Why people around the world are joining the March for Science

Posted 18 April 2017

Two, four, six, eight, support for science cannot wait! That’s the battle cry of a new grassroots movement, March for Science, to support the science community in a post-fact world.
 
The March for Science will take place in cities around the world on April 22, including 10 cities here in Australia.
 
The idea for a day of action began in the US and stemmed from dissatisfaction with the current administration’s dismantling and undermining of scientific agencies. However, these issues aren’t new for Australians, said one organiser.
 
“Many people here have felt for a long time that we have our own issues regarding how poorly science is incorporated into policy,” said Stuart Khan, one of the March for Science Sydney coordinators.
 
“There’s concern about the way we value science as a society, the way we fund science and interest in how we incorporate science into evidence-based policy.

After a March for Science was planned for April 22 in the US, satellite marches cropped up around the world. A diverse group of people initiated marches in cities scattered across Australia, from Perth to Sydney and Hobart to Cairns. These have since united under a common banner – the March for Science Australia

“I don’t think it’s about a global community of scientists – it’s about a global community of people who are passionate about science,” said Khan, who is an associate professor of environmental engineering at the University of New South Wales and chair of the AWA Water Recycling Specialist Network.

“Marches are important because it shows the general public and politicians that these are issues people are concerned about,” said Friends of CSIRO National Convenor Kathryn Kelly. 

The group, which was founded in early 2016 after the latest round of personnel and funding cuts to CSIRO, is a supporting organisation of the March for Science Australia. 

“One of our objectives is to promote the value and understanding of science in the broader community. We wouldn’t have our standard of living without it – it’s fundamental.”

The Australian marches unite under four key pillars, Khan said. 

1. Universal Literacy: “If science is going to be of its greatest value to society, it has to be available and understandable by everyone,” Khan said. 

“It’s largely about education and teaching people the skills to understand information, interpret it and use a basic scientific process. 

“Our students are also slipping in math and science education by international standards, and that’s not something that we as a society are paying enough attention to.”

2. Open Communication: One reason the science community will raise its collective voice on this day is because access to scientific knowledge is in the public interest, Khan said. 

“It’s important that scientists are able to not only share their findings and have the authority to do so … but they also have a responsibility to do so,” he said. 

“Scientists must be allowed to speak out,” Kelly agreed. 

“I think that is one of the main missions of the march – science, not silence.”

3. Informed Policy: Whether it’s climate change, renewable energy or drinking water fluoridation, there are areas where policy isn’t being informed by evidence-based facts. 

“Making sure that we have peer-reviewed, evidence-based science incorporated into policy means we will be making informed decisions, rather than ideological ones,” Khan said. 

4. Stable Investment: Khan said that funding for science in Australia goes through peaks and troughs, and the water industry is no stranger to this trend. 

“I work in water recycling, which is something that gets a lot of attention in times of drought,” he said. 

“When Australia is running low on water, there is plenty of investment in water research, water commissions, infrastructure like desalination plants … but as soon as it starts raining or we move into a wetter climate cycle, those initiatives are forgotten, disbanded or defunded.

“We need a long-term strategy for stable investment in research and other activities.”
 
In the lead-up to the March for Science, hopes are high that the event will spur governments and the community at large to demand more focus on these four objectives. 

“There is a lot of science scepticism in Australia,” Khan said. 

“People don’t necessarily trust what I would say are appropriate sources of scientific information. All four of those pillars have something to contribute to solving that.” 

“Hopefully there will be a good turnout and that political leaders realise that people do value science and that it must be funded and supported,” Kelly added.  

Keen to get your best science slogan out and join the March for Science on April 22? To learn more, click here.