What Is The March For Science?

A conversation on Reddit has grown into over 500 satellite marches worldwide.

Credit: Rose Wong

For decades, environmental supporters in the scientific community have used Earth Day as an opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for policy change. Every year since the first Earth Day in 1970, people around the world have come together on April 22 to continue the push for a cleaner environment. Last year on Earth Day, 174 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change.  

Now, scientists and supporters of science are headed to Washington, D.C. on April 22 for the March for Science, a celebration of science and—the organizers hope—the launch of a movement to advocate for evidence-based research and policy change. Thousands are expected to pack the National Mall. Marchers will make their way from the corner of the Washington Monument to Union Square in front of the Capitol. The March for Science may become one of the largest organized events in support of science in history.

“The march itself, we hope, is going to encourage politicians and people watching to understand that people really do care about science, and think that evidence-based policy should exist in government.”

Caroline Weinberg, co-founder of the March for Science. From “For Science Supporters, an Earth Day on Washington.”

Rumblings of a science march began on a Reddit forum after the Women’s March in January. Supporters of the science march were inspired by how the event launched a worldwide movement. Co-founders Valorie Aquino, Jonathan Berman, and Caroline Weinberg created a Twitter account, and within approximately 10 hours of posting about holding a march, 30,000 people began following the account.

“It just kind of exploded from there,” march co-founder Caroline Weinberg told Science Friday in a February interview. “It’s expanded far past D.C.”

At the time of this article, 517 satellite marches—from Huntsville, Alabama to Madrid, Spain—have been registered to the March for Science official website. The March for Science has garnered over 300,000 followers on Twitter and over 800,000 on Facebook.

The event started off as a scientists’ march, but has attracted science enthusiasts, Weinberg said. Only a quarter of the approximately 50,000 volunteers self-identify as scientists.

The march provides a visual representation to politicians and the public that “people really do care about science, and think that evidence-based policy should exist in the government,” said Weinberg. The ultimate goal “is to advocate for policy change. We think that science needs to be part of government platforms.”

Organizers and other scientists have expressed concern with what they see as the current administration’s hostility to science, budget cuts to research programs, and disregard to research-based evidence in decision-making.

“At any transition [of administration], there’s uncertainty,” said Rush Holt, a former U.S. Representative and current CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a Science Friday interview about scientific research under President Donald Trump’s administration.

Scientists are alarmed by how policy makers “are willfully excluding the research-based evidence from their policy making,” Holt said. “It’s not new, but it’s come to a head now, almost a culmination.”

“When you damage long-term scientific research, it damages the economy severely but not immediately. And so you can be a hero by balancing the budget this year and never acknowledge the damage that happens decades from now when we’re missing the sort of research that ultimately advances our society and saves the government a huge amount of money.”

Bill Foster, physicist and U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 11th Congressional District. From “There’s a Science Advocate in the House (of Representatives).”

In addition to advocating that science be a part of government decisions, a large portion of the event focuses on educating the public about scientists’ work. Partnering with the Earth Day Network, the organizers are coordinating a rally with 18 educational sessions, or “teach-ins,” led by scientists. People will speak on a main stage, and scientists will present their work at booths lining the Mall. The organizers hope these opportunities will help the public understand how research affects people’s daily lives, Weinberg explained.

“Science is about getting to the truth,” Weinberg said. “It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle someone is on, or what they’re focusing on. All that matters is whether or not they appreciate evidence-based research.”  

The organizers want the march to be nonpartisan, but some observers are skeptical.  Robert Young, a coastal geology professor at Western Carolina University, expressed this view in a New York Times op-ed piece: while well-intentioned, a march would serve “only to trivialize and politicize the science” and “further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate,” he wrote.

Others in the scientific community share similar concerns. Benjamin Kellman, a graduate student and PhD candidate studying bioinformatics at University of California, San Diego, is excited that there is a march for science, however, he fears that any partisanship could create a problematic—and even politically dangerous—situation.

“Science, like everything in the world, is political,” Kellman says. “While I am active in opposing Trump’s policies as an individual, I have reservations about opposing him as a scientist as I don’t want to paint science as a member of the opposition party. That just sounds like a waste of time.”

Supporters of the march disagree and see it as an important opportunity to allow people to speak up for science.

The March for Science “makes science public, but that’s not the same thing as making it political,” says Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a March for Science Honorary National Co-Chair, biologist, and co-founder of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. “I think the important thing is that if you have an activity that you believe strongly this society should support, you should be able to speak up for it.”

“Science is incredibly important in our everyday lives and if we wish to continue the benefits of that science we need to continue to support it in a reasonable way.”

Lydia Villa-Komaroff, March for Science Honorary National Co-Chair.

But, scientists have work to do, she says.

“We need to figure out where priorities need to be, and that’s been difficult for us to do because scientists tend to advocate for their own field,” says Villa-Komaroff.

Coming together for one event could be the first step towards greater unification within the scientific community. The organizers want to continue the momentum and excitement of the march past Earth Day. The plan is to transition from organizing the various satellite marches to global organization that will focus on science education, outreach, and advocacy, Weinberg told Climate Central.

“Science is incredibly important in our everyday lives,” says Villa-Komaroff. “If we wish to continue the benefits of that science we need to continue to support it in a reasonable way.”

Meet the Writer

About Lauren J. Young

Lauren J. Young was Science Friday’s digital producer. When she’s not shelving books as a library assistant, she’s adding to her impressive Pez dispenser collection.

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