Saturday’s global March for Science is crucial to show that despite populist leaders and movements around the world, the oft-silent majority is both worried and determined to save the planet and its dwellers. Scientific research, and policy based on empirical evidence, are under threat. The vox populi needs to be heard loud and clear.
On the March for Science website, the umbrella for hundreds of marches planned worldwide on Saturday 22 April, DJ Patil, former chief data scientist for the Obama White House said he’ll be marching in San Francisco alongside Mythbusters’ Adam Savage and many other great scientists.
“When I think about the single most important thing that keeps powering the engine of America, it’s science. And, when I look back at my time at the White House and I think about the most impactful events and people that stick with me, the common thread is science,” Patil wrote in a blog.
Patil noted some of the people he met and whose lives were vastly improved through science – an amputee operating his prosthetic arm through mind control; two young sisters who launched a spacecraft; families in the “moonshot” to fight cancer.
It all depends on adequate funding and the right government policy, now under threat by a populist Trump Administration whose policies have taken issue with scientific facts.
One of the starkest examples is the Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt overriding his own scientists and refusing to ban the dangerous and widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos.
The White House also reportedly wants to cut spending on EPA’s Office of Research and Development by 40 per cent. That means far less research, including at universities, on climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety.
“When you have people who do not know much about science, standing in denial about it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling or our informed democracy,” says astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, on science in America.
In Europe, Brexit will also likely have disastrous impact on scientific research, both the UK and for the EU. The UK government has insisted it will fill the gap in funding after losing the billions from the Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion (US$88 billion), 7-year R&D program. But the UK-based Scientists for EU are skeptical.
And the breakup is already happening: UK scientists are reportedly being shunned for EU research projects because of the fear of Brexit-caused budget cuts.
Well-known facilities like the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland and the European Space Agency are international entities that could maintain the UK as a member. But the UK will have to reach individual agreements with institutes of the Joint Research Commission (JRC), a body of the European Commission, all located outside the UK.
What impact Brexit can have on the overall advance of science remains unclear. But the uncertainty is disturbing many scientists enough to take to the streets. Progress in finding new cures, in improving people’s lives, risks losing its pace as a result of populist-driven policies.
At a minimum, a strong global turnout in the March for Science can send a message to policymakers around the world that the public, joining with the scientific community, demand vision and leadership from their elected officials. To think not of short-term political gain and ceding to corporate interests, but to think above all of the interest of humanity and the only habitable planet we know.