Matter of facts: London, Western join global March for Science

Scientific progress is not a given – it must be fought for, defended and encouraged. And that is exactly what many at Western, and across the Forest City, plan to do Saturday.

The March for Science – a global movement to defend the role of scientific research in health, safety, economies and governments – is set for Saturday, April 22, with the primary event taking place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of simultaneous satellite marches have been organized worldwide, including one in London.

This worldwide demonstration is not meant to be a political event, said Biology professor Amanda Moehring, organizer of the local march.

“It’s a demonstration of support. This is a march to show people care about fact-based decision-making. It’s meant to be a visible demonstration of the large number of people, not just scientists, who think science is worthy and important – that science and facts are how policy decisions should be made,” she said.

“The only reason it’s viewed as political is because you have a political party attacking science. If science is defunded in the United States – and the current federal budget proposal has massive budget cuts for science research – that will impact scientific discovery worldwide. Scientists have not made it political; the (Republican Party) has made it political by denigrating science.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal, released last month, calls for double-digit cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. It also lays the foundation for a broad shift in research priorities, including a retreat from environmental and climate programs.

Budget cuts to science south of the border have the potential for broad and highly detrimental consequences, Moehring explained.

What happens when environmental protection for the Great Lakes erodes in the United States? Canadians share waterways with them.

What about climate change? If a major producer of greenhouse gasses now says, ‘We don’t care about this anymore,’ this global concern becomes an immediately dire issue.

“We don’t have four, or maybe eight, years of reversing progress. We don’t have time for that at this point. There are thousands of scientists collaborating worldwide and massive budget cuts for science research will impact scientific discovery worldwide. What happens in the United States affects not just Canada, but the world,” she said.

None of this is new to Canadians, who, prior to the current government, were led by a party that “muzzled scientists” and showed no respect for evidence-based decision-making, Moehring added.

“Although we are now out of that (political) stage, we don’t want to go back to it. Canadians feel science should not be stifled; it should be embraced, encouraged and used in providing evidence and information for policy-making decisions. It’s important for citizens to make their voices heard that this is not the path we want to be on,” she said.

Campus colleagues have been supportive in helping organize the event, Moehring said. The Faculty of Science and University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) have stepped forward with some financial support.

“We have a stake in this, both as citizens of Canada and as scientists ourselves. It’s something our colleagues believe in and they want to express their strong support for science and to make a statement that (scientific research) is a valuable contribution to our society,” said Mark Daley, Western’s Associate Vice-President (Research), a Computer Science, Biology and Statistics & Actuarial Science professor, as well as a principal investigator at the Brain and Mind Institute.

Up until recently, people likely believed that scientific progress was inevitable, just par for the course, Moehring continued. But given political turns and budget cuts, this is just not the case.

“People think we are slowly marching along, and we might impact the speed of progress, but eventually, we are going to get to Point X. Recently, that’s become clear – that progress is not inevitable, that you have to fight for progress, that you can actually go backwards, if you don’t fight for it,” she said.

“A lot of people have now become motivated to realize that passively watching progress happen is not sufficient. You have to actually get out of your seat and actively work for that.”

IF YOU GO

The March for Science in London is set for 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, April 22, in Victoria Park. Four speakers will be present to talk about the impact and importance of scientific research on Canadian government, policy and environment, as well as its impact worldwide.

Campus community members who plan to attend the march will be in the Physics & Astronomy Building Atrium from 12-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday with markers and poster board for anyone wishing to participate and bring a sign.