The March for Science took place this weekend to celebrate science and the vital role it plays in our everyday lives and to highlight the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into our world. The BSI’s intern, Julia Deathridge, reports for us on her experience from taking part in the London event.
Over the weekend I decided to participate in the London March for Science along with many of my colleagues from University College London and the British Society for Immunology. After running to the lab to put the finishing touches to our placard (lab equipment is useful for sign making – there’s always a cardboard box around!), we were ready to march and show solidarity with our fellow scientists.
By the time we arrived at the Science Museum, the starting point of the event, we could see a sea of people, placards in hand, marching off into the distance. Seeing that many scientists gather together and get out of the lab highlighted the significance of the occasion. An estimated 12,000 people (including Doctor Who aka Peter Calpaldi) attended the march and a wide range of ages were present; from children in lab coats, to PhD students holding signs saying “I should be writing”, to retired Professors.
The idea for March for Science originally stemmed from a post on Reddit, which inspired a Facebook event and, within a week, 300,000 people had registered to attend. Soon marches were being organised all over the world, all scheduled to take place on Earth Day (22nd April) in alliance with climate change advocates. Scientists were ready to gather in their masses! The event also got a large boost from the success of the Women’s March held earlier in the year. Having being an attendee of both marches, I found protestors at both events had similar incentives for marching. Many of the placards I saw at the science march were equivalent to what I had seen at the women’s march - just with slightly nerdier jokes (see one of my favourites below).
However, I could not fail to notice that the science march was considerably smaller and quieter than the women’s march. Some tried to instigate chants but with little success – I guess scientists aren’t known for their extrovert behavior. Although, cars and trucks blowing their horns never failed to get some big cheers.
Unlike the science marches in the US, the events in London and elsewhere in the UK were not as heavily politicised. However, there were definitely some political undertones. Concerns about the uncertainty of Brexit and the impact it will have on funding and international collaborations, were predominate among the march attendees, highlighted by the presence of pro-EU signs promoting the value of international collaboration amongst the crowd. One of the event speakers reminded us that only 4% of current MPs have a scientific background. Such small representation in government reminds us that having our voice heard is more important than ever.
Despite not being the loudest crowd to ever grace the streets of London, there was a feeling of excitement as we marched our way through London, finally ending in Parliament Square where a range of speakers had been organised. Speakers voiced their concerns about issues facing the scientific community, igniting enthusiastic responses from the crowd - I think this may be the first time the phrase ‘chemical engineering’ has ever been cheered! The overarching message amongst the speakers was that bridging the gap between scientists and non-scientists is more important than ever. In a world of alternative facts and possible cuts in funding on the horizon, engaging with the public about scientific research has never been more essential.
Scientists may not have all the answers, but we are always questioning, trying to understand the world around us. Thanks to asking ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ we have eradicated smallpox, are not at the mercy of bacteria and we know the genetic code that makes up all of life.
For me the march was an opportunity to celebrate science and for us all to come together in a stand of unity against the disregard of evidence. There has been a strong amount of media coverage of the march, including articles on Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and the BBC. But it is hard to know at this point what affect the march will have and how far the message will spread. The speakers encouraged us all to go out and tell at least one non-scientist friend about the march and discuss why they attended. In my opinion, if even one non-scientist hears about this march, or came along to the march, and it encourages them to be a little more ‘sci-curious’. Already that is progress.
Intern, British Society for Immunology and PhD student, University College London