Frameshifts LogoThree weeks into my term as GSA’s President I went to the Women’s March in New York with my daughters. The experience was energizing and uplifting on many levels—it was completely peaceful, attended by women and men of all ages, and focused entirely on affirming civil rights. The magic of the day came from the surprisingly massive participation around the world and the realization that people with all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs can be roused to action in the face of threats to basic civil liberties. As for many, many people, this was my first march, and it brought the realization that we do have the power to influence our political leaders.

When I heard about the March for Science shortly after the Women’s March, I worried about the risk of being labeled as a “special interest” group complaining about funding. Would we be able to capture the attention of a similarly broad swath of our population? I and our Executive Committee quickly became convinced our Society must support this movement as an official partner of March for Science. Although the GSA is nonpartisan, we cannot be apolitical; our responsibilities to our community and the public who fund our research are too important. As custodians of public funds and a research enterprise that ultimately serves society, we have a responsibility to communicate to the policymakers and the public our deep concern about the future of science and the status of scientific evidence under the current administration.

Political acts are of course not new for GSA and other scientific societies. We have long represented genetic researchers in advocacy efforts—whether aimed at federal agencies, policymakers, or the public. What may seem new about our support for the March for Science is that this movement started as a response to the current administration. And although the March for Science organization itself is nonpartisan, it’s clear that most of the people marching will be protesting against actions of the current administration.

Anti-science actions and rhetoric are not exclusive to one political party. But the first actions of the new administration signal both a disturbing attitude about the merits of scientific evidence in making policy decisions, as well as an intention to dismantle this country’s research capacity. President Trump has appointed an EPA Administrator who does not believe the overwhelming scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions cause climate change. Trump is pushing to appoint a “vaccine safety commission” that would legitimize the discredited anti-vaccination movement that costs lives. The President’s budget proposal would decimate funding for science research, including disastrous cuts to the EPA and the NIH.

I cannot stand idly on the sidelines as the legitimacy of scientific evidence is undermined as a foundation for sound governance. I cannot stand by as our capacity to understand the world—and therefore to make it better—is crippled. Neither can the scientific community. Neither can the GSA.

So why march? Here are some of the reasons why we’re marching:

  • Communicate to public and policymakers the extent of our concern.
  • Shatter the illusion that nobody cares about research. In fact, the March for Science has gathered a lot of interest from the public.
  • Show solidarity with the public who will be marching for science.
  • Galvanize opposition and find common cause with other groups, even where we disagree on other issues.
  • Affirm the need for greater inclusivity and diversity in science and research.
  • Foster unity and inspire people to act rather than to despair.

Whether your vision for the future of this country is conservative or liberal or libertarian or progressive or none of the above—there’s a good chance you want science to make the world a better place. I hope you will join me in marching on April 22, whether in DC or in a location near you, to ensure science and scientists can continue to serve you.

Please share your reason for marching on Twitter and FaceBook using the hashtag #GSAmarches. For those joining the march in Washington DC this Saturday April 22, please register here to receive updates on the GSA meet-up point.

Lynn Cooley was 2017 President of the Genetics Society of America. She is Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, C. N. H. Long Professor of Genetics, Professor of Cell Biology and of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University. The views expressed in her "Frameshifts" posts are hers and are not necessarily endorsed by the Society.

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