Like many of you I joined a local March for Science this past Saturday (April 22, 2017). Local for me is New York City, so I enjoyed a pretty large march (~20k) with fellow scientists, engineers, physicians and nurses, environmental advocates, science supporters, and their spouses and kids. I enjoyed the pithy signs and marching with a broad swath of the scientific community (one guy near me was showing off ribbon models of his favorite proteins to anyone who look). But the march wasn’t even over before I started asking myself, “now what?” I think the answer about next steps will be as personal as the diverse reasons why people participated in the march in the first place. And we should take some time to figure out how we will continue to advocate for the specific issues that brought each of us to the march instead of simply retreating back to the lab or field and letting business go on as usual.
Why I Marched
I can’t speak for the other 610 marches but the one in NYC definitely had an anti-Trump flair; but that’s not really surprising as the march route went right past Trump Tower (“Hey Melania”). While the organizers called for a non-partisan event, it is hard to turn a blind-eye to the reality of the new administration which has removed scientific data from government websites, coined the term “alternative facts,” published a skinny budget proposing 1-30% cuts for agencies that support grants (as a fellow marcher said, “who cuts DARPA?!”), silenced government scientists and their social media outreach to the public, and is antithetical to science-based policy particularly related to climate, the environment, and vaccines. I very much felt that the March for Science was a response to the Trump administration and thus had a partisan tinge (although I very much appreciated a sign that read, “Republicans Support Science”). If the march was only in support of the stated objectives, we could have marched in 2016, or 2015, or pick a year. It’s not like the funding situation has been amazing in mid-range memory. We’ve watched politicians take pot-shots at “useless” science for decades so much that we have the Golden Goose Awards. And anyone watching how James Inhofe, Darrell Issa, Lamar Smith, and the Western Governors Association have been working to dismantle endangered species and environmental protections know that science was under attack well before the inauguration. Of course both political parties attack science when it is convenient for them, but the march came together due to how the Trump administration has elevated attacks on science in such a short amount of time.
So yes, I went to the march to voice frustration with the new administration as well as consistent attacks on science, but I also went to support science funding. Science funding is important to me for two reasons. First, as an early career researcher I need the ability to compete for grant funding, scarce funding makes that more difficult. And without a couple of wins in the funding column, science is going to gradually show me the door. Severe budget cuts will affect many of the lowest rungs of academia including postdocs, and assistant and associate professors. Without demonstration of the ability to obtain and maintain funding, many will be forced into alternative careers. This is not only a loss of talent but a waste of the resources already used to train these cohorts of scientists.
Second, science funding is patriotic for me. I try to play it cool, but I am a total chest-thumping believer in these United States (and if you blast “Proud to be an American” in my direction, just sit back and wait for the sing-along and streaming tears of pride, every time). I think it is amazing what American scientists have accomplished and I don’t think we should stop now. Investing in basic and applied research creates the products we love, inspires us (I’m looking at you Cassini), keeps us safe, and creates wealth. I see no reason to cede this position, but we can’t maintain that competitiveness without government funded science.
Given that I participated in the March for Science to stand up for funding, I have to follow that up with calls to my Congressional representatives. I’ll be calling my representatives to encourage them to support science funding across federal agencies, and also calling to voice support or opposition to specific bills related to science funding and the areas of my science (specifically evolution, genetics, and biodiversity conservation). But calls are easy, so I’m challenging myself to meet with my representatives’ staff both in New York and the next time I’m in DC. I will report back!
The next steps for those that marched for diversity, evidence-based policy, or science literacy may look different from mine. But I encourage everyone to figure out what that next step looks like for their issue, then take it. Our professional societies have been imploring us to acknowledge that advocacy isn’t activism, that we can remain objective while putting our results within the context of the world around us. Now is the time to step up to this challenge and support science for more than a few hours at a march.