In the early hours of 22 April 2017, I did something unusual. I woke up in the early morning, which I rarely do on a Saturday. I made this great sacrifice to join my fellow scientists and science supporters on a science march in central London – an entire hour and a half away from my place in West London.
I was joining the March for Science event. To be honest, in the beginning, I wasn’t sure about the purpose of the event and why people were marching for science? Nevertheless, people from all walks of life marched in more than 600 cities around the world to show an unprecedented unity for science.
It was a whole new experience for me because I’ve always distanced myself from political rallies, and that’s despite me coming from a family with some background in politics. And here I was getting up early on a Saturday morning to protest for science. Yes, I was about to protest for science. You know that thing that gave us medicine, helps to feed us, and helped us build great or not so great cities. It just sounds ridiculous that I was about to protest for something that gave us nearly everything, and is saving billions of lives.
An eventful trip
I left my home to start my journey that involved taking a bus and two trains to get to the march. After getting off the bus and while waiting for the train to arrive, I met a person who started a conversation with me. I think that’s perfectly reasonable but it’s unusual because nobody talks to a stranger in London. During having a friendly chat, the passage of conversation below ensued:
The man suddenly asked me, “Do you believe in the theory of evolution?”
I replied, “Yes, of course, I do.”
He then suddenly told me that I shouldn’t “believe them” and that I’ve been “brainwashed”.
I explained that I’m one of them and I’m going to a science march. When my train arrived, I invited him to join us in the science march. He refused the offer and headed back to his home muttering abuses at me, but it was really aimed to discredit science.
On the way to #marchforscience. I met a person that denies the theory of evolution. I invited him to the march but don't think he's coming!
— Rupesh Paudyal (@TalkPlant) April 22, 2017
After more than a hundred years of research, scientists have compiled overwhelming evidence to support the theory of evolution. Still, we can’t convince an uncomfortably large percentage of the population. It’s a shame for science and scientists that scientific integrity is questioned every day. Perhaps this is due to the lack of communication between non-specialists and experts.
Jumping ahead, I saw a placard that read “science for all”. It’s a shame that this isn’t always true as scientific publishing isn’t always open access. And when a non-specialist gets hold of the scientific study it’s still not accessible to them because the language used in the scientific literature often feels like a different language. That’s when science communication comes in handy. But translating these highly technical scripts into a plain language for a lay audience is a big challenge. There’s a serious lack of science communication because a lot of scientists aren’t doing enough.
The science march
Two trains later, I joined thousands of people at the starting point of the science march outside the Science Museum in South Kensington. It was cold, and when it started raining, I thought that it was going to be a difficult day. Once we started the march, heading towards Westminster, the sun came out, and some marchers started cheering and singing. The cheers were especially loud whenever an open top tourist bus went past.
— Rupesh Paudyal (@TalkPlant) April 22, 2017
We ended the march by gathering in front of a stage outside the parliament house in Westminster. A huge number of placards read different things that suggest to me that individuals were marching for various reasons. But science was the common factor that unified everyone that day. It’s ironic because science has been uniting us for centuries, whether it involves flying to the other side of the world or connecting instantly to anyone, anywhere via the internet.
Reasons for the march
Broadly speaking, scientists aren’t the sort of people that go on a march. So what is it that prompted millions to go out on the street throughout the world? Recently, elite politicians have questioned the integrity of fundamental scientific studies that point to major world threats such as global warming. Changes in policies are already affecting science. And despite not wanting to get involved, scientists feel like they’re forced to make a political statement.
Finally, the scientific community and experts marched on to the streets to be seen, to make their voices be heard. People marched because they realise that science is vital to our health, sustainability, food security and economies. A placard, presumably aimed at politicians, read, “You must’ve really f***ed up if scientists are protesting.” Unfortunately, many experts and non-experts share these sentiments.
The UK government needs experts more than ever. They’re due to come up with a plan to control increasing air pollution. The government would inevitably need experts to make these strategies but it seems that they’re fed up of experts. These sentiments seem to be rubbing off on people. It’s a massive problem, not just because it gives politicians the licence to do whatever they like, but also because it creates misconceptions amongst the public that could have serious outcomes. In the current digital times, messages spread fast through social media and a lot of people just believe whatever they see without seeing evidence or a reliable data source.
Asking for evidence
Even though evidence supports the theory of evolution, denying it isn’t likely to affect a person immediately (I know it’s a big statement to make). However, denying evidence can have life-threatening consequences. For example, some people don’t vaccinate because they believe that vaccines aren’t effective and that they cause autism despite overwhelming evidence showing that vaccines don’t cause autism.
— Mariel in Boston (@MARIELinBOSTON) April 22, 2017
“Science saves lives. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, and we’re on course to get rid of polio and measles to name a few. But many people choose to ignore the evidence and put themselves and their children at risk. So we need to make sure experts have the platform they need, not to be raised up as gods, but to correct the bad reporting on science and health. This would save the lives of many that are at risk in our neighbourhoods,” said Dr James Lloyd, who took part in March for Science in San Francisco.
“Politicians need more evidence in their policy making process. Whether it involves climate change or putting up a signpost, we need to consult with experts. We all need to update our worldview with facts and not ignore facts because of our views,” Lloyd continued.
Science and education sector that drives innovation and technology is feeling the pinch from funding cuts or a lack of funding that has prompted many scientists to quit science. James Lloyd and I are just two people with overlapping concerns that we share with millions across the world. That’s why, on the 22 April 2017, I marched alongside ten thousand people in the streets of London to defend the role of science in policy and society.