Thursday, April 20, 2017

March for Science: Earth Day will be different this year

If a rally for science held in Boston in Feb. is an example, we can expect a plethora of creative of the signs during the March for Science next Saturday.

ON THE FIRST DAY of Donald Trump's presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Science and Technology Policy's website no longer lists “science” in the paragraph describing what it does.

With all the ballyhoo about the numbers who attended the inauguration and the historic Women's March the next day, it ALMOST went unnoticed.

Scientists and environmentalists saw it. In fact, it set off alarm bells. That's what inspired the organizing of the March For Science.

Earth Day, this Saturday (April 22) has taken a new - more urgent - meaning this year beyond cleaning up beaches and parks. Science-friendly individuals will gather on the National Mall, and in hundreds of satellite marches across the U.S. and around the globe. The Earth Day Network — the nonprofit that organizes Earth Day events every year — has taken the lead on programming for the march.
Amado Guloy, organizing the San Francisco Bay Area's
March for Science, gave a TED talk.
"On some level, [science] is already politicized with certain acts done by Congress, like increased oversight over what kinds of science we should be able to practice and pursue [using federal funds]," said Amado Guloy, a materials and inorganic chemist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Guloy, a Filipino/American is spending all his spare time organizing the March for Science in San Francisco. His tech startup Rex uses technology to help veterinarians keep digital records as they provide clinical care at farms.
The March for Science will celebrate the scientific method and advocate for evidence-based decision-making in all levels of government. Though the event’s website doesn’t explicitly mention Trump, it’s a protest of his administration’s policies, including his proposal to cut billions in funding for scientific research.

The March for Science shouldn't be confused with the People's Climate March, which will be held the following weekend and whose emphasis will be on ... well, climate change. 


Organizers have tried to steer away from the appearance of being anti-Trump. Its website cites: "Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception."

"What we’re trying to do (with the March for Science ) is say, OK, the narrative of science has been politicized and nitpicked. Let’s go back to ..., ‘This is what the scientific method is and this is why it should not be nitpicked,’ so if you are going to make a narrative with data, it’s done in a scientific manner,'" said Guloy in an interview in The Scientist Magazine.

At any rate, like it or not, science has already been politicized. The Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress are defunding research, politicizing grant making  diminishing science’s role in the agency rule making process, and flat out refusing to accept conclusions they don’t like.

Since Donald Trump became president, numerous climate change deniers have been confirmed to lead key scientific cabinets. What's more, the administration has cracked down on federal agencies' use of social media and access to reporters, demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submit research for political vetting before publishing, and deleted or hidden what were once public records from government websites.
RELATED: Every anti-science thing Trump has done in his administration's first 100 days
These efforts to discredit science have sparked a growing and historic resistance movement, from rogue Twitter accounts to scientists racing to archive climate change and other threatened data from government servers.

Trump's administration is planning a 17 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency tasked with monitoring oceans, preparing for potentially dangerous storms and assessing the dangers of climate change, according to a leaked memo obtained by the Washington Post.

Of all the government agencies set for cuts, the EPA would be the most severely gashed. If Congress were to enact Trump's budget proposal for the fiscal year 2017-2018, the EPA would lose $2.6 billion out of its current $8.1 billion in funding — a 32.1 percent slash to the agency that would pay for 5 percent of the boost to the Department of Defense.

Trump has yet to name a top White House science adviser, and it’s unclear if he ever will. A man who doesn't believe in climate change, Scott Pruitt, has been named head of the EPA, an agency that he's sued nine times as the former Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist at the University of Washington, told the Washington Post that science has always been influenced by politics.
She cited the example of Albert Einstein, who, in addition to illuminating the fundamental laws of physics, advocated for civil rights, socialism, and nuclear arms control. His politics made him a target of the FBI, which tracked his phone calls and went through his trash until his death in 1955.

“Those are the same scientists we are taught to look up to as science students,” she said of Einstein and other physicists who advocated for arms control. “They very much understood that physics had a role to play in the unfolding of highly polarized political events.”
The fact that she is only the 63rd African/American woman in American history to get a PhD in physics — a degree that has been awarded to tens of thousands of researchers. That's no accident, she said.

Her statement brings up one of the key issues that developed during the planning of this march was the issue of diversity. It got so muddled the organizers issued four different statements that still didn't satisfy everyone. The lack of women and people of color in the research labs is something that needs to be discussed further. 

"We cannot ignore issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, xenophobia, or any other form of discrimination in the discussion and implementation of science," says the website. "Nor can we ignore the ways in which science has been misused to harm marginalized communities. The lack of inclusivity and diversity in STEM thwarts scientific advancements not only by limiting who conducts the research, but also by influencing what topics are studied, who participates in the research, and who will benefit from or be harmed by it."

The march is open to everyone who believes in facts, the value of research. scientific vetting and the value of facts ... and against the policies that seek to belittle those tenets.

Guloy, the San Francisco scientist and entrepreneur, said that he hopes the march is not a one-and-done event. The issues raised by the march will continue to be worked on in the months and years ahead.

Theorems are basic to science but there comes a time when practical matters can supersede theory. The days when scientists and researchers stay hunkered down in their labs separate from the rest of society are over. Politics has punctured that wall. From the vaccines that protect billions of lives to the ubiquitous smart phone, there can be no doubt that society has benefited from science. But science, too, can benefit from joining the public square with the rest of us. That's why scientists need to march. That's why we need to join them. 

FOOTNOTE: During a Rally for Science held in Boston last Feb. participants made some creatively appropriate signs, some of which are shown below.. Organizers are encouraging participants to do the same in the March for Science.