Lexington March Puts Spotlight On Science

Apr 20, 2017

Scientists don't often draw up placards and take to the streets, but Saturday will be an exception.

What started as a proposed Earth Day get-together in Washington, D.C. on social media has steadily ballooned into a massive event, which could draw thousands to downtown Lexington and millions to city streets around the world.

"We hope to send the message that we are united as a scientific community and we want not only to send a message to our leaders but also send a message to our fellow scientists that we need to come together more often as a united group when there are issues that we need to advocate," says lead Lexington organizer Dr. Trent Garrison.

At the forefront of many marchers' minds is the environment, climate change, and funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other research scientists warn is vital to combating pressing global problems. And while organizers are careful to couch the march as non-partisan and inclusive, participants will be hitting the pavement amid widespread anxiety about deep cuts to U.S. science agencies proposed by the Trump administration.

"We try to keep this bipartisan. We have speakers who are across the political spectrum," Garrison, a geo-scientist, notes.

One of those speakers, Daniel Phelps, is eager to send a message to state and federal policymakers, but also regrets that such a gathering feels necessary.

"It is disturbing that we even have to do this," the Kentucky Paleontological Society president says. "It's something that has just gotten worse and worse over the last few decades and now it's at a point that the very existence of a lot of scientific is at stake."

The longtime critic of Kentucky's Ark Encounter theme park and its literalist take on the biblical flood also warns of encroachment on science education, most notably the Next Generation Science Standards approved by the state board of education in 2013.

"There's a good chance [the General Assembly] could attack that next year," he says. "I'm hoping people in the legislature pay attention that scientists are united behind several key ideas and we'll be willing to stand up for education and other issues."

With crowd projections inching ever northward, some backers worry about losing control of that message. Popular biology professor and author Jerry Coyne tells The New Republic, "I’m in favor of rights for gay people. I don’t care what bathroom somebody uses. I’m pro-choice. But scientists can’t get involved in that kind of stuff. Science cannot adjudicate issues of morality."

But Garrison sees the March for Science as an opportunity for outreach on multiple fronts, both public and private, and a spur for scientists to get more involved, "perhaps even have some... run for city council or for some local race."

"Scientists, historically, have been notoriously bad for getting involved in those sorts of activities, so we're hoping that more people will get interested," he says.

Despite rain in the forecast, over 1,800 Facebook supporters have RSVP'd and close to 5,000 have indicated interest in attending the Lexington satellite march. Attendees can expect booths, displays, and science-related activities if the weather cooperates. Event planners expect to go forward, rain or shine.  

The Saturday march runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and starts at the Fayette Circuit Courthouse.