Roots rally professor to the call

Western Biology professor Amanda Moehring remains concerned for her colleagues in the United States and knows scientific progress will take concerted efforts from governments and scientists alike, not just solidarity marches in support of science worldwide.

Adela Talbot // Western NewsWestern Biology professor Amanda Moehring remains concerned for her colleagues in the United States and knows scientific progress will take concerted efforts from governments and scientists alike, not just solidarity marches in support of science worldwide.

Amanda Moehring was born to answer the call.

“I’ve always been of the mindset that if you see something that needs to be done, something that needs to happen, you just do it,” said the Western Biology professor.

When an email began to circulate among science researchers at Western in efforts to organize a local march – an echo of The March for Science, a response to budget cuts for scientific research in the United States and a global movement in support of scientific research, set for April 22 – Moehring jumped to answer the call.

“I’ve always been somebody who, when I see an injustice or a cause I think is worthy, I don’t sit on the sidelines. It’s important to be involved,” she said. “But more importantly, I’m American and things happening south of the border both impact me on a personal level, because I’m mortified, and they affect people I am very close to.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal, released last month, calls for double-digit cuts for 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.

“I’ve been deeply impacted by this. I went with a carload of people to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. It was the first time I ever marched,” she added, noting it was there she first realized the power and potential of demonstrations of support.

“We are entering into a time where it’s really important for how things are run, and important for people who care about human decency and what kind of planet we are going to leave for our children.”

One of the great unanswered questions in biology is how new species are formed and maintained. Moehring’s research focuses on behaviour genetics and her lab is looking to determine how variations in a gene occur, to how variations in neural patterning follow, to variations in behaviour output.

While she was pleased to see the recent release of the Report of the Advisory Panel for Federal Support for Fundamental Science – dubbed the Naylor Report – calling for a massive overhaul of science funding, Moehring is still hesitant to say the state of scientific research is on an upswing. In Canada, where the federal government has indicated its support of scientific research and evidence-based policy making, she feels her and her colleagues’ work can be sustained but is waiting to see fruits of the government’s gestures of support.

Moehring remains concerned for her colleagues in the United States and knows scientific progress will take concerted efforts from governments and scientists alike, not just solidarity marches in support of science worldwide.

In the meantime, she hopes to see a good turnout at the March for Science in London on Saturday.

“If you hold a March for Science saying, ‘Hey, citizens care about science,’ and only five people show up, that sends the opposite message of what the purpose is. It’s really important for people to come be a part of it,” Moehring said.

“We’re hoping people make signs if they come, and if they can, to focus on positive messages of how important science is, how important our environment is – all of those things, instead of bringing signs conveying protest or negative messages,” she added.

“It’s incredibly fun to be surrounded by passionate, engaged, enthusiastic people, all there for the same purpose. It’s fantastic for you to experience, fantastic for your children to experience, and it was something that before I had done a march, I didn’t realize how invigorating that would be.”