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'Evidence not arrogance': UK supporters join global March for Science

THE GUARDIAN
THE GUARDIAN
SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 2017 1:51 PM GMT

Academics and industry workers rally in British cities amid fears that 'post-truth' era is devaluing evidence-based research

Nicola Slawson

Thousands of scientists, academics and celebrities have marched in cities across the UK in protest at the rise of a “post-truth” era and its threat to academia.

The marches, taking place on Earth Day, were part of a global movement that has seen tens of thousands of people around the world march in support of science and evidence-based research.

Organisers of the UK marches said they were concerned that rhetoric about academics threatened to override research, citing claims made by the former cabinet minister Michael Gove during the EU referendum campaign that the public “have had enough of experts”.

The spectre of fake news and the growth of misinformation made it crucial to highlight “the vital role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world”, the organisers said.

More than 600 marches, largely concentrated in the US, Europe, South America and Australia, began on Saturday amid warnings from organisers that scientific research – particularly on climate change – was “under attack” from the Trump administration. Protesters were also concerned about attempts by governments to cut funding to large areas of scientific research.

In London, supporters gathered outside the Science Museum bearing placards on which double helices and chemical symbols sat alongside political slogans, before marching to Parliament Square past bastions of scientific inquiry, such as the Royal Society.

One sign read: “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.”

Another said: “Evidence not arrogance. Science not silence.”

The marchers chanted: “What do we want? Evidence-based policy. When do we want it? After peer review”, and: “Climate targets have been missed. Listen to the scientists.”

Ellen Coombs, a University College London student doing a PhD on the effect of climate change on cetacean (whale and dolphin) diversity, said: “We must not let cuts to science funding continue. We must also ensure that climate change is talked about as it's going to affect us all and it's vital that we remind people what the scientific community have given us, and continue to give us.”

Anna Krystalli, a research software engineer who helps scientists make better use of their code and data, said: “I'm marching for science because despite its imperfections, it remains our most effective way of getting to any commonly shared truth.

“I'm also fed up of efforts to improve reproducibility in science being used to discredit science as a whole. I work with a lot of people pushing to improve standards and transparency in research. We should be championing these efforts.”

In Edinburgh, Izzy Jones, who works in environmental education, said: “I'm marching against the concept of alternative facts because that's something that terrifies me and I want to make my voice heard.”

Fellow marcher and doctoral researcher Oliver Entwisle said: “I want to make research much more visible to the public and I want to break down any barriers between asking questions and getting answers.”

Oliver Entwisle and Izzy Jones at the Edinburgh march for science.

Photograph: Lang Banks

Mark Wilson, the chief executive of Cochrane, a global non-profit group that reviews all the evidence on healthcare interventions, said: “We are marching because evidenced-based decision-making saves money and lives.”

The Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi was pictured mingling with activists at the London event, which was also scheduled to feature guests such as the comedian Robin Ince.

The Commons science and technology committee this month stressed the importance of continuing to allow scientists and experts to come to the UK after Brexit. It followed a host of warnings from influential science figures that leaving the EU could have a crippling impact on research and provoke an exodus of talent.

In March, the Nobel prize-winning scientist Sir Paul Nurse said: “I don't think there's anything in Brexit that helps universities, either in teaching or research, but we are where we are … we have to make the best of it.”



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