North Carolina Scientists To Raise Their Voices At March For Science

Apr 21, 2017

Tens of thousands of scientists are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., this Saturday for the March for Science. Partner marches are set up in more than 500 cities around the world to bring together scientists and science supporters. Threats to budget cuts at the National Institutes of Health, and the Trump administration’s position on scientific research have galvanized the march movement.

Host Frank Stasio speaks with Jamie Vernon, director of science communications and publications at Sigma Xi, and Raphael Valdivia, vice dean for basic science at Duke University’s School of Medicine, about why many scientists are taking a stand for the first time.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Raphael Valdivia on why this march is a tipping point for some scientists

Many scientists have been very hesitant to jump into the political fray. But I think this is the time that we realize we have to make apparent to the public in general, and certainly to the policy makers, that there’s a great value for sciences in society. And that they need to remain a priority in the future.

Jamie Vernon on Sigmi Xi’s decision to become a partner in the march

The interpretation of this as a political event was definitely a challenge for our members, and we took that into consideration when we were making the decision to become a partner. And Sigma Xi ultimately was the first scientific society to take a partnership role with the march.  And we moved on to subsequently sign on as a fiscal sponsor for a lot of the satellite marches including New York, and Chicago, and San Francisco.

Vernon on why scientists are concerned about publicly defending their field

In many ways scientists think that when we do step out and speak on policy issues that we are becoming part of the political debate and part of the political conversation. So they, our members, as well as researchers at large, become concerned about backlash against the funding for the research enterprise, as well as general exclusion of knowledge and information. And we’re kinda seeing that in some respects with the lack of activity in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. There hasn’t been a science advisor appointed. And so we wonder, has the politicization in recent years contributed to President Trump’s lack of interest in engaging the [scientific] community?

Valdivia on politics versus partisanship

We had similar kind of debates about politicization. And we’re fine with politics, we’re not fine with partisanship. And so when we go over there, it’s not to advocate for one camp versus the other, but to ask for both sides of the aisle to work together towards promoting science, which is what they traditionally have done. The other goal that we want to try to achieve is to get the scientific community engaged in the political process – to understand that we have a responsibility not only to communicate our science, but also ... to become a lot more integrated into society.