My Manchester March for Science

I attended the March for Science today (Saturday 22nd of April). Unfortunately, not the main event in DC, or even the main UK event in London. I actually only found out about it at the last minute but I made it in to Manchester for one of the 610 satellite marches. I’m surprised, given how many science-y people I am connected to through the various social media sites, that I hadn’t heard about the march sooner. I suspect that same lack of traction is why more people didn’t show up in Manchester, but the numbers in the main cities are impressive. I haven’t come across a total figure just yet, but the released estimate is over 120,000 for the four biggest American cities plus London.

The main march website doesn’t specifically name President Trump (I just threw up a little in my mouth having to write that) as a driver, but his disparaging attitude to science has been clear even in his short term so far. Some of his first moves were to freeze funding, scrub climate change from the white house website and gag the parks department; to this day, he hasn’t named a top white house science adviser. Outside the US, Brexit in the UK threatens the EU’s significant funding of science, and plenty of our politicians also ignore scientific evidence when making decisions.

Back to today, it was a beautiful sunny day but still with a crispness in the shade. The marchers had a jollity to them, calling out ‘science, science, science’ in response to questions posed over the megaphone, and cheering in answer to a ditty played on a trumpet every now and then. They filed into a largely empty Albert Square, but even in mediocre numbers they filled the space with joy and laughter, witty and striking placards, lab coats a plenty, an excellent array of science themed t-shirts, and even a few costumes (although mostly restricted to the children present). The group of approximately 400 gathered around the monument to Prince Albert, where two large speakers had been set up. An organiser took to the stage (well, moved a few steps up the monument), and delivered a short but sweet speech in his slightly broken English. What gave you medicine, technology, food, he called, “science, science, science”, replied the crowd once more. He also spoke of the need for us all to stand up for science, to fight on after the march and push policy makers to base their decisions on scientific evidence.

I looked around as everyone cheered and clapped the end of his speech. Overwhelmingly, and quite unlike the many protests and marches I have been on before, I saw smiling eyes and jovial faces. I don’t see that as an indication of a lack of seriousness about the issue though, rather I read that as people still having hope. Hope that it isn’t too late, hope that there is enough of us who still give a shit, hope that science will win in the end. Maybe, like me, the other attendees enjoyed the feeling of comradery, feeling bolstered that they weren’t alone in their convictions. I just hope we can carry that energy and sense of community forward as we continue the fight against alternative facts and policy based on convenience or business ties.

The crowd dispersed fairly quickly, but I spoke to a few attendees before they all left. I asked people what had motivated them to come to the march. Much like me, they wanted to somehow express their annoyance at the anti-science movement that Trump’s administration seems to have kicked off, they wanted better funding for science, and a greater appreciation for science among politicians and the public. Research by the University of Delaware into people’s motivations for marching suggests many participants also want scientists to become more involved in advocacy, something historically avoided for complex reasons surrounding losing credibility and appearing biased. Maybe these marches will usher in a new era, where scientists can advocate for their own results, rather than having to rely on disinterested politicians who may distort the message or not bother at all.

Amusingly (to me), a wedding part began to arrive outside the town hall building while all of this was going on. Even though the weddings actually happen deep inside the building, I could see some shaking heads and unhappy looking hipster groomsmen. Perhaps they thought their event booking at the town hall meant exclusive use of the biggest square in Manchester, or maybe they just hate science! They needn’t have worried though, we were long gone before they reemerged for their photos, with many of the marchers heading over to the LGBT demonstration taking place nearby.

 

I’m sure it’s obvious to most that conservation science draws heavily on biology, but it is also inextricably linked to almost every major scientific discipline. If you aren’t convinced, here are a few examples;

Physics – A method to identify valuable biodiversity communities.

Chemistry – Analysis of chemical communication (such a pheromones) in mammals.

Engineering – Making physical solutions such as wildlife bridges. Check out these photos from around the world.

Computer/models/stats – These allow biologists to predict and monitor the effects of conservation projects on a given species or community.

Social sciences – Working with local people to understand why they hunt endangered species in the Madagascar.

Geoscience/geology – knowledge of existing geomorphological features and their associated species used to find and designate a new marine protection zone.

 

 

 

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