On Saturday 22nd of April, people will take to the streets to March for Science.
Should you join them? Yes.
Will it make a difference? No.
Is that important? Maybe not.
The March for Science movement sprung from America in response to the anti-science, anti-truth, anti-reality administration now installed in Washington. Nothing galvanises and unities a community more than an imminent threat and scientists have woken from their political slumber to demand that policy makers enact evidence based policies and maintain the funding and freedom of science.
So far, so good… Then the message and the excitement spread.
Around the world people were ready to stand united against Trump. Or was it to secure science funding? I think the UK ones are pro-Europe. Science Communication is definitely important. And send a message to anti-vaxxers. And diversity! To celebrate science is definitely a popular reason. Evidence informed policy is in the top 10 for sure.
The list of marches grew, as did the number of motivations and here in lies the problem. A single unified movement marching together for a plethora of reasons. Scientists don’t share a political solidarity.
Change is difficult to achieve and nigh on impossible if you don’t know what you are asking for. By trying to say everything it says nothing at all. I am unclear of what it is trying to achieve and I’ve read the websites, the blogs and the tweets. I’ve investigated for more than any passers-by on the street or the politicians being lobbied. The movement has lost its voice, drowned out by its own supporters.
But all is not lost.
Change is difficult to achieve, but a sense of community and of unity is potentially even more challenging and the march has already done this. It has the support, it has the enthusiasm now all it requires to be a juggernaut is focus. With three crystal-clear aims and some razor sharp messaging the science community has the power to make the public and policy makers sit up, take notice and drive change.
So how does the movement do this? Simple – we are going to have to science the shit out of this.
Think like a scientist, look critically at the problem, do the background reading, construct a hypothesis and test it. The march has jumped right in at the experimental stage not stopping to ask what has gone before and how can that help inform us. There is valuable learning to be gained from any protest/political movement, any politician or political activist, ask them.
For a start if you are going to march on a parliament, at least make sure it is opened. As thousands of protesters raise their voices rattling the windows of parliaments around the world policy makers will be flicking through newspapers in their home constituencies wondering where to go for brunch. Secondly marching on a parliament in which every party endorse your message seems a curious focus of time and energy as in the case in Scotland. Want something. Demand something. If you have a message that no one disagrees with then you probably don’t have to organise a protest march to say it.
So this year go ahead. Find your own reason to march. Make a placard, scream your little lungs out and have a great time. But take a few minutes to listen to the people around you. Find your common ground. Find the battle that can be fought and won. Find purpose and unity.
If the march doesn’t achieve anything this year it will be a shame. If the enthusiasm for the march doesn’t go on to achieve something it will be criminal.
On Saturday 22nd of April, people will take to the streets to March for Science. On Saturday 22nd of April, people will stand geographically united and ideologically separate (for now).