Thousands take to the streets in the District to show support for scientific research
WASHINGTON – Thousands took part in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. Saturday, demanding President Donald J. Trump and his administration recognize climate change and the need to fund scientific research.
“We march today to affirm to all the world that science is relevant, useful, exciting, and beautiful,” said former New Jersey Congressman and one-time Bethesda resident Rush Holt, who currently serves as the executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Evidence should not be optional. Good policies start with an understanding of how things actually are,” he added, speaking to a crowd on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Last month, the Trump administration released a 2018 budget proposing cuts to research programs at the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
Reactions to the budget among attendees ranged from disappointment to fear.
Participants in the march included scientists, students, activists and elected officials.
“America depends on research,” said Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) after the event. “As legislators we deal with science-related issues all the time.”
During his tenure in the Maryland Senate, Raskin said he supported stem cell research and in Congress routinely supports clinical research and approaching gun violence as a public health issue.
Raskin is currently a co-sponsor of the Scientific Integrity Act, a bill designed to protect federal agencies from political pressure or special interests and ensure government-conducted research is independent and transparent.
“I feel a strong obligation and need to support medical research,” said Alicia Christy, 61, a physician and women’s health advocate from Kensington, Maryland.
Christy, a former U.S. Army medical officer and former researcher at NIH in Bethesda, explained that research funding supported her work in studying contraceptive and family planning issues.
“Being able to plan their families and space their children would be life-changing for these women,” Christy added, referring to a 2013 research trip she took to Uganda. “I feel it’s important for women to have access to health care, particularly contraception,” she added.
Attendees also traveled from outside the Washington area.
Sol Katzman, 65, and Lisa Hochstein, 58, traveled from Santa Cruz, Calif., to attend the march.
“It’s a most important thing not to turn our backs on science and head back into the dark ages, where people just relied on their faith,” said Katzman, a computer analyst at the University of California. “It’s economically wise for our country to be a leader in science,” he added.
“I’ve always been exposed to the idea that evidence-based reality is important and our society really advances is when people embrace provable facts,” said Hochstein, a graphic designer. “I feel there is a lot of creative overlap between science and art and both are under threat by the current administration.”
Some research fields have no private sector presence and rely entirely on public funding.
“A lot of really important research for children is completely funded by the NIH,” said Dr. Shaine Morris, 40, a professor of pediatric cardiology at the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas. “It doesn’t earn money, and a lot of advances are made by my colleagues and our community,” she added.
Morris explained her research focuses on rare genetic disorders in children that where hardly understood as recently as a decade ago.
“I’m in a field that’s not heavily funded. I’m on a training grant and applying for a major independent grant. If the funding gets cut, there’s a good chance I won’t get funded,” she added.
Supporters of the march included scientists who work in the private sector.
“I’m disturbed about the denial of truth, denial of basic scientific principle and decision making,” said Warren Muse, 67, from Earlysville, Va., a computer scientist at a nonprofit studying diabetes.
“Science is our strongest tool in distinguishing truth from fiction,” said Mark Weinheimer, 55, an engineer from Charlottesville and a colleague of Muse. “It really truly is under attack,” he added.
Mark Adams, 50, and Trent Adams, 45, traveled from New York and California respectively. Both work in the private sector conducting research and expressed concern over the Trump administration’s approach to facts and objectivity.
“There seems to be a lot of people who don’t realize that science isn’t an option and facts aren’t an option,” said Trent Adams, a trained astrophysicist and cyber-security expert. “We seem to have to remind them of that fact,” he added.
“Science is the only way that people who disagree can use a machine to come up with that truth is independent of what they think,” added Mark Adams, a computational biologist and a chief information officer at a biotechnology firm. “If you ditch that, then it makes it impossible for people to get along and conduct politics.”
One of the topics that came up was the pharmaceutical use of marijuana.
Tim Hughs, 50, from Warrick, R.I., works at the Summit Medical Compassion Center, one of three medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
He explained that one of its patients was a child with a rare form of bone cancer who relies on the substance to alleviate side effects from radiation treatment.
“Why not spread the word? It does work,” he added.
The march included students who expressed concern over how the Trump administration’s policies would affect their studies.
Patricia Stan, 25, a neuroscience doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that research funding affects her directly.
“I’m funded by science funding. That’s what pays my salary. That’s what allows me to do the research that I do,” Stan said. “Without it, we just wouldn’t continue doing what we’re doing,” she added.
Like Stan, Jeremy Horowitz, 27, who is working towards a Ph.D. in fluid dynamics at Stanford University, said his field relies on funding from multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the United States Air Force.
Horowitz said the cuts “would be devastating, I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.”
Researchers in attendance also study environmental issues related to climate change.
Keith Leonard, 25, a graduate student at the Delaware State University in Dover, studies how climate change affects fish colonies. Leonard explained that, in addition to creating small-business jobs, aquaculture is an important food supply and naturally cleans the environment.
“My grants put tons of research into long-term studies which are proven to have a disproportionate effect on policy, Leonard said. “It’s important to have this long-term monitoring effect that the Trump administration is now trying to get rid of,” he added.
Hannah Levenson, 24, and Erin McDermontt, 25, both work as undergraduate researchers studying bee populations at North Carolina State University. Their lab is funded by a combination of state and federal sources, and they attended the march with concern about the direction of their field.
“We want to make sure science is here to stay,” said Levenson. “Science informs not only the kind of policy we need to make sure our world stays healthy and functional, but it also needs to inform the decisions we make on a personal basis,” McDermott added.
Undergraduate students in attendance expressed similar concerns over the ability of their mentors and educators to conduct research.
“Most of my professors are researchers. There’s a limited amount of professors available. If their funds are cut, they won’t be able to conduct that research,” said Sophia Gibaldi, 22, a horticulture student from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“Funding is fundamental to every kind of aspect. Without it no real progress can be made,” said Robyn Wilbar, 21, a classmate of Gibaldi’s.
“The defense spending hasn’t decreased since the Cold War, and [Trump] wants to make it even higher,” said Wilbar. “It just blows my mind. It seems really irrational,” she added.
After a series of speakers and musical performances, the event culminated with a march to the Capitol along Constitution Avenue.
Two anti-abortion activists also made their voices heard when confronting the marchers.
“We’re hear because life begins at conception,” said Reagan Miller, 53, a U.S. military employee from Washington. “We want to bring attention to the atrocity that is abortion.”
A man, who would give only his first name as Thierry, climbed onto a lamppost and yelled repeatedly at the anti-abortion activists.
“They’re coming up with statements out of nowhere,” he said. “It’s contrary to ethics.”