The Scientists March on Washington (aka March for Science @) 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.
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, @
- Caroline Weinberg, a science writer, @
- Valorie Aquino (Ph.D. student at U. of New Mexico?)
- Bridget McGann, who describes herself on Twitter as a scientartist, @
- Lauren Diepenbrock, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at NC State University, @
- 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!
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.”