Science Policy & Funding News

Thousands Take to the Hill to March for Science

Protestors in the U.S. capital echoed pleas from last year, calling for greater appreciation of and support for science, less political interference, and increased diversity in scientific pursuits.

By and

“Science is what separates facts from fallacies, falsehoods, and fanaticism,” retired rear admiral and former oceanographer of the U.S. Navy David Titley declared to thousands of science supporters on the Mall in Washington, D. C., on Saturday. “Science tells us what we know, what we don’t know, and how to expand those frontiers of knowledge. If we ignore or denigrate science, we do so at our own peril.”

Titley’s comments during a public rally near the Washington Monument helped set the tone for the second March for Science in as many years. Titley, a professor of meteorology and director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and other scientific leaders helped to highlight the importance of science and to fan enthusiasm among demonstrators assembled in the U.S. capital. Many thousands of additional science enthusiasts demonstrated in roughly 230 satellite marches around the globe on Saturday, with events taking place on every continent.

The demonstrations occurred at a time when many in the scientific community perceive themselves as disregarded, marginalized, and threatened by potential funding cuts and harmful government interference. Not only were scientists and science advocates marching to increase support and protect funding, they were also trying to get across the messages of the value of science and the scientific method to society, to democracy, and to the entire population.

Triggered by Trump

Donald Trump’s successful election campaign in 2016 and his administration’s first-year agenda, which many have judged to be antiscience, antienvironment, and antiprogress, spurred the first March for Science demonstrations last year on a cold, rainy Earth Day. Favored by sunny, warm weather this time around, this year’s rally likely drew fewer people than last year’s. Nonetheless, the messages of last year’s rally were reemphasized this year.

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called on the scientific community to remain vigilant in the fight to protect science. “Do not expect science to speak for itself,” he said during the premarch rally. “We must [speak for it] with whatever megaphones that we can.” He continued, “Science is society’s best friend, our government’s best friend. It’s civilization’s best friend.”

Among the rally’s attendees, paleontologist Arnie Miller of the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the current president of the Paleontological Society of America, told Eos that the sense of peril since Trump took office prompted the scientific society for the first time to establish a government affairs department. Those who don’t monitor government activity these days may be in for unpleasant surprises, he noted. “We’re bringing our periscopes up,” Miller said.

A Call for Diversity

Also speaking to the D. C. rally was “Dreamer” Evelyn Valdez-Ward, who was brought into the United States illegally from Mexico as a child and today faces possible deportation after President Trump threatened to suspend a policy directive issued by former president Barack Obama, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The policy protected Valdez and hundreds of thousands of other undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, popularly known as “Dreamers.”

Valdez is not just a Dreamer but a future scientist, too. She studies the effects of drought on plants and soil microbes in the graduate program at the University of California, Irvine. “Dreamers are doing the science that will bring this nation to the next level,” she told the rally. “This fight is not just about us, but it’s also about this nation losing prospective students because we stand to lose talented minds if they don’t find support here. We desperately need a scientific community that will reflect the demographics of our nation.”

The Rallies Commence

Spurred by the rally’s speakers, the crowd of proscience demonstrators, bristling with signs, began striding down Constitution Avenue toward the grounds of the U.S. Capitol chanting “Science not silence!”; “What do we want? Science! When do want it? After peer review!”; and other slogans.

In addition to the protest at the U.S. Capitol, more than 100 registered satellite demonstrations took place in the United States, spanning most states and territories, including Guam and the Virgin Islands. Although many participants were protesting the current administration’s agenda, others encouraged public trust in science, emphasized scientific contributions to the world, and defended science education in schools. And in about 100 more locations, thousands gathered in support and defense of science at satellite marches on all continents, including Antarctica.

Check back later for Eos’s selected snapshots of March for Science signs around the world.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer; and Peter L. Weiss, Senior News Editor

Editor’s note: The American Geophysical Union (AGU) was a formal sponsor of the 2018 March for Science.

Citation: Cartier, K. M. S., and P. L. Weiss (2018), Thousands take to the Hill to march for science, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO096887. Published on 16 April 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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