Science, not Silence

(March 9th, 2017) On 22nd April, a global March for Science hopes to focus attention on the pressing need to stand up for the values of science and its role in democracy.

Faced with the rise of populist politicians spreading fake news as they thrive on ‘post-truth’, there are growing concerns for the future of scientific truth based on systematic evidence, critical thinking and open debate.

Obviously, the election in the US of the loud and disrespectful (even abusive) President Donald Trump has not inspired confidence. Scientists worldwide have been alarmed at the ease with which the Trump Administration proposes to officially deny climate change, undo international treaties and promote a range of non-scientific assertions about issues like vaccination, poverty, education and healthcare.

On 21st January, a Women's March on Washington protested about Trump’s prejudices against women and discrimination against minorities. Inspired by its enormous success (at least 500,000 people in Washington and an estimated five million in 673 marches worldwide), scientists proposed a March for Science to rally support for the principles of science, truth, and democracy. Already at the Women’s March, there had been dozens of scientists in lab coats marching together, armed with pro-science signs. On 1st February, the grassroots team, coordinating the March for Science in Washington, announced that the March for Science would be held on Earth Day, the 22nd April, and coordinated with the environmental protection movement. They also invited organisers in cities around the world to lead parallel demonstrations.

The marchers want to appeal to anyone who “champions publicly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.” The March is not just for practicing scientists, but for “anyone who believes in empirical science”.

On its official website, the March for Science says it is “time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted”.

“We are people who value science and recognize how science serves. We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength - a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.”

They insist that the Marches for Science world-wide will just be a starting point for the movement. This is because there is so much to be done – “The relationship between science and democracy must not continue to erode. The application of science to society is not divorced from politics (…) it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels - from local schools to federal agencies - throughout the world.”

The main rally in the US will start in Washington DC at 10am on 22nd April. It will be a call for politicians to implement science-based policies, as well as a public celebration of science and the enormous public service it provides in our democracy, our economy, and in all our daily lives.

The invitation to march for science has received a global response. There will be at least another 238 marches in the US, and over 130 satellite marches in other countries. Marches are planned in the United Kingdom (e.g. London, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh), France (e.g. Paris, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lyon), Germany (e.g. Berlin, Heidelberg, Leipzig), Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Poland, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc.

The Marches for Science in France (11 planned so far) have an extra significance since, by chance, the 22nd April is the day before the first round of the Presidential Elections. The organisers say “this is a formidable opportunity to show that science and democracy form an inseparable couple” (Le Monde, 17/02/17). Notably, they point to a systematic weakening of fundamental research in France. In their electoral programmes, the main presidential candidates make little mention of science and then only because it must serve innovation and the “knowledge economy”. This blinkered, short-term view is resulting in a degradation of fundamental research that, conducted over the long-term, “alone allows us to understand our world and our societies, enabling us to anticipate future evolutions”.

The major French research insititutions (CNRS, INSERM, INRA, CEA, CURIF, and INRIA) have all publicly declared their support for the March for Science. “As directors of public research institutions, we uphold the idea that ‘Science is a process, not a product - a tool for discovery that allows us to constantly expand and refine our knowledge of the Universe.’ We too face the problem of working with restricted budgets, and share the organisers’ conviction that de-funding and hiring freezes in the sciences are against any country’s best interests. For these reasons, we fully support the initiative of this public-spirited march for the sciences.”

The location and details of your nearest European March for Science on 22nd April can be found on their respective web pages (mostly Facebook) via links on the map – March for Science - EuroScientist - Homo scientificus europaeus.

Jeremy Garwood

Photo: Women's March on Washington (Ted Eytan)

Last Changes: 04.03.2017