Science teacher Jackie Scott will be in the streets this Saturday in Little Rock, Arkansas. “I march because my middle school students deserve to have a better world,” she wrote. “They deserve to see what real research looks like and sounds like when it is communicated.”
From Oklahoma to Greenland, scientists and their champions will gather on April 22 for the much anticipated March for Science. And in many ways, the event is already a success: because thousands of scientists are speaking up, millions of people are considering how science actually matters to our lives.
We talk about how the government collects critical data to set air pollution standards. We discuss how investments in science have prevented pandemics. We examine how a physician helped expose the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan, and how a failure to collect data and ask the right questions made it worse.
The March for Science has started conversations within many families about scientists as public servants, my own included. My father’s cousin Barbara will march with me and other family to honor her late husband (and occasional scientific collaborator) Marvin, a renowned computational chemist.
It also brings visibility to other underrepresented groups in science. “I march to show that even a small town gay boy from Montana can become one badass inked astrochemist,” wrote Montana native Jay Kroll.
Sadly, the march also laments the collective failure of our politics to use science to address the grand challenges of our time. Ford Foundation president Darren Walker recently spoke of the poverty of imagination:
“It’s a poverty of imagination that diminishes our discourse, curtails curiosity, and makes our interactions petty and small. A poverty of imagination that breeds distrust for institutions and, increasingly, for information. A poverty of imagination that breeds distrust of other people who do not look or think like us. A poverty of imagination that shrinks our sense of self and our sense of a lofty and inspiring common purpose, luring us to the extremes rather than leading us towards the extraordinary.”
Science provides us with one essential tool to escape this quagmire. And in labs, schools, and businesses around the world, researchers are redefining their rightful role in society. Organizing, and demonstrating when necessary, has entered the scientific mainstream.
No longer are we simply debating whether experts should engage in public life because of an unsupported fear that science will be further politicized. Instead, scientists are exploring how they can best push back on actions that undermine the collection of data and development of independent analysis and, in turn, weaken our collective ability to address tough challenges. “We are a driving force across the entire planet for health and safety and reducing costs and reducing risk,” said University of Washington ocean scientist Sarah Mhyre.