4 key questions for March for Science organizers & what info I gathered on them

The Scientists March on Washington (aka March for Science @ScienceMarchDC) is one of the biggest science movements I’ve ever seen. It’s gone from zero to sixty in about 2 seconds now with hundreds of thousands of supporters, but some important questions are arising about this event and its organizers.scientists-march-on-washington

I continue to be enthusiastic about the March, but this week I’ve been getting concerned about some lack of transparency and the risk that should this thing go wrong, it could do more harm than good.

To the organizers, I realize with hundreds of thousands of energized possible participants you have your hands full and many of us will cut you slack because of that, but you really need more transparency and you need it now. Transparency is even more crucial because of the massive stakes here,

As an example of concerns raised about the March, check out this open letter that was written on the March for Science Reddit page, which raises some very reasonable questions and concerns that I echo below in some cases in this post with 4 central questions.

Question 1: Why hasn’t there been more openness, in particular about the organizers? The Scientists March on Washington Facebook page does not openly identify who is administering the page (presumably these are some of the leaders) unless you are a member of the “secret group”. Admittedly it’s not much of a secret group with 800,000+ members, but still this would seem to run counter to the open culture of science.

I am pretty sure the folks listed below are amongst the top March organizers based on the admins and posts on the Facebook page as well as other bits of info on the web. Only a couple have talked to the media or self-identified as being involved. I’ve tried to put affiliations where I could find the info, but it’s not definite in some cases.

  • Thomas Gaudin, Make-It Space Intern at Creative Discovery Museum, @thomas_gaudin
  • Caroline Weinberg, a science writer, @ckw583
  • Valorie Aquino (Ph.D. student at U. of New Mexico?)
  • Bridget McGann, who describes herself on Twitter as a scientartist, @bridgetmcgann
  • Lauren Diepenbrock, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at NC State University, @LMDiepenbrock 
  • Tina Sullivan, Middletown – South High School
  • Jonathan Berman, postdoc SUNY Buffalo,  
  • Alexandra Sosa, FIU
  • Ryan Molony, UConn
  • Samantha Glover, Brookdale Community College
  • Nichole Reichert, Middletown – South High School
  • Lydia Patton, Virginia Tech

To the organizers, can you tell us the full back story to how this movement started (were there competing movements or organizers?), more about yourselves as to your qualifications to lead a massive movement like this, and how this small group evolved? Have any people been included as organizers and how many excluded if any?

Question 2. How are you making decisions? On Twitter there have been posts saying there is infighting amongst the March organizers. Are you voting? Are you surveying the members of the full group on Facebook (I haven’t seen this)? In short, how are you ensuring a democratic process and strong, wise decision making? For instance, how did you pick April 22nd? What other key decisions are you making that we as a community of millions of scientists don’t know about? Who are you reaching out to outside of your small group for advice?

Question 3. Are you recruiting professionals to help you successfully run this huge happening?  I have my fingers crossed that they have recruited some additional top-notch scientists and other professionals with organizing, PR, fundraising, and other crucial experience. The moment that they start asking (a probable next step) for donations to handle the costs associated with a big even like this and likely begin raising tens of millions of dollars, the involvement of professionals becomes even more crucial. They need accountability too.

Questions 4. Given the seriousness of your responsibility in running this huge event that will represent science itself collectively and millions of individual scientists, are you considering potential political risks and ways to mitigate them? What if things start to go wrong? For instance, what if the event is politicized and perhaps in an intensely negative way? What if President Trump or a surrogate attacks it verbally or on Twitter?

There are so many unanswered questions about this event so far.

On the March for Science website it says more info on the team will be provided next week, but they’ve been too slow on this front.

Good luck to the folks running this.

Any of you readers intending to go? Why or why not?

I’m still trying to make up my mind.

A post just went up on Facebook from Gaudin saying this:

“On April 22, scientists and science enthusiasts will unite in Washington D.C. and in cities around the world. The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone. The D.C march will culminate in an Earth Day rally on the Washington Mall. We invite you to join us there for main stage speakers and “teach-in” tents, where a diverse group of science educators and scientists representing many fields will speak to the public about ongoing research and its vital importance in our everyday lives. Worldwide, more than 30 cities have begun organizing their own marches, ready to take to the streets in support of science. In the meantime, thank you for your feedback and enthusiasm as we continue to organize this effort. We are actively partnering with science organizations and working with enthusiastic volunteers from around the country to make this march a success. Our new website is up and running and will now be regularly updated with details about our committees, the sister marches, and our plans for what happens after the march. Our enthusiasm and commitment to science will not end there!

Thank you,

Co-organizers Jon Berman, Valorie Aquino, Caroline Weinberg, and the many volunteers and experienced organizers who have been with us every step of the way.”

14 thoughts on “4 key questions for March for Science organizers & what info I gathered on them

  1. I run a science advocacy non-profit so I have to avoid political activism. For that reason I have steered clear until we know more answers like you have asked. They have embraced any number of special interest groups rather than the special interest in their name (science), they seem to be more anti-Trump than pro-science, and they are holding it on Earth Day, which has a real stigma to apolitical people. No one is opposed to science like the organizers of Earth Day.

    • Hi Hank,
      I am intrigued by your statement that “no one is opposed to science like the organizers of Earth Day.”

      Can you point me to related material?

      I suspect that Gaylord Nelson must be spinning in his grave.

  2. What, specifically, are they protesting? I understand President Trump has made some ill-informed comments about climate change, but to the best of my knowledge there have been no specific statements about cutting federal funding, i.e. NIH or NSF. I could be wrong, but for those reasons, this feels more like anti-Trump campus activity that has morphed into a movement that implicates an entire community of people across the nation – and world, in fact. I am an academic scientist/engineer in America and I don’t agree with this march. Something like this should be done when there is truly a crisis, i.e. legislation that cuts funding from the major sources and directly impacts science. This is all politics. Very worrisome that there are grad students, postdocs, high school students??, and twitter-dwellers listed among the organizers.

    • Doing this march when there’s truly a crisis will be too late. It would also feed into the narrative that scientists/engineers only care when our livelihoods are at stake. As much as we have liked to pretend for a long time that science is apolitical (my feeling is that this was mostly done to protect our funding streams), anything involving human activity is political.

      Also, being solely reactionary as you appear to be advocating for is not a good way to proceed, given how events are playing out.

      The only concerning thing with this is the terrible organizational skills the group seems to have.

      Your concern about the status of who the organizers appear to be smacks of elitism and implies that you yourself have benefited from the past status quo of science, which may put you in the same category as the greybeards that denied any problems with NIH funding chances until it actually affected themselves. Not a good look.

      • I’m unaware of that narrative – most of the academics I know are constantly pissing and moaning about politics and funding. There is no ‘past status quo’, that is such a ludicrous statement. You have to formulate novel ideas and do meaningful work, or your funding will dry up, PERIOD! I never said that science is apolitical, or that people shouldn’t be proactive – I just said that I feel this march is ill-advised at the current time. The public is the primary advocate of science, insofar as they elect legislators that will ultimately control funding streams. Having a march like this now, without a clear purpose, could have a very negative impact on public perception, which might be far more damaging to funding streams in the future. I think we need to look at the big picture right now and be careful to avoid OVERT POLITICIZATION of science in the court of public opinion.

        Regarding the organizers, say what you like, but I have no idea whether those people share my views. If the organizers were people that have been through the ebbs and flows and funding cycles for a long enough time to formulate a measured and reasonable outlook, or if they had recognizable names, that would be a different story. In general, if people are going to organize a movement that represents an entire group, they should be individuals that are recognized as leaders within that broader group – that is not elitism, it’s the natural order of things. Terrible organizational skills you cited should be a sign of an overall lack of mission and cohesion. If this goes badly it may have a little boy that cried wolf effect, potentially creating a new narrative where scientists are just another group of academics with political motivations, and dampening the significance of our protests at a future – much more critical – juncture.

        It would be helpful if someone could articulate the “events that are playing out”, which are the motivating factors for the march. There is a whole lot of territory between waiting for funding to dry up (being 100% reactionary) and having a poorly organized, premature march of protest without clear reasoning (being ignorantly pro-active).

        • If you’re unaware of such a narrative, it probably means you have relatively few friends and acquaintances outside of academia or you’re part of the greybeard generation of scientists/engineers. Those two are not mutually exclusive.

          As for your insistence that there is “no past status quo”, that statement is blatantly wrong. Jeremy Berg has posted his analysis of NIH funding trends multiple times over at his Datahound blog. His analysis demonstrates that, until very recently, the greybeards’ grants and renewals were simply getting rubber-stamped for approval every study section while the early career and especially mid-career investigators were left out in the cold. There are examples of R01s that have been renewed continuously for 30 years on phosphorylation sites on few proteins and you want to make the claim “You have to formulate novel ideas and do meaningful work, or your funding will dry up, PERIOD!”? That is the exception, not the rule in much of bioscience funding. The actually rule is previous funding gets you more funding regardless of novelty.

          Asking to avoid overt politicization is veering dangerously into quisling territory. You are aware that this administration tried to shut down communication from the EPA and the USDA, right? You’re aware that the adminstration wants to review all reports from the EPA to decide whether or not to make them available to the public, right? These are just some of the “events that are playing out”. The U.S. currently has a President that admires dictators, has recently expressed a disdain for the rule of law and separation of powers, and has been appointing people to head the various science-associated departments that are opposed to the basic mission of the departments they will head. The practice of science is a human endeavor, and like all human endeavors, it is inherently political. Facts are not. The sooner the scientific community understands this, the better.

          Your whole second paragraph reads as an appeal to authority (which is a logical fallacy, but I’m sure you knew that). Also, news flash: a large swath of the U.S. public already believes scientists are just another group of academics with political motivations.

          Given that there is still some months before the march, there is still time to turn it into something effective.

          (Also, you probably should avoid using all caps on the internet; that never turns out well for anyone, just a heads-up. Incidentally, using “PERIOD!” at the end of a statement at this time is a running joke that the statement is demonstrably false on its face. See: Spicer, Sean, press conferences.)

      • If I had a penny for every scientist who thought s/he knew a fact that was later shown to be inaccurate, I’d be a much richer man.

        So far as I can tell, science isn’t really about facts. It’s about the accuracy of measurements/observations and how accurately they relate to models and how accurately/logically the models relate to each other.

        Ultimately, science will be valued so long as it produced models that are accurate and deemed by the public to be useful…

        A few of us would also support science for purely aesthetic reasons, just as we would support any other art.

  3. Thank you for this- leave it to scientists to sniff out BS. The March for Science is following the same path as the Women’s March. I’m following the movements, and the movement for BLM. All have started to have platforms that sound very similar only as seen from that community’s view: For instance: BLM is fighting for Black LGBT, The women’s march is now a “movement” and fighting for LGBT women, the science march is also following this “movement” path and fighting for “LGBT Scientists”. They all have other “groups” they’re fighting for, LGBT was just an example to illustrate the point. See more here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RFaNvX4XB7GqqSPypTcU9W-yllil1PvQS8Sk5r8h8Kg/edit All are global movements: BLM- think: the small group, of mostly white kids, in Britain this past summer, who stopped the plane for climate change activism and called themselves “Black Live Matter”. Think also how the women’s march went for “zero to sixty in record speed” and had sister marches over the world. . . the same way the Science March has now. You are absolutely right to be weary of the lack of transparency. I found stuff on Valorie Aquino, but it was virtually impossible to find anything for Dr. Caroline Weinburg. This is not about Science, it’s VERY political. You’re community is being co-opted for globalist political agenda and I’d urge your community to continue to demand more information upfront. Please, be the smarter group of people we need you to be. In the spirit of transparency: I am not a scientist. I’m a Christian conservative stay at home/homeschooling mom who doesn’t hate science, but I believe the Bible. Knowing that, you can choose to dismiss me, but I share what I’m tracking freely, because I see the co-opting of divided Americans for political gain, and I’ll point it out to anyone who will listen.

    Here’s my google doc, tracking the cursory unfolding of the March for Science: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RFaNvX4XB7GqqSPypTcU9W-yllil1PvQS8Sk5r8h8Kg/edit

  4. @admin – Here is your answer to “who” these people are. I can’t post the screenshot of their tweet so you’ll need to find it yourself. They sent it out on January 28th. It reads:

    “colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues.”

    That about says it all now, doesn’t it?

Leave a Reply