In a time of such global political turbulence, from humanitarian crises to the “post-truth” right-wing populism sweeping the world, readers may wonder why science is a priority to be concerned about, never mind marching for. However, on Earth Day, this Saturday, people from across the world will be taking a united stand for science, with over 500 marches taking place, including in our own capital.
The March for Science in Edinburgh stands in solidarity with the highly concerning restrictions and attacks on the science community in the United States, where the movement started. However, our march also shines a light on local issues, including tackling the home-grown sense of “having had enough of experts” and the uncertainty that Brexit is bringing to our research capabilities. Already, Heriot-Watt University is declaring job losses as a result of falling numbers of international students. EU funding of research and collaborations, which Scotland has disproportionately done well at securing, is now uncertain. In addition, with the status of EU citizens in question, our research workforce that benefits from such diversity, with up to 23 per cent from the EU alone, is threatened. We must stand up with our colleagues not just as researchers but also as friends who contribute so much to our broader cultural fabric and should not be treated as bargaining chips. Scotland has rightly been proud of its educational institutions for centuries, and whichever way you stand in the Brexit debate, these are real challenges that require attention and action.
However, as no longer a practising neuroscientist myself, one of the wider reasons I will be marching on Saturday is to champion the fact that science is for everyone, not just for scientists. Research impacts way beyond the lab or classroom walls, permeating everyday life. Even the small local pleasures of Auld Reekie, from the smell of malt in the air to the beautiful commute from cross the Forth, stem from the chemistry and technology innovations involved in brewing beer and the feat of engineering, physics and urban planning that allows the new bridge to be constructed with enough steel cabling to stretch around the world over.
Everyone should be able to have the opportunity to appreciate science, not in an academic sense, but through the curiosity, desire to understand and wonder which is shared in the arts and humanities. As now an educator and musician working with both sciences and the arts, I know that across Scotland there are many world-class museums, science festivals and community projects cultivating interest of science both within and outside of school, but there is still much work needed to be done to meaningfully reach out to those who do not think that science is relevant.
Whilst the March for Science will not fix this by itself, it is an opportunity to bring researchers, families, educators, young people and citizens of all political persuasions to unite and take steps forward together. Those marching won’t agree on everything – even among our volunteer team there has been debate on issues such as GM crops and the implications of Brexit or a Scottish independence referendum. This should not be surprising, as people who are pro-science are not homogenous in opinions. However, what was shared was a mutual respect for evidence, an eagerness to listen and a mind open to being wrong. These are the bedrocks at the heart of a progressive society that are bigger than the research community, and in these turbulent times, should be worth fighting for by everyone.
So come join us at Waterloo Place from 1.30pm, beginning under the shadow of Calton Hill to head towards the Scottish Parliament. Together, in these turbulent times, we march for science, not silence.
Lewis Hou is the director of the Science Ceilidh and Scotland Ambassador of the campaign for community-led arts and sciences Fun Palaces