April (er, post-March) thoughts
A few thoughts after all the science marches yesterday….
First, it is hard to imagine many other disciplines where non-members would travel any distance to march on their behalf. Of the ~15,000 GG saw in Denver yesterday, most were not practicing scientists. (GG’s count: march route was 1.6 km long, and when the start reached the end, the end hadn’t yet started; with about 20 people per 3 m length of route, that would be no less than 7.3 x 1600 which is about 12,000 people–and these should be pretty conservative numbers).
Second, this was largely apolitical despite the views of some members of Congress. Most of the signs were some flavor of pro-science commentary, some noting specific advances, some saying they were alive because of science, some taunting in a cute way (“Don’t have rubella? Thank science”). Some leaned into politics (contrasting science with alternative facts, for instance) and some were blatantly political (though the guy dressed as a caveman with the label “Trump science advisor” did elicit smiles as well as the comment that he would be a step up: President Trump has yet to appoint a science advisor). Several were really more straight Earth Day placards (“I’m with her” and an arrow pointing to a picture of Earth; “There is no planet B”). But there were an awful lot of home-made signs and even homemade shirts (one couple, a pregnant mother with the shirt “Doctor Mommy” and then a heart over her abdomen with the label “Future vaccinated baby” and the father’s shirt “Immigrant Doctor. Today would be banned.”). There are some good collections of sign photos online here and march photos here.
Third, it was a surprisingly spread-out event. The largest crowds might well have been in Los Angeles and Chicago, not in DC or New York. In some ways this makes sense for a non-political event: if you aren’t demanding the federal government do something (or stop doing something), then there isn’t a lot of reason to head all the way to Washington, D.C.
Fourth, though, the number of people who marched was a small fraction of the more than 20 million science and engineering folks out there. Some who didn’t march offered reasons ranging from physical challenge to thinking it was ineffective to thinking it was too political to thinking it wasn’t political enough.
In the end, though, what is the meaning of a few hundred thousand folks getting up and walking a few blocks? Does it make it less likely that some of the extreme science cuts in Trump’s skinny budget won’t stand up? If everybody who marched wrote their representatives and senators to avoid cuts in science funding, it would probably have a real impact. If all they do is go home and watch TV, not much impact. We can watch the Week of Action page the March for Science people have to see what the organizers are hoping for (today’s entry on public engagement is certainly a good start, though they blew the link to AGU’s outreach site).