This Earth Day, April 22, people are taking a stand to defend science and evidence-based policy with a March for Science. In addition to the march planned on the National Mall in Washington D.C., over 500 satellite marches are planned around the country and the world. In Iowa, marches are planned in Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Independence, Tipton, Decorah, Dubuque, Mason City and Cedar Falls.
The idea for the march sprang up in the wake of the massive post-inauguration Women’s March and has gained support following actions from the new presidential administration and from state and federal legislators that undermine or ignore scientific knowledge. Over the past few months, the science march’s main Facebook page has gained over 500,000 likes and has been championed by Bill Nye (the Science Guy), who was named one of the honorary national co-chairs, and Jane Goodall.
“People started talking about it based on concerns about the way science has been handled by legislators and out of a desire to make a statement that policy should be determined by evidence, rather than along party lines,” said Kaitlin Higgins, of Ames, who is one of the lead organizers of the Iowa marches. “It went very quickly from discussing it to starting to implement these ideas.”
The march aims to provide a nonpartisan call to action, celebrating science and urging policymakers to base decisions on scientific evidence.
“The march is nonpartisan because science itself celebrates diversity,” Higgins said. “All of our innovations celebrate diversity of thought, and that only happens when you have a diverse set of people who think in different ways. That’s really important because it seems like people want to make this into an us versus them thing and that’s not what it is supposed to be.”
Generally, scientists have avoided taking political stands, but, according to the national march mission page, “people who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world.”
President Donald Trump campaigned on statements that directly undermined or denied scientific knowledge. He has also notoriously called climate change a hoax and tweeted that “‘environment friendly’ lightbulbs [sic] can cause cancer.” Words alone can have enough of an impact; but more importantly, the president is now in a position to act on those words, including upending funding and support for scientific research.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
In a proposed budget, Trump would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent, including major cuts to scientific research and climate change programs. A small cut at NASA, just one percent of its budget, masks the fact that the cuts would target earth science and education programs that contribute to our understanding of climate change. Medical research would also take a hit, with a proposed 18 percent cut — roughly $6 billion — to the National Institutes of Health.
The march is a response to these and other recent anti-science statements and policies.
“It’s hard to say exactly what needs to happen, but it needs to start somewhere,” Higgins said.
Higgins said organizers have reached out to federal, state and local politicians, including Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (who has supported STEM programs and education in Iowa) and U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. But while she said she valued including legislators in the conversation, she added that it was crucial to speak to the public, “because they are the ones who vote in people who are so vehemently against scientific evidence.”
“It’s important to reach out to voters to let them know that it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to not know something, and to show them where to reach out to good sources rather than fake news,” she said.
Shamus Roeder, of Iowa City, another lead organizer for the Iowa marches, said now that science has become politicized it’s hard to separate the two and, because of that, many people will view the march as partisan even if it remains nonpartisan.
“I see science as a way to help people and a way to get an objective truth about the world,” he said. “I appreciate that science allows us to have the argument about the explanation of facts and not the facts themselves. Because of politics we are having an argument about whether or not it is raining rather than why it is raining. Our representatives don’t seem to think that this is an important issue to voters. But we care about this. This is something that Iowans do value. The fact that we live in a world where alternative facts are a thing is scary.”
Higgins said sometimes people see scientific theories as unwieldy or impenetrable, and it can be hard for people to relate to scientists themselves, “because it seems like science and scientists are in this ivory tower and hard to talk to.”
“So, then there are all these people who don’t want to talk to experts or trust what they are saying,” she said. “This [march] is a really good way to make science accessible, easier to understand and make it easier to find people to talk to.”
Higgins acknowledged the vitriol that often springs up when discussing things like climate change, GMOs and vaccines, but said she hoped the event would help people have a conversation about science “without drawing battle lines.”
Roeder also said he hoped for change.
“The food we eat, the products we purchase, every single piece of technology and every medical miracle owes its existence to science; and right now they are actively rejecting science in terms of policy making and in terms of funding,” Roeder said.
He cited the famous Isaac Newton quote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“This is us refusing to climb any further, refusing see any further,” Roeder said. “I don’t think that is what our representatives should be doing. If you value these things, come out and show that this is something you believe in. Regardless of what side of the aisle you are on. We benefit from applying science to the policies we make.”
He encouraged people to check on the Iowa marches Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about ways to help, including volunteering, donating or registering to participate in a march.
Lauren Shotwell is Little Village’s News Director. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 219.
Editor’s note: This article has been modified from its print version to add an additional march.