“Science and democracy are logical allies, they both flourish with an open network of ideas, evidence and an uncompromising examination of results.” – Cindy Schaffer, former microbiologist with the Environmental Protection Agency
Clever slogans, such as “May the Facts Be with You” or “There Is No Planet B” flourished at the Earth Day March for Science as scientists and supporters of science around the globe chanting “Less Invasions More Equations” and “All Six American Nobel Prize Winners Last Year Were Immigrants” took to the streets demanding attention to the tangible impact of science on humans “Do You Have Polio? Thank A Scientist” and the environment “Ice Has No Agenda, It Just Melts.”
It is powerful for scientists and science-based organizations to show how important scientific facts are to everyday life, irrespective of political alignment, but what happens to this momentum after the collective advocacy effort has passed? What difference does it make, many have asked, and what role should each of us play, considering daily professional and personal commitments and demands on our attention and time. These are the issues faced by every social movement in search of long-lasting tangible impact.
Science Not Silence
The official slogan of March for Science, “Science Not Silence,” is a phrase that has potential to propel advocacy beyond the day of the march. “Because the results of scientific research benefit our everyday lives, we have taken for granted that science would be a vital, respected part of discussions about societal issues that impact health, the environment, technology and other science-based issues,” says Erika Shugart, Executive Director at the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB).
“This is no longer the case. If science is not represented and advocated for, then it will be ignored or, even worse, replaced by discredited information,” she continues. “We can no longer be silent and assume science will be at the table, we must stand up for science.”
“My interpretation [of “Science Not Silence”] is that we need to use science and evidence-based scientific results to inform government policy and that we, as scientists, need to speak up about our research rather than staying silent,” says Elizabeth Blaber, Visiting Research Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “More often than not, scientists get caught up in their research, writing grants and publishing papers; we forget that our results can really make a difference to the general population. We can use our results to help inform policymakers about important decisions that they need to make about climate policy, research funding, health care policies and the next step for NASA’s human exploration endeavors,” she says.
Blaber cites the unique insight scientists working as government contractors have into government science and the bureaucracy of government agencies. “Science not silence means education to us, educating policymakers on the importance of each scientific study that is being conducted in and outside of government agencies and how these studies collectively make all of our lives better in an unimaginable number of ways.”
Beyond the March
How we harness the excitement and momentum of the march and translate that into action is not a single solution for each scientist or scientific discipline. “When you ask ‘what next?’ that’s when I run into difficulty,” says Dan Schaffer, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Research Software Engineer. “We can march every week all day long but in the end, there are far more important and difficult decisions we have to make if we are to do something significant about the issue of climate change, for example.” For some scientists, this means bringing scientific evidence into daily habits (and convincing others to do the same). “Here in Prius driving, solar panel powered Boulder, Colorado, folks like to talk about what we’re doing about climate change.” Yet some of these same climate scientists “fly as far as Australia for climate change conferences,” he says. “One round trip from Denver to London is equivalent to driving one of those Prius 9,000 miles. That trip to Sydney? 16,000 miles.”
Individual behavioral changes can, collectively, make an impact. March for Science provides easy opportunities on their Week of Action page. For example, by clicking on ‘Science Connects Saturday’ (available everyday) you can send an email to your representatives just by filling in a few form fields. The relevant representative is determined automatically by your zip code entry. ‘Science Discovers Monday’ leads to suggestions for game night fun, science-style.
For some, follow up from the March for Science means being more open and emphatic, publicly, about what is evidence-based science and what is not. “As a former microbiologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, it disheartens me to hear that we have to prove that science matters,” says Cindy Schaffer. “The more active we, as scientists, can be in promoting real science,” she continues, “the better chance we will have for the false news to remain false in the general public’s mind.”
The message “Science Is Nonpartisan” took to the streets as a demonstration of “This Is What Democracy Looks Like.” These slogans call out for participation of the public in open, honest and constructive discussion. Says ASCB’s Shugart, “It is up to scientific societies and other organizations to help harness this energy to be a force for good in our communities.” Several organizations make it easy to participate, as we choose, in the democratization of science. Visit the PLOS Stand Up for Science page to learn how; email firstname.lastname@example.org if your professional association or society is taking action and wants to be listed on Stand Up for Science.
Image Credit: Bob Hemstock