What did the March for Science do?
Scientists across the United States are just now returning to their labs after a weekend of marching, waving signs and, in many cases, wringing out rain-soaked lab coats. The steady rain that fell Saturday, 22 April, on the March for Science in Washington DC didn’t dampen participants’ enthusiasm for standing up for “science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest,” to quote the March for Science website’s mission statement.
But now that the march is over, scientists have to face some important questions: What message did they deliver, what comes next and what does it all mean for their careers?
Kristine Wadosky, a postdoctoral researcher at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, was thinking about her own future as she marched in DC. She worries that US President Donald Trump’s administration’s proposal to trim nearly 20% from the 2018 budget of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) — if enacted — could prove fatal for her career. “A 20% cut would mean no new grants,” she says. “Postdocs are especially vulnerable. We’re the first ones cut when funding is lost.” For her, the timing couldn’t be worse. “Postdoctoral training is a critical period, and I have to do it during this administration. It’s scary.”
Unlike some marchers, Wadosky says she wasn’t marching to denounce President Trump, members of the Republican party or any other politicians. “I have my own political views, but I made a hugely conscious decision to step back from that,” she says. At the march, she carried a sign reading “Curing cancer is non-partisan.”
Wadosky hopes that the march also sent a message to other scientists. “We have to come together, and we have a duty to go out to our local communities,” she says. “As scientists, most of us are funded by taxpayer money. It’s my duty to go out and speak to people who pay taxes. A lot of people are going to be thinking about that now.”
Kate Carbone, who studies immune cell biology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), marched in DC carrying a sign that read “More mitosis, less division.” Like Wadosky, she feels that her career is at stake. “I’m a fourth-year grad student, and I’m looking forward to what I’m doing next,” she says. “Is the funding going to be there from the NIH? Academic research and government-supported research is not a priority, and that’s concerning.”
Along with some 40 other members of the Science Policy Group from UCSF, Carbone spent Monday in DC meeting with policy advisers and members of Congress. The chance to spread her message directly to officials convinced her to attend the DC march instead of a local rally in San Francisco. “I’m not normally politically active, but this is a cause that really resonated with me,” she says. “We’re all motivated by the decay of evidence-based decision making. It’s broader than just funding for research.”
Career security isn’t much of an issue for Raphael Valdivia, a microbiologist who is the vice dean for basic science at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Still, he felt strongly motivated to march. “I’m worried about what will happen with all of the people we are training to take over what we do,” he says. In his view, the lack of government support for science is discouraging some of the best and brightest to enter the field, and anti-immigrant attitudes could stem the flow of scientists into the country.
Now that he’s had a chance to dry off, Valdivia says that he found the march “invigorating.” But, he adds, there’s room for improvement. “There were a lot of awkward chants,” he says ruefully. “It was clear that scientists are not very used to protesting.”
Chris Woolston is a freelance writer in Billings, Montana.