Organisation - April 20, 2017

Is there any point in a March for Science?

Yvonne de Hilster

All around the world people will be taking to the streets on 22 April to draw attention to the importance of science. In the Netherlands there will be two such Marches for Science, in Amsterdam and Maastricht. But why are these demonstrations necessary? And is there any point in taking to the streets?

Ilustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Elmar Veenendaal, assistant professor at Plant Ecology and Nature Management

‘I think it’s a good thing that this protest is being organized. We scientists don’t make ourselves heard enough. We must make clear to people that we are not out to take them for a ride but to try to understand as precisely as possible how things work. And that we are constantly checking up on each other, trying to expand knowledge, and teaching students who will continue the pursuit of knowledge with critical minds. Of course things can go wrong, as happens if researcher only carry on if the results they get suit them. The need to publish results and make a name for yourself can also drown out the nuances. But nowadays a kind of alternative reality gets created in the public arena, where opinions are given the same weight as evidence-based science. It’s fine for people to disagree with something, but please do so on the basis of carefully considered arguments. This is why I am definitely planning to join the gathering in Amsterdam.’

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Adri van den Brink, Professor of landscape architecture

‘I had heard of the March for Science, and your question is a wake-up call. I am in Vienna on that day for work purposes, but there is a demonstration there too. I might go along. I see it as a good initiative to make the public and governments more aware of the value of science. We make use of science without thinking about it: telephones, cars, armaments and election hackers… they are all made possible by science. At the same time you can see that respect for science is dwindling. That worries me because of the big role of knowledge in society. I have noticed for years that decisions are often taken with more attention to the process than to the issue at stake. But to say that we are the good guys and the others are the bad guys is too easy. For me the March is also an appeal to scientists to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we are still on the right track. There is nothing wrong with repositioning yourself and rethinking your role and how to fulfil it.’

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Suzanne Brandon, PhD candidate at Sociology of Development and Change

‘I am American and I’ll be joining the March for Science because I am against the drastic cutbacks in the sciences in the United States. The current government’s failure to pay attention to health and safety in my country calls for a strong countermovement. Visibility is important. It’s the only way to get heard. I also feel that this is an opportunity to open up dialogue in the scientific community and society, and to talk about how we as researchers relate to policy and politics. I went on the Women’s March in Washington in January and I intend to go on demonstrating. It is important to keep up the momentum and go on expressing your point of view.’

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Marloes Kraan, researcher at Wageningen Marine Research in Ijmuiden

’I have heard of the March for Science but it is still not clear to me what the March for Science is for, or who it is against exactly. From what I hear it seems to have a mixed bag of objectives and that makes me doubtful. I think you should separate the different issues. Locking up scientists is of a different order to discrediting the scientific consensus on climate change. The main issue in the Netherlands is the tension between applied and fundamental science. I think a lot about the role of science and it’s important to me for science to come down from its ivory tower. In my scientific work I think a lot about the meeting points between science and society. How can science be improved by including other sources of information - in my case from fisheries? An over-simplistic use of the word ‘facts’ makes me uneasy; there is often a lot of uncertainty and facts do not solve problems. In earlier demonstrations in the US, the finger was pointed at the way the social sciences place facts in a relative light. That makes me doubtful about taking part too.’

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Anna Lith, bachelor's student of forest and nature management

‘I hadn’t heard of the March for Science; I have heard of the People’s Climate March one week later. I do feel concerned but I never make time for that sort of thing. I have heard of concerns related to science, related to the pressure to publish and financing problems. But what I notice most of all is that people who don’t belong to the scientific world don’t always understand how it works and have a bit of a strange attitude to it. They are quick to think: that’s probably right; you shouldn’t believe everything those scientists say. If I explain what I’m working on to my family in words of one syllable, I don’t feel understood. You can question whether people really want to know, but that can just generate suspicion. Whereas I notice myself that the more you know, the more you understand, and the more you realize how much you still don’t know.’

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Erik Lu, master's student of Environmental sciences

‘I understand why people are going to demonstrate on behalf of science. Science is not always taken seriously anymore, and seems to be losing in importance. I’m not going on the March for Science myself. I am mobilizing people to go on the People’s Climate March which takes place one week later all around the world, including Amsterdam. I’m doing that as a participant in the civil society initiative Food and Future. Our aim is to get not just government but also ordinary citizens to take their share of responsibility for implementing the climate agreement. It may be that citizens can make an even bigger contribution. A protest march all around the world will definitely have an impact. It illustrates that people and countries mustn’t point the finger at each other but address problems together.’