Scientists leave labs, take to streets to defend research

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of scientists worldwide made plans to leave their labs and take to the streets Saturday to rail against what they say are mounting attacks against science.

The March for Science, coinciding with Earth Day, was set for more than 500 cities, anchored in Washington and to be joined by dozens of nonpartisan scientific professional societies in a turnout intended to combine political and how-to science demonstrations.

Marchers in Geneva carried signs that said, “Science — A Candle in the Dark” and “Science is the Answer.” In London, physicists, astronomers, biologists and celebrities gathered for a march past the city’s most celebrated research institutions. Supporters carried signs showing images of a double helix and chemical symbols. Advocates in Berlin and other German cities also were expected to turn out.

Signs and banners readied for the Washington rally were peppered with anger, humor and obscure scientific references, such as a 7-year-old’s “No Taxation Without Taxonomy.” Taxonomy is the science of classifying animals, plants and other organisms.

The protest was putting puts scientists, who generally shy away from advocacy and whose work depends on objective experimentation, into a more public position.

Organizers portrayed the march as political but not partisan, promoting the understanding of science as well as defending it from various attacks, including proposed U.S. government budget cuts under President Donald Trump, such as a 20 percent slice of the National Institute of Health.

Scientists involved in the march said they were anxious about political and public rejection of established science such as climate change and the safety of vaccine immunizations.

“Scientists find it appalling that evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions,” said Rush Holt, a former physicist and Democratic congressman who runs the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It is not just about Donald Trump, but there is also no question that marchers are saying ‘when the shoe fits.”

Despite saying the march was not partisan, Holt acknowledged it was only dreamed up at the Women’s March on Washington, a day after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

“It’s not about the current administration. The truth is we should have been marching for science 30 years ago, 20 years, 10 years ago,” said co-organizer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg. “The current (political) situation took us from kind of ignoring science to blatantly attacking it. And that seems to be galvanizing people in a way it never has before. … It’s just sort of relentless attacks on science.”

“The scientific method was developed to be nonpartisan and objective,” Weinberg said. “It should be embraced by both parties.”

Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, a global professional organization of earth and space scientists, cited concerns by scientists and threats to research as a result of elections in the U.S. and other countries.

Threats to science are heightened in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe, said McEntee, who planned to march with geophysical scientists in Vienna, Austria.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who exposed the dangerous lead levels in the drinking water and children’s blood in Flint, Michigan, planned to march in Washington and speak to the crowd.

“It’s risky, but that’s when we make advancements when we take risks … for our heart rates to go up, to be a little anxious and scared and uncomfortable,” she said before the event.

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