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Reasons to march for science in Seattle. Or not

Nicole Baker is a research scientist at the University of Washington who studies the state of global fish stocks. It's not political work. In fact, she's never been an activist and has never participated in a political march in her life. 

But last year when Donald Trump ran for president, Baker got political for the first time. And she says in 2017, something snapped.

“I think the nomination of Scott Pruitt as the EPA chief who doesn't believe in climate change just totally put me over the edge,” she said.

Baker is alarmed that President Donald Trump and some members of his cabinet seem to dismiss basic science. She's also concerned that Trump slashed science research funding in his proposed budget.

So next weekend she plans to attend the March for Science rally with other scientists and their supporters. Marches are happening here in Seattle and in cities around the country, including Washington, D.C. 

Baker does not see the March for Science as about one political party or the other.  

“It's not a partisan issue," she said. "If there was a Democratic president who was doing the same things, I would feel the same way about marching.”

Not all scientists think the march is the right kind of activism. Robert Young agrees with Baker that science is under attack, but he thinks marching is the wrong tactic, one “that's going to reinforce the messages that they've been getting from the conservative media all along, that the scientists are really just liberal environmentalists. Or the scientists have their own political agenda.”

Young is a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University, and he’s spent more than a decade studying the Elwha Dam removal project here in Washington state. He believes the science march reveals a larger problem with how scientists sometimes discuss their work with the general public – they're not always considering how their messages will be received by people who don't know any scientists, or people who live in places where Donald Trump won.

“I can't go to talk to my in-laws about climate change and start the conversation with polar bears," Young said. "My in-laws live in eastern North Carolina. What they care about is having a job. And what the soybean crop is this year. They don't care about polar bears, and you may think that that's terrible, but that's the way that the world works.”

Sarah Myhre, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington disagrees with that approach. 

“To say that science is not political, and to say that we're going to have problems down the line if we politicize science is like saying science is about empiricism, which is this pure thing up above our heads that doesn't have anything to do with politics," Myhre said. "Frankly, that's wrong. “

Myhre plans to march. For her, it's not just a March for Science but a march against how science excludes women and minorities.

“We are marching to defend an inclusive and diverse culture inside of science — a culture that accepts women as a part of the scientific community, a culture that accepts people of color and people that have been disenfranchised inside of science," she said. "There are incredibly important social and cultural issues that interface with the scientific community right now. And those are also a part of the March for Science."

So not every scientist is marching for the same reason, and not every scientist will march. But everyone interviewed for this story said the identity of the country is at stake if people don't stand up for science right now.

Myhre put it this way: “Think about the things that American science has done in the last hundred years. We put people on the moon. We landed an instrument on an asteroid. We have a robot driving around Mars right now. We are a driving force across the entire planet for health and safety and reducing costs and reducing risk.”  

Year started with KUOW: 2004