The date April 22, 2017 may go down in history as a world first. Not only was it the first time that scientists took to the streets to march in defense of the most basic values — evidence and truth — but it was the first outing for what is fast becoming a new phenomenon: a global pro-science movement. At the final count, more than 600 March for Science events took place around the world.

The ambivalence that scientists feel about activism was clearly on display in the various Marches for Science. “I really should be writing!” apologized several placards seen in different cities. “You know things are serious when the introverts arrive,” read another. Some of the chants were similarly baffling to passers-by. London marchers chanted, “What do we want? Evidence-based policy. When do we want it? After peer review!” as they filed past 10 Downing Street.

As an official partner of the March for Science, the Alliance for Science at Cornell University assisted with the main march in Washington D.C., as its Global Leadership Fellows and country coordinators led or supported march events in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, London, Ghana, South Africa, Chile, Madrid, San Francisco and Mexico City.

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Bad science costs lives

It’s late afternoon in Makutupora and technicians wearing blue overalls pour sacks of maize onto a bonfire. They exchange a few wistful looks as the flames consume the grain. After all, this is good food, and the country is hungry.

 But government regulations are government regulations. 

The Makutupora agricultural research station, located a few miles from Tanzania’s dust-blown interior capital of Dodoma, is surrounded by misery. Drought has stalked the land for over a year. Farmers watch helplessly as their wizened crops of maize — a staple food for the area — shrivel under the relentless sun. Skinny children sit listlessly in the shade. 

Some local farmers are aware that the drought-tolerant crop that was just tested successfully in Makutupora could have helped feed their families. But it didn’t, because the maize carries the stigma of being a “GMO.” Although every scientific institution in the world agrees that genetically modified crops are as safe as any other crop, outdated “biosafety” regulations treat GMO crops as if they were little better than germ warfare. 


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Scientists and science supporters will take to the streets in a global March for Science on 22 April . What began as a small Facebook group in the US capital, Washington DC has spiralled into a global phenomenon that will now see marches and other events in more than 500 locations around the world, from Seattle to Seoul.

It is great news that so many people are prepared to stand up and defend the need for evidence-based thinking and the scientific method. But it is also a sad comment on our times that a March for Science is needed at all. Post-truth populism has infected democracies around the world, scientific objectivity is under threat from multiple sources and there seems a real danger of falling into a modern dystopian dark age.

It is clear that the old days of scientists staying in the lab, publishing papers in scholarly journals, and otherwise letting the facts speak for themselves are over. As the Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes reminds us: “The facts don’t speak for themselves because we live in a world where so many people are trying to silence facts.” In her book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes wrote about these efforts from the tobacco industry onwards; science denialist attempts that are paralleled in today’s climate sceptic, anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements.

These campaigners against truth take great pains to deny the existence of scientific consensus on their different issues. The fact that 97% of the peer-reviewed literature on climate change supports the consensus that most of global warming is human-induced is dismissed as mere elitism. But as Dr Sarah Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science at Cornell, writes: “The values we defend are those of the Enlightenment, not the establishment.” Expertise is real, and we reject it at our peril.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the March for Science, and what may prove to be its most enduring legacy, is its truly global nature. Science is not western; it is everywhere and for everyone. I have worked with Alliance for Sciencecolleagues to help get marches off the ground in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Uganda, Venezuela, Chile and other places. In between long Skype calls about logistics, fundraising, and media outreach I watched the lights flash on as the number of marches on the global map kept on increasing. It was like watching the world light up with knowledge.

Bangladesh March for Science’s lead organiser Arif Hossain says: “I am marching to let the world know that we are united for science in Bangladesh. We have 160 million people to feed in the changed climate, and together we will make a better day with science and innovation.”

Although the issues of most concern vary in different locations, appreciation of the need for science is global. As Nkechi Isaac, an organiser of the March for Science in Abuja, Nigeria, says: “Science is revolutionary. It holds the key to constant development and improvement for addressing climate change, food shortage and challenges in medicine. Science holds the solution to our food security.”

Nigerians can testify to the tragic effects of anti-science activism. Efforts to eradicate polio in the country were held up for years because of conspiracy theories spread by those suspicious of modern medicine and vaccines. People die when science is denied.

So here’s what we will be marching for. It’s time to enter the post-post-truth era. And there is no time to lose.