The March for Science is a March for All of Us

Who owns science?

This may not be a question you think much about. But did you know that, as a taxpayer, YOU are generating scientific knowledge? You fund the research we all rely on in our daily lives: from the science that ensures the safety of our food and medicine to the sustainable management of our fisheries and protection of our environment. Science is by its very nature a public good and should be treated as such because you, as a citizen, helped create it.

Your access to the science you helped create is in jeopardy. It is stripped away when federally imposed gag rules limit how much scientists can tell you about their work. It is eroded by grant, hiring, and contract freezes, which restrain what research scientists can do, keep agencies from hiring the best candidates, reduce economic growth and development, and waste resources. Regardless of our political affiliations, we are all impacted when science comes under fire, and every one of us – scientist or not – should respond when the integrity and transparency of science is threatened.

Recent executive orders jeopardizing scientific integrity motivated a March for Science this coming Saturday, which has been perceived as controversial and partisan. I would like to refute these claims, to clarify the purpose of the March, and to demonstrate its importance and necessity. After all, this is not a scientists’ march, it is a march for science.

First, the March itself does not politicize science. Instead, it is a means for pushing back on the misconception that science is partisan because the importance and ownership of science transcends political affiliations. At its core, science is a way of understanding the real world – a methodology founded on rigorous, objective observation – not party affiliations, biases, or opinions. Similarly, the March for Science is not a culture war or a partisan rally that should devolve into “us” vs. “them” debates. The March is about standing for what is rightfully ours – equal access to science and publicly funded results. It is a reminder that the science we pay for – not opinions that we don’t – should inform our policies.

Second, the March should not be contentious. Science and evidence-based policies are too important for Americans to remain passive or quiet. This is particularly true when we consider that policies not grounded in science will disproportionately impact marginalized communities, thereby increasing inequality in our society. Given what is at stake, now is not the time to be quiet, complacent, or cynical. The March brings a national voice to the importance of evidence-based policies that protect and support our underrepresented communities, environment, and economy. Ultimately, being pro-science is patriotic: it says you value all Americans.

Third, the March should not be conducted in an echo chamber of like-minded folks (i.e. the elite and educated) and should not serve to simply expand such a space. Scientists come from all walks of life and are impacted greatly by political actions against underrepresented groups, including minorities and immigrants. The March provides a space to speak against policies that exacerbate inequality. Much like society, science thrives on diversity to drive innovation and creativity and solve our most pressing problems. Let us use the March to highlight the work that remains to be done to make science inclusive and end systemic, institutionalized prejudices.

Finally, opponents of the March present a false dichotomy between local engagements or mass protests. Both are equally important in our defense of science and evidence-based decision making in our political system. Focusing only on local efforts incorrectly assumes all communities have equal access to science. The March can serve as a way to speak for these under-served communities, thereby promoting equal and open access to science.

As an owner of science, you can decide how you want to participate in upholding the scientific integrity and transparency that we collectively benefit from as a society. Whether you choose to participate through local action or joining the March, what is most important is that we all engage and stay engaged. Science does not belong to any political party. Science belongs to all of us, and it’s about damn time we take it back.


Charlie Darwin

Happy Charlie Darwin day!

This amazing evolutionary biologist was born on this very date in 1809 (thanks Wikipedia!), and so I share with you some fun facts about Charles Darwin that I’ve learned since coming to graduate school.

Darwin in color

First, let’s talk about some things you should know about C.D.

At  the tender age of 22, he boarded the H.M.S. Beagle as a self-financed naturalist meant to survey the lands reached on the expedition as well as provide company for the captain. Some company he must have been with all of that journal writing he was doing. Good thing he did though, as his notes, observations, and collections over those five years resulted in the beginnings of his theory of natural selection and descent with modification as an agent of evolution. It was not until 1858 that he began writing up this theory, when lo and behold a competitor named Alfred Russell Wallace was also meant to be publishing soon on the same theory. What to do?!

I found this on my computer and have no idea where it came from.

Click on the photo to read the tiny writing

Well, based on the fact that you probably have at least heard of Darwin and not Wallace, you can probably guess that Darwin’s work got more support. As it should have, given the amount of time that he poured into it by comparison. The Origin of Species was published in 1859.

In 1871 he published another fascinating tale called The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. It was here that he outlined the theory of sexual selection. The basic premise of this theory is two-fold: males compete against one another for the chance to reproduce with females; females are choosy in who they mate with. If natural selection can be described by the adage “only the strongest survive,” then with sexual selection, “only the sexiest reproduce.” Since survival and reproduction are the currency of an organism’s life, those that are better at doing either (or better yet both) will pass those traits on to their offspring. This is what natural selection is all about.

Now, on to the fun facts!

Fun fact #1: Darwin married his first cousin. In his notes was discovered a t-chart with “marry” or “not marry” written in the header. When pondering over the advantages of marriage, he wrote “constant companion and a friend in old age … better than a dog anyhow.” His reasons against marriage included “less money for books” and “terrible loss of time!”

Fun fact #2: Darwin was often sick due to a heart illness. He fathered ten children, three of whom died young. In evolutionary terms, his fitness would be a unit of 7.

Fun fact #3: Darwin went to Cambridge University and was meant to go to medical school before he became enraptured by natural history.

Fun fact #4: Darwin was said to have written sparingly on sex given his prudishness and the fact that it was one of his daughters who edited and read his work!

Fun fact #5: He was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

This was a very sneaky snapshot on my part! (Credit: Kristin Hook)

This was a very sneaky snapshot on my part! (Credit: Kristin Hook)