March for Science to unite researchers against Trump | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 01.02.2017
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March for Science to unite researchers against Trump

Earth Day 2017 will see another large-scale protest against US President Trump. After the huge success of the Women's March, it is now the scientists' turn to voice anger and dissatisfaction with new policies.

Life under the new US president isn't easy for scientists and science reporters. Donald Trump is a denier of man-made climate change and has called global warming a Chinese-propagated myth. He has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services not to send out any press releases or update their website content for the time being. And he banned the National Parks Service from tweeting.

In short, Trump has made many, many enemies in the science community within his first days in office. But scientists, science writers and their supporters are not taking the attacks lying down.

They have formed a political action committee (PAC) to get more scientists elected to public office. According to its mission statement, the group called '314 Action' was founded because the US needs "new leaders who understand that climate change is real and are motivated to find a solution."

Many of the agencies affected by what they perceive as a presidential gag order have also set up "rogue" Twitter accounts from which they keep disseminating information.

Those supporting verified facts, research and freedom of speech will also descend on Washington D.C. in a "March for Science," a planned gathering inspired by the hugely successful Women's Marches that saw millions of people across the world take to the streets to protest Trump's policies on January 21.

The slogan on the march's website is "Science, not silence." On Wednesday, the organizers announced via Twitter that the march will take place on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.

In their mission statement the organizers write: "The March for Science champions publicly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity."

Scientific method 'on trial' in the US

"Scientists have battled the political and ideological forces against concepts such as evolution and climate change for years," Elizabeth Hadly, professor of biology, geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, told British newspaper The Guardian.

Hadly is ready to march because she sees the scientific discourse under attack in the US.

That view is shared by science writers as well. Journalists who cover science and share important research and newly discovered facts with the public are worried about what their work will look like under Trump.

"It's a dangerous time for society when the scientific method is on trial," Aleszu Bajak, a freelance science journalist based in Boston, told DW via email. "I fear the muzzling of government scientists and the obscuring - and wholesale deletion - of government data pertaining to climate, health, or any topic deemed too 'political' by the administration."

More and more people are getting involved and are making their voices heard. Trump's ban on Muslims entering the US is also riling scientists.

"Science is an international enterprise, and everyone is worried about what impact the travel ban will have on scientists from other countries," Apoorva Mandavilli, editor-in-chief of autism site Spectrum and a freelance science journalist, wrote to DW. "Scientists who have never been politically active are getting engaged, tweeting about politics, and planning to march."

Whether Trump's policies will have a direct effect on how publicly scientists dare to talk about their research remains to be seen.

"I haven't noticed a chilling effect yet on how researchers discuss their work; just fears that it might happen," Umair Ifan, staff writer at environment news outlet E&E News, wrote to DW. "It's too soon to tell."

The upcoming March for Science at least is a sign that large numbers of scientists are not afraid to show their dissatisfaction or even anger with the Trump administration.

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