WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chanting “science, not silence,” and holding signs advocating for properly funded, peer-reviewed research, thousands of scientists and supporters rallied in the nation’s capitol on Saturday.
The march was organized in response to budget cuts proposed by President Donald J. Trump to the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and several other scientific research organizations, said Matthew Buckley, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Buckley organized a satellite march with the assistance of Women's March New Jersey founder Elizabeth Meyer in Trenton, New Jersey to coincide with the march in D.C.
“I’m a physicist and in the last couple months I woke up, read the paper and saw that there were horrific cuts being planned for many federal agencies which fund scientific research,” he said. “At the same time, I’m seeing my colleagues in other areas of science which are perhaps more politically sensitive than my own being told that they were not allowed to speak publicly as federally employed scientists.”
Several of the president’s other actions have had a negative impact on scientific research, preventing scientists from accessing public data sets which were collected using taxpayer money and limiting travel between the United States and other countries, he said.
“While my own funding is probably not at the top of the chopping block, you can’t do science under these conditions,” Buckley said. “I think science and scientific advancement has done a lot for America and a lot for the world, and it concerns me a great deal that these things are being threatened. It seems short-sighted by the administration and officials.”
University President Robert L. Barchi wrote a public letter endorsing the March for Science, in which he said that marchers were “united not by party or ideology but by a respect for research and the power of evidence-based decision-making.”
“The marchers want what all of us want: good health, clean water and fresh air, a strong economy and safe communities,” he said. “They recognize that the rigorous pursuit of scientific discovery and the free exchange of research findings lead to smarter decisions and better public policy to reach these goals. And they believe that government support for scientific research is vital to America’s future.”
One federally funded scientist at the march, whose name is being withheld because they were not permitted to attend or speak at the event, said they study a small species of shrimp in the Chesapeake Bay. While these shrimp are too small for people to eat, they are a vital part of that body of water’s ecosystem.
Several local animal species eat the shrimp to survive, they said.
“The entire food chain relies on them being a healthy part of it, and on them being abundant,” they said. “So one of the things I do is … track them, and track their parasites and track their locations and see who’s eating them to see how healthy they are. That tells us how healthy the blue crab population is and the rockfish population is.”
The shrimp are also an indicator of the Chesapeake Bay’s cleanliness. If they begin dying off in large numbers, that may indicate that there are pollutants in the bay which can harm other animals or even people. By tracking the shrimp, this scientist can ensure that the appropriate authorities are informed of any issues within the bay.
American University senior Rachel Scalzo said she came to the march to support scientific advancement in light of the proposed cuts to research.
“I just wanted to support the sciences for STEM funding, STEM research, STEM education and also women in STEM,” she said. “Funding research is so important because money, as much as money sucks, we need money to make things happen, and if there is no money we can’t find cures for diseases like cancer, fibromyalgia, (multiple sclerosis), they need research and they can’t get done without federal funding.”
It is important that America continues to grow and adapt, not only to keep up with the rest of the world but also because innovations in technology development, discoveries in space flight and other breakthroughs help advance the human race, said the biology major.
Jessica Infanzon, a junior at James Madison University studying biological anthropology and English, said she was marching because of the president’s denial of the existence of climate change.
“I am out here because Donald Trump cannot reinvent reality,” she said. “I’m out here to defend against lies and stand up for truth and because my future children and grandchildren deserve a planet that’s not at war for resources and not have people suffering from melanoma.”
The existence of climate change is one issue that has often been denied by political leaders, including Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt.
According to the National Air and Space Administration, at least 97 percent of scientists who study the Earth’s climate agree that the planet is warming.
On Thursday, Climate Central reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had reached a new high of 410 parts per million. The previous high of 400 parts per million was reached in 2013, but when record-keeping began, the Earth only had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
According to the EPA, while some temperature and carbon dioxide increases may help the agriculture industry, it would require other environmental changes. Increasing global temperatures are more likely to reduce yields from agriculture, livestock and fisheries.
“If we don’t start protecting our planet now, we will be in a war for resources in the future,” Infanzon said. “Climate change and our environment is not a partisan issue. That’s why we’re out here today because we can’t let reality slip away from us. Truth is still truth regardless of if you're right-wing, left-wing, Republican, Democrat, moderate, what have you, truth still exists.”
Pruitt should not be running the EPA, she said.
While there will be a march to raise awareness of climate change on April 29, science is already heavily involved with it, said a pharmaceutical researcher who was also not permitted to speak at the march.
“I’m hoping people understand how important it is and that the proposed budget cuts don’t happen,” they said. “I think this is definitely just the start … After that you have to go locally, you have to change your government officials’ minds on (these) issues.”
A biotech company researcher who was not permitted to speak said while the march was clearly political, it was not necessarily a partisan event.
Though some participants may have attended simply to join in the other protests against Trump, they believed the majority of marchers on Saturday were there to advocate for funding of their research.
“I am a scientist, I have been for nine years now,” they said. “This is obviously very important to all of us in the scientific community. There are some serious threats facing our country and the planet as a whole, and we’re very troubled by the current administration’s attitude toward scientists and climate change research.”
Gathering thousands of scientists together in one place to share the importance of scientific research will hopefully influence policy going forward, they said.
They said in their time as a researcher, they had never heard of a group of scientists being as politically involved as they were over the weekend. That indicates how important budget cuts to federal research agencies is.
“I think it’s a big deal because scientists as a group are not active, not really,” they said. “I’m hopeful that this will get scientists to become participants in politics, to run for Congress, to hold public office, and to get into positions where they can influence policy.”
Buckley also said he hoped more scientists will run for office and advocate for evidence-based decision making after the march.
“Scientists should be more clear about what they think will happen and what they would like to see happen, for climate change, for healthcare, for funding scientific research,” Buckley said. “I hope that people will be a little bit more vocal about that. I hope that people who are not scientists but are supporters of science will be public about what they believe and our elected officials recognize there is a large constituency of people who feel science should be supported and funded and scientific results should be taken into account when creating policy."
Nikhilesh De is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. He is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.