On Sunday over 600 cities around planet Earth hosted March For Science events. Hundreds of thousands of scientists and science fans were represented on every continent bar Antarctica and ScienceGrrl Glasgow joined the mass celebration of science in sunny Edinburgh.
The march was officially non-partisan and in Edinburgh had the support of all the major political parties, but the movement started in Washington after the inauguration of Donald Trump to the White House.
Donald Trump has been seen as anti-science for a number of reasons. He has called climate change a “hoax” and has questioned whether vaccines are safe – both extremely dangerous comments. His budget director Mike Mulvaney called climate change research a “waste of money” and his administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, denied that carbon dioxide fuels global warming. These statements are not “alternative facts”, they are wrong.
The Trump administration has also pledged to cut $7bn from scientific budgets, revealing a lack of appreciation of the work governmental scientists do. Further evidence of this lack of appreciation comes from the president’s failure to nominate administrators for Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and his disinterest in appointing a scientific adviser.
In Edinburgh, marchers certainly picked up on the antipathy towards scientific policy in the USA, but they were also marching for evidence based policy here in the UK. After Michael Gove said that the UK had had enough of experts there has been growing unease about the way evidence and experts are treated. It is not OK for politicians to pick and choose what evidence they wish to highlight or to re-interpret data for their own political ends. We see evidence mistreated across the UK from the way GMO legislation was pushed through Holyrood without debate to Jeremy Hunt re-working statistics to make his point about the 7 day NHS in England. The marchers in Edinburgh were there to stand up for evidence and to ask government to produce policy based on evidence.
After the march Donald Trump said: “Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection. My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”
US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders praised “those scientists and researchers who are fighting back”
Whether the marches had any impact or not is hard to determine at the moment, but many of the organisers are saying that this is only the beginning. The energy generated from the marches must be galvanised into a movement of scientists willing to stick up for themselves and defend their evidence. Experts must speak up for their research and ensure that politicians listen.