Friday, May 5, 2017

The March for Science

 
photo by Donna Castagna-Gianelli

Saturday April 22, Earth Day, marked the global March for Science.  Scientists and non-scientists alike participated in the march in over 600 different locations around the world.  The reasons for marching were as diverse as the people participating.  For me, a college physics professor with a PhD in atmospheric science who spent sixteen years at one of the world’s major centers for climate research, it came down to the fact that we need to talk.  In a country where people with resources to spare and a vested interest in keeping people confused can send a horribly misleading book to every science teacher, we need to talk.  In a country where a series of regulations that honestly didn’t go far enough to protect our fragile planet can be undone with one stroke of a Presidential pen, we need to talk.  In a country and world where scientists can receive death threats for drawing the only conclusion the data allowed them to draw, we need to talk.  The discussion needs to be respectful and rational, of course, but scientists need to start and maintain an open dialogue with the public at large.  My fellow scientists and I cannot simply take it for granted that the results of our efforts will be accepted, understood, appreciated, and acted upon if needed.

 
 photo by Donna Castagna-Gianelli

I went to the march in New York City, with my wife and daughter.  From the onset, it was clear that this demonstration was different than most of the ones I’ve gone to in the past.  It wasn’t loud and angry, to be sure (notwithstanding a cascade of boos as we marched past Trump Tower).  In fact it was actually very friendly, with a tone akin more to a family gathering than to an angry protest.  We met scientists who’ve traveled to Antarctica to study the behavior of penguins.  We also met artists who made striking unicorn costumes, in the hope of raising awareness to the danger that some real creatures may become mythical in the not too distant future.

 
photo by Donna Castagna-Gianelli

People with a lot of experience at demonstrations might have found the atmosphere to be too polite, but it really wasn’t a bad thing.  More than anything, the march was a call for respect.  Scientists often work long hours for pay that can best be described as adequate, and the more momentum a research project has, the longer the hours become.  The results of these efforts include all the medical advances and other technology we now enjoy.  They also include greatly enhanced knowledge about the workings of the universe, including this little world on which we live.  Some of the things we’ve found out about our world are genuinely disturbing, though, and the interest of our elected government in dealing with the issue has declined even as the situation has become clearer and more urgent.

 I got my copy in my mailbox at Hofstra.  Did you get yours?

If a change in how the public views science and scientists is necessary and long overdue, scientists need to be more proactive in reaching out to the public about their work and what it means.   I felt that the March for Science was a good launching point.  It sent a simple message that we’re here, we’re human, and we’re concerned.  And above all, we need to talk.  Then, we need to keep talking.

photo by Donna Castagna-Gianelli

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