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Thousands of people worldwide are using Earth Day to openly criticize and protest alleged ‘anti-science’ trends in government.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON —  Hundreds of thousands of scientists and their advocates turned out on a rainy Saturday in Washington as part of a worldwide protest to declare science “under attack” from a techno-unfriendly White House.

The March for Science movement also saw rallies in more than 600 communities across the USA. While billing itself as nonpartisan, the movement clearly sees the Trump administration, which has expressed skepticism about man’s role in climate change and has eased regulations on coal and oil production, as a threat to science.

Of particular concern to critics are proposed budget cuts for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

“We didn’t choose to be in this battle, but it has come to the point where we have to fight because the stakes are too great,” said outspoken climate scientist Michael Mann, famous for creating the hockey stick that showed a spike in recent global temperatures after thousands of years.

Despite a steady rain and temperatures in the 50s in the nation’s capital, organizers said they were thrilled with the size of the crowds.

“Truthfully, I can finally stop being diplomatic. I was worried that there would be 50 people show up,” said Caroline Weinberg, one of three co-organizers of the events. “It really took off in the last week or so.”

The catalyst for the marches came just four days into the Trump presidency, as federal agencies began instituting gag rules on science programs.

But Weinberg insisted the events — timed to coincide with the 47th anniversary of Earth Day — were not partisan.

“Science is nonpartisan. It’s the manipulation of science as if it’s political that got us into this mess,” Weinberg said. “There’s a stereotype that red states oppose science. That’s ridiculous.”

The president’s motorcade passed protesters on its way to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for Trump’s visit with wounded soldiers. One sign visible from the motorcade read: “Stop denying the earth is dying.”

For his part, President Trump, who has engaged in Twitter battles with protesters in the past, was more diplomatic on Saturday.

“We should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate,” he said in a written statement through the White House press office as he visited Walter Reed.

Trump said his administration is “committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks.”

But Trump also argued that environmental regulations should not come at the expense of economic growth. “Economic growth enhances environmental protection,” he said. “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families.”

Satellite marches were held nationwide in cities big and small, including Auburn, Ala., Valdosta, Ga., Honolulu, Clearwater, Fla., Cleveland, Dallas, and Green Bay, Wis., and at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

Among them:

• More than a thousand people marched peacefully in the streets of Gainesville, Fla. “We’re scientists, so we’re orderly,” said Pati Vitt, a plant scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden in town for work at the university.“We let the signs do the talking.”

• In Asheville, N.C., several hundred people from various parts of Western North Carolina gathered for a local march.Two brothers from Hickory, N.C. said they drove back from spring break with their family a day early to participate in the march. Brian Schoellner, 11, said he is here for the national parks. “I love animals and want parks to stay around for years to come,” he said.

• In Chicago, some 40,000 marchers turned out for a festive protest on Columbus Drive featuring a brass band whose members wore white lab coasts, the Chicago Tribune reports.

• Hundreds of people braved pouring rain in Nashville to march through city streets and chant “science, not silence.”

• Nearly 450 people turned in Green Bay for an event that was both social and a matter of raising social awareness, said Cassandra Erickson of De Pere, cofounder of United We Stand Brown County. “We have a good time together, and we’re raising awareness, letting people know we care about science, care about facts, care about the future of this land and water we share,” she said.

• Hundreds in Titusville, Fla., echoed that chant. “Science is inspiring and all encompassing,” said event co-organizer Carla Bourtis, who said she holds multiple degrees from Florida Institute of Technology and has worked at NASA as a wildlife biologist.

• Rebecca Taugher and Arianna Lark donned their lab coats Saturday, stressing the need for scientific analysis, critical thinking and fact finding at a time, they say, there is much skepticism of scientific endeavors. “Science isn’t political, but it’s become politicized. Really, it’s analytical thinking and searching for facts that lead to answers, and that’s what we need now,” said Lark, 30, a University of Iowa graduate

• In Los Angeles, pro-science marchers near City Hall largely ignored about two-dozen pro-Trump supporters, who chanted “Put America First” and “Stop your hate,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.

• Several thousand gathered in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park, including 1992 Nobel Prize winner Eddy Fischer.

“Damn right I’m in this march,” Fischer, 97, told the Seattle Times. Fischer is professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Washington and Nobel Prize co-winner in 1992 for physiology or medicine. “I know very little about politics. I’m appalled by some of the statements coming out of (the administration).”

• In Geneva, marchers carried signs that said, “Science — A Candle in the Dark” and “Science is the Answer.”

• In Berlin, several thousand people participated in a march from the one of the city’s universities to the Brandenburg Gate landmark. “We need to make more of our decision based on facts again and less on emotions,” said Meike Weltin, a doctorate student at an environmental institute near the capital.

• In London, physicists, astronomers, biologists and celebrities gathered for a march past the city’s most celebrated research institutions. Supporters carried signs showing images of a double helix and chemical symbols.

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Rallies were also held in Australia, Croatia, Switzerland, and New Zealand.

Organizers of the march encouraged scientists in their ranks to wear their lab coats, goggles, stethoscopes, field gear and other work clothes to make their presence known among a group that frequently shies away from public political displays.

“We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest,” organizers of March for Science said on their website.

A good-natured crowd in Washington huddled under drizzly skies, cheering the speakers, musicians and TV personalities who drove home the message to speak out for science.

“We are at a critical juncture. Science is under attack,” said Cara Santa Maria, a TV host and science communicator who served as an emcee of the rally and concert beside the Washington Monument. “The very idea of evidence and logic and reason is being threatened by individuals and interests with the power to do real harm.”

The promoters expressed some ambivalence about how much the scientific movement, which normally focuses on measurable facts and figures, should take on a more overtly political role.

Organizers said the march “has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: Can we afford not to speak out in its defense?”

Rush Holt, a former physicist and Democratic congressman who runs the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said scientists find it appalling that “evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions.”

“It is not just about Donald Trump, but there is also no question that marchers are saying ‘When the shoe fits,’ ” he said.

One sign that reflected the sharper political bent said simply: “Smash Pipes, Break Walls, Fight Trump”

Despite saying the march was not partisan, Holt acknowledged it was only dreamed up at the Women’s March on Washington, a day after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

In Washington, the events featured a morning rally, plus concert, and were to end with a march to the Capitol.

Despite the rain, participants stood in lines 45-minutes long outside the two bag-check security checkpoints along the grounds of the Washington Monument.

They carried an array of handmade and pre-printed signs representing every scientific discipline.

Michelle Smith’s read, “Are Marches Effective? Ask a Sociologist.”

“Indeed they are, but there are a lot of variables,” said Smith, a 53-year old community college teacher from outside Cleveland. “The sustained effort is critical. And I think we have that. It’s not only happening here, but throughout the world.”

The mood was decidedly upbeat despite the drizzle and included plenty of nerdy humor. One marcher carried an erasable lab-room whiteboard for posting his signs, so he could erase them and update as warranted.

Obscure scientific references abounded, such as a 7-year-old’s “No Taxation Without Taxonomy.” Taxonomy is the science of classifying animals, plants and other organisms.

One marcher said he planned to nerdify an old style anti-war chant:

“What do we want?”

RIGOROUSLY TESTED HYPOTHESES!

“When do we want them?

AFTER THEY’VE BEEN PEER REVIEWED!

Contributing: Abigail Margulis, the Asheville Citizen-Times, Andy Davis, the Iowa City Press Citizen; Paul Srubas, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette;  Charles Parker, Florida Today; the Aassociated Press​

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