We Marched, Now Let's Act

April brought a variety of recognitions and actions for the planet — the March for Science was on April 14th, Earth Day was on April 22nd, and Arbor Day was on April 27th. Across the country, people marched, rallied, shopped at, and celebrated these events to support science and a healthy planet. I spoke at my local Rally for Science in St. Petersburg, Florida (I pasted my comments in their entirety below) and bought some new succulents for my garden at our local Green Thumb Festival, held every Arbor Day weekend.

Two things were very clear to me at these events. First, the momentum and energy for this year’s March for Science was dwarfed in comparison to last year. Over 250 cities planned marches this year, compared to over 600 globally last year. I suppose this isn’t surprising, given the time that has passed since the initial visceral reaction that many had to Trump’s election.

The second, and arguably more complicated observation, is that these events and spaces continue to be dominated by majority white, majority male voices. Of the five speakers at the St. Pete Rally for Science, two were women. All of us were white.

 

 

Gender discrimination is still common in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and women face more discrimination and obstacles in STEM fields than other career paths. Women in STEM face systematic biases that question their intelligence, competence, and commitment to their work. Journalism in general, and science journalism in particular, also tend to be biased towards male voices, although there are journalists that are recognizing this imbalance and working to correct it. While women in the U.S. generally have reached parity with men in terms of advanced degrees earned, STEM professions continue to be dominated by men. The statistics on stereotypes, biases, and underrepresentation of minorities and minority women in STEM are even more unbalanced.

 

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Why does any of this matter? Because scientific discovery and innovation are at their best when there is an exchange of different ideas, creative problem solving, and vigorous discourse. None of those are possible without the ideas and perspectives from people of all backgrounds and all walks of life.

Science touches our lives every single day, no matter your gender, ethnicity, religion, education level, or socioeconomic status. If you turn on a light, turn on a water faucet, drive in a car, use a phone or computer, or even take over-the-counter medications, you can thank science. Public policies like those that determine healthcare, transportation, energy, gun safety, technology, food safety, agriculture, and education are all made better when informed by science. If we truly strive for diversity in STEM education and employment, we will allow for more creative solutions and scientific discoveries that can inform public policies to make our world a better, more equitable place. Isn’t that what the March for Science is all about after all?


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Percentage of different ethnic groups in the STEM workforce. Source: The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). http://sacnas.org/who-we-are/mission-impact/.

So what can you do? The work doesn’t stop when the rallies and marches do. In fact, they are just the beginning. Become a mentor, an advocate, and a champion for women and minorities in STEM. You can do this through community service with underserved and underrepresented communities and schools. Join and volunteer with leadership and advocacy groups like 500 Women Scientists or SACNAS. Or, better yet, start your own group! Make sure to educate yourself — what are the statistics on women and minorities in STEM in your state or school, and what are the obstacles that stand in the way?

As a student, you should seek out opportunities and mentors that support women, minorities, and first generation college students in STEM (OpenLab and 500 Women Scientists have resources for mentors and mentees here and here). You can also join environmental groups like Future Frogmen, which was co-founded and initially developed by young women interested in science and environmental conservation.

The March for Science website has advocacy tips and a series of ongoing events that you can get involved with to support evidence-based public policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has tools to hone your science communication and advocacy skills. You can also get the facts about controversial science issues and get policy updates through AAAS.

 

 

But, the most important thing you can do is vote! If the current state of affairs —  rollbacks of environmental protections, leaving the Paris Climate Accord, the water crisis in Flint, the Dakota Access Pipeline, defunding public schools, the rising cost of college tuition — leaves you stunned, then you need to vote for people that won’t support these kinds of policies. At the end of the day, elected officials are the ones making these policy decisions. Vote in local, state, and national elections. Vote for people that support science-based policies. Vote for people that support diversity. Vote for women. Vote for people of color. And then make sure you are holding your elected officials accountable by calling, faxing, and emailing their offices to voice your concerns. Recent high-profile elections across the country demonstrate the power that lies in the ballot box.

We rallied and marched. Now it’s time to act.

 

My comments from the St. Pete Rally for Science are below. Emphasis is as originally written and delivered.

“This current time we live in is challenging. If you watch or listen to the news than you know that sometimes it’s down right scary.

It's especially challenging if you are a scientist, or a supporter of basic scientific principles, like objectivity, facts, and reasoning. Facts and truth are too often attacked as “fake news” if they don’t fit pre-existing beliefs or ideals. Insults and ignorance seem to be the tools of choice, instead of respectful discourse and knowledge.

It leaves me wondering, how did we get here?

How did our politics get so divided and our words so cruel?

Why do the actions of a few continue to suppress the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of so many?

 

Well I would argue with you here today, that it’s because we are not talking enough — and certainly not listening enough — to one another. Not only that, but the voices in the room continue to be the same ones that have been dominating the conversation for centuries. We instead need to start giving space and time for ALL THE VOICES IN THE ROOM TO BE HEARD! We need to include ALL VOICES and ALL PERSPECTIVES in our institutions, our discussions, and in our science.

Systemic, institutionalized inequalities continue to live in our schools, housing, healthcare system, and financial institutions. These inequalities, and the injustices that grow out of them, are growing even as we speak — against women, people of color, indigenous communities, immigrants, refugees, and the lgbtq community.

Some groups and individuals are even emboldened by the current political times — both here in the US and around the world — and allow ignorance, bigotry, and division to come before understanding, acceptance, and inclusion.

 

BUT IT CAN GET BETTER.

WE CAN MAKE IT BETTER.

But first, we need to DO better — as citizens as well as scientists — to talk with, and truly listen to, those outside of our silos. We CAN begin to dispel ignorance and stupidity with honest and open conversations. It’s not easy, and you will get frustrated. You will likely find yourself saying, more often than you like, “let’s agree to disagree”. But every conversation you have with someone is an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity for mutual understanding and respect.

Scientists need to clearly and effectively communicate outside of academia and outside of our science peers about our science and why science matters. If we can do this, then science can and will be used to inform public policy. It’s been done in the past and we can continue to do it into the future.

 

We can use science to improve public policy — policies on gun violence, on climate change, on renewable energy, on healthcare and the opioid crisis, on education, sustainable food systems, clean water and air, net neutrality, IT security, the list goes on.

But again, we need to make sure that all possible voices are given a chance to be heard. We also need to start doing the work to ensure that everyone gets the chance — if they want it — to be included in our educational and scientific institutions. The barriers to a good education are still too high and too expensive for far too many in this country.

By including diverse perspectives, stories, and ways of thinking in our science, we will have richer conversations, more creative solutions, and be able to better solve some really tough challenges.

 

Dr. MLK, Jr. said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We can stand up to the challenge and the controversy of our world with knowledge and facts.

We can stand up to the challenge and the controversy with discourse and reasoning.

We can stand up to the challenge and the controversy with understanding and compromise.

 

If we answer this call to action, then we will leave this world a little bit better (and maybe a little bit nicer) than it was before.

Marcy Cockrell, Ph.D.

Richard Hyman