More than 1,300 people are expected to gather at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Saturday afternoon to march for science. Organizers here drew inspiration from a march – also taking place on Earth Day – in Washington DC. Both marches, along with more than 600 others scheduled around the world, hope to draw attention to the role science plays in health, economies and governments.
“There needs to be more visibility for the value of science – both in funding and in scientific thinking. I feel that those are both under threat,” Brandon Gross says. He’s a research specialist with UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences and is one of people who started planning the Milwaukee march last January.
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Gross says it’s easy for scientists to live in a bubble. “I’m surrounded by people who appreciate the value of rational thought, of scientific funding. But if you map that onto the general public, it gets turned on its head, where we have a much lower emphasis on public policy that sticks to evidence.”
Organizer Elizabeth Ferris’ initial decision to join in was to honor her dad.
“My father is a researcher out at Dartmouth. He runs one of the chemistry labs and he’s taken 13 trips to Antarctica, so I wanted to do this to sort of honor his work and all the research he’s spent his life doing,” she says.
Another motivation is her own children. “I believe that science… is going to create better communities,” Ferris explains. “When you’re looking at climate change, trying to preserve what we have and protect things is going to be better for the kids in the future because they’re the ones that are going to deal with this.”
Marquette University student Margaret Johnston, who is majoring in physics, feels duty-bound to march for science. "We should have much a stronger drive to hold our politicians accountable to make evidence-based decisions, rather than what they think is right,” she says.
Ryan Howell, who also goes to Marquette, adds, “There’s been a trend that politicians ignore scientific consensus and, in some cases, restrict discovery.”
Howell says, take climate change. “97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change exists, that it is manmade, but it has been politicized to the point where it makes it seem like it’s still a hotly-debated subject. When it’s not. They’re ignoring the scientific consensus of the global community, which will be very detrimental for humans in the next coming 50 years.”
He says he doesn’t quite know what to expect at Saturday’s march, but does have a concern. “I’m sure there will be the people who always show up whatever protest is going on to protest for their own personal agenda. And I hope that doesn’t really cloud the main purpose of this march.”
Johnston admits the same concern slipped into her mind. So she came up with a counter strategy she’ll be deploying Friday - she plans to show up in many sciences classes as she can squeeze in and promote the march.
Ferris says Milwaukee’s March for Science is just the beginning of a push to advocate for scientific thinking and research.
“We’ve create the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates. [Our pillars will be] public policy, science education, sustainability and public health. We want to make a point about science in our community, and then also creating a group that is advocating for this evidence-based policy so that politicians hear us, see us and listen,” she says.
The group also hopes to connect the public to science. Right now, Ferris says, an invisible wall exists.
“(People are) almost telling themselves that they can’t understand it, that they can’t push past that. I think this is a really good awakening for the science community to realize that wall exists and thinking about the way they present their information to the public and putting it out there in a way that’s easily absorbable.”
Gross agrees. “If we can get the public talking to the scientists and the scientists talking to the public, and a much better group cohesion of community, I think we’ll all benefit.”
After Saturday’s march, the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates will hold a kickoff event in June.