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Rutgers professor discusses role of inclusivity in New Jersey March for Science

According to Matthew Buckley, the founder of the New Jersey March for Science, there is currently a lack of diversity in scientific fields that stems from the shortage of opportunities available to minorities and underprivileged individuals. One of his goals in organizing the local march was to make the event as inclusive as possible. – Photo by Nikhilesh De

The New Jersey March for Science saw legislators, faith leaders, instructors and scientists from various backgrounds rally through Trenton on April 22.

The event was designed to be inclusive to people of all backgrounds and abilities, said Matthew Buckley, the event’s founder. Making the New Jersey March for Science inclusive to all people was important as traditionally, researchers tend to be white and male.

“Science has, as a field, had a problem with not being as diverse as the population,” he said. “I personally believe that scientific ability is evenly distributed across the population. I’ve seen no evidence for anything other than that, and it’s a real problem that science is mostly done by white men.”

Part of the lack of diversity comes from underprivileged people not receiving the opportunities they need to become scientists, Buckley, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said. As a result, science, in general, has not been able to tap the full potential of the possible researchers who never entered the field.

The march represented a political change, which is why it was important to let it be diverse, he said.

“There are millions and millions of people who would be great scientists if they were given the opportunity,” he said. “The march needs to reflect that. We’ve tried our best to make sure that it does, and I think we have done a pretty good job of that, I always wish we can do better.”

The March for Science in Washington, D.C. faced controversy earlier this year for appearing to disregard women and minorities. The event’s website later included a diversity statement which addressed this.

A sociologist, Zuleyka Zevallos, addressed the march’s organizers on Twitter, asking them to promote scientists from minority communities, like LGBTQ+ scientists whose work has been overlooked.

One of the members of its steering committee, Stephani Page, launched the #marginsci hashtag on Twitter to ask others to explain their concerns to the March for Science organizers. On Twitter, she said a diversity statement was insufficient given that the march had already helped marginalize groups.

“It is important that people feel they are being represented, that their voices are part of this,” Buckley said. “So it’s important from that point of view, but most importantly, it’s something we as scientists should be working toward all the time.”

Efforts to spread an understanding of scientific research and its importance should continue after the march as well, he said. The New Jersey march organizers created several action items — proposals they want the Garden State’s lawmakers to look at.

The first involves a plan to combat climate change in the state, he said.

“We want to make sure that the energy we (had) continues, and results in a state-wide climate change plan,” he said. “It turns out New Jersey is the only state on the Eastern Seaboard that does not have a comprehensive climate change plan.”

This plan would create contingencies for the state if it suffers from the impacts of climate change, like hurricanes that are potentially worse than Superstorm Sandy was in 2012.

Attendees of the March were asked to contact state legislators and ask them to develop this type of plan, he said.

“(It) makes sure state agencies are working together, thinking about what we’ll face in the next few decades (and) thinking of how to reduce the impact of climate change,” he said.

Climate change is expected to continue impacting the planet, with future years expected to be warmer than past years.

Each of the last three years has been warmer than the one before it, according to a previous article by The Daily Targum.

Sea levels are also expected to continue rising, which will likely make the impact of future storms more damaging than they have been in the past.

“We’re going to be looking at other items that we think fit well with the mission for the March for Science,” Buckley said. “(They could be) supporting education, (supporting) the rights we have that have made American science so prevalent in the world, like the expression and free travel.”

The March for Science should only be the beginning of the movement to promote science and an understanding of its importance in the world, he said. The next step is for scientists to become more involved with politics in their everyday lives.

They can start just by explaining their positions more clearly to the general public, he said. Instead of just releasing data and conclusions, researchers can explain what they are looking to see happen as well.

“My hope is that people who are scientists feel more confident in being public about their beliefs, (like) their beliefs of what should be done,” he said. “I think science is very good at telling us the likely result of our actions. When you have to do something in politics you have to take what is likely to happen and what they want to happen.”

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.

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