A Q&A with March for Science co-chair Valorie Aquino
Marcus Patrick Ellsworth 03/29/2017
On Earth Day (April 22), the March for Science will take place in Washington, D.C. Following the presidential election in November, many people started raising concerns on social media about federal budget cuts and other policies that could threaten scientific research. Hashtags like #StandUpForScience gained popularity and galvanized local rallies, like this one held in Boston in February. In the middle of this growing movement, an international coalition of scientists and advocates came together to make a national march to draw attention to these concerns. Valorie Aquino, co-chair for the march and current Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of New Mexico, offered MTV News some insight into why this march is necessary, the importance of scientific contributions to society, and how science is connected to social justice movements.
MTV News: People are familiar with calls to action for causes like gender equality, LGBTQ rights, or racial justice, but what does it mean to protest for science?
Valorie Aquino: We’re protesting government policies that misrepresent, silence, or outright reject scientific evidence. Scientists also have a long history of speaking out about their work and actively engaging in civic debates: Einstein made efforts [to advocate for] peace and civil rights and researchers came to the aid of Flint, Michigan residents by testing their drinking water. Standing up for science includes standing up for how science is applied in society.
Many of the concerns raised by the March For Science aren’t new — like lack of funding, discrediting scientific research, anti-science policies/agendas. Why put out the call to march for science now?
Aquino: There is a broad and long-standing disconnect between the vibrant public enthusiasm for science and a public understanding of how science translates to people’s everyday lives. Censorship of science data, threats directed at certain federal scientists and agencies, the rise of pseudoscience or science denial in social media echo chambers — as well as the threat of the rejection of scientific consensus and expertise becoming institutionalized as part of our government — and the slow decline of science funding all played a role in the call to March for Science.
We recognize that these issues aren’t new or unique to the United States. As we’ve grown into a global movement, we’re standing up for science across the world, and local marches are addressing issues and politics that are important to their areas. Science has no borders, and more than ever, we need global collaboration to demonstrate the value of science. The march is an opportunity to make visible the role of science in our everyday lives and our society, to push for evidence-based policy, and to help dismantle perceived and real barriers between scientific communities and the public.
What is at risk if funding for science education and research is reduced or eliminated?
Aquino: Science education is vital to survival in the modern world. The jobs of the future and the problems we need to tackle will rely heavily on science and math. Furthermore, basic science literacy improves our lives and decision-making processes. It’s important that in our everyday lives we use evidence, critical thinking, and the scientific method to reach better decisions. Science gives us the tools to make the world more beautiful, more comprehensible, and less frightening.
How does this march help to confront anti-science trends such as those cited in its mission: public policy ignoring scientific research, discrediting scientific consensus, and restricting scientific advancement?
Aquino: The 400-plus Marches for Science around the world are the largest-ever grassroots movement in support of science. In addition to the marches themselves, we’re working on original and co-developed actions with partners to help people take other concrete steps now and in the future, including taking our Marcher pledge and participating in a dedicated Week of Action post-march (April 23–29). We will be announcing specific calls to action for the Week of Action in early April. Our dedication and commitment to our mission, however, will not end there, and we look forward to continuing our efforts well beyond April.
You can’t look at a community like Flint and say these issues don’t matter.
Many of the marches we’ve seen this year call for centering marginalized people, and the March for Science does too. Why was it important to include a set of Diversity Principles for this march?
Aquino: Here’s how we put it on our site: “The lack of inclusivity and diversity in STEM thwarts scientific advancements not only by limiting who conducts the research, but also by influencing what topics are studied, who participates in the research, and who will benefit from or be harmed by it.”
You can’t look at a community like Flint and say these issues don’t matter. Neither science nor scientists are divorced from the rest of humanity, and we have as much responsibility and commitment to improving inclusion and equity in science as any of our other goals. We understand that diversity spurs innovation and new ideas, leads to better problem-solving, and improves outcomes. Naturally, as scientists and researchers and supporters of science, we support that. We need and want to do better in making sure quality science education, and the tools and benefits science provides, are accessible and applied in all communities.
How is science connected to the strides we make for social progress?
Aquino: Science is the best tool we have for reducing inherent human biases and improving understanding of the world we live in. Science supporters have an obligation to speak out to make sure science is being represented accurately and to actively engage in important social debates about how to use it wisely for the benefit of our communities.
Aside from marching, what can be done to support the work of scientists? (Specific legislation, programs/organizations people can donate to, etc.)
Aquino: There are many programs and organizations worthy of attention and financial contribution! We hope to continue March for Science as an organization moving forward. We of course would love it if people considered donating to us as one of the groups that supports science and the work of scientists. Your contribution will help us keep building on the national and international infrastructure we already have to champion science and the use of science in society around the world.
What do you think the future of science looks like if people don’t resist anti-science agendas in this country?
Aquino: Science will go on, but its role in society could be greatly diminished, leading to short-sighted policymaking and fewer services for people who benefit from science. Clearly, there are a lot of people out there who don’t want to see that happen, and the march is an amazing opportunity for all of us to work together for a brighter future.
This article originally appeared on the site of MTV news.