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March For Science Organizers Work To Maintain Non-Partisan Position


Tomorrow is Earth Day. And this year, in addition to the usual events focused on the environment, there will also be a March for Science. Organizers say the march is intended to be a nonpartisan celebration of science, open to scientists and supporters of science alike.

Although some researchers worry the march will be seen as politically partisan, others see it as a chance for scientists to do more to help their own cause. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca spoke to some young scientists about their hopes and concerns for the march.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: There's no question that the United States is a global leader in science. And yet, many researchers worry about the future of science in this country and feel something like the March for Science may be needed to reverse what they perceive as declining public support.

Earlier this month, I accompanied a group of graduate students from the University of California, Davis on a field trip to the Grand Canyon. Many plan to attend the march, so I invited them to share their perspectives about why it was important to have a march now.

RICH PAULOO: My name is Rich Pauloo. I'm a graduate student in hydrology. I think it's important because at the federal level, there is a clear attack on science. Climate change is denied. And some of my research and the future water security of California depends on climate change science.

PALCA: Most of the students agreed with Pauloo but wondered if a march was the right response.

MIKAELA PROVOST: I'm Mikaela Provost. I'm a graduate student in ecology. On one hand, I want to show solidarity to demonstrate that science is important. However, I'm unclear as to what outcomes it will achieve. And these sorts of marches can be polarizing.

ERNST BERTONE OEHNINGER: I'm Ernst Bertone Oehninger. I'm a grad student in ecology. Yeah, I'm - I was kind of conflicted too because I also thought it was kind of a polarizing issue because we feel that it was - this was being a political thing. And I don't think sciences should be political.

PALCA: There was greater consensus on the need for scientists to do a better job of communicating with the public.

PAULOO: I think scientists don't speak to the public enough.

PALCA: That's Rich Pauloo again.

PAULOO: And that's perhaps why we have misconceptions about scientists, i.e. that they're in a white stuffy lab coats crunching numbers behind a computer which is part of the story but all of that is for the benefit of society.

PALCA: Ecology grad student Jessica Rudnick agrees there are a lot of ways scientists can do a better job of building relationships with non-scientists.

JESSICA RUDNICK: Scientists going to speak to their representatives, going to more schools, talking to their communities about the work that they do.

PALCA: All of the scientists I've spoken to about the march, young and old, hope that one outcome will be to prevent cuts in funding for research. But there was another fairly universal sentiment as well. Sean Ellman is a grad student in animal behavior.

SEAN ELLMAN: I think that the best outcome is for people to see that there is a large proportion of our population that trusts facts, scientific facts. And ideally, that influences policy makers. Ideally, that influences the administration.

PALCA: The main March for Science will be on the Mall in Washington D.C. And there will be hundreds of satellite marches across the United States and around the world. Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.