AAAS chief voices support for the March for Science


The election of Donald Trump to the United States presidency has instigated a slew of protests and rallies for issues like women’s rights, the immigration ban, and the continuation of funding for Planned Parenthood.

The March for Science, a march scheduled for April 22 to champion scientific causes and awareness, began on social media in a Reddit thread about the Women’s March where one user suggested organizing a march for science advocacy, especially in response to the policies and attitudes of the Trump administration.

The statements and policies issued by the Trump administration regarding climate change and the role of the EPA have worried science advocates, technology professionals and environmental advocates. Their outrage has been spurred by the nomination and eventual confirmation of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA due to his financial connections to the oil industry. Scientists have also criticized Donald Trump’s claims on Twitter that climate change is a hoax, as well as the immigration ban that has barred various scientists and medical professionals with work visas from reentering the U.S. Advocacy groups like 314 Action, which aims to encourage more scientists to run for elected office in the U.S., have endorsed the March for Science as an important next step for science and science advocacy.

Rush Holt, the current chief of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former Democratic Congressman from central New Jersey, voiced his support for the March for Science in a recent interview with BBC News.It’s the first time in his career he’s seen “young scientists, old- er scientists, the general public speaking up for the idea of science,” Holt said. “We are going to work with our members and affiliated organizations to see that this march for science is a success.”

Western Carolina University ecologist Robert S. Young, and other scientists like him believe that the March for Science is counterproductive and that the politicization of science hurts, rather than helps, the calls for more scientific consideration in the development of policy. In an editorial for the New York Times, Young argued that “scientists marching in opposition to a newly elected Republican president will only cement the divide. The solution here is not mass spectacle, but an in- creased effort to communicate directly with those who do not understand the degree to which the changing climate is already affecting their lives. We need storytellers, not marchers.”

Currently, there are scores of lawyers and policy pundits in the U.S. government, but very few scientists. Among past U.S. presidents, there are no scientists, with the exception of one engineer — Herbert Hoover. In comparison, eight out of nine top government officials in China have STEM back- grounds. There is much speculation as to the cause of this lack of scientists in public office, but some attribute it to the American perception of elitism in the scientific community and the celebrity-ridden and expensive process of running for office.

In an editorial for Science, Holt references the perceived aloofness of scientists and intellectuals and their general disconnection from political advocacy. “In my experience, many scientists are hesitant to do anything beyond expressing general dissatisfaction... perhaps the greatest source of hesitation is the traditional scientist’s unwillingness to venture beyond the comfort zone of the technical world she or he knows,” he wrote. “Taking action is the best course when science is threatened or when science can illuminate public issues.”

The March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. and most major cities on April 22 and will coincide with Earth Day.