Why I Will March for Science

Standing up to the Trump Administration’s Anti-Science Agenda

Stand Up for Science Rally at American Geophysical Union Conference, Dec. 2016

I never imagined myself as being anything other than a scientist. As a kid, rather than video games and action figures, I asked for microscopes, building kits, and books. The world around me was a giant mystery that I just needed the right tools to solve. So, I set myself to acquiring those tools, which carried me all the way to my Ph.D.

Now, as a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, I use those tools to bridge the gap between science and policy. As such, I have come to respect the power that science has to inform the public and bring about societal and political change.

But this vital function of science is now under attack by the Trump administration. That’s why this month I will join the national “March for Science” — because science should serve the public and not be used as a political pawn.

When Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently said he does not believe carbon pollution is the “primary contributor to the global warming,” it was like hearing the head of NASA suggest the earth is flat.

Indeed, President Trump has a cabinet filled with climate change deniers. His administration has placed gag orders on science-based government agencies. He has also made numerous statements with a loose regard for the facts. Scientists, being truth-driven individuals, should view this as a grave threat.

Scientists’ role as impartial actors providing impartial information is untenable when the President of the United States denies, ignores, and opposes scientific facts. When political figures seek to pollute science with politics, who, if not scientists, will take a stand to oppose them?

President Trump is planning major budget cuts likely to squeeze our cornerstone science agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Environmental Protection Agency. With such cuts, much of the life-saving and planet-protecting research these agencies fund would no longer be possible.

The Trump administration has positioned uncensored science as its foe. Rather than affirming that climate change is real, the administration has denied its existence and blocked progress to the benefit of fossil fuel interests. Scientists who work on climate change have suffered horrible attacks. Science-based government agencies, once respected, are now silenced to prevent them from contradicting the administration’s agenda.

Scientists still hesitate to act from fear of appearing too political. However, the administration has established this adversarial relationship with science. Scientists have been left with no choice but to mobilize.

This includes acknowledging other groups marginalized by the current administration. Women, immigrants, members of the LGBT community, and minorities have all made profound contributions to the sciences. As an individual who himself checks multiple “boxes,” I know that the commonalities between these groups are undeniable and should be embraced.

Diversity and inclusiveness are the drivers of scientific progress. To be associated with movements that promote these themes is to understand what has propelled science forward. These themes will likewise propel us forward in our resistance to politicized science.

Scientists have never been scared of a fight. We constantly have to defend the methods, results, and conclusions of our research. Unfortunately, in light of the hostile administration, this is no longer all scientists have to do. Now, we must defend our very right to do critical research. Mounting a strong defense begins with the March for Science.

When I was a child, my parents encouraged my curiosity because they believed that knowledge is power. This encouragement is why I am a scientist today. In the past, government likewise encouraged scientists to be their best, with the country benefiting as a result.

If those in power discourage free scientific discourse, then the country will suffer. Scientists must demand with a united voice that the Trump administration change course before it is too late. I will add my voice to the chorus at the March for Science.

John Fleming is a Los Angeles-based staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.