Sunday, April 23, 2017

Introverts, Assemble!

On Saturday, April 22, the March for Science took place at locations across the United States and the world. I had the good fortune to attend the flagship march in Washington, D.C. From talks and music on the main stage to teach-in tents across the Washington Monument lawn to the march itself, the day was quite an experience for me. I don't normally write personal blog posts, but it seems appropriate for this month to do just that.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorI attended the march with a few fellow biomedical science PhD students and an engineer. I know many of my other biomedical science friends were there as well. But this march wasn't just about biomedical scientists. It was about geologists and mathematicians and chemists and botanists. It was about our past and the present and the world we want to leave behind. It was about coming together from all scientific fields, from competing labs and engineering firms, from all over the globe. It was about making the facts known and showing the world that science has always held and will always hold great value for our society. 

I was amazed by the diversity of the people there. Not only were people diverse in interest, background, and occupation, but they were also diverse in ways you don't typically expect in the sciences. There were young children and senior citizens and everything in between. There were long-time career scientists and Nobel laureates and undergraduates just starting out. There were Christians and Muslims and atheists and agnostics. There were Republicans and Democrats and Independents. Men and women from all walks of life were gathered together to advocate scientific awareness.

While the message at times turned political, the overwhelming push from the people was for bipartisan, wholehearted support for the sciences. Acceptance of "alternative facts" and statements without data cannot continue to suppress the great advances being made every day in science and technology. Some emphasized the dangers of budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other scientific agencies, while others focused on the frightening state at the Environmental Protection Agency. Still others expressed concern for the uninformed American public and policy makers and the great number of sources of unreliable and untrue "scientific" information that create a mistrust of science.

As the march itself progressed from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building, signs of all shapes, sizes, and recyclable materials braved the steadily increasing rain. Many gave a nod to the fact that it was Earth Day and featured images of Mother Earth, saying, "I'm with her." Others cleverly incorporated elements from the periodic table to spell out their messages. Still others pointed out how truly desperate the situation of science in America must be with phrases like, "It's so bad even the introverts are here." "Science not silence" and "Make America Smart Again" were other common sentiments. Neil deGrasse Tyson was frequently cited for his quote, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." Though many signs suffered from the elements, the spirit of their creators remained undeterred as we progressed along Constitution Avenue. Cheers and chanting were frequent throughout the crowd, as was reflective discussion among the participants.

The march was, in my opinion, a smashing success. It was a giant nerd convention with the outreach capabilities to include anyone and everyone. The breadth of scientific topics and passions highlighted throughout the event was mind-blowing. We often get so focused on our narrow sliver of the scientific community that it's easy to forget about the incredible power of all of us united. It was truly humbling to see the incredible amount of support for the sciences that exists in our country. We can only hope that the policies of the government will reflect that support moving forward. Recognition of the importance of science will not only lead to funding assurance to support vital research, but it will also ensure that we continue to make the technological advances to improve the health and lives of everyone across the globe. Science saves lives, and science paves the future.