Hundreds of Valley residents to march for science Saturday in DC, Boston and elsewhere

  • UMass graduate students work Wednesday on signs for Saturday’s March for Science. DANNY MARTINEZ

  • The March for Science logo. March for Science

  • Members of the scientific community, environmental advocates, and supporters demonstrate Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, in Boston, to call attention to what they say are the increasing threats to science and scientific research under the administration of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hundreds of demonstrators from the Pioneer Valley will descend on cities across the Northeast on Saturday to defend what in the past hasn’t been a particularly sexy topic for protesters — science.

The March for Science is a protest movement meant to highlight what organizers say are attacks on scientific inquiry and research under the administration of President Donald Trump.

According to the national march’s official website, the March for Science is a nonpartisan demonstration that “champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.”

One local resident attending the national march in Washington is Naila Moreira, a science writer who teaches at Smith College and writes a monthly environmental column for the Gazette.

Moreira said in February she attended a rally during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston, where, as a kind of prelude to the March for Science, hundreds of scientists demonstrated against what they said were the Trump administration’s anti-science policies.

“Scientists are new to the idea of having to defend science in the public sphere,” Moreira said. But in the age of “alternative facts,” she said standing up for their respective fields is more important than ever.

“Science is how we determine how things are true, and I have a great deal of faith in that process,” she said. “I think it’s important to face reality, to understand fact and the truth, and I think science is our path to that.”

A group of more than 40 students from Amherst College is also headed for the nation’s capital. The Amherst College Democrats, together with the Amherst Association for Women in Science, are sponsoring the trip by bus.

“I think this is a really really important event. Tens of thousands of people from all over the country are coming to stand up for climate science, and scientific integrity and government funding for science,” the president of Amherst College Democrats, 19-year-old Alexander Deatrick, said. “As students, we all believe very strongly in the importance of science.”

Many of those students were inspired to join a burgeoning protest movement after attending various women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Deatrick said climate change deniers in the Trump administration, like Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, and proposed cuts to scientific research are particularly troubling for him.

“We’re going to bring this issue back to the forefront, and I do think that will have an impact,” he said.

The protest in Washington, however, is not the only march for science that local residents are attending. There are six rallies taking place in Massachusetts on Saturday in Amherst, Boston, Falmouth, Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Worcester, according to the March for Science website.

A large contingent from the University of Massachusetts Amherst will join the rally in Boston, including three buses with a total of 121 people.

Part of that group will be from the left-leaning organization Science for the People.

Science for the People was a radical movement that existed from 1969 to 1989, and is now seeing a resurgence, UMass professor and historian of science Sigrid Schmalzer said.

There are now around a dozen Science for the People chapters at universities across the country, said Schmalzer, who is part of the organization’s UMass chapter. In Boston, the group will be hoping to challenge what Schmalzer said is likely to be a dominant message of the march.

“We’re a small group compared with the message that is ‘science is apolitical,’ which is something we strongly disagree with,” Schmalzer said, pointing to the fact that science can be used for nefarious ends like the development of powerful lethal weapons.

“This movement is different from a lot of the more mainstream organizing that scientists are doing now, which tends to be more about protecting science and protecting the work scientists do, irrespective of what that work is,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how pure you think your research is, you’re a human being working in a social group with a political context and you can’t hide behind some kind of supposed neutrality.”

Schmalzer said Science for the People will also hope to push the march’s focus away from the narrative that scientists are the victims of Trump’s agenda, and instead focus on those truly affected by anti-science policies: people of color, communities on the front lines of climate change, factory workers exposed to toxins, farmworkers who have to work with unregulated pesticides and others.

For those unable to travel all the way to Boston or Washington, there will also be a local March for Science in Amherst at 10 a.m., from Kendrick Park to the Town Common.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.