March for Science 2018: Passionate advocates push for research across the globe

Science advocates in the nation's capital joined 500 marches worldwide.

Washington — Hundreds gathered near the Washington Monument on Saturday advocating for science to play a larger role in society — and stressing how research already ripples through issues from guns to immigration.

Many donned lab coats and held signs that read "Science Not Silence" as they joined teach-ins at the National Mall on a summer-like April morning.

Loading ...

The science advocates in the nation's capital for the second annual March for Science were joining 500 marches worldwide to send one clear message to public officials: that evidence-based policy decisions are critical and science should not be ignored.

Cliff Andrew, 71, a part-time assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, emphasized the role of evidence underpinning other political issues beyond science advocacy.

"We live our lives in science, but we don't always push it politically and that's extremely important," Andrew said.

He attended both the March for Our Lives and Women's March, advocating for gun legislation and women's issues earlier this year, but said the science march is the most important one.

"It's not sexy like guns," Andrew said of the March For Science. But he pointed out how scientific facts play a role in the issue of gun violence.

A boy holds up a banner which reads 'There is no plan B' during a 'March for Science' demonstration in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on April 14, 2018.

The 2017 march took place one month after President Trump, who has called global warming a hoax, signed an executive order aimed at rolling back Obama-era climate change and environmental policies. Trump said his priority in signing the order was America's energy independence and job creation.

Science advocates say they want to keep the spotlight on the critical role science plays in daily lives and encourage government leaders to make science a part of their platforms.

Turnout this year is not expected to be as large as the first march. But that didn't deter those passionate about science.

Gay Gibson of Richmond, Va., attended the D.C. march with her daughter Sophie, a sixth-grader who wants to be a veterinarian.

"I have huge concerns about the future for my children around the environment," Gibson said. "We're all connected."

Loading ...

She said her daughter was most concerned with issues around carbon dioxide levels that contribute to global climate change, further exacerbating droughts. She cited the ongoing issue of water in Cape Town — where reservoirs may soon run dry because of drought — as one of her concerns.

"We need as a whole world to pay attention to what's going on because the reality is we could run out of water," Gibson said.

For many, this march is a part of a larger movement of rallies to show support for issues that they say the Trump administration is opposing.

Ashley Sisson, 27, from D.C. called it an "abomination" how Trump regards science. A neo-natal nurse, Sisson said science advocates need to be more vocal.

"The people who are involved in science aren't the people who are making the most noise. They're just doing the work," Sisson said. "It's not a glamorous thing to be in a lab everyday."

Sisson attended the march in D.C. last year along with Wendy Southwell, 46, who is from the Caribbean. Southwell said her home island was destroyed by a string of deadly hurricanes over the summer. "It's gotten worse to me," Southwell said of the state of science in society since the last march.

People holding banners shout slogans during the 'March for Science' in Durban on April 14, 2018.

The intersection of science and other social issues remained at the forefront of some marchers' minds.

Colin Jones, 29, from Vienna, Va., doesn't have a scientific background but still sees value in prioritizing science. "If you go at something with only a science background or only with a public policy lens, you're going to miss the intersection between the two," he said.

Jones hopes the march continues the larger push to re-energize civil society and public participation in policy issues.

"There was a general lull of complacency while a more progressive and more liberal administration was in power," he said.

Evelyn Valdez-Ward, 24, from Houston is a graduate student at UC Irvine. A DREAMer, Valdez-Ward said science and immigration are interconnected issues. "I can't go out of the country and other people can't come in. If we were able to work together globally, then we can answer our world's problems," she said

Loading ...

Valdez-Ward studies soil science and climate change and thinks about how the world will be able to feed its population with current agricultural practices. But her road to research wasn't an easy one. She said she faced a lot of challenges trying to find graduate school opportunities given her immigration status.

"I would get a lot of pushback and obstacles, and they would say 'No, we don't accept illegals' without considering my scientific ability at all," she said.