Scientists are organizing a march on Washington to oppose Trump’s proposed policies

Sitting this one out may not be an option for knowledge lovers.
Sitting this one out may not be an option for knowledge lovers.
Image: Reuters/Chris Wattie
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Donald Trump’s presidency is turning American academics into activists. Scientists have been particularly vociferous in their opposition to the new administration, based on its denial of climate change. Now, the nerds are also planning a protest march as a “starting point to take a stand for science in politics.”

The science march was born from a discussion of the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Reddit. That very day a Blogger page popped up, explaining, “We are working to schedule a March for Science on DC and across the United States. We have not settled on a date yet but will do so as quickly as possible and announce it here.” The public Facebook group already had more than 52,000 members and the private one had nearly 160,000 members as of Jan. 25.

Trump’s actions in his first week in office have made it easy to convince people that action is needed. The new administration issued a temporary gag order on certain national science agencies, setting off a nationwide panic about the future of knowledge itself.

“Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science,” the march organizers stated on Blogger.

Announcement of the protest led immediately to debate. Commenters suggested that the best date was March 21 (3/21), or PI day. But that won’t work out great for scientists interested in another political activity; PI day is when STEM the Divide—a new initiative to get science, technology, engineering, and math professionals to run for public office—is holding an online meeting for potential candidates. Earth Day, April 20, was also a popular suggested date.

Meanwhile, some commenters pointed out that the protest’s name is insufficiently inclusive, leaving out those who support science but are not practicing professionals. One person proposed that it be called The March for Science and Truth instead, which found support among some.

A “humanities person” interested in the march offered to knit special hats for the event. Others said that lab coats are the appropriate outfit. But Lynnsay Marsan—a neuroscientist currently focused on improving science education for populations underrepresented in STEM—warned against using false symbols: “Don’t bring lab coats into this. Social scientists do not wear lab coats and we are not perpetuating the myth that scientists are pontificators who use the lab coat as a sign of authority. The public and the government should believe us based on our credentials, not what we wear.”

Details aside, the idea of standing up for science has been widely embraced on social media. On Twitter, #USofScience became a trending hashtag in the hours after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Now, the hashtag is being used to share information about the administration’s actions—things like removing climate change information from the Environmental Protection Agency website—and to urge political participation.

The science march organizers explain why standing up for science now matters for people everywhere: “There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action…. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”