Why I marched for science

When the March for Science was first announced, I wasn't planning to go. I was unsure what role scientists should have in politics and wary of increasing the already harmful levels of partisanship towards science. However, the discussion surrounding the march convinced me: Science is crucial for our government and for the creation of policies that help all people. Scientists must stand up to support scientific research and evidence-based policies. These are not partisan issues; they are human issues. And that is why I marched for science, along with thousands of others, on Saturday.

I've always been a science nerd. As a kid, I watched "Star Trek" and read sci-fi. It wasn't just the adventure; I loved their visions of the future — their foundation in exploration, and the science and technology they depicted that seemed just out of grasp. My passion for science fiction drove me to learn more about science fact. I formed a respect for the scientific method, the process by which scientists form conclusions based on empirical observations, and a thirst to help create the future. As my interest grew, it drove me to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular medicine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. I love that every day I am working to discover and explain new things to the world.

In my doctoral work, I am researching breast cancer, and my ability to study it is founded in legislation coming from both parties. America's science dominance played a crucial role in our success in World War II, which contributed to the mid- 20th century creation of the National Science Foundation, meant to find civilian applications for military technology and to fund basic science research. Two decades later, the War on Cancer was initiated by President Nixon when he signed the National Cancer Act in late 1971, something that directly supports my ability to research cancer. However, it is clear that our elected officials are beginning to forget the importance of science and the scientific method in policy.

As a scientist, I form a hypothesis, collect data and interpret the data in an unbiased manner to understand the facts. Based on these facts, I form conclusions that either confirm my hypothesis or help me make a new one. This is a method that should also be applied outside of science and encouraged in policy making. Policy should be founded in data that show what will work, and improved through the lessons learned during implementation. Policy should utilize facts to help as many people as possible. This is something that I continue to believe can happen, but it needs our help.

It is clear to me that, as scientists, we need to speak up. Scientific evidence is a crucial part of political discourse and creating policy that helps people. However, just the existence of evidence is not enough. We must share it with our community. We can no longer isolate ourselves in our labs, doing research and expecting to be consulted when our expertise is needed. It is obvious that our leaders have stepped away from the scientific method, preferring to govern based on instinct and greed rather than empirical observation. This is something we can change. Through better communication, education and participation, we can share the passion we have for discovery and the scientific method.

I became a scientist because a childhood of science fiction made me passionate about the future. That hasn't changed. I believe in our ability to make a better future, but I also believe that we've been negligent. Marching for science last weekend was not just an act of participation, it was a commitment to do better, to communicate our interests and to help educate the community so we can work together toward creating the future.

But while it was important to march, our effort should not end there. As scientists, we must continue to share our passion for the future, work within our communities and stand up for scientific discovery and evidence based policies every day. I was at the March for Science, but, more importantly, I am still advocating today.

Benjamin Wolfson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reached at www.benwolfson.com; Twitter: @brwolfson.

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