I celebrated the 47th Earth Day at the March for Science in Ottawa, Ontario. Marches for Science were held in 610 locations around the world. I chose to march because as a researcher and educator in science, I advocate for evidence-based decision making and the scientific process. I believe our local and national policies serve citizens best when they rely on data and evidence, and by ignoring this information we create policies which are inherently misinformed. I also marched for personal reasons. I am alive today because, although I was breech, medical research and practice allowed my mom to have a Cesarean section. When I’m sick, I seek medical attention and know that I will receive the care I need based on a foundation of sound medical science, and policies enacted to protect my rights as a patient. Women have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, and I am immensely grateful that I’ve had supportive mentors who didn’t discourage me from my goals of becoming a scientist. I am quite privileged to have had this access to education and health services, and I will continue to fight and resist policies that aim to diminish the relevance of science in policy, or marginalize populations that deserve equal access to these opportunities.
Currently I live in the North Country region of New York, a region I’ve started referring to geographically as southern Canada. My “local” March for Science was an hour and a half north in the Canadian national capital, Ottawa, Ontario. The event was packed full of engaging speakers from a variety of backgrounds. Things kicked off with a welcome from Algonquin elder Annie Smith St-Georges, who spoke of the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples. Next, organizers from a variety of organizations and universities spoke about the similarities they see between the Trump administration and the Harper administration: the devaluing and elimination of evidenced-based policy decisions, the muzzling of scientists, and the threats to federal science funding. Many of the people I was surrounded by had previously gathered at Parliament Hill for the “Death of Evidence” protest, a funeral for evidence-based policies in Canada under the Harper administration. I was inspired by the speakers’ words, and their optimism that with continued efforts and engagement we, their U.S. colleagues “south of the border,” will be able to change the current direction of U.S. policy. Many speakers also discussed the still palpable ramifications of the Harper administration budget cuts and policies in Canada. While we fight for evidence-based policy in the U.S. right now, we need to realize that the effects of the Trump administration will be felt for years. While the Trudeau administration advocates more strongly for evidenced-based environmental policies, it is not perfect.
While I chose to march for science, and was grateful to find a way to reenergize my advocacy engine, the March for Science had some issues. Many people were not compelled to march for science, feeling that the March for Science organizers did not do enough to center diversity and inclusion, and that people from marginalized populations were not given the opportunity to lend their support and expertise in organizing. A great piece by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos addresses this regarding ongoing conversations about the lack of diversity in STEM, and march organizers’ statements that “the march is not political,” and that “it’s about science, not the scientists,” contribute to anti-diversity discourse. Others felt this demonstration would only further politicize data and science. I hope these important discussions about how to include all voices in sciences, and use of this collective voice to advocate within our communities and to policy makers, continue beyond this march.
Earlier last week I participated in a webinar hosted by AAAS called “Be a Force For Science: Advocating for Science Beyond the March.” AAAS has assembled an advocacy toolkit, and the take home messages for communicating and advocating science for me were threefold. 1) We (scientists) can, and should, engage in local and national science advocacy in concise, actionable, steps. 2) We need to engage with the media more to tell compelling stories about our science, with audience-appropriate messages and language. 3) Public engagement is key to increasing interest in science, and partnering with community groups is a great way to get started. My goal is to take my energy from this March for Science and channel it into advocacy for evidence-based decision making in my local community, at the state level, and to Congress.