On April 22, more than 500 cities will host a March for Science, a series of political demonstrations to champion “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity,” according to the official website. Washington, D.C., will serve as the epicenter for the demonstrations, billed as a response to those who challenge widely accepted facts and scientific consensus across the globe.
Yet the marches represent more than a rebuke of climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. Saturday will mark a banner moment for a group not known for jumping into the political fray. Farmers have been far more likely to protest in Washington than scientists and science supporters over the last 50 years in the U.S. This inexperience came through in some of the March’s organizational road blocks, in the forms of infighting over inclusivity and counterfeit merchandise. There are also some scientists who outright disagree with the politicization of a field steeped in objectivity.
But millions of scientists, doctors, teachers, science lovers and ordinary folks have also voiced their support for the march across social media; organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science — the world’s largest scientific society — have also thrown their weight behind the movement.
Some of those people responded to a NewsHour call on social media for people to share why they support, or don’t support, the March for Science. We received replies from more than 1,200 people — filled with opinions as diverse as science itself. Here are some of their stories.
Editor’s note: Out of the more than 1,200 responses we got to our callout across platforms, 19 were from people who said they do not support the March for Science and will not attend. Our profiles here reflect that breakdown.
The anthropologist-turned-teacher who says “politics is power, and science is immensely powerful”
Inside a greenhouse on the top floor of Cypress Hills Community School in East Brooklyn, New York, students learn about hydroponics, composting and how to navigate their fears from a number of volunteers and teachers, including 52-year-old Yvonne Lassalle. Lassalle, an anthropologist-turned-science teacher and greenhouse coordinator, believes science and math do more than prepare students to obtain higher paying jobs.
“Students who do not understand how the world works and who are not comfortable with using the methods of science are in the danger of being disempowered by others who do understand these things and who can use them in positions of this advantage,” Lassalle said.
Take health care, for example. If students become comfortable with the scientific method and how it factors into clinical trials, she believes they can more easily decipher the safety of drugs advertised in TV commercials or know what types of questions to ask their doctors when discussing prescriptions.
Her recommendation is greater access to science in communities, through education programs like New York’s Urban Advantage Program, to show communities that empirical evidence doesn’t necessarily challenge different worldviews, like religious ones, but rather offers solutions to everyday fears.
Lassalle will join New York City’s science march because she believes “politics is power, and science is immensely powerful.” She feels partisan concerns over scientific pursuits, like climate change and vaccination policy, happen because many people feel that science challenges their core beliefs and makes them feel fundamentally unsafe about who they are.
The neuroscience major who’s worried about her career
Emalie McMahon, 22, a neuroscience major set to graduate this year from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, disagrees with this idea of politicizing science because she feels her future depends on the bipartisan support. McMahon is set to start a job at a laboratory next year and worries the march may be perceived as left-leaning or elitist by constituents from right-leaning states.
“My worst-case scenario is one where the scientific community becomes further alienated from the population at large — that more people would see science as an opposition to their everyday beliefs, their religion or their political beliefs,” said McMahon, who says she doesn’t identify as conservative.
Her trepidation is backed by polling. Seven out of 10 Americans believe “government investments in basic research, engineering and technology and in basic scientific research pay off in the long run,” according to the Pew Research Center. But hot button issues — like climate change policy, GMOs, evolution and vaccine — split the nation in two. Even Republican academics feel uncomfortable openly expressing their political views, as tensions grow among the electorate.
McMahon fears growing rifts might deepen opposition of scientific funding in the long run. She’ll be skipping Knoxville’s march.
The man who went from rust belt to Berkeley, thanks to federally-funded science grants
Noah Whiteman, 40, agrees with McMahon, but he still plans to march.
Whiteman grew up in a rural, white area in the rust belt, surrounded by “the kind of people who voted for Donald Trump, frankly.” After deciding to be a scientist, he got a grant from the National Science Foundation and a fellowship from the National Institute of Health. “My route through life was supported by grants and fellowships from the federal government,” he said.
“Without those, as someone from the rust belt, I would have never got to where I am,” said Whiteman, who is now a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. But he thinks science should be stripped of political bias if at all possible, since research has historically received support from both sides of the aisle.
Whiteman thinks of it as “a privilege and an honor” to have access to taxpayer-funded federal grants, so he always tries to be sure that his research will have a positive impact on the greater good. “Untold advances have come from researching nature for its own sake,” he said.
But overall, Whiteman is growing worried for the future of scientific advances because of the changing political climate. “I see this as an existential threat to the United States, I really do,” said Whiteman, who will march for science in San Francisco. “I am going out there as a representative of science and saying ‘listen to us, we are afraid for our future.’”
The Texas lab tech who says science is already political
Roland Falcon is a 30-year-old Senior Lab Technician at an oil company in Houston, Texas. Falcon has had a love for science from a very young age, when he would take things apart in his home just to see how they worked, something his parents “didn’t quite know how to deal with.”
“Houston is definitely a city that [supports science]. We have the space program here, we have a lot of oil and gas, a lot of energy. You can’t throw a rock in Houston without finding a scientist, or at least an engineer.”
Falcon, who is a member of the organizing committee for the Houston march, said his support for the protest started when the Trump administration announced its proposed budget, which cut heavily into funding for scientific research. Budget Chief Mick Mulvaney said when the budget was released that cuts would reflect the president’s world view by reducing spending in areas such as climate change and alternative energies.
“People these days seem to be viewing science through the veil of their own opinion,” Falcon said. “They seem to be denying the fact that results are coming out about climate change, about the environment, about social issues … they seem to be perfectly fine just dismissing it because they disagree with it, as opposed to actually trying to disprove it or find facts against it.”
When asked about whether the March for Science might politicize science, Falcon believes that science is already political, based on what some congressmen are saying.
“I think locally, the big problem is that we have [Rep.] Lamar Smith from Texas who is the head of the House science committee. He’s trying to put out rules about regulating scientific funding. He wants all the money that the government puts out to go through his committee. It’s kind of hard to say that it’s not already political.”