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USA: Science activism continues its rise with Boston rally

Wednesday 22 February 2017, by siawi3


Science activism continues its rise with Boston rally

Faced with the possibility of cuts to research agencies and what appears to be suppression of data, attendees at Sunday’s rally added their voices to a growing chorus of concerned scientists.

Patrick Reilly

February 20, 2017

As temperatures climbed above the 50 degrees F., on Sunday, many Bostonians enjoyed the February weekend outdoors on the city’s bike trails and waterfronts. But for those who gathered in Copley Square downtown, the unseasonable warmth was just the latest evidence of their cause for concern.

“Climate change is not a controversy,” read one sign at yesterday’s “Rally to Stand Up for Science,” which drew hundreds to the historic downtown plaza. Other slogans were more lighthearted, arguing that “Trump’s team are like atoms – They make up everything.”

Whether the signs provoked laughs or stoked outrage among onlookers, the rally’s attendees shared a sense of concern for the future of scientific research in the United States – particularly climate science – under President Trump. Sunday’s protest added to the growing movement of scientists across the country who are voicing activist views on the Trump administration’s emerging policies.

“We’re really trying to send a message today to Mr. Trump that America runs on science, science is the backbone of our prosperity and progress,” said Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who studies renewable energy, to the Associated Press.

This sentiment has spread after Trump, who once dismissed climate change as a “hoax,” won the presidential election in November. In the months that followed, Trump and his transition team have requested the names of Energy Department climate scientists, nominated fossil-fuel advocate Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and reduced that agency’s representation at a recent Alaska environmental conference.

Federal agencies generally endure some shake-up during presidential transitions, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported on previously. But the speed and breadth at which Trump is settling his new policies into place have spurred many scientists to leave the neutrality of lab benches to voice their alarm through activism.

This trend first gained momentum at December’s American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, where earth scientists staged a climate rally. With hundreds of scientists convening in Boston last week for the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, activists saw another ripe opportunity for a public rally. A “March for Science” is being planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington, D.C.

In addition to holding rallies, scientists and their supporters are also taking more practical steps to preserve their research and funding.

Last week, the Monitor reported that an all-day “hackathon” at the University of California, Berkeley, “managed to collect and archive the majority of NASA and Department of Energy earth science data,” keeping it safe from possible deletion. Meanwhile, 314 Action, a newly formed political action committee, aims to support scientists running for office.

In the Feb. 13 cover story for the Monitor magazine, “For scientists, this time feels different” Henry Gass and Zack Colman report that:

[I]n taking such steps, scientists walk a fine line. Fighting over policies would, for many, bring them uncomfortably close to the political battlefield and jeopardize their scientific credibility. Instead, many in the scientific community believe they only have to amplify their traditional – and apolitical – societal role as the guardians and purveyors of truth and facts.

The same held true for the attendees at the Boston rally.

“It would be great to live in a world where evidence speaks for itself,” Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Boston Globe. “But we’re mobilizing because that’s not happening.”



Hundreds gather in Copley to ‘stand up for science’

Scientists, science advocates, and community members rallied in Copley Square in Boston today.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Scientists, science advocates, and community members rallied in Copley Square in Boston on Sunday.

By Jan Ransom and Cristela Guerra

Globe Staff February 19, 2017

Chiamaka Obiolo was ready to start high school at Boston Latin Academy four years ago when she was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. After undergoing a 10-hour-long corrective surgery, the Dorchester teenager had to learn to walk, eat, and dress herself again. She credits science for saving her life.

“If there had not been research on scoliosis and how to fix it, there would have been no way for me to be treated, and my spine would have continued to curve,” said Obiolo, 17. “I probably would not be alive.”

Obiolo became a climate change activist and was one of nearly a dozen speakers at the Stand Up for Science rally in Copley Square on Sunday, joining hundreds of scientists in white lab coats and supporters to protest President Trump’s efforts to discredit science and climate research and dismantle scientific institutions in the government.

“The good news of science is not exclusive to the elite and thus its message must permeate throughout the masses and empower everyone from the youth to the elderly,” Obiolo, an aspiring scientist, told the crowd.
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Among the hundreds that gathered at noon in front of Trinity Church were fifth-grade teachers, biomedical engineers, and professors from MIT and Harvard University, many chanting “Stand up for Science,” and holding signs that read: “Follow the Evidence” and “Science Matters.”
View Story
Photos from the rally

Hundreds of people attended a rally in Copley Square Sunday in a call to fight against President Trump’s efforts to discredit science.

The best signs from the science rally
Scientists feel compelled to speak out on Trump

It didn’t escape the notice of many attendees that on a February afternoon the weather was springlike, with temperatures in the high 50s. Many signs said, “Climate Change is Real.”

Glenn McDonald, 49, of Cambridge who brought his 9-year-old daughter, Lyra Ericson, carried a sign that said “Think.” His daughter’s sign said “Earth - Science = Death.”

“Without science, there’s no America,” McDonald said. “Without science, we don’t have anything.”

He said he felt he needed to come out and stand up for facts to fight the government becoming “a force for ignorance.”

The rally coincided with a gathering of thousands of scientists in Boston for the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, at the Hynes Convention Center. Some of them, like Dr. Bish Paul, walked over from the conference to the rally.

Scientists, science advocates, and community members rallied in Copley Square in Boston today.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“Without science, there’s no America,” said one attendee at the rally in Copley Square in Boston on Sunday.

Paul, 32, a molecular biologist who lives in Seattle and a gay immigrant from India, said he represents an intersection of groups that have been under attack by the Trump administration.

“We’re not protesting a party,” Paul said. “As scientists, we want to support truth.”

Activists are also planning a national rally in Washington D.C. this spring. The March for Science campaign is mobilizing for a march on the National Mall on Earth Day, April 22. The campaign has attracted 1.3 million supporters on social media so far.

Beka Economopoulos, director of the pop-up Natural History Museum and one of the event organizers, said scientists are real-life superheroes and the administration’s attack on science is a threat against society.

“This is about freedom of inquiry,” Economopulos told the crowd. “From the muzzling of scientists and government agencies, to the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the defunding of public science, the erosion of our institutions of science is a dangerous direction for our country. Real people and communities bear the brunt of these actions.”

Economopulos said she had hoped to highlight the evidence of climate change and call on the Trump administration to support the scientists whose research has proved beneficial in health- and environment-related issues.

Yvette Arellano, a grassroots organizer from Houston, Texas, stood before a roaring crowd where people held signs that read: “Science — I’d be dead without it,” and “Got Polio? No! Thank science.”

“For so long, science has been silent, but today science is not silent,” she said. “Our entire survival depends on you.”

Dan Riles, 46, held a cardboard sign above his head that read: “My mother and grandmother are scientists.” Riles’s mother was among the scientists to produce the first mapping of a complete genome, he said. “Even if you don’t see where science is going, it’s important to continue it,” he said.

His daughter, Rose Freedman-Riles, who was standing by his side, said she wanted to attend the rally with her father so that she, too, could stand up for science.

“A lot of things come from science,” she said, staring at her wrist. “This watch comes from science. ... We wouldn’t have GPS if science was not here.”

Obiolo said the threat against science is a social justice issue. She said half of her classmates in elementary school had asthma, and she sees how pollution and climate change have affected minority neighborhoods in Boston.

“I wondered how I might be different if my recovering body could breathe in clean air,” she said.

She urged rally attendees to ally with other movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

On Saturday, Emily Southard, campaign director of and one of the rally’s organizers, said that the threats Trump has made against science have begun to come true. She cited orders from the federal government forbidding some scientific agencies within the government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, from speaking with the press; and the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has cast doubt on global warming and sued the EPA 14 times, as the head of that agency.

“Attacks on science are attacks on the public,” she said

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Photo: The dog is named Louis Vuitton and he is dog, not a cat.

Photos from Boston’s ‘Stand Up for Science’ rally

Evan Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Politics-Wary Scientists Wade into the Trump Fray at Boston Rally

Reluctant protesters say they no longer have the luxury of staying in the lab

By Karen Weintraub

February 20, 2017

Marchers gathered in Boston’s Copley Square on Sunday to condemn political attempts to undermine the integrity of scientific research. Credit: Karen Weintraub

BOSTON–Hundreds of scientists put aside their habitual wariness toward political activity and rallied over the weekend in Boston’s Copley Square, with many saying the Trump administration has left them no choice.

“It’s uncomfortable for me as a scientist, but it’s necessary,” said Brittany Goods, a postdoctoral student in biomedical sciences at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She carried a sign that read simply: “FACTS.”

Many scientists view political activism as a potential taint or threat to the absolute empiricism that science strives for—or simply feel they cannot afford to take time away from their work. But several said Sunday that they believe they no longer have the luxury of remaining in their labs. Instead, participants in the Rally To Stand Up For Science said they felt compelled to speak out against the new Trump administration’s use of “alternative facts,” climate change denial and restrictions on immigrants—many of whom work in medicine and science.

During Donald Trump’s first month as president, he and his administration have tried to ban immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, leaving hundreds of Boston-area scientists and doctors either stranded or separated from their families, or at best uncertain about their status and future. Trump and other officials have been dismissive about climate change despite overwhelming scientific evidence, and have played loose with facts or been otherwise disdainful of what most scientists and major news media see as objective reality.

The rally was timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), being held a few blocks away at the Hynes Convention Center. The five-day conference, which opened Wednesday, chose as its theme this year “Serving Society Through Science Policy." It included a number of policy sessions and packed talks designed to help scientists communicate about their research, and was not a sponsor of the rally.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of science history at Harvard University, gave a plenary lecture at the conference and also addressed the rally Sunday. “We don’t want to be here,” she told the enthusiastic crowd gathered on a muddy plaza in front of Trinity Church. “We want to do the work that we were trained to do.” But that work is under attack, she said, and—like a family that must respond in self-defense to burglars in their home—scientists now have to protect themselves and their values.

“It is not political to defend the integrity of facts,” said Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, a book about paid experts who have spent decades working to sow doubt in the public’s mind about the risks of tobacco, pesticides and climate change. “We did not politicize our science. We were politicized by people who don’t like our facts.” The United States was founded as an experiment based on reason, she added.

Other speakers drew massive cheers for comments like “Scientists speak truth to power,” and signs in the crowd included “Science is not a liberal conspiracy,” “Science not silence” and “Climate change is NOT a controversy.” Several scientists at the rally emphasized that they view their work as helping society—and see their role in politics in a similar light.

Although some members of the scientific community have criticized protesters as wasting their time at rallies, several participants at Sunday’s event said they felt that simply showing up was important to build solidarity and send a message.
Credit: Karen Weintraub

Dany Adams, a research professor at Tufts University, said she attended because “it does matter if you go and stand there. Being counted matters.” Science, she said, has done a “beautiful” job of training researchers to overcome their own biases. “The development of controls is a great intellectual achievement,” said Adams, a biologist who studies electrical signaling among cells. But Trump and his administration have pushed scientists to stand up for themselves, she said. “It’s sad when someone with power wants to pretend that being educated is meaningless. That’s just personally frightening.”

Scientists have traditionally relied on other people, including the news media, to tell the public about their research—but now they need to tell their own stories, said Santiago Correa, a graduate student in biomedical sciences at MIT. While many people have lost faith in the media—and Trump recently called several news organizations “enemies of the American people—“most Americans still trust scientists,” he said, urging researchers to capitalize on that.

The rally’s sponsors included the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace USA, Mass Sierra Club and groups from area universities. The AAAS was not an official sponsor and has remained studiously neutral regarding protests. The organization said it was closely monitoring plans for the upcoming March for Science, scheduled to be held on Earth Day, April 22. “It is exciting to see people enthusiastic about science and the use of evidence in policymaking, and we are inspired by the grassroots nature of this movement,” the organization said in a statement. “We have been in contact with the co-chairs of the effort and are learning more about their plans for the event as they develop.”

Karen Weintraub is a freelance health and science journalist who writes regularly for the New York Times, STAT ( and USA Today, among others.