Why I March for Science

Science is my superpower. I discovered this early on as a child, when I found I could solve life’s mysteries by simply wielding the scientific method. Be it gravity, photosynthesis or particle physics, I could out-fact even the smartest parent with science. I didn’t need a cape. I also didn’t need a lab coat. Science is everywhere, and all you need is curiosity.

Clockwise from top right: Citizen scientists hiking to a survey site in Glacier National Park; Salamander study in Shenandoah National Park; A lake sturgeon found during fish sampling on the Bad River in Wisconsin; Science camp at the Becharof National Wildlife Refuge

But there are a few downsides to science as a superpower. Science can’t be combined with precognition or variable manipulation, as seen in the Matrix. It doesn’t allow power immunity or cheating or rule bending, as seen recently in the White House. You see, science has rules: experiments are held to rigorous protocols, standardized statistical tests and ultimate accountability to review by peer scientists. With great power comes great responsibility, and being a scientist is no different. You could even argue that being a wildlife scientist is the greatest responsibility of all, because defending America’s biodiversity against the onslaught of villainous threats is no easy task. Which is why Defenders of Wildlife relies on the superpower of its scientists to inform sound conservation policy and resource management.

A poster at the 2017 March for Science in Washington, D.C.

But science is being deflected by those with political power. Since President Trump stepped into the Oval Office, science has been threatened and undermined, discredited and ignored, and erased from the government’s agenda and activities. In the public eye, science has been transformed from an objective, methodical, peer-reviewed system for identifying processes of nature, to a doubted, subjective, optional set of alternative facts. And not only has the perception of science been manipulated, but the underfunding and reprioritization of federal science agencies means that our federal scientists have been restricted in their doing of science, including conducting research on politicized topics and sharing results with the public and media. This two-fold attack on how Americans do and view science is eroding the integrity of our science.

Since I am a scientist, I’ve collected some evidence. First, the President’s 2018 budget conveyed an anti-science and conservation agenda that would have slashed funding for wildlife and the environment, including reductions of 16% for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 14% for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), 13% for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and 11% for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The loss of this money would have defunded research that increases our knowledge about how to protect biodiversity but also, more broadly, hampered technological innovation that spurs economic growth and job creation. Luckily, Congress is full of super heroes who defeated the President’s budget and funded scientific agencies in the federal budget at the final hour.

Barbour’s map turtle

Second, the administration’s distaste of climate change appears to be seeping downwards to shape agency evaluations of species listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We’ve seen the FWS conveniently sidestep threats to species from climate change by shortening the evaluation timeframe (which prevented listing the Bicknell’s thrush and Barbour’s map turtle on the ESA). In other cases, the FWS is grossly misinterpreting clear climate change threats as harmless impacts (which resulted in recommendations to delist the Canada lynx and walrus).

Third, the past year revealed unprecedented efforts to disregard and disband federal science advisory committees. These expert panels provide invaluable, objective advice to federal decision-makers that guides government response to complex challenges, ranging from environmental to medical crises. Under the Trump administration, we have seen a significant increase in the number of stalled and disbanded committees, cancelled meetings and dismissed experts. Last year committees recruited fewer experts, lost more members and met less often than prior years.

The integrity of our nation’s science is at risk. This is a direct threat to wildlife species, adding to the already exhaustive list of human-induced villains, including habitat loss, invasive species and climate change. But this threat — the loss of scientific integrity — is especially terrifying because biases in the doing and perceptions of science blur the lines of reality. Who is to determine when science is legitimate?

Defenders of Wildlife! My colleagues and I at Defenders identify and apply rigorous wildlife science to guide our field conservation and policy advocacy for making tough decisions on how best to protect our nation’s imperiled wildlife. Having newly joined the team in December, I am proud to be a Defender of Wildlife and, accordingly, a Defender of Science. Here at Defenders’ Headquarters in Washington D.C., just five blocks north of the White House, we stand at the frontlines of President Trump’s war on science, determined to make science as powerful a tool for the public as it already is to us.

And we are not alone. Next Saturday, on April 14, the second annual March for Science will renew the global call to revive scientific integrity. We will march for our government’s trust in and application of science. We will march for our federal scientists, whose tireless efforts to monitor and recover species and ecosystems deserve funding and attention. We will march for our imperiled species, whose lives depend on science as a basis for their conservation. And I will march for science, for my superpower, which is a critical defense in protecting our planet’s wildlife, natural heritage and future generations.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Dr. Seuss

Please join us. Whether you march here in D.C., right past the White House, or in a satellite march across the world, your dedication to science will shine brighter than any crown of political power. You don’t need a cape or a Ph.D., just your voice. With our voices combined, we will reinfuse science with a power louder than those who try to silence the truth.

-Jennie


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