Tomorrow (Saturday, April 22) marks a long-awaited event for many researchers world-wide: a March for Science
. Based on my social media feeds, numerous paleontologists will also be participating in multiple locations. All have their own reasons--frustration with politicians, anger at neglect and misuse of science, pride in their profession, a need to make scientists visible and humanized, or perhaps a combination of all of these and more. Science matters, and many scientists are ready to stand up and be counted.
Some critics of the march decry what they see as the politicization of science. Although on the one hand I personally find partisan politics distasteful, on the other hand we fool ourselves if we do not--individually and as a profession--engage with the broader culture and issues of our society. Like it or not, science and politics are not
separate domains. As a citizen and as a scientist, I want
my elected representatives at all levels to have access to and use the best science available to guide their decisions. Policy decisions affect my ability to do my science. As a professional, I have a responsibility, perhaps even a duty, to responsibly communicate my field's knowledge and enable its application to public policy. Arguably, science is most easily politicized when it is unseen and unheard!
At the same time, I would remind my fellow scientists and non-scientists that we too are members of the general public. We are citizens of our respective towns, counties, states, and countries. Science does not exist in a vacuum--indeed, issues of equality and justice affect scientists just like anyone else. Even ostensibly non-science policy deeply impacts scientists. Scientists are not magical beings separated from the cares of the world! During and after the march, we need to remind ourselves and others that we are neighbors, friends, voters, taxpayers, consumers, employers, and most of all humans.
For those who choose to and are able to march, remember that this is not the end. There is still much work to do after the speeches are done and the signs folded away. For those who would like to march but can't, find some way to honor the spirit of the march. For those who choose not to march for whatever reason, you're not off the hook either. Be an engaged scientist. Be an engaged citizen. Science and scientists matter!
--Dr. Andy Farke is the Augustyn Family Curator at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.