Miami (AFP) – Budget cuts and political assaults on science are expected to draw thousands of demonstrators to the streets in more than 500 cities worldwide Saturday for the first March for Science.
Organizers insist that the demonstrations — anchored by a major rally in Washington on Earth Day, April 22 — are not aimed specifically at US President Donald Trump or any political party.
Rather, they say, the goal is to defend the vital role of evidence and scientific research when formulating public policies, and to speak out against travel restrictions that prevent the free flow of information and expertise.
“The organizers of the march have taken great pains to say this is not partisan, it is not about any particular public official or political figure,” Rush Holt, a physicist and former US congressman told reporters on a conference call, noting that scientists are “often reticent” to wade into the political fray.
“For years now, going back far before the election of last fall, there has been a concern among scientists and friends of science that evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policy making.”
Holt, who heads the American Association for the Advancement of Science, described the trend as “appalling” and said it has driven anxiety to new heights.
The idea for the science-specific march arose during the Women’s March on January 21, which drew more than two million protesters into the streets worldwide in support of human rights, he said.
“Scientists started breaking out spontaneously in the Women’s March,” and several of them connected on social media to forge the plans for a demonstration in support of science, he said.
– Trump ‘catalyzed’ march –
In the months and years prior to the 2016 election, Trump declared climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but since taking office he has delivered mixed messages regarding his views on global warming.
He has signed, however, an executive order to roll back environmental protections enacted by his predecessor Barack Obama, and has nominated climate-science skeptics to top posts in his administration.
Trump has also kept people guessing on whether or not the United States will remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, which called for curbing fossil-fuel emissions.
Media reports have pointed to deep divisions within his administration on the matter and no announcement is expected before May.
One of Trump’s most alarming moves, according to many scientists, was his budget proposal — yet to be approved by lawmakers — that would slash funding for the National Institutes of Health and would eliminate one third of the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency while boosting spending on the military.
This decrease in research funding could “prevent an entire new generation of scientists from ever getting started,” said Nobel laureate Carol Greider, professor of molecular biology at Johns Hopkins University.
Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a molecular cellular…