On Saturday, scientists from around the world, including Canada, will shed their lab coats and will join in what will likely be the largest protest ever by science advocates.
The March for Science, a demonstration that took a cue from January’s Women’s March, is protesting the anti-science agenda that the new U.S. administration has put forward.
“Science and scientists, and evidence based policies are under attack. Policymakers threaten our present and future by ignoring scientific evidence when crafting policy, threatening scientific advancement through budget cuts, and limiting the public’s knowledge by silencing scientists,” said Caroline Weinberg, National Co-Chair, March for Science in a statement on April 10.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made several sweeping moves that put the future of science in jeopardy, according to several members of the movement. Trump has placed gag orders on government science agencies, frozen funds, and reversed science-based policies.
For example, the proposed budget removed around US$7 billion from science programs and in January the Trump administration instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants.
In response, scientists began planning their own march on a Reddit forum back in January.
“Scientific discovery and innovation are a critical part of our nation and our future — science extends our lives, protects our planet, puts food on our table, contributes to the economy, and allows us to communicate and collaborate with people around the world,” said Weinberg.
The movement quickly gained momentum and now more than 500 satellite marches being held globally. More than 100 organizations have also lent their support, including the world’s largest general scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The flagship event will take place in Washington D.C. on April 22, which is also Earth Day, and will likely have a tone wavering between pro-science and anti-Trump.
Organizers don’t know how many protesters will attend but it is expected to draw thousands along with plenty of silly signs. There have also been talks of a knitted brain hat – similar to the “Pussyhats” donned by demonstrators at the Women’s March.
In Canada, marches have been organized in almost every province.
“Science is important for all of us and we need to stand up for it,” March for Science Toronto spokesman Evan Savage told CTVNews.ca.
But for the organizers behind March for Science Toronto, the focus isn’t only about showing support for the U.S. science community.
Savage told CTVNews.ca that Canada is in a unique position where scientists have already seen what happens when policies that restrict science and scientists are put in place.
During the Harper Government, Canada witnessed what happens when science is undermined, Savage said, citing examples of funding cuts and “government minders” who would tell scientists what that could and couldn’t say about their research.
“We’ve seen what impact hostile policy can have nationally and internationally. Science knows no borders,” he said. “We don’t want it to happen again.”
March for Science Toronto hopes this protest will not only put pressure on the U.S. administration to “accept what basic research tells them” but also reverse some of the damage caused by the Harper Government.
Voices of the march
But everyone has his or her own reasons for attending the event.
“The damage to the environment is becoming critical and we need science to alert us to the dangers and come up with remedial actions,” Irv Handler told CTVNews.ca in Facebook message.
“I march because fundamental research is the best way for us to know not only ourselves better, but the reality of the world and universe that we live in. […]We have a responsibility to the future,” Orillia, Ont. Wakelet volunteer Leanne Davis said in an emailed statement.
SciCommTo Chair Elliann Fairbairn said in an email: “I am marching on Saturday to stand in solidarity with scientists in DC but also to support the voice for Canadian science here. Nothing in science is achieved in isolation, it”s one of the truly remarkable human endeavours that knows no borders; it is the pooled knowledge of us, as humans.”
Others are more politically oriented in their aspirations, such as Toronto science supporter Ben Ma who told CTVNews.ca: “I’m marching to minimize the impact of politics on science, so that policy decisions can be evidence-based instead of reflecting corporate interests.”
Some aren’t marching for one cause, but for several.
“[I’m] marching to support women in science, the scientific method, and increased science funding for progressive solutions to the problems we face as citizens, today. The anti-science movement is killing people,” said Natalie Haines in a Facebook message.
And for some their reasons were deeply personal.
Toronto-based Blake Williams told CTVNews.ca over email that he is marching for his father, who suffered a stroke a few years ago.
“Thanks to the medical teams and scientific researchers his life was saved with an anti-clotting injection. This medication not only saved his life but it saved him from having to suffer horrible long-term side effects,” Williams wrote. “We need science now more than ever.”
Meanwhile Mark Tymecki from Toronto wrote to CTVNews.ca about a heartbreaking moment in his life when he and his wife lost their baby. Tymecki’s wife developed a serious bacterial infection after delivering the baby but he said that thanks to the scientific discoveries and technological developments his wife survived.
“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that my wife would have died 50 to 100 years ago should this have happened then, and I believe in 100 years from now my baby (we named her Abigail) would have been saved,” he said.
“March for Science, is the chance to make my voice along with millions of other voices heard of just how important science has been to me and how important it is to everyone in the world for that matter.”