Will The March For Science Make For Better Policy, Or Undermine It? : The Two-Way A "March for Science" is set for April 22 in Washington, D.C., to show support for evidence-based public policy. But some worry the march will be seen as partisan, and may even undermine sound policy.
NPR logo

Should Scientists March? U.S. Researchers Still Debating Pros And Cons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515584634/516787865" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Should Scientists March? U.S. Researchers Still Debating Pros And Cons

Should Scientists March? U.S. Researchers Still Debating Pros And Cons

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515584634/516787865" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The huge crowds that came to Washington, D.C., last month for the Women's March have spawned a renewed interest in marching on our nation's capital. A variety of marches are in the works, including a March for Science. As NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports, scientists seem split on whether taking to the streets for science is really a good idea.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Jacquelyn Gill is a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. She says right after the inauguration and the Women's March, she went on Twitter and said, hey, we need a march for science.

JACQUELYN GILL: And someone else said, yeah, that's a great idea. And then someone else said, yeah, I had the same thought. And so then we all kind of glommed together and started working on it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Gill says there's a lot of concern about the fate of science under President Trump. His appointees include climate change skeptics. He's met with an anti-vaccination campaigner. He regularly cites false numbers on things like voter fraud and crime rates, while his surrogates defend the use of, quote, "alternative facts." Gill says the march will take a stand for the importance of public policies based on evidence.

GILL: Our goal, really, is to bring people together in a strong unifying message that science is important to our citizens. It's important to our nation. And that we are going to hold our elected representatives accountable to that.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The march now has a website and a Facebook page that's gotten the attention of hundreds of thousands of people. Sister marches are planned from Cleveland to Anchorage. The organizers describe it as a nonpartisan celebration of science, but not everyone buys that. Jerry Coyne is a biologist at the University of Chicago. He says the only thing that binds scientists together is that they all use the same tools - hypothesis-driven experiments, replication of results, peer review. How are you going to stick that on a protest sign?

JERRY COYNE: A march for science itself is just simply a march for the mechanisms that find truth. And who's going to pay attention to that?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says what will get attention is the politics.

COYNE: It's going to become a partisan march.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And that is what worries some scientists who do research on hot-button issues, like Rob Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University. He opposes the march.

ROB YOUNG: I'm not saying that we don't have a problem with ensuring that science has a seat at the table when we're making decisions at all levels of government. But this march is not going to make that job any easier.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He works on sea level rise, a reality that some politicians would rather ignore. He thinks it's best for scientists to interact one-on-one with decision makers across the political spectrum, and says all a march will do is make scientists seem like just another biased interest group. He hates that the march will happen on April 22, which is Earth Day.

YOUNG: Those folks who have been trying to pigeonhole and demonize scientists as having a particular political view and identity will see scientists marching on Earth Day as a part of the environmental movement.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But others say, look, if some protest signs at this march are overtly political or even inflammatory, that's OK. Michael Eisen is a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. He says scientists, who are used to controlled lab experiments, just have to get comfortable with the rough and tumble of public life.

MICHAEL EISEN: You just can't hope for perfect control over what a large group of people do when they get up to express themselves.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: He thinks science is under threat, and that it's time for scientists to show they really care about how science gets used.

EISEN: You can't be completely blind to the fact that the current administration has a fairly dim of science in some areas.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's one reason why he's not just going to march. He's going to run for the U.S. Senate. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.