On Earth Day this past Saturday, thousands of scientists and supporters in Washington, D.C., and more than 600 other cities around the world joined the March for Science, a demonstration to support evidence-based decision making and the scientific method.
“It feels like we’re in a moment when science funding is going to change dramatically,” says Tim McKay, an LSA professor of physics, astronomy, and education who marched in Washington. “If it does, that’s going to have huge implications for the world of science.”
Recent changes proposed to the federal budget include extreme funding cuts to national science programs. Federal cash flow to the Environmental Protection Agency could shrink by more than 30 percent, and the National Institutes of Health could lose 19 percent of their budget. Other programs could disappear entirely.
But funding cuts would hurt more than just financially. Declining investment in research might reflect waning popular support for science as a way to understand and impact the world.
Scientists working in federal posts have even bumped up against new regulations that restrict researchers from communicating their findings in journals, to the press, and on social media. In response, an employee with the U.S. National Park Service began tweeting about climate change from a rogue twitter account earlier this year, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers overnight. This type of advocacy is unique among scientists, historically. But LSA researchers on campus and beyond marched for science in Washington.
“Scientists, by their nature, are not the kind of people who tend to participate in demonstrations,” admitted Doug Boucher (Ph.D. ’79), who studied zoology and ecology in LSA and recently retired from the Union of Concerned Scientists as scientific advisor for the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “Scientists often interpret objectivity as meaning you shouldn’t take a position one way or the other on something—that others decide what it means in terms of policy.
“I joined the Union of Concerned Scientists partly attracted by the way it defines itself as a science-based advocacy organization, which means that science is the underlying basis for the work we do,” Boucher says. “But we are advocates. We have positions.”
The rainy day in D.C. soaked the crowd of science supporters standing near the Washington Monument. But they cheered and some even shouted “Go Blue!” when Meghan Duffy approached the microphone on the rally stage.
Event organizers had invited Duffy, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a public engagement fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to speak at the national march. Onstage, Duffy praised federal programs that help fund a diverse pool of talented scientists and attract students from underrepresented communities, some of whom make surprising discoveries. “Working on a topic that seemingly has no direct relevance to humans,” she said, “can sometimes lead to breakthroughs that have enormous, unanticipated impacts.”
Read the full LSA news article.