On the March for Science
'I'll interview you in a minute,' a man with a dictaphone said to me at the entrance to the Science Museum on Saturday. A sociologist from Brunel University, he was there to conduct field research, asking people why they were on the March for Science. The crowd – archaeologists and neuroscientists, physicists and psychologists, academics and the 'sci-curious' – was quieter than the average London protest, chanting occasionally: 'What do we want? Evidence-based research. When do we want it? After peer review.'
Other slogans included 'Science not silence', 'Respect existence – or expect resistance' and 'Politics = opinion, science = facts'. 'The oceans are rising and so are we' was someone's Earth Day message; LGBT activists were 'Showing off the entire spectrum'. There were people from Science Is Vital, Scientists for EU and a group with the banner 'Liberal Democrats: A Voice for Science'. A philosopher carried a placard that said: ‘Reason’.
The organisers of the event, which took place in more than 500 cities around the world, called it non-partisan but political:
Politics and science are intertwined, whether we face a travel ban that restricts the free flow of scientific ideas, changes in education policy that diminish students' exposure to science, or budget cuts that restrict the availability of science for making policy decisions.
The US government has proposed a 31 per cent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. British scientists expect the US cuts to affect their work. Budget allocations in the UK notwithstanding, a physicist from the Joint European Torus, an EU nuclear fusion research facility in Oxfordshire, said their post-Brexit future looked uncertain. The march wasn't billed as anti-Brexit (or indeed anti-anything), but some people wrapped themselves in EU flags. A marine researcher, whose companion had 'Science not censorship' on her placard, said: 'I'd rather it was just about science.'
Explicitly political stuff – 'Stop Trump' posters, copies of Peace News and Socialist Equality Party leaflets – didn't appear until Piccadilly. Further down the route, in Trafalgar Square, the 'Feast of St George' was kicking off. 'I thought it was for us,' a woman next to me said, pointing at the stage, 'but it's not.'
At the rally in Parliament Square, the speakers mocked headlines like 'Scientists discover brain area that likes Ferrari'; lamented the lack of funding for health research and space exploration; and criticised the British government for not doing enough to secure collaboration with European institutions. 'How did we populate the planet?' the astronomer Francisco Diego asked. 'By migration!' The physicist Jon Butterworth talked about international research at CERN and raised a 'cheer for the Higgs boson'.