From Alaska to Georgia, Why 6 Scientists Will March on Washington

April 21, 2017

Thousands of scientists and their supporters are preparing to participate in the March for Science on Saturday, but the run-up to the event hasn’t been without controversy. Some scientists have charged that planning for the march contradicted larger goals of diversity, while other scientists have worried that the effort might appear partisan to the public, and thereby hurt the standing of scholars in the field.

Despite the controversy, the scientists who plan to attend the main march, in Washington, D.C., as well as hundreds of smaller ones elsewhere, say they’re doing so with a primary goal in mind: to send the message that science matters.

The Chronicle spoke to six scientists who will be traveling to the nation’s capital about their hopes and expectations for the day.

Chris B. Schaffer, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Cornell University:

Courtesy Chris B. Schaffer
Mr. Schaffer, who has a background in policy and runs a small program for students who are interested in advocacy, said he would be traveling to D.C. with three buses of students. He said he hoped the march wouldn’t just carry the theme of "scientists against the Trump administration."

"It’s exciting to see scientists wanting to come out and do something other than plug away at questions in their labs," he said. "I hope that this is a first step toward a much greater degree of engagement between scientists and the public."

After the march, he hopes to see more scientists engage in "sustained, low-level commitments" such as regularly speaking in schools, offering pro bono advice to businesses, and lobbying local lawmakers.

Ellen Chenoweth, Ph.D. student in ecology and marine biology, University of Alaska at Fairbanks:

Courtesy Ellen Chenoweth
Ms. Chenoweth does research on humpback whales and how they forage in the marine environment. She said that she’s "not usually much of a marcher" but that the March for Science "kind of spoke to me — I felt like I could make a difference."

She said that she wanted to go to D.C. to make sure that rural researchers and young women were represented, not just "your typical lab-coat researchers." Accordingly, she will wear what she wears in the field, or at least a modified version of it. "I’d love to wear a full float suit, but I think it would be way too hot," she said.

Ms. Chenoweth will fly to D.C. alone, but will carry a sign with the signatures of her friends and colleagues who couldn’t make it. "I’m hoping it’s a really positive event," she said. "I’m coming with an open mind. I’m hoping to be inspired by lots of other scientists, and I’m hoping that there’ll be a diversity of scientists represented."

Chris Gunter, professor of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine:

Courtesy Chris Gunter
Ms. Gunter, who also leads communications at the Marcus Autism Center, in Atlanta, will travel to D.C. from Georgia with her teenage son. As a science communicator, Ms. Gunter said she feels strongly that engagement is an important part of her job, and she wants people to see "that scientists are people too." Though she and her son thought about wearing costumes to the march, they decided to sport the official march T-shirts so that they would look more "everyday."

"I’m hoping the march will energize people," said Ms. Gunter. "A sort of paralysis can set in when we hear over and over about threats to science. I think many of us are looking for ideas about what would be the best action to take to make a difference."

Ms. Gunter recently joined the Atlanta chapter of 500 Women Scientists, a nationwide group of female researchers who advocate for equality in science. She said she hopes to get ideas from the march about what the organization could do in the future, whether that’s fighting budget cuts, improving science outreach and engagement, or taking legal action against discrimination.

Bradley J. Cardinale, professor of natural resources, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor:

UM Photo Services, Austin Thomason
Mr. Cardinale’s research focuses on protecting the Great Lakes. Under President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018, deep cuts could force Mr. Cardinale and many of his colleagues to abandon their research, he said. "I see these as personal examples of a current administration that really doesn’t value science, and doesn’t value facts," he said. "Attending the march is my way of standing up and saying, like many other scientists, ‘Science is important for society.’"

Mr. Cardinale will attend the march with his wife and two children. He laughed as he said his 8-year-old daughter was "very anxious to march and insist that politicians use evidence when making decisions."

He said he would consider the march a success if it resulted in Mr. Trump’s getting "a legitimate scientist as an adviser in his cabinet."

Maurice K. Crawford, associate professor of marine science, University of Maryland Eastern Shore:

Courtesy Maurice K. Crawford
Mr. Crawford is a fish ecologist who previously helped to shape the United States Agency for International Development’s climate-change policy. He said he wanted to attend the march in D.C. to send a message to the current Republican administration about the importance of using evidence in making policy. "My sense is that they’re abandoning that process," he said. While he doesn’t think that President Trump is likely to respond to the march, he hopes that people in Congress might.

Mr. Crawford will travel with his wife, but he said he knows a number of colleagues at his university will also attend the march. He plans to carry a Star Wars-inspired sign that reads: "Fear leads to the dark side."

Mr. Crawford, who is African-American, said he hasn’t followed the controversy over the march organizers’ handling of diversity and inclusion, but he doesn’t "expect to see many people that look like me."

"As a student I could probably name every African-American in marine science in the country," he added. "I can’t do that anymore, so that is progress."

Daniel M. Kammen, professor of energy, University of California at Berkeley:

Courtesy Daniel M. Kammen
As a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a science envoy for the U.S. State Department, Mr. Kammen has spent a lot of time thinking about how clean energy could shape foreign policy.

He said he’s attending the March for Science because "science does appear to be under direct threat." Asked whether he’s allowed to participate in the march as a science envoy for the State Department, Mr. Kammen said, "No one has told me that I can’t." He’ll be meeting a handful of his students at the march.

Mr. Kammen said he thinks the march’s success will be measured by the number of people who attend, and by the opportunities it creates for scientists and engineers to start conversations with the news media and to meet their representatives in D.C.

"It pains me that we need to do this," he said, "but I’m hoping those conversations by a diverse set of researchers will be the really exciting outcome from this."