Research

For March for Science Leaders, the Work Is Just Beginning

April 25, 2017

Julia Schmalz for The Chronicle
Thousands of scientists and their supporters gathered for rallies on Saturday in Washington and other cities around the globe. Organizers of those events now are seeking to capitalize on the enthusiasm of participants, and have no shortage of ideas for the future of science advocacy.

Organizers of Saturday’s March for Science hailed the global event as a success — but they didn’t stop to celebrate for long.

Here in the nation’s capital, the site of the weekend’s main march, organizers met on Sunday with partnering organizations at the Carnegie Institution for Science to discuss their next steps for the effort. The meeting was closed to the public, but attendees said that participants were resolved to keep the momentum up. And though an exact plan hasn’t been formulated, there’s no shortage of ideas for what form the movement could take.

 

 

In the immediate future, science advocates have planned a full roster for this week — a "week of action’" that includes many ideas for outreach and communication activities. A partner organization of the march, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is maintaining an online portal where scientists and others can continue to access information and find opportunities to speak up for science.

Further down the line, leaders of the march say they want to take some of the encouraging aspects of the event and capitalize on them. Rosalyn R. LaPier, a member of the national steering committee for the March for Science, said in an interview after the march here that part of what made it a "fantastic day" was the attendance of so many nonscientists — particularly young families with children.

Ms. LaPier, a visiting assistant professor of women’s studies, environmental studies, and Native American religion at the Harvard Divinity School, also pointed to the diversity of speakers who addressed the thousands of people who gathered on the National Mall for the march. She added that the March for Science could continue with this focus by becoming a major stakeholder in science advocacy as a nonprofit nongovernmental organization aiming to help marginalized communities use science for their benefit.

A lack of inclusion for minority scientists was one of the chief criticisms of the march during its planning stages. Ms. LaPier said an awareness of the importance of providing a platform for all kinds of voices — as she said the march succeeded in doing — is important to her going forward. "What will be important is for the organization itself to maintain the relationships it has already established," Ms. LaPier said. "As long as we maintain these partnerships and keep hearing multiple voices on the importance of science in our lives and in our community, then I think we’ll be heading in the right direction."

Staying Connected

Other scientists at Sunday’s meeting said it’s precisely the organization’s broad appeal that could make it an effective advocacy organization in the months and years to come.

“I think this could be the beginning of an umbrella organization that is for all science supporters around the world.”

"I think we’ve needed this for a long time," Christin Glorioso, a postdoc in neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the March for Science organization. "I think this could be the beginning of an umbrella organization that is for all science supporters around the world."

Ms. Glorioso, who founded Academics for the Future of Science, one of the partner groups for the march, said she has seen firsthand the enthusiasm of early-career researchers in the Boston area, some of whom started grass-roots organizations as the march was being planned. She added that the organization should "think carefully about how they can best connect people" to the aspect of science advocacy that most speaks to them — whether that is helping scientists get elected to office, influencing policy, supporting science communication efforts, or encouraging more community outreach. "I think there are going to be so many projects that people can get involved in on a local and national level, it’s just about connecting people to those projects," Ms. Glorioso said.

Other attendees urged the group to focus on practical steps to continue science advocacy. Paaige K. Turner, executive director of the National Communication Association, also said that engaging in social media would be an easy way for people involved in the march to keep informed, by using the #MarchforScience hashtag on Twitter. "This is something that we can do right now," she said. "This was about an event, but also science marches forward. People will keep seeing that message and that will build and escalate."

“Imagine if every school board in America had a scientist on it? It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.”

Anastasia Bodnar, policy director of the nonprofit Biology Fortified, said that she would like to see scientists be encouraged to go out into their communities and mentor one young person. She said that even if these mentees didn’t become scientists, making a sustained effort to reach out could make a huge difference to science literacy and hence the science literacy of our elected politicians.

"I really appreciate all the scientists who say they’re going to run for Congress, but that’s really hard," she said. "I’d like to see way more scientists running for school boards and city councils — the type of position that you can do part-time and still continue your science. Imagine if every school board in America had a scientist on it? It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it."

On Monday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and 29 partner groups for the march echoed an emphasis on practicality, pledging in a letter to "more actively demonstrate the value of science to local, state and national policymakers, as well as in classrooms and local communities."

"Collaborating with citizens and scientists around the globe," the groups wrote, "we pledge to keep the March for Science momentum going, to remain at the forefront of this public engagement with science, and to redouble our collective efforts to serve science and society."

Correction (4/25/2017, 10:35 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that more than 30 groups signed a letter pledging to continue the March for Science's efforts. Exactly 30 groups signed the letter.