Scientists have been long accused of remaining confined to an ivory tower with little or no connect to the non-scientific community. But this will change on Earth Day, that is, April 22, when scientists, science advocates, and science enthusiasts from around the world will take to the streets to participate in the March for Science. This movement was prompted by the stance U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has taken regarding scientific issues and science policies. Recently, Trump’s budget proposal threatened to remove around $7 billion from science programs, which drew heavy criticism from the scientific community. This turn of events sparked the need for scientists to create awareness about science and the need for evidence-based federal decision-making leading to the March of Science.
Is this the first time scientists have raised their voices? In the past presidencies too researchers have tried to speak out against federal policies for science, but the voices were not as strong. When President George W. Bush suppressed the research results of a scientist, scientists reacted to the problem after almost three years. During Barack Obama’s presidency, scientists were prompter in criticizing the federal policies. However, Trump’s governance has evoked the quickest and strongest response among the public. Although the March for Science website does not mention President Trump, but the march is a protest against his policies. “I am deeply concerned about the anti-scientific stance of the Trump administration, and the effects of their policies that disregard research on the environment, human health and the US economy,” said David Leaf, cell biologist who teaches at Western Washington University in Bellingham, a supporter of the march.
From being a grassroots level movement, the March for Science has snowballed into a huge movement of activism, supported by 220 official science organizations. The main event will take place in Washington DC, but will include marches in 400 other locations in 37 countries. Though it seems that the entire scientific community is supporting the movement, some have criticized it. Steven Pinker, a well-known psychology professor at Harvard University, said, “They make the March seem like an extension of the identity politics and victimology that have discredited academia in the eyes of much of the rest of the world.”
Others feel the march’s objective is too vague and that it politicizes science. “I’ve seen articles from right-wing outlets that are framing the march as focusing on gender equality and identity politics. I think it could easily politicize science because, even though the march’s mission statement isn’t anti-Trump, the marchers seem anti-Trump,” stated Nathan Gardner, a postdoc at the University of Chicago School of Medicine in Illinois, who said he would not join the march for this reason. Some like Robert Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University. feel the march itself is probably not the best way to raise awareness as it would trivialize and politicize the science and “turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate.”
Despite the skepticism expressed by some scientists, a huge turnout is expected at the March for Science. Whether this movement succeeds in having a long-lasting effect on the government and the general public remains to be seen.