The presidential election has stirred a lot of people to take action or speak up in ways that maybe they haven't in the past, prompting new connections and organizing.
The next example is this Saturday, when there will be a March for Science in DC and cities around the country, including here in Albany. The mission statement for the local event:
• Promote scientific education for both adults and children
• Increase communication between scientists and the community
• See how government and scientists can work together
• Join with the National March to demonstrate the public support worldwide for evidence-based policies
The Facebook page for the event in West Capitol Park and subsequent march has almost 2,000 people marked as planning to go.
"One of the things that I've found most remarkable is the way our group has formed organically," said Jessica Reichard, an engineer and one of the organizers of the Albany event, this week. "None of us knew each other before organizing this -- we just connected on Facebook and it just kind of took on a life of its own with a lot of passionate people."
Here's a quick chat with Reichard about the motivation for the event in Albany and the intersection of science and politics...
What's the motivation for this event?
My personal motivation is that I was very excited after seeing the momentum after the women's march in Albany, so I wanted to get involved. And then I heard that there was going to be a Science March in Albany. So, for me, my livelihood is based on science -- my industry is renewable industry -- so a lot of good science has shown that renewable energy will benefit the country and the world, so I want to be there to represent that aspect of it.
And then us as a group, just sitting around at the start we were able to come up with lots of examples, instances where politics was using science in ways that were not appropriate. That they were looking at studies that weren't peer reviewed or ignoring studies that were peer reviewed. We just felt that science is being misrepresented in media and culture in some ways and is being discredited by politicians. And in our minds, data is data and science is science and you shouldn't be misinterpreting the data.
How do you think we should all be negotiating this intersection between science and politics? Because there are some people who will say these things should be separate. But ultimately that's a hard thing to do because they're both important to our lives and they're going to come into contact with each other.
Yeah. I think that good politics requires good science. There are lots of political decisions and agencies that rely on science to understand health and human services, energy, wildlife, and those agencies are not going to be able to make their best judgements of how to make their laws and policies if they're not working with scientists and the scientists are not working to the best of their abilities and being criticized by other scientists. But it's not the role of a politician who doesn't have an understanding of the science to criticize the science itself.
What would you like to see politicians do better in terms of listening to scientists and interpreting scientific data?
I think everybody -- and not just politicians -- needs to have a better understanding of where the data is coming from. I think a lot of policies are based on which lobbyist was in front of a politician on a certain day. And lobbyists will come armed with science that benefits them, and sometimes that scientist is being payrolled by the lobbyist rather than working independently.
So I think a basic premise is for everybody to understand who is doing the research and where is their funding coming from.
And I guess that gets at a question we should all be asking, which is that when we're confronted with some issue and it's cloaked in this idea that 'it's data' or 'science' that we should all be asking how could this be wrong -- or what other interpretations of this could there be?
Exactly. And it's hard, even if you have a scientific background, to just read one article and get the whole picture. But I think with something like climate change, there's just so much data out there that says that humans are affecting climate change -- and it's still being ignored or discredited.
Do you think there's a place for scientists to take a bigger role and be more proactive in getting out there and being part of public discussions and political issues?
Yeah, definitely. I think it's come to the point where everybody feels the need to be more involved. I just think a lot of people have been silent for a long time and may feel that it's not their role to be making policies. But if you are providing the data and the data is being misconstrued or twisted, then you have to realize that you have a role at the table as well -- not just that you need to sit in the lab. Like the phrase from the national march -- out of the lab and into the streets. I like that vision of it.
One of the things that we have in our mission statement [for the local march] is to make it seem like scientists are approachable. And that's why we came up with the idea of the meet-the-scientist portion of the day, just so that we don't want people to feel like scientists are sitting there in the ivory tower or working with their glasses and pocket protectors and not working with the community. We want people to realize that scientists are their neighbors.
In this region we have some of the most amazing research going on, in both industry and in universities. So we want people to realize that what's going on affects people in this community.
One of the things that I've found most remarkable is the way our group has formed organically. And none of us knew each other before organizing this -- we just connected on Facebook and it just kind of took on a life of its own with a lot of passionate people. And it hasn't been easy, there's been a lot of roadblocks and a lot of work that's gone into it. But I'm really excited about what people are going to see on Saturday.
This interview has been edited.
The Albany March for Science event starts at 1 pm in West Capitol Park with display tables and science experiments. There's a rally at 2:30 pm, and the march at 3:15 pm.
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