thousands of people gathered in the rain Saturday on the soggy grounds of the Washington Monument to turn Earth Day into an homage to science. After four hours of speeches and musical performances, they marched down Constitution Avenue to the foot of Capitol Hill, chanting “Build labs, not walls!” and “Hey, Trump, have you heard, you can’t silence every nerd!”
The March for Science began as a notion batted around online on Reddit after the Women’s March on Washington, which was held Jan. 21, the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The idea snowballed after it was endorsed by numerous mainstream science organizations, which vowed that it would not be a partisan event. It eventually became a global phenomenon, held in more than 600 cities on six continents — and cheered on by scientists on a seventh, Antarctica.
“We are at a critical juncture. Science is under attack,” said Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator who is one of several emcees of the four-hour rally that kicked off at 10 a.m. “The very idea of evidence and logic and reason is being threatened by individuals and interests with the power to do real harm.”
She went on: “We’re gathered here today to fight for science. [The crowd cheered.] We’re gathered to fight for education. [Cheer.] To fight for knowledge. [Cheer.] And to fight for planet Earth.” [Cheer.]
She was followed by the musician Questlove, who said “many people” are refusing to follow scientific facts, and he pointed toward the White House. “That guy over there,” he said in a whisper. He waved, said “Hi,” and made a fast gesture with his middle finger that someone not paying close attention might well have missed.
YouTube star Tyler DeWitt took the stage with another pointed message: Experts need to learn how to explain things in a way regular folks can understand.
“Ditch the jargon!” he said. “Make it understandable. Make people care. Talk to them, not at them. We cannot complain about slashed funding if we can’t tell taxpayers why science matters.”
Cell biologist Lydia Villa-Komaroff, one of the march’s honorary co-chairs, told how she and her colleagues in the 1970s discovered how to make insulin in bacteria, and how that breakthrough was made possible only through basic research funded in the 1950s and 1960s when no one knew if it would lead to anything. “Support for science has been declining for decades. Mr. President, members of the House and Senate, support our future. Invest in science!” she said.
Denis Hayes, co-founder of the first Earth Day in 1970, chose not to dial back his rhetoric, saying the White House “reeks of greed and sleaze and mendacity” and declaring, “America has had 45 presidents, but we have never before had a president who is completely indifferent to the truth. Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Diogenes.”
President Trump issued an Earth Day statement that did not mention the March for Science directly, though seemed to be aware of what was happening within shouting distance of the White House. After pledging to keep the nation’s air and water clean and protect endangered species, the president said:
“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection. My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”
At times, the lines to get through the event’s security checkpoints stretched for several blocks. The advanced technologies known as the umbrella and the rain poncho proved useful. The program ran so precisely on schedule, you would think it had been timed with an atomic clock. People danced when Thomas Dolby took the stage to perform his 1982 blockbuster hit “She Blinded Me With Science.”
Some people wore lab coats. Some wore pink, knitted “brain” hats. Sam McCoy, 27, who traveled from North Carolina, carried a homemade sign certain to baffle anyone lacking an understanding of P Values and the null hypothesis. But most of the signs were more straightforward: