Scientists in Madison are preparing to join colleagues in more than 400 cities across the globe in a March for Science on Earth Day, April 22.
They are hoping that area residents who are not scientists will join them, said Dave Lovelace, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“This is not a protest,” Lovelace said Monday. “It is a celebration of science.”
The Madison event will include a march, a rally and a science expo on the Library Mall. Keynote speakers at the rally will include Bassam Shakhashiri, UW-Madison professor and creator of the popular "Science is Fun" demonstrations, and Tia Nelson, director of the Outrider Foundation and daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson.
Some of the nation's biggest scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, are partnering with grassroots organizers to plan a rally in Washington D.C. aimed at defending "robustly funded and publicly communicated science," the Washington Post reported.
The idea for a rally in support of science bubbled up online after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who once referred to climate change as a Chinese hoax. Trump has since rolled back federal policies to curb climate change. And Trump’s low priority for science is reflected in his proposed budget, which ends programs to lower domestic greenhouse gas emissions, for example, and also includes big cuts in federal funding for medical research.
The Washington march will feature Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” and Mona Hanna-Attisha, the doctor who helped expose lead in the water supply in Flint, Michigan. The organizers’ Twitter account had 345,000 followers as of Monday.
Satellite marches are planned in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, including a dozen in Wisconsin, according to the March for Science web site. More than 40 countries are planning events.
Activism like the March for Science is a big departure for scientists, who usually are reluctant to enter political debates for fear their work will be perceived as partisan, the Post noted.
Lovelace agreed that scientists try to avoid partisan activities.
“The march is non-partisan, but it is political,” he said. “Public policy should be grounded in fact and reason. Facts should be implicit and explicit in decision-making."
He added that it would be easier to accept a politician who acknowledged the reality of climate change, for example, and decided to take no action to alleviate it, than it is to accept one who denies the facts.
“Using alternate facts or denying a large body of evidence is antithetical to what we stand for,” Lovelace said.
Some of the participating scientists work at UW-Madison, but the university is not playing an official role in the event, Lovelace said.
Local organizers felt it was important to have a march and rally in Madison, he said.
Not only is the city home to the UW flagship campus, an internationally known research center, but also to numerous private science-based companies, he said.
And a global echoing of the message conveyed in Washington — as happened with the Women’s March in January — is a powerful statement of solidarity to policy makers, Lovelace said.
“Science is important in every aspect of our lives,” Lovelace said. “Science is for all of us.”
He estimated from social media response that about 1,000 people would participate in Madison.
“If 10,000 people show up, I’ll be excited. If more than that show up, I’ll be a little nervous," he said.
The full slate of speakers for the event is still being finalized.
Marchers will start assembling at 12:30 p.m. April 22 at James Madison Park, where the march to the Library Mall will step off at 1 p.m. The science expo, with booths and demonstrations in chemistry, physics, geology and other sciences, will run from 1-5 p.m. on the Library Mall.
It will be a family-friendly event, Lovelace said, that “embraces the core of the Wisconsin Idea.”
That bedrock philosophy of the university holds that university research should be used to solve problems and improve health, quality of life, and the environment for all citizens of the state.