Science First Look

Science activism on the rise: Boston rally is latest iteration

Faced with the possibility of cuts to research agencies and fears about suppression of data, attendees at Sunday’s rally added their voices to a growing chorus of concerned scientists.

Members of the scientific community, environmental advocates, and supporters demonstrate on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, in Boston, to call attention to what they say are the increasing threats to science and scientific research under the administration of President Trump.
AP Photo/Steven Senne
|
Caption

As temperatures climbed above the 50 degrees F., on Sunday, many Bostonians enjoyed the February weekend outdoors on the city’s bike trails and waterfronts. But for those who gathered in Copley Square downtown, the unseasonable warmth was just the latest evidence of their cause for concern.

Climate change is not a controversy,” read one sign at yesterday’s “Rally to Stand Up for Science,” which drew hundreds to the historic downtown plaza. Other slogans were more lighthearted, arguing that “Trump’s team are like atoms – They make up everything.” 

Whether the signs provoked laughs or stoked outrage among onlookers, the rally’s attendees shared a sense of concern for the future of scientific research in the United States – particularly climate science – under President Trump. Sunday's protest added to the growing movement of scientists across the country who are voicing activist views on the Trump administration's emerging policies.

"We're really trying to send a message today to Mr. Trump that America runs on science, science is the backbone of our prosperity and progress," said Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who studies renewable energy, to the Associated Press.

This sentiment has spread after Trump, who once dismissed climate change as a “hoax,” won the presidential election in November. In the months that followed, Trump and his transition team have requested the names of Energy Department climate scientists, nominated fossil-fuel advocate Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and reduced that agency’s representation at a recent Alaska environmental conference.

Federal agencies generally endure some shake-up during presidential transitions, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported on previously. But the speed and breadth at which Trump is settling his new policies into place have spurred many scientists to leave the neutrality of lab benches to voice their alarm through activism.

This trend first gained momentum at December’s American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, where earth scientists staged a climate rally. With hundreds of scientists convening in Boston last week for the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, activists saw another ripe opportunity for a public rally. A “March for Science” is being planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington, D.C.

In addition to holding rallies, scientists and their supporters are also taking more practical steps to preserve their research and funding.

Last week, the Monitor reported that an all-day “hackathon” at the University of California, Berkeley, “managed to collect and archive the majority of NASA and Department of Energy earth science data,” keeping it safe from possible deletion. Meanwhile, 314 Action, a newly formed political action committee, aims to support scientists running for office.

In the Feb. 13 focus story for the Monitor magazine, "For scientists, this time feels different" Henry Gass and Zack Colman report that:

[I]n taking such steps, scientists walk a fine line. Fighting over policies would, for many, bring them uncomfortably close to the political battlefield and jeopardize their scientific credibility. Instead, many in the scientific community believe they only have to amplify their traditional – and apolitical – societal role as the guardians and purveyors of truth and facts.

The same held true for the attendees at the Boston rally. 

“It would be great to live in a world where evidence speaks for itself,” Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Boston Globe. “But we’re mobilizing because that’s not happening.”