Last updated April 24, 2017 at 5:33 pm
This year, the 22nd of April isn’t just Earth day, which we (and presumably the rest of the solar system, hey Europa!) have been celebrating since 1970.
This year, on the 22nd of April scientists and science lovers will galvanise for the March for Science. The headline event will take place in Washington D.C., and satellite marches will happen literally all over the globe – and yep, Australia is certainly in on the action. I’ll be taking a close look at what the March for Science means for Australia on the channel soon.
The March for Science is first and foremost a reaction to the policies and actions of the United States government, and it recognises the success of recent peaceful public demonstrations. But it doesn’t take an expert to see that some of the challenges faced in the US are not unique, and you can easily find critical thinkers and evidence-based decision makers feeling nervous everywhere.
But for now, let’s keep our eyes on the epicentre of the movement in America. I was able to touch base with Australia’s Science Channel’s man on the inside; Aussie expat Lucky Tran, who works as a science communicator for Columbia University in New York. He’s in an incredibly interesting position as both insider and observer, and he saw the effects on American scientists happen rapidly after the election.
“After the election results, many of my colleagues became fearful about the future of the country in a way I’ve never seen before. Why? Because of the potential attacks on marginalized communities, healthcare, the environment, and yes, science itself, all of which are things that scientists spend their careers working hard to protect.
Our community has been shocked by the frequency and severity of the attacks on science. Every week there has been a proposed budget cut, immigration ban, appointment, or gag order. But rather than despair, each news alert has only triggered a sense of resolve and determination amongst scientists. Scientists realize that now is not the time to retreat—we’ve done too much of that already—right now our community must organize!
When science is manipulated, denied, or comes under attack, real people get hurt.
I’m marching on April 22 to stand up for a science that fights for our common good, and to stand against politicians and leaders who attack science for private interests, at the cost of all the rest of us.”
The energy Lucky and his colleagues feel is common, with the March supported by science institutions and organisations, and endorsed by publications like Nature.
Lucky also noticed that the trend of young people becoming involved in activism is reflected in the March for Science.
“Younger people are the demographic that will be most affected by major science policy issues, such as the effects of climate change, the erosion of public health and healthcare, and the rise of automation. So, younger scientists, who are part of the community that will be most impacted, have been the most outspoken and active science advocates. We call on our established peers to help by elevating the voices of the younger generation.”
But youthful vigour can come hand in hand with inexperience, and criticisms of the March concerned that it is not doing enough for diversity. Lucky recognises that, but is pretty optimistic that a group as clever as scientists will be able to learn and adapt.
“I think that the criticisms around the march are extremely important, and reflect the barriers that have been historically present in science. As many new scientists become involved with activism for the first time they need to recognize that for many marginalized communities, science has always been political. So when we stand up for science in the political arena we must also commit to fight structures of oppression within science itself. To effectively advocate for science, we need to fight for both the people who do science, and the people who are affected by science.
For a group that is extremely late to activism, and has been historically resistant to get involved with politics, I’ve been surprised how quickly attitudes have changed towards embracing activism since the election. I truly hope that this is not a once-off flourish, but will permanently transform how science engages with society.”
So are we riding a wave of change within what it means to be a scientist?
“The march will be successful if it helps scientists transform their historical relationship with politics and advocacy. I’d like to see a swarm of affinity and union groups form that continue to do science advocacy work on the local level, help evolve the structure of academic science, and can mobilize swiftly to call out political attacks on science. Spare a few groups, we’ve been sorely missing a strong advocacy infrastructure in science, and we need to build that starting right now.”
Read more about what’s happening closer to home.