On April 22, marking the Earth Day, about 1500 people participated in the Science March in Dallas, Texas. The crowd was a composite ranging from toddlers on their parents’ shoulders to distinguished professors from local universities, along with my fellow postdocs. They came with witty t-shirts and clever memes artistically handwritten or printed on sign boards. Although people individually appeared enthusiastic to promote science, the group energy level was sort of subdued. There was no clear leadership or instruction spearheading the rally with a singular voice, but rather multiple scattered factions, each chanting their own pre-rehearsed set of slogans. The march itself was extremely peaceful and not as disruptive as one would have hoped. The timing and route chosen was such that it did not interfere with the neighborhood activities or draw enough public and media attention.
Despite having no anticipation regarding the response or outcome of the march, I find it difficult to reconcile the two streams of thought in this exercise. On one hand, there was a sense of tremendous camaraderie among participants excited about science and congratulating each other for the awesome design and display of intellectually stimulating placards and apparel. For me, the march instilled a feeling of belonging to a larger, committed workforce that understands the importance of, and is driven by, evidence-based science, just like myself and my peers. Even if momentarily, it inspired me to continue my current efforts in advancing biomedical science. On the other hand, even in the face of tough policy rulings that threaten to acknowledge the vitality of scientific endeavors in maintaining the health and prosperity of human civilization, scientists demonstrated incredible politeness and discipline, in keeping with their inherent professional temperament. They were not angry enough to express dissent of any sort, which if intentional, would defeat the purpose of creating an impact, both in the short and long term. The marchers’ voices were not targeted to any specific element in the system that needs to be addressed with high priority, thereby eliminating the question of any relevant person or office taking special notice, leave alone offence. The press coverage of this event was relatively insignificant even on the local scale. If even a record-breaking NASA astronaut, a biochemist by training, emphasizing STEM education, demanding continued science funding support, and performing forward flips from the ISS in conversation with POTUS, finds it difficult to gather a momentum on science policy changes, we as ordinary scientists certainly need to devise additional/ alternative strategies to influence policy.
In my opinion, the Science March at least in Dallas and arguably nationwide was primarily for us scientists to come together and simplistically portray our shared passion. It served as a much-needed motivator to actively pursue and spread the cause of science. As far as impact on policies is concerned, the bullet is more stationary than the target in this context. I would be surprised if there is any impact at all.
Aditya Kulkarni is an oncology scientist by day and adrenaline junkie by life. He enjoys developing biomedical content. Check out his profile to know more: https://www.linkedin.com/in/biosketchadityakulkarni/