The March for Science Forced Scientists to Talk Straight to the Public

Scientists are being forced into the public eye, and learning how to tell their story along the way.

|
Apr 24 2017, 1:29pm

Grennan Milliken

Thousands of scientists and their allies marched on Washington in the pouring April rain on April 22 in defiance of the Trump administration's attacks on the environment and public health.

The biggest message given to the umbrella-covered crowd at the March for Science in Washington, DC, however, was not one of scientific facts and figures. It was one of values, and how to communicate them—two things the scientific community has shied away from publicly engaging with in the past.

In order for the science community to overcome the polarization that has pigeon holed it onto one side of the political spectrum, argued many speakers, scientists have to set aside the actual science itself and talk about human values that everyone shares.

"We can't complain about slashed funding, if we can't explain to taxpayers why science matters!" Chemist and science educator Tyler DeWitt, energetically told the crowd early in the rally.

If people don't want the Environmental Protection Agency to lose 30 percent of its budget, they can talk about, say children's' health. Those kinds of issues humanize the need for water treatment and infrastructure, and policies like the Clean Water Act

Rain-soaked crowds at the science march. Image: Grennan Milliken

Mari Copeny, a nine-year-old girl from Flint Michigan, where residents are still not able to drink water from the tap, accomplished this effortlessly when she bravely stepped up to the lectern and told the large crowd that "When people don't believe in science, and especially when our government doesn't believe in science, kids get hurt."

Some speakers argued that beating climate change deniers over the head with facts about hottest years on record and increased drought (not that those aren't important), won't have an impact in the face of strong political and social ideology.

Polarization has created a situation where "the amount of science that we know doesn't change whether, and how much, we think climate change is a serious issue," public policy expert Paul Hirsch from the SUNY college of Environmental Science and Forestry told small crowd of people jammed into a tent in the teach-in area of the rally. 

"That's influenced to a much greater degree by our social affiliations and by our political positions and ideology," he continued.

Protestors at the March for Science. Image: Grennan Milliken

But, he contended, "take climate change. Whatever side of the debate somebody is on, they are coming from a place of very strong values, and a very strong sense of concern." Climate change deniers, for example, still share values of economic security and national security with those that believe in the proven science.

Hirsch concluded that it's up to scientists to be able to recognize a shared value and come from the point of that perspective in further engagement.

"It's not about science, per se," he said, pausing while the rain drummed on the tent roof, "it's about the values we articulate."