Tomorrow, droves of eager science supporters will converge on the hundreds of March for Science rallying points around the country.
As they do, they will undoubtedly share the same buses, parks, and restaurants with non-marching neighbors, providing an invaluable opportunity to change the world one person at a time.
Since a cornerstone of the March for Science is the preeminence of facts and evidence, marchers should be sure that their inventory of talking points is spot on. Here are four facts to help:
Relax, You’re Probably Among Friends
The overwhelming majority of Americans, nearly 80 percent, firmly believe science is a positive force in their lives and society as a whole. Furthermore, scientists regularly top the list of most trusted professionals. Yes, there are a handful of polarizing issues—most notably climate change—but taken as a whole, most Americans consider themselves pro-science and pro-scientist.
Whether or not those feelings are strong enough to move someone to take action is another matter. For marchers, they are. And statement by example is a powerful way to lead.
Science is Best Received When It Delivers Hope
Scientists recently gleaned valuable insight into their brand identity. Brand identity, as used here, is the emotional, sensory, and cognitive reflex experienced when a person first encounters an object or idea. Brand is relevant because it is an unspoken starting point; it shapes personal intuition against which all subsequent information is gauged.
Science’s brand is hope; that is, science is a source of optimism, forward looking, a path to a better tomorrow.
Therefore, the more the March for Science looks like a march for hope, the more it will be embraced by the larger public.
Marchers should emphasize optimistic and hopeful scientific outcomes as much as possible. Embrace themes that are seen as serving the greater good on a path to a better tomorrow: eradicate disease, abolish hunger, explore the universe, and ensure environmental sustainability.
Beware of Partisanship
Speaking about brands, conventional wisdom is that liberals and democrats are more pro-science and conservatives and republicans are less so. This is well documented on many issues, particularly with respect to the environment and climate change.
However, there are exceptions. For instance, biomedical science enjoys very strong support across the full ideological spectrum.
And then there are areas where conservatives and republicans demonstrate stronger support such as science’s role in national defense. In fact, recent studies indicate that conservatives and republicans may be leading the way on embracing GMOs, inching the body politic closer to the position held by the scientific community.
Therefore, like a well-trained scientist, marchers should keep an open mind to diverse perspectives from seemingly disparate sources for as long as possible.
Heading Off the Big Crash
An ominous threat to American science is the growing public sentiment that science advancement would charge forward unabated even if government funding was stifled. Alarmingly, only one in four Americans believes government support is required to ensure future scientific progress. The majority sees corporations, philanthropies, and wealthy entrepreneurs stepping in if government funding for science falters.
Given that the federal government funds about half of all basic scientific research in the US, currently about $40 billion per year (v.s. philanthropy’s $2.3 billion, for example), the cold reality is that in the absence of federal support, American science would collapse.
The danger is that public opinion—whether grounded in reality or not—tends to become national policy. American science needs the stability, the leadership, and the resources that, as a matter of scale, only its government can provide. More importantly, Americans need a vibrant scientific enterprise to continue to prosper—depending on how you define things, between one-third and one-half of the US’s economic growth since WW2 is attributed to science and technology.
A tangible goal for March for Science participants should be to drive home the point, at every opportunity, that science is a highly integrated, global enterprise that relies on hundreds of thousand scientists, engineers, and skilled staff to make incremental contributions to our knowledge each day. And the primary purpose of accumulating that knowledge is to ensure that for humankind, tomorrow is indeed better than today.