On April 20, hundreds of thousands of scientists and science-enthusiasts turned out around the country to march in celebration of science and to demonstrate support for science-based policies in our government. I proudly was one of those who marched.
I left the lab over six years ago to become a communicator of science rather than a doer of science but I still consider myself a scientist at heart. Which is why marching while being surrounded by people who feel the same love of science was a joy but also raised the question that so many are asking – why are we marching?
Science surrounds each day. Why do we not appreciate the nature around us or the scientific advances we use daily? From the wi-fi that lets us listen to Spotify, to the blood pressure medication you took this morning, or the car you drove to work in (electric, hybrid or combustible engine – all scientific breakthroughs) – we forget their impact We put a man on the moon. We walk around with super computers in our pockets that we use to tell time and answer trivia questions.
What makes science suspect to so many? It’s technical and complex, and can take years to master. Perhaps it is inaccessible and mysterious for those who haven’t been exposed to it.
I walked through downtown Austin – the capital of live music — on the way to the March for Science and passed by several of our signature guitar statues. These statues made me think, why is music, which is also technical, complex and can take years to master, such an integral and appreciated part of society while science is too often disdained? There are few, if any, who can play the cello like Yo-Yo Ma, yet millions attend his concerts and buy his records. Discuss the theories Einstein? No, thank you.
We put famous musicians on a pedestal but we lock scientists in an ivory tower. We’ve spent so long talking about how hard science is that we’ve convinced a huge portion of the population to avoid it as an impossible task.
It’s our job as science communicators to break down those ivory walls and help bring science into the everyday. I can’t play Beethoven, I can’t paint the Mona Lisa and if I tried to pirouette, I’d tip right over. But I can appreciate music, painting and dance. Likewise, I don’t expect most people to be able calculate the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, but there is value in them appreciating the hard scientific work that went into letting them stream Netflix on their phone.
In the end, I didn’t march for policy change. I marched for the little boy playing with waves in the pool, or the teenage girl flying a drone in the park who is learning about aerodynamics without even realizing it. Science should be part of our everyday. It should be as accessible as flipping on the radio to hear a Beyoncé song or knowing that washing our hands can keep us from getting sick. I didn’t march to make science special. I marched to make it normal.