Aussies take to the streets in the name of science

By Joanna Khan April 20, 2017
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All around the country, thousands of people will march in support of science this weekend – but not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea.

FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS in Washington DC, the idea of a march to champion science has grown into an international movement taking place tomorrow, Saturday, 22 April, to coincide with Earth Day.

Marches will take place in 12 cities around Australia and more than 500 cities around the world.

The initial idea blossomed from a need to stand up to increasing distrust of evidence-based science and scientific experts, and has become focussed on highlighting the importance of scientific research in the workings of modern society.

Organisers are encouraging non-scientists to get involved, emphasising that the event is not just about researchers, but the whole community given that science impacts everyone’s lives.

Why march for science?

There has been confusion around what marching for science actually means, what the marches are meant to achieve, as well as issues of addressing diversity and inequality in science. Initially the emphasis was on scientists bringing attention to their critical research in the face of increasing public distrust. However, in response to criticism, the cause has transformed to be more inclusive of people from all walks of life.

Reflecting on her decision to get involved in the march, Kylie Walker – CEO of science advocacy organisation, Science & Technology Australia – said, “We are extremely fortunate to have solid support for science and technology in Australia, but with a growing distrust and disregard for science around the world, we think it is time to speak out.”

Sentiments echoed across those planning to march suggest that coming together like this is a positive step for science.

“The common language of science bridges cultural divides, leads to richer exploration of ideas from new perspectives, and serves to make the world healthier and more resilient when faced by a period of global change,” said Kylie.

Could the marches backfire?

However, some academics have cautioned that marchers must think carefully about why they are participating, and that waving jargon-laden signs and wearing lab coats runs the risk of further alienating non-scientists from the cause.

“We as scientists should overwhelmingly run with the brand ‘Hi, I’m a scientist, I’m here to help’ and I feel like a lot of the talk around this march is instead: ‘you should listen to me and you should respect me’,” said Dr Will Grant from the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University in Canberra.

“We should be making the world of science as open as possible to everyone,” said Will, who added that he remains unsure as to whether he will take part in the march on Saturday because of the way it has been framed.

“Those who do march should march to demonstrate what they can do for the rest of society, rather than what society should do for them,” he said.