I went on the March for Science by Dr Martin J. Hodson

Well I went! I described the background to the March for Science in my previous blog, and now I want to just give a few thoughts after going on the March in London on 22nd April 2017.

I had arranged to meet my sister-in-law, Dr Elizabeth Perry, at the Science Museum in London. Elizabeth was originally an immunologist, but now works on world development and justice issues. She was wearing her sweatshirt from the Pilgrimage2Paris, the walk from London to Paris that took place before the COP21 climate change meeting in Paris in December 2015. So the March through London was just a gentle stroll for Elizabeth in comparison! Her poster seemed to connect her former work as a scientist with what she does now, “People die when science is denied”.

Just before the walk started I spotted Dr. Who! Actually, Peter Capaldi, his latest incarnation. I quickly took a picture, tweeted it and had just an amazing response (461 retweets and 928 likes to date!). I was not the only one to do so as this article in the Radio Times shows. All kinds of people that never knew about the March found out. I suppose it shows that having celebrities at these kind of events can increase exposure, and also how quickly news can now spread around the world (one of my likes was an Australian MP!). If you want to find out more about the March just use #marchforscience in Google.

The March began, and we made our way from the Science Museum to Parliament Square. One of the observations that Elizabeth made was that, unlike other marches on climate change or justice, there were almost no corporate banners. So there were no Christian Aid, Tearfund, A Rocha, Oxfam or WWF banners, but almost everyone made their own. Some were very inventive, as my collage shows. It was a march for all ages, with children who aspired to be scientists marching alongside elderly professors. But I think the majority were in their 20s or 30s. There were almost no police on duty, and we reckoned they thought scientists were unlikely to cause trouble!

Sadly, there seemed to be no overt Christian presence at the March. I am not sure why- maybe one event too many in busy diaries just after Easter? For most of the march Elizabeth and I were joined by a young American lady who is doing her doctorate in London. We talked a lot about the fairly dreadful situation for science now in the States. She was marching in solidarity with her friends and colleagues back home.

We ended with a rally and speeches in Parliament Square. If I had a criticism of the March it was that I felt they had too many short speeches (nine), when maybe three longer ones where people could develop their arguments would have been preferable. One of the speakers, Jon Butterworth, a particle physicist, wrote up his speech for a column in the Guardian. I like his paraphrase of Richard Feynman, “Science is a way of trying not to fool ourselves.” The whole March was really well organised and ran exactly on time. To manage that in a very short time period is a great tribute to the organisers, all of whom had no idea they would be doing it just a few months ago.

I am not sure how many people went on the London March, with estimates varying from three to 20 thousand. Nor am I sure how many went on the 600 or so other marches worldwide. The global March for Science certainly made an impact with widespread coverage in the media. But I was left with the feeling from the March that I was part of one large and united group of scientists, spanning all ages, and present on all continents. We know we have a considerable fight on our hands, but I think we are ready for it. I ended my previous blog with a quotation from Proverbs 1:19-21: “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.” Scientists have been out in the open, and have raised their voices, actually in Parliament Square in London. Now the question is simple. Was anyone listening?

Dr Martin Hodson
JRI Operations Director