Thousands of activists and scientists are expected to descend on the National Mall this weekend for the first ever March for Science. Marchers hope to promote awareness of scientific research and evidence-based policy decisions in government. The march, which will take place across the nation this Saturday, which is also Earth Day, is expected to draw around 50,000 people according to permits filed with the National Park Service.
According to the March’s stated goals, organizers aim to unite a broad nonpartisan group to show science’s role in creating a better society and to push back against efforts to hinder scientific research and progress, including President Donald Trump’s plan to cut budgets for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Science at the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture. The March in D.C. is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. near the White House, following several speaking events — including speeches by climate activist Bill Nye and Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network — in the morning, and proceed toward the U.S. Capitol Building.
In an interview with The Hoya, Associate Professor Heidi Elmendorf, Georgetown’s director of undergraduate students and studies in biology, explained her reasons for heading the Hoyas March for Science in an effort to get the campus community to participate in the March.
Can you tell me a little bit about the March for Science and what it aims to achieve?
The March for Science underwent a rebranding very early on. For the first couple of weeks of its conception, it was known as the scientist’s march and then it became the March for Science and that is really important because the vision is to raise awareness about the importance about the role of science in society, to think of science as a common good that when we do research we are doing research to help us better understand the environment, protect things that we care about, do biomedical research and engineering work.
All of those activities and endeavors are important to us broadly in society and what we understand and how we work towards it should be a goal that is shared by everyone, so the March is hopefully many people, a broad range of people in support of science, science research, science education. The goal of it is to raise awareness of what is often hidden– we don’t think about how much basic research, it could be basic understanding, it could be history research, or government research matters in terms of how we live daily lives.
What was the main motivation or impetus for this March?
This is not a partisan event. It is a political event, because I think a great deal of scientific research and education is funded by the federal government through tax dollars, that makes things political. We pass laws based on scientific findings, we have regulations in place, we provide economic incentives or disincentives often because of scientific findings. So there is a deep intersection between policy, politics and science, but, the goal of the March isn’t a partisan goal, the goal of the March is to raise awareness and that awareness is necessary regardless of who is sitting in various positions in downtown D.C. or in people’s state governments
I think the timing is happening now because, people sense that this is going to be a period of dramatic change in federal policies and so if you care about things it is time to make your voice heard this is something that is important to our society.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has recently endorsed the March. What do you say to critics of the March who may argue that this could risk politicizing science?
I think anytime you step forward to make a public statement, you can do great good with that statement or you run the risk of exacerbating what the problem was that led to the statement. For people that argue that science is independent of, should be independent of policy and politics, I simply don’t think that is right. I agree with the AAAS and it took AAAS, for the record, a very long time to debate this among the board and to come to this resolution, but we do want policy in this country to be based on evidence.
Some of that evidence is social science evidence, some of that evidence is science. It depends, but we want it to be evidence-based so we actually want policy to be influenced by scientific findings. So they are linked. We don’t want it to be partisan. There is a great difference, I mean, it turns out that when I look through a microscope or a student looks through a microscope, it doesn’t matter what their political leanings is. They are looking through the same microscope and they are seeing the same thing, but we want policy to be shaped by scientific findings. We want it to be evidence-based, but policy or government, funds scientific research.
The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the EPA, all fund not just applied science, but the types of very very basic discoveries that helps us understand our world and make things like the iPhone you are recording this on possible. That money not always, but largely comes from taxpayer dollars. So science is part of politics in the sense that science is part of the common good in this country and the common good has to do with citizens and the common good has to do with our government. I don’t think they are separable. I don’t think we want them to be separable.
Do you have anything else to add?
I am hoping that students from across campus show up because it is a great way to show that the coming generation don’t take citizenship for granted, that they don’t take democracy for granted. This is one of many ways to become an advocate for issues that we think are important. So I hope that students from across the campus come to this and I hope when there are–and I am sure there will be marches for all sorts of interesting things or organizations that form, that science students feel compelled to join those, because I think you can care about the Arts and not be an Arts major on campus. That just has to be important to all of us.