Out Of The Lab And Into The Streets, Science Community Marches For Science

Apr 22, 2017
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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

It's Earth Day, and across the country and around the world, there are demonstrations taking place in the name of science. Organizers say there were events in more than 600 cities and towns around the world.

Later in the program, we're going to hear from Bill Nye, the famed science guy who happens to be a co-chair of the event. But we're going to start with NPR's very own Nell Greenfieldboyce. She was at the march in D.C. within shouting distance of the White House. I asked her if in 20 years of covering science she's ever seen an event like this.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: No. So this is extremely unusual. Scientists usually like more controlled conditions than a mass demonstration where anybody can show up. But scientists have really been feeling under attack. I mean, the Trump administration has proposed slashing the budgets of some science agencies. The administration seems dismissive of mainstream climate science. And so what started as sort of a conversation on social media sort of snowballed into kind of a mass event that's been happening here in the U.S. and around the world.

SUAREZ: So what does a science march look like? Who do you meet out there, people in white lab coats?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: There were surprisingly few white lab coats, mostly looks like normal people, although there were people in lab coats. One woman I met is Carol Trosset. She's a field biologist, and she came from Minnesota for what she said was her first political event ever.

CAROL TROSSET: My sign says without data, you're just another person with an opinion.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And so why did you decide to come all the way from Minnesota to this event?

TROSSET: Because science is how we know things, and if we don't pay attention to whether we know things or just think them, then we're going to make lots of terrible mistakes.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But right after her, I talked to this carpenter. So it wasn't like everybody there was a scientist or had relatives who were scientists.

SUAREZ: Science is a kind of a big nebulous idea to support in a march. Did the demonstrators, the speakers, the signs and placards narrow it down, get more specific about what they wanted?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: There were lots and lots of signs related to climate change, so things like denial is not a policy. There were signs asking for more funding, science supporting the EPA. But there were also a lot of signs just pointing out the benefits of science, you know, people had signs that said I'm alive because of science or they would have a sign pointing to their hip and saying like this hip is artificial, and it's due to science. So there was a lot about just the benefits of pure science.

SUAREZ: Now, my understanding is that not all scientists themselves were crazy about this idea. Why not?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The concern was that this kind of political march would make science seem like a partisan activity, you know, something that, you know, a political party would do rather than being a sort of set of tools to search for truth. And there was a lot of concern about whether this would backfire. And so the organizers are very careful to say that it's a nonpartisan event.

But a lot of the signs were explicitly anti-Trump or winking at that, you know, there were signs saying like I'm with her pointing at a picture of the Earth. Or somebody had a sign that said grab them by the periodic table which was an obvious reference to that infamous statement on the bus that President Trump made. So, you know, there was a lot of anti-Trump activity.

SUAREZ: Now that you've seen the march, now that you've spoken to the demonstrators, what differences, if any, do you think a march like this can make?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, that's a question I asked to one of the younger marchers a 9-year-old girl named Elsea Lygon (ph). And here's what she said.

So do you think the march will make a difference?

ELSEA: Yes.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: What do you think it'll do?

ELSEA: I think that it will take some people who do not believe in it - I think that we'll get them to see how important it really is.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says people are going to understand that it really matters. But, you know, less idealistic older marchers may have been a little more cynical about whether anyone would care about the march if they didn't already care about science, although one science teacher from Florida did tell me that she thought the march was making her feel a lot better and that was making other scientists feel better, too, at a time when they really felt kind of, you know, dire and under attack.

SUAREZ: We should mention the White House released a statement this afternoon from President Trump. It says in part, quote, "my administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks, as we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends, not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.