NEWS EXPLAINER

The March for Science is back — and here's what to expect

Researchers in the United States, India and Mexico are protesting in advance of major elections.

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T. V. Padma is a science journalist in New Delhi.

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Tens of thousands participate in the March for Science in Chicago, United States on April 22, 2017.

Demonstrators walked through Chicago, Illinois, at the city's 2017 March for Science.Credit: Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Supporters of science around the world will take to the streets on 14 April for the second annual March for Science. Over the past year, the march — which began as a single day of demonstrations in April 2017 — has evolved into a global advocacy movement. Nature takes a look at why people are marching, how the movement has changed over time and what its future could bring.

How many cities are hosting marches, and what kind of turnout do organizers expect?

More than 250 cities around the world — from Mexico City to London to Mumbai — are hosting events. That’s fewer than last year, when marches in more than 600 cities drew about 1 million people. Still, this year’s overall turnout should be close to that of 2017, because many cities will host related events over the entire weekend, says Valerie Grover, satellite director of the main March for Science organization, who is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

This year’s events range from rallies to festivals, and include musical performances, teach-in sessions and expos hosted by March for Science’s partner organizations. That should make it easier for non-scientists to get involved, Grover says.

How has the movement changed since last year?

The March for Science started as a US-based volunteer group and evolved into an international movement coordinated by a main organization, which is registered in New York City. That body — which has 9 board members, 8 staff and 1,800 affiliated groups — uses grassroots efforts to advocate for evidence-based policy. The goal of the 2017 marches globally was to protest against a lack of support for science, especially by the administration of US President Donald Trump, and to spark people's interest in science.

Since then, the organization has started a series of initiatives, including a petition to urge the US Congress to support research on gun violence and a campaign to encourage legislators to recognize that climate change increases the risks of wildfires. But the group has also faced complaints: last autumn, some volunteers voiced concerns about the transparency of its management practices. Since then, the organization has made documents such as the minutes for board meetings available to all affiliates, Grover says.

Source: March for Science

What are the key issues for marchers in the United States?

Participants in the United States will march in Washington DC and more than 120 other cities to call on Congress to protect government funding for basic research and environmental programmes, and to ensure that appointees to government science posts have relevant expertise. Other key issues are open access to scientific papers that describe research funded by government grants, as well as the protection of data privacy and net neutrality, which the US Federal Communications Commission plans to end by allowing Internet-service providers to block particular websites, Grover says.

Marchers will also urge state legislatures across the country to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of guidelines that calls for teaching students evolution and the effects of human activity on climate, among other things.

… in Mexico?

Thousands of scientists are expected to march in Mexico City this year, seeking a higher budget for science, technology and education programmes. Organizers of March for Science events in the country expect higher attendance than last year, and more individual events.

The outcomes of last year’s march are only starting to bloom. In 2017, the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) — Mexico's main research funding agency — saw its budget cut by 23.3%. This year, the cut was just 3.7%.

That was a major victory for researchers, says Pedro Camilo Alcántara Concepción, who studies remote sensing at the University of Guanajuato. “We now know that the reduction was going to be larger” before scientists protested last year, he says.

Mexico’s next general election will take place on 1 July. None of the candidates battling for the presidency have issued a science and technology plan so far. “It’s not among their priorities,” says Alcántara Concepción. Organizers are proposing yet another march in a few months if this doesn’t change. “Without question, scientific organizations have [acted] in order to decide what we need to do in the country,” he says.

In the meantime, outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto recently made an unexpected effort to make amends with the scientific community. He proposed a reform to Mexico's Science and Technology Law that encourages long-term planning, reducing the turmoil that comes with a presidential transition.

… in India?

In India, the science-advocacy organization the Breakthrough Science Society (BSS) is providing logistics and support to a march committee, formed last year, that will coordinate India science marches with the global events. In 2017, India’s march for science took place in August, four months later than the global events, and more than 20,000 people marched in more than 40 cities.

This year, the main events will take place in major cities — including Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram — as well as in smaller cities and towns, says Soumitro Banerjee, general secretary of the BSS and an electrical engineer at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata. He expects the turnout to be larger this year than it was last August, and says that march events have been publicized largely through Whatsapp and Facebook.

The marchers’ key demands remain the same as in 2017: raising the government’s allocation for science from 0.85% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to at least 3%, and stemming the tide of unscientific views and pseudoscience. “The government has not paid any heed to the issues raised by us,” says Banerjee.

… in the United Kingdom?

Organizers in London are expecting around 300 people to attend a rally close to the prime minister’s offices on Downing Street. That's considerably fewer than the 10,000 people who marched last year from the Science Museum in Kensington to Parliament Square in Westminster. The decision to have a static demonstration is down to a lack of funding to cover the liability insurance for a parade, says organizer Jillian Sequeira. Rally-goers will hear speeches from academics, environmentalists and other campaigners. Subjects up for discussion include climate change, pollution, fracking, science education and healthcare.

“This year's rally focuses on protecting funding for scientific education and research, and connecting Londoners with scientific projects they might not know about in their own backyard,” says Sequeira, who is studying for a master’s degree in conflict studies at the London School of Economics. The idea is that people will be inspired to get involved in ongoing projects with local organisations — such as neighbourhood clean-up schemes, a campaign to support the National Health Service or tutoring services for young women in science and technology subjects, she says.

... in mainland Europe?

In Germany, organizers expect about the same number of people to march this year — in 15 university towns across the country — as they did last year. In 2017, marches took place in 22 German cities and attracted almost 40,000 participants — more than in any country except the United States. This year, marches are taking place in cities including Dresden, Frankfurt and Munich — but not Berlin, which in 2017 attracted some 11,000 marchers.

Scientists are again set to demonstrate for the safeguarding of truthfulness and freedom of expression — key values for responsible science and liberal society. But the planned events address a greater diversity of issues than last year. Citizens in several ‘Science Cafes’, including in Jena and Berlin, will get a chance to meet and discuss science issues with working researchers. One group will advocate for better science education for children; and scientists also want to publicly address the precarious situation of early-career researchers in an increasingly competitive science system.

No nationally organized events are taking place in France, says Patrick Lemaire, a biologist at the University of Montpellier and one of the main organizers of the country's 2017 science marches. Lemaire notes that three locally organized marches are planned, and says that a new collective of scientists and citizens — called Tous en Sciences, or All for Science — will be formed in Bordeaux on 14 April, where 700 people marched last year. Lemaire, who is president of the researcher-led campaign group Sciences en Marche, hopes there will be science marches ahead of the European parliamentary elections in May.

What’s next for the science-march movement?

The main organization in the United States has just closed the first round of applications for its community-grants programme, which includes financial and mentoring support for advocacy projects launched by affiliated groups. The grants, which will total at least US$10,000 for the first year, are funded in part by the revenues of a book of artwork, stories and photographs from the 2017 march, says Stephanie Sasse, director of special projects at the March for Science central organization, who is based in San Francisco, California. This summer, the group will host a three-day summit in Chicago, Illinois, for activists to come together and share their knowledge, find out about each other's initiatives and develop advocacy skills that can be brought back to their communities, Sasse says.

The central march group is also urging people to register to vote before the November state and federal elections, and to support pro-science candidates, says board member Lucky Tran, a science communicator at Columbia University in New York. “We have to hold political leaders accountable for evidence-based policies that serve all communities.”

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-04474-w
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Updates & Corrections

  • Correction 13 April 2018: The photo caption misstated the location of the protest depicted. It is Chicago, Illinois.