Science may not be what you think would attract a public demonstration of support, but thousands of people are expected to descend on Civic Center Park in Denver Saturday to do just that.
Denver’s March for Science is just one of 10 across the state, and all are among 500 events scheduled across the world at the same time. In the United States, the main event is in Washington D.C.
In Colorado, there could be an interesting mix of people, judging by replies on social media. Everyone from the traditional scientists you may think of at universities, to teachers, farmers who use science in agriculture, to health care workers and others. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a politician with a science background — he’s a geologist by trade — will be one of the speakers at the event.
Their motives vary depending on who you talk to, but scientists have been frustrated with how President Donald Trump has downplayed the role of science in his administration. Back in December, before Trump took office, he requested a list of names of Department of Energy workers who were involved in climate change research. DOE never complied with that request.
Trump removed the climate change web page from White House site, after it was set up by the Obama Administration, which made addressing climate change a priority.
When he took office, Trump’s transition team sought to review not just press releases and blogs before they were published, but scientific papers as well. Some of Trump’s cabinet members have questioned the science behind everything from climate change to pesticide danger.
Now inside of federal budget season, there’s concern about funding for science-driven federal organizations. Denver March for Science spokesperson Charles Ferrer says such cuts could have a chilling effect on research:
“In Colorado there’s 24 federally funded research facilities. So all of that is providing a nexus in terms of the energy — and the concern and the enthusiasm — that’s being brought about here in Denver.”
Overall, EPA is looking at 31 percent cut. NOAA is looking at 17 percent cut along with NIH, although some of this may change as Congress hammers out budget details next month.
The March for Science organizers are calling Saturday’s event “unprecedented,” and it does appear to be the first of its kind. Talk with people are planning to march, and you get a sense of what’s motivating them.
Carol Campbell retired after three decades at the EPA in Denver and plans to go to the march because of a recent decision by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to leave a controversial pesticide on the market. That’s despite a recommendation from EPA staff that the pesticide be removed because some research showed measurable changes in brain functioning for children. But Pruitt declined to follow his own staff’s advice and kept it on the market.
“That kind of stuff really scares me. I think that it’s concerning because facts are facts. You don’t get to deny the facts,” she said.
Some scientists who support the sentiment of Saturday’s march say on social media and elsewhere they’ll stay home, with concerns about cementing the divide that exists right now in politics. There’s concern that this is being seen as partisan action since it’s critical of Trump’s actions, when they believe science shouldn’t be a partisan endeavor. Some have expressed doubt whether a one-day march will really accomplish anything.
It’s an open question whether organizers will be able to use the potential momentum of the march to further their agenda. You’ll see nonprofit groups gathering email lists. Some organizations are conducting political trainings for people who have backgrounds in science, math and technologies to run for office.
“That is critically important — that it’s not just a feel good event. And that we actually take that energy back to communities and get involved,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, who advised the national D.C. march.