In the span of a few months, the March for Science burgeoned into a global movement that galvanized support from hundreds of thousands of people in over 610 locations around the globe. The march’s organizers officially aim to create a long-term social movement that champions science outreach and advocacy as a meaningful way to foster an enduring relationship between the scientific community and the general public. I believed it was essential for me to get involved because our society especially needs a public affirmation of the value of science in evidence-based federal decision-making in an age marred by a political establishment that undermines the credibility and authenticity of scientific evidence on climate change.
Dialogue between scientists and laypeople has never been more critical. In order to take steps to address climate change, the scientific community needs to gain the trust of citizens in an era of increasing skepticism towards scientists and technologists. Being involved in organizing the march was my way of challenging and reshaping the perception of insularity of the scientific community. It is essential that the general public stop viewing scientific enterprise as an elitist, ivory tower endeavor that is only accessible to a select few. As a scientist working at Weill Cornell Medicine, I realized that there was a real need for young people like myself to assert the importance of science in a way that actually resonated with people. And what better way to engineer a grassroots social movement than to organize a march in support of a worthy cause? The fact that more than 70% of march registrants were non-scientists is a testament to the broad grassroots support of our message.
Throughout my tenure as a steering committee member, I have often received questions from people regarding my own views on science, politics, and religion and whether I think the march runs the risk of politicizing something that should be an “apolitical” endeavor. I respond by saying that the March for Science may be nonpartisan, but it is not apolitical. None can conduct science in a vacuum insulated from any particular historical moment or political context. Policies have wide-reaching implications for science that extend far beyond budget cuts, climate change denialism, and unsubstantiated comments about the use of vaccines; they even also affect the ability to recruit the brightest academic talent by limiting funds to support them.
We advocate for the nonpartisan funding and support for scientific research, but we also advocate for the mobilization and engagement of scientists with the political process to inform federal decision-making. Science, as an international social enterprise, knows no boundaries and is not apolitical.
My studies in political science and chemistry in college have taught me that throughout history, political forces have always shaped science. I’m sure that several of the march organizers, including myself, are chronically aware of the terrible things science has been used to do, such as forced sterilization and eugenics. As scientists in the 21st century, we realize that science can be used for both good and evil and that it is our moral responsibility to promote its use for the common good. Similarly, I believe that being a scientist is not antithetical to being observant of any faith tradition; personally, I find that my occupation as a scientist and my observance of my Islamic faith are synergistic and harmonious. I do not find that they contradict one another, because both strongly encourage intellectual inquiry and critical thinking to know one’s “place” in what Albert Einstein once described as the “the marvelous arrangement of the universe.” While I view science as a means of understanding the physical world and complex natural phenomena, religion is my way of understanding the deeper meaning of my life and the purpose of my temporal existence on Earth. It is through my Islamic faith that I am able to understand that I am here to serve others and to promote goodness, justice, and peace through whichever avenue I choose for myself. Given that I chose to pursue a career in science, it was reasonable for me to be involved in the leadership and planning elements of the march, particularly as the organization aims to promote science’s benefits to society.