Last updated May 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm
If you live in Adelaide, Bendigo, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth, Sydney, or Townsville, and you feel passionately about science and you can get all of your Earth Day commitments done first thing in the morning (or maybe push them to the evening) then on Saturday 22 April you can head along to one of the Australian chapters of the March for Science. Wear comfy shoes, pack a snack, and wear sunscreen, mates!
The March for Science is a global event. It started as a march in Washington DC for scientists (and science lovers) to raise their voices directly to their new government. This group of experimenters and critical thinkers had already been lending their voices as a block to rallies against the Trump administration, so it wasn’t very surprising to see them want to branch out on their own. The idea of science activism on a large scale quickly spread, and there are satellite marches happening not only across America, but all over our pale blue dot.
But what is the significance to this wide brown land? I asked organisers of the March for Science from all around the country. They’re a diverse group of people, and I don’t want to leave you with the impression that their thoughts are homogenous. But it’s easy to find things they have in common – which should serve them well on 22 April.
Firstly, scientists in Australia see obvious parallels between the USA and our own political climate.
“Australians, just as much as Americans, need to stand for science literacy, evidence-based policy, open communication, and stable funding. We must stand with people around the world in support of the global pursuit of knowledge” said Erin Vaughn, Molecular Geneticist, Canberra.
And they’re incredibly passionate.
“I have felt absolutely compelled to get involved in whatever way I could help. I feel science needs a very strong voice right now in this political climate and I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as disrespect for science and scientists flourishes in certain groups in society both here in Australia and overseas,” said Kate Ferris, Human Ethics Officer, Melbourne.
“I want the public to trust science again. I want people to be taught critical thinking and how to interpret basic data and statistics, so that they can think for themselves and not have to rely on what others tell them results mean, and understand that science moves forward in small steps most of the time. I want policies to be based on actual evidence, and for politicians to be held accountable when they distort or ignore evidence and scientific consensus for personal or political gain,” said Danielle Asson, PhD Student, Townsville.
As a science communicator, I’m always thinking about my audience – so I wanted to know who the March for Science is hoping to reach.
“The March has two audiences. Our first audience is our policy makers. By banding together with millions of people around the world in support of science we will show our leaders that science is important to the Australian people. Our second audience is the Australian public. Science isn’t often thought of as something that requires vocal advocacy. Our marchers will show the Australian people that support for science is strong and necessary. By taking a celebratory non-partisan approach to advocacy, we will show the people of Australia that science advocacy is something we are all capable of doing,” according to Erin.
So it’s listen up pollies, and listen up people.
But it begs the question – shouldn’t science be apolitical?
“We can’t stand by while the role of evidence in public policy is being devalued and scientists are being gagged from speaking out. The marches have been criticised for “making science political”. Well, science itself should be a neutral process of finding the truth, but the next step—the application of evidence to public life—has always been political. If anything, the marches aim to separate the acceptance of scientific evidence from party politics,” said Andrea Leong. Microbiologist, Sydney.
While politicians’ attention is clearly important, it’s the everyday punters that are nearer and dearer to the activists’ hearts.
“The March for Science is a chance to break down some the barriers to the public’s access scientific information, and what it means to their lives. To me, the March for Science is speaking to the family watching us on the evening news and they are my target audience. If we can get one person to reassess the significance of science in their lives, be more willing to ask a scientist questions, or make them more open to future science engagement opportunities then I’ve done my job,” said Abigael Proctor, PhD Candidate, Hobart.
With passionate scientists advocating for the Marches, it absolutely smashes the stereotype of cold and clinical scientist.
Even though the March is days away, it’s all about what’s next – and it’s an welcome mix of optimism and practicality.
“The march is only the first step. I hope our experiment will continue by empowering more people than ever before—perhaps people who don’t consider themselves activists—to participate in democracy, by telling our elected representatives that our current political climate of cherry-picking evidence to fit an agenda is not good enough,” said Andrea.
“We are telling scientists that it is not enough to sit in the ivory tower and entertain our peers – we must humbly and sincerely share our knowledge in effective ways. We are telling the public that we, the scientists, care that we do a better job of this, and we are telling marginalized groups that we will do a better job of making the scientific endeavour benefit all people. We are telling politicians that good scientific policy just might be an election issue – something that matters enough to all people to be worth campaigning on. My hope is that the March for Science will get people to talk about science in a way that they may never have thought about before,” said Alex Payne, Biology and Chemistry student, Sydney.
“The March for Science is not likely to change the world or the general attitude towards science, but repeated exposures to engagement opportunities do have the power to shape people’s perceptions over time. In this sense, the March for Science is the first step and not the final experiment,” said Abigael Proctor, PhD Candidate, Hobart.
Read more of our coverage on the March for Science.