The March For Science Isn't Just For People With Ph.D.s. It's For Everyone.

"The revolution will be peer-reviewed."

Today, scientists and advocates of the sciences will gather in demonstrations all across the world as part of a "global movement" being hailed as The March for Science.

Symbolically scheduled for Earth Day, the nonpartisan, pro-science march is meant to be a giant first step in re-engaging people about the value and importance of science. For many involved, it's been a movement that has built momentum in the face of distinctly anti-science sentiments from anti-vaxxers and those who deny climate change and its effects.

Kristen Gunther, the Director of Mission Strategy for The March For Science and Ph.D. candidate in ecosystem management and ecology, says communication is really the key — and that people are ripe for it. Still, she finds the policy conversations regarding science in today's America worrisome. 

"It's hard to feel like you're being totally heard when you still hear people debating whether or not scientists even agree that climate change is real, or agree on vaccinations or agree on the safety of GMOs, which we do," Gunther said. "On the plus side, if you go out and invest in communicating and engage with people and really have science as kind of a conversation, then you can do a lot of work and start feeling like science is really integrated in the community."

And while hot-button terms like climate change may sound liberal or partisan issues, the march is distinctly nonpartisan. There are no politically affiliated groups partnering with the March for Science, no politicians speaking and no particular target audience. 

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, is co-director of partnerships for the march. While she concedes that there are obvious political elements to the March for Science — they are, after all, addressing policy changes, budget initiatives and the censorship of scientists — she is clear that this march is not for one political group or one kind of American, it's for everyone.


"That's really important to us because obviously politicizing science or trying to politicize scientific findings unnecessarily is really problematic," Johnson said. "It's a fine line to walk when this particular moment in history has created this mass interest in protecting the scientific method and facts and evidence but we're aiming at something much broader than any single politician." 

The good news is that it's working: Gunther said she's heard of marches planned in rural areas of her home state, Wyoming. Johnson said she's heard tons of personal anecdotes from people involved in the march who have conservative friends and family that are planning to attend. There's even a group of high school students, not even old enough to vote, working under the Twitter handle ScienceTeens, who are going to live tweet the march.

Over 500 cities across the world are planning to host marches on Saturday, a number that Gunther could only call "astounding." On their website, The March for Science organizers describe themselves as a "global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safeties, economies and governments."

For Americans who may not share the feeling that science is important to their every day lives, a few minutes talking to Dr. Johnson will clear up any discrepancies.

"This is not just about big grants or research," Johnson said. "This is about stuff that effects your daily life, your air quality, your water, your food. We need science to know if our food is contaminated or not and to make sure our Advil is safe."

Gunther, too, sees the importance of embracing good science all around her. Aside from the big ticket science items like climate change, vaccinations or GMOs, she's concerned about agriculture. How are our farms and fisherman adapting to a changing climate? How do we know our food is safe? The average American may think their choices at the grocery store are simple, but Gunther doesn't.

"I think a lot about the fact that we tend to want to make easy calls like, 'OK, buy organic, organic agriculture must be better,'" Gunther said. "But it's so much more complicated than that. Buying organic isn't the same thing as supporting sustainable agriculture."

Johnson, whose dad is Jamaican, said the intersection of her roots and her profession as a marine biologist make coastal fishing communities a huge priority for her. She wants to make sure we're using science to protect their livelihoods, health and cultures.

The complexity of these issues, of course, is exactly why the scientific community is feeling the pressure to improve its communication with the world. Better scientific literacy, they hope, will lead to better science-based policy.

"I think what's really exciting is that scientists are finding their voices and talking about their work and how important and how exciting it is," Dr. Johnson said. "We're starting to break down that wall between science and the rest of the public."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Sergei Bachlakov.

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