On Saturday, thousands of people in over 500 hundred marches will take to the streets to call for governments to support and fund scientific enquiry. Dr Alice Bell — campaigner, writer and researcher in the public engagement with science and technology — outlines why it’s important for people to support the global March for Science.
Stand Up and Be Counted
Politicians don’t always like to admit this, but protests have impact.
The same people who laughed at anti-austerity campaign UK Uncut went on to parrot a lot of their messages. Plane Stupid has kept airline emissions on the table when everyone else seems determined to ignore the issue. The ongoing protests to surround the Yarl’s Wood detention centre have offered vocal solidarity, and brought crowds of people to an issue that has been deliberately hidden from public view. The Bridges Not Walls event on the day President Trump was inaugurated gave people hope for unity over division when it was badly needed.
Don’t expect immediate change after a march. Indeed, you should prepare yourself for a load of people trying to look clever by rubbishing it. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have impact. It just might not be in the way you expected, or wanted, and you probably won't get credit for it.
If you’ve gone with friends, chat to them. If you’re there on your own, listen, look around and ruminate. Swap ideas and knowledge. Think, and as you walk, maybe make a step towards changing your mind on something, or at least deepening your understanding or commitment.
Keep talking when you get back - online, to friends, to family, to your cat, whatever. Learn, and possibly educate too.
This point is especially pertinent considering the controversies of the science marches. As well as the usual cries of “oh, but you can’t possibly protest, you might get activist lurgies!” there has been some pretty profound disputes over diversity, and how far science activists are prepared to be open about the role science and scientists have played in racism, environmental destruction, healthcare inequality and a host of other issues. These are all still live issues, which don’t end with the marches happening. There’s still a lot for people to work through.
This is also why it’s vital that both scientists and non-scientists attend this march - we’ll learn a lot from being there together.
Be Part of a Global Community
One of the most emotionally fulfilling aspects of going on a march is all the other people. Even if some of them smell, or have placards that make you cringe, there is something amazing about seeing how many more people came out to join you.
Activists and scientists can feel pretty isolated, even persecuted at times. So it’s heartening to know you’re not alone. This feeling is likely to be especially powerful with this weekend’s science marches — like the women's march earlier this year or the People’s Climate March in 2014, they are part of a network stretching around the world.
There are over 500 science marches this weekend. It’s a beautiful expression of the international, co-operative nature of the best of modern science, and something to bask in.
Dropping Truth Bombs
This is a terrible reason to join a science march. Don’t do this.
Marching for science might seem comfortingly straightforward. Science activism has a shiny allure of certainty. Your placards come with citations. You’re on the side of evidence. You. Have. A. Graph.
But to believe science is that simple is bad science itself. And though it’s not bad as actively campaigning to undermine science, it’s up there.
Those on a science march shouting SCIENCE WORKS, BITCHES, will look like dogmatic, hectoring fools. We’ve got quite enough of them already at the moment. Plus, it’s profoundly misunderstanding the nature of science. And that’s just embarrassing.
Science is about evidence, and it is worth standing up for that. But science is not about absolute certainty and closing arguments. Moreover, the way we do science right now is rife with bullying, exploitation of junior staff, sexual harassment, racism, dealings with the arms trade and oil companies, and a whole host of other problems. All of that shapes scientists’ work.
Modern science is, in many ways, a very beautiful thing which we should celebrate and stand up for. But it has big problems too, and it’s blinkered to ignore them.
Go to the march, just leave the I HAZ TEH DATA HEAR ME ROAR banner at home.
But do make an awesome sign. Bring some friends and meet more there. Wear your best dinosaur t-shirt. Take the piss, and loads of photos. Share a beer, and your favourite story from the history of science. Let off some steam.
Science activism is on a journey right now, and though it might feel a bit icky at times, it could end up somewhere really amazing. By turning up, you can help ensure both the scientific community and the issues it studies gets more of the attention it badly needs. You can also play a role in where science activism goes next - possibly by sharing what you know, or maybe by STFU and listening. Indeed, this might well be the important outcome of these marches — not their policy impact, but the movements that come out of them, and their future impact.
Image credit: Alice Bell via Flickr