Thousands rally for pro-science policy and funding

"Let's be the steam that moves the wheels of the world," March for Science organizer tells supporters

Thousands rally for pro-science policy and funding

Thousands rally for pro-science policy and funding

It was Saturday morning, and Sasha and Jeff Jones had decided to spend it standing on the Cal Anderson Park ballfield with signs to support funding for scientific research. Neither are scientists by trade, but they’re both big fans of astronomy and “pretty much anything that has to do with space,” Jeff said. But what really worried them was current policy on climate change, and potable water.

“We need clean water,” Sasha said, “and I don’t feel this administration is doing enough to make sure we have it.”

Sasha said she was worried that the Donald Trump administration was fostering a political climate contemptuous of the progress made possible by science.

“My brother is pretty much on the other side of the political spectrum from me,” she said. “I’m hoping things like this will help him and people like him understand our side a bit.”

The Joneses were two of thousands of people who had gathered at the ballfield for the March for Science Seattle, itself one of hundreds of satellite marches across the globe organized in solidarity with the March for Science in Washington, D.C. The march began with a series of speakers in the park before attendees marched from Capitol Hill to the International Fountain in Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne.

Supporters of scientific funding and progressive science policy held signs that read “I’m a Scientific American,” or “Mr. President, science gave us Rogaine,” or “Without belief in science, we would be cooking over wood in the dark.” A popular choice was “There is no Planet B!”

The Seattle rally had its rocky moments: The proceedings were delayed a half hour, then the speeches were paused when an activist for Duwamish tribal recognition took the microphone on stage and refused to leave until she could read a statement. She was arrested by Seattle police.

But spirits remained visibly high as people rallied around the March’s main message: It’s OK to be wrong, if you accept it, and resolve to do better.

“Nothing may be as beautiful in science as finding out something is not quite right,” said Miles Greb, one of the lead organizers of the Seattle March and the author of a pro-science comic book, “After the Gold Rush.”

Greb recalled 17th Century scientist Galileo Galilei’s struggle to promote a heliocentric view of the Earth’s place in space, which was challenged by geocentric astronomers and the authorities of the Roman Inquisition, who placed him under house arrest. Greb said it was the duty of people with evidence-supported beliefs in climate change, vaccination and genetically modified foods to follow Galileo’s example and stand against forces of opposition.

“I’ve heard it said that marches are just steam,” Greb continued. “That may be so. But I say let’s be the steam that moves the wheels of the world.”

Local politicians told the crowd they would stand with scientists in their legislation.

Gov. Jay Inslee told the crowd that Washington would give an equal and opposite pro-science reaction for every anti-science action to come out of D.C.

Mayor Ed Murray pointed to the legacy of Cal Anderson Park’s late namesake, and how better scientific policy might have saved his life.

“Cal Anderson was our first out member of our Washington state legislature,” Murray said. “He died in 1995, and if science had been used during the Reagan administration, he might be alive today.”

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene called science a powerful driver for the economy in Washington and the wider U.S., and expounded on the importance of funding organizations like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture. President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, released in March, proposed steep cuts to various federal agencies engaged in scientific research, including a 20 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

Some argued that progress in science could be made possible by fostering a pro-science culture. Game designer and author Jonathan Tweet told the audience about “Grandmother Fish,” a children’s book he authored to explain evolution to young children in words they could understand.

Others said scientific culture needed reform from within as much as it needed protection from antagonist forces without.

University of Washington environmental sciences undergrad Tyler Valentine said he had felt honored to be able to study with scientists and engineers, and to become their peer. But, as a person of color who attended school on a Husky Promise low-income scholarship, he said it was a struggle.
“The big secret of scientists and engineers is that they aren’t special at all,” he said. “There is nothing the average scientist or engineer has that the average person doesn’t. All it takes … is curiosity, resources, and a belief in themselves. Yet, why then, aren’t their more people of color in the field?”

Valentine said institutional racism and negative attitudes toward affirmative action programs -- particularly the pervasive belief that minority students and professionals hadn’t “earned” their place on the basis of accomplishment -- burdened minorities in the sciences with the sense that they are imposters.

Dr. Tracie Delgado, a microbiologist at Northwest University in Kirkland, told the crowd how she had attended an over-crowded and heavily Latino high school in Bell, California,a place where half the students would drop out before they finished their high school degree.

Delgado was voted “most likely to succeed” by her high school’s graduating class. But she struggled to remain on top of her studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Her high school science classes had been overcrowded, and lacked basic equipment and a vigorous curriculum.

“I did the best I could to succeed in a broken system,” she said. “I dreamed of becoming a scientist, but I desperately needed a mentor who had been down this path already.”

That mentor would be Dr. Alma Gonzales, the third Mexican-American to earn a Ph.D in the United States, and a founder of the Society of Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences. Delgado would go on to become the president of the UW chapter of the society as she pursued her doctorate.

“Today, I march for true diversity in science,” Delgado said. “And to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the sciences.”