On Saturday April 22, we celebrated worldwide the first Walk for Science along with Earth Day that began in 1970. Ironically, the tremendous progress that scientists have made continues to be challenged for numerous reasons. To me getting scientists to emerge outside their comfort zone of the field, office or laboratory and be willing to publicly express their views is a tremendous leap in courage. What is causing scientists to emerge and unify their message?
Here in the small town of Grand Junction, Colorado we saw an estimated 750 people including doctors, paleontologists, ecologists and political scientists walk a few blocks to the city park and celebrate Earth Day. I've felt proud to choose a career in earth science to hopefully make improvements in our environment for current and future generations. I saw many people who've worked hard in school to get great educations and careers to make a difference. I also felt proud to see my son wear his Walk for Water tee shirt and be really interested in the people coming out to support science.
So that is what this first Walk for Science was all about: expressing the rights of scientific freedom to pursue the truth based on inquiry, evidence and peer review. How can we survive a pandemic without scientists developing effective vaccinations? How will we remove contamination from a water supply which could cause cancer if we fail to test and obtain the results? Protecting our air, food and water from natural and human events is a matter of national security. The climate is changing whether we like it our not and we better get moving on solutions rather than bury our heads in the sand! Most people are very grateful for our National Park system and the great natural environments that is such a treasure for Americans and tourist from around the world. Allowing nature to produce wildfires is beneficial to forest ecology as well as reintroducing predators like the wolf controls overpopulation of deer and elk that also benefits habitat for other species.
Despite current threats of funding cuts for scientists to perform unbiased work, I believe challenges to scientists and scientific evidence is not really a new fight with current politicians but rather the ongoing search for truth that has always been a struggle -- probably even before the seventeenth century time of Galileo. His evidence that the Earth was not in the center of our universe based on observation of planetary motion challenged conventional wisdom held by religious leaders.
I heard speakers during the Walk for Science mention the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
I recall in high school being fascinated by the weather and how we could take simple measurements of barometric pressure to see if storms were coming when pressure dropped. This is before satellites and doppler radar revolutionized weather prediction including storms or droughts. Think for a moment how NASA, NOAA, USGS, and many other government scientists have benefited all of us for our food and water supplies! Why should our children be forced to return to primitive uncertainty?
One of the biggest changes occurring in science over the past couple of decades is the multidisciplinary collaboration required to solve complex, interrelated problems. Scientific education traditionally forces us into very narrow specialization with unique vocabularies. Luckily groups like the American Geophysical Union do a great job of promoting world-class science for all the disciplines to merge and became a big supporter of the Walk for Science. See the joint statement by over 25 scientific societies on the results of the Walk for Science.