It has been 50 years since I participated in a march in Washington, that time to protest the war in Vietnam. But on Saturday, April 22 I plan on joining tens of thousands of others in the March for Science. This is not an institutional endorsement of the March, but a personal perspective on why I will march.
The March for Science sprung up because of concerns that scientific evidence is under attack and critical advances in science might be defunded. In addition to the Washington march there will be more than 601 satellite events around the world. In unprecedented solidarity, many large scientific societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, are partners in the march.
Since my early marching days I have devoted my professional life to conducting and facilitating research and communicating scientific understanding to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, where I spent most of my adult life, and the Mississippi Delta, where I was born and raised. These two places are magical to the people who live there, economically important to the United States as a whole, and leading the advance of coastal environmental science. I am proud that reliance on sound science is resulting in great progress.
As I approach the end of my employed career I am very concerned about what I see going on in my country regarding the rejection of scientific evidence in favor of dogma on important issues such as climate change, legal forensics, vaccines and genetically modified organisms. This is not a partisan concern—anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle and harm everyone. I firmly believe that evidence-based policy and regulations—whether about our health, environment, economy or education—are in the public interest.
On top of this come proposals from Washington for substantial cuts in federal support for science, even elimination of programs in EPA and NOAA that help us monitor and understand the changing climate and restore the Chesapeake Bay. Crippling reductions are proposed for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, our nation’s premier research sponsors and the envy of the world. Seriously, is this really a time when we can do with less science?
Federally supported science is particularly important to Maryland’s economy and quality of life. Our federal laboratories (such as NIH in Bethesda and NASA in Greenbelt), public and private research universities, and private R&D firms receive in excess of $10 billion per year in support for their work, more than any other state on a per-capita basis. These investments support tens of thousands of well-paying jobs, resulting in significant state tax revenues and attracting many well-educated citizens to our state.
Think of the many ways that federally supported science resulted in improvements in our lives, from cures for cancer to weather forecasting to smart phones and the internet. Think, if you wish, even about how our ability to detect Russian submarines allowed us to win the Cold War or the advanced science that went into guiding those Tomahawk missiles in Syria. Think how American leadership in science has drawn the brightest to come to this country to earn Nobel Prizes or just become good neighbors down the street. The returns on federal investments in science have been enormous.
Prudent public policy, improvements in human health and environmental quality, nurturing scientists of the future, America’s leadership and reputation, and Maryland’s knowledge-based economy are all at risk. If you share my concerns, participate in the March for Science or a satellite event. Alternatively, please make your views on the importance of science for our nation and the world, whatever those views are, known to your elected representatives.
This blog was derived from a commentary in the Annapolis Capital on April 21, 2017.