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.”

Good stem cell news on trials, FDA, cool new papers & more

pericyte-paper

Guimarães-Camboa, et al, Cell Stem Cell figure

In the whirlwind that is the stem cell and regenerative medicine world, there are many concerning things that need attention, but also good stuff happens too and this post focuses on the positive.

The Asterias spinal cord injury clinical trial, a phase 1/2a trial called SCiStar, continues to make encouraging news with a clean safety profile and additional hints at possible positive indicators of efficacy. With the usual, important caveats such as that this is early and it is not an RCT, the SCiStar momentum is positive. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this one including from an RCT. You can read my interview from last month with Asterias leadership here.

I remain very enthusiastic about ViaCyte’s trial as well using a stem cell capsule product for treatment of Diabetes. Their joining forces with BetaLogics a year ago just made their position even stronger.

I’m going to do a post soon on an analysis on the total number of stem cell and regenerative medicine trials compared to historical data I collected. Stay tuned on that. I’m guessing it’ll be good news.

Recently, we also saw evidence of fast action from FDA in response to the 21st Century Cures Act in terms of providing a clear document on Regenerative Advanced Therapy designations and applications. It’s still unclear how the Cures stem cell provisions will play out, but I consider quick, clear action from the FDA to be a positive. I wish they were this fast on other stuff like dealing with stem cell clinics marketing unapproved drug products.

There have been a number of cool papers recently that I recommend reading:

Scientists battle Trump agenda on multiple fronts

scientists against trumpThe first ten days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been just as extreme as many had feared including those of us in the scientific community, but the early reactions of scientists to fight Trump’s agenda have been encouraging.

We’ve collectively been sparked to “get out of the lab” and do something about it.

There are many things one can do as a scientist to oppose Trump’s extremism. I wrote a post on December 2 about how scientists can try to deal with the new Trump reality. That post rings true today almost 2 months later.

Perhaps inspired in part by the massively successful Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration (and the many satellite protests across America and the world) that dwarfed the inauguration turnout much to his chagrin, a movement of scientists was born to hold the Scientists’ March on Washington. You can read more here and show your interest in participating (in DC or locally) here on their Facebook book. I’m hoping to participate either in DC or locally here in Sacramento at the state capitol.

Scientists including many Nobel laureates have signed a petition (you can sign it here) in the thousands against Trump’s toxic immigration ban. I sent in an email to sign it last night. It is encouraging to see federal judges ruling against Trump on at least aspects of this executive order.

UC Berkeley geneticist Michael Eisen has taken things a big step further than most by announcing he is running for the US Senate. You can follow him in his campaign incarnation here on Twitter. It appears other scientists are going to run for office as well.

Overall, scientists are getting out of the box of the lab and becoming more politically active in many ways in response to Trump. I see us scientists, whose lives revolve around data and facts, as having a key role in the larger movement countering the “alternative facts” fake reality pushed by the Trump administration.

Let’s fight the good fight!