Scientists and science supporters showed up in force today on the National Mall, in protest against the Trump Administration's budget and regulatory policies. The March for Science brought thousands together for a rally and teach-in at the base of the Washington Monument followed by a march down Constitution Avenue to the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
The marchers I spoke with were enthusiastic despite drizzle that turned into rain as the day went on. Many expressed relief and excitement to be among like-minded people, a sentiment reminiscent of the mood at Seattle Womxn's March in January. Asked why they chose to march, people cited concerns about cuts to research funding, relaxation of environmental regulation, and loss of economic competitiveness if the United States reduced its commitments to science.
"I came here to support science," said Jeyhan Kartaltepe, an assistant professor of Physics and Deputy Director of the Laboratory for Multiwavelength Astrophysics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She worried about losing scientists and their talents to other countries as a result of reduced funding opportunities in the U.S.
"We're all very concerned that the current administration wants to cut funding for research," said Amanda Jezek, the Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Government at the Infectious Disease Society of America. "We need to make sure there's a next generation of scientists."
"When we don't believe in science, kids get hurt," said Mari Copeny, a nine-year-old activist for clean water in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, who spoke at the rally before the march. Copeny and Michigan State University pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, an honorary co-chair of the March, emphasized the role of scientific tools in identifying lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water and forcing state, local, and Federal officials to address the problem.
Marchers and rally speakers had mixed ideas about the connection between science and politics. One of the single most popular signs at the march might have been a blue-and-red image of a microscope with the words “No sides in science.” It was outnumbered, though, by individual signs calling out Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.
"Some people are going to say we're politicizing science, but we're not," said environmental scientist Jonathan Foley, the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, in his speech at the rally before the March. "We're defending science."
In his own speech at the rally, Dennis Hayes, who coordinated the first Earth Day rally 47 years ago, excoriated the current administration in distinctly partisan terms: “Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Diogenes.”
There was no clear agreement about how to defend science, either. No one I spoke with seemed to think Trump was particularly persuadable, though several mentioned hopes of influencing Congress. The Infectious Disease Society has been offering its members "every possible option for interacting with their representatives," Jezek told me.
"We hope our representatives see that we do represent something more than ourselves," said Shelley Kayle, a pharmacist from northeast Ohio, who had come to the March with her husband Kevin, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Chemist and YouTuber Tyler DeWitt, the first speaker at the rally, laid some of the blame on scientists for failing to communicate the importance of their own work. "We can't complain about slashed funding if we can't tell taxpayers why science matters."
"I find if you have a lot of facts in your arsenal, you can counter things that are not true," said Stacy Whipple, a motorcycle shop owner with a degree in biology and animal behavior, in reference to her own experience arguing with neighbors who work in the oil industry. But, she admitted, "You have to pick your battles."
Editor's note: We sent Jeremy Yoder, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, to Washington D.C. to cover the first ever March For Science. What follows are two dispatches he sent earlier during the day.
March for Science participants are gathering at the foot of the Washington Monument. You could spot them on the Metro, men and women in hiking boots and fleeces, or thematically appropriate tee-shirts. There's a couple of religious protesters at the entry point to the rally, holding signs that inveigh against atheism and 'profe$$ors'.
At the main rally site, marchers are milling about in front of a stage, admiring each other's signs and outfits. I've counted dozens of lab coats, and almost as many 'thinking caps', knitted to look like the convolutions of the brain. Cool, drizzly weather doesn't seem to be discouraging people.
Signs range from the nerdy...
To the earnest...
The rain had really gotten serious by the time the Science Guy took the stage.
"Some may consider science the preview of a special, separate type of citizen," Bill Nye told March for Science participants. "But our numbers here today show that science is for all."
There are still long queues at the entry checkpoints for the rally site at the foot of the Washington Monument, juggling umbrellas with protest signs. I've even seen lab coats worn over rain jackets, which definitely is not standard laboratory protocol.
Rally speakers have emphasized the value of science for economic development and human health. They haven't shied away from politics, or from naming politicians they disagree with. Well, one politician, anyway.
"America has had 45 presidents, but we have never had a president who was completely indifferent to the truth," said Dennis Hayes, the President of the Bullitt Foundation and coordinator of the first Earth Day rally in 1970. "Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Diogenes."