WASHINGTON (AP/WCMH) – Thousands of scientists worldwide made plans to leave their labs and take to the streets Saturday to rail against what they say are mounting attacks against science.
The March for Science, coinciding with Earth Day, was set for more than 500 cities, anchored in Washington and to be joined by dozens of nonpartisan scientific professional societies in a turnout intended to combine political and how-to science demonstrations. Demonstrators in Columbus kicked off a sister march with a rally at the Ohio Statehouse at 10am and a march to the Columbus Commons between 11am and 11:30am.
Scientists involved in the march said they were anxious about political and public rejection of established science such as climate change and the safety of vaccine immunizations.
“Scientists find it appalling that evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions,” said Rush Holt, a former physicist and Democratic congressman who runs the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It is not just about Donald Trump, but there is also no question that marchers are saying ‘when the shoe fits.”
Demonstrators in Columbus kicked off a sister march with a rally at the Ohio Statehouse at 10 am and a march to the Columbus Commons that began just before 11:30am.
Marching down High Street, the crowd chanted, “Science, not silence.”
For more than an hour before the march, the crowd of hundreds rallied at the Statehouse, with chants such as, “What do we want? Evidence-based science. When do we want it? After peer review.”
Laura Sammons, one of the march organizers, said while the march is nonpartisan, it isn’t necessarily apolitical.
“If we have data and evidence, that is what it is, it’s a fact,” Sammons said. “But what we choose to do with that is a political decision.”
People at the rally said their goal was to draw attention to the importance of science-based public policy, while supporting scientific research and STEM education.
Dr. Anita Somani, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said she came to the rally with a group of “progressive physicians,” known as the Physicians Action Network. Their goal, she said, was to educate and inform the public about the importance of science and healthcare, while helping separate facts from misinformation.
“Even for us as doctors, people will come in with information they’ve gathered from Google and think that they’re real facts when they’re not,” Somani said. “It can be very frustrating, but it’s also an opportunity to educate.”
Mazeika Sullivan, an ecologist at The Ohio State University, brought his family to the march.
“Science is evidence,” Sullivan said. “It’s fact-based, and it’s not opinion.”
Mario Amata of Dublin, who said he wants to preserve the earth for his grandchildren, wasn’t sure how much good the march itself would do. Still, he showed up with his wife.
“I don’t know that much will happen,” Amata said. “But certainly any little thing that goes in the right direction is worth it.”
Marchers in Geneva carried signs that said, “Science – A Candle in the Dark” and “Science is the Answer.” In London, physicists, astronomers, biologists and celebrities gathered for a march past the city’s most celebrated research institutions. Supporters carried signs showing images of a double helix and chemical symbols. Advocates in Berlin and other German cities also were expected to turn out.
Signs and banners readied for the Washington rally were peppered with anger, humor and obscure scientific references, such as a 7-year-old’s “No Taxation Without Taxonomy.” Taxonomy is the science of classifying animals, plants and other organisms.
The protest puts scientists, who generally shy away from advocacy and whose work depends on objective experimentation, into a more public position.
“It’s not about the current administration. The truth is we should have been marching for science 30 years ago, 20 years, 10 years ago,” said co-organizer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg. “The current (political) situation took us from kind of ignoring science to blatantly attacking it. And that seems to be galvanizing people in a way it never has before. … It’s just sort of relentless attacks on science.”
“The scientific method was developed to be nonpartisan and objective,” Weinberg said. “It should be embraced by both parties.”
Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, a global professional organization of earth and space scientists, cited concerns by scientists and threats to research as a result of elections in the U.S. and other countries.
Threats to science are heightened in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe, said McEntee, who planned to march with geophysical scientists in Vienna, Austria.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who exposed the dangerous lead levels in the drinking water and children’s blood in Flint, Michigan, planned to march in Washington and speak to the crowd.
“It’s risky, but that’s when we make advancements when we take risks … for our heart rates to go up, to be a little anxious and scared and uncomfortable,” she said before the event.