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Advocates march for science in Rhode Island

Scientists, professors, community members caution against threats to various fields of study

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2017

Similar to other marches nationwide, over 1,500 Rhode Islanders gathered at the State House Saturday to advocate for scientific research and funding.

Not even the rain could keep a crowd of over 1,500 “nerds” away from Saturday’s March for Science Rhode Island at the State House, noted J. Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies and speaker at the march. In light of President Trump’s proposed policies that would threaten scientific research and impact climate change, Rhode Island scientists and their supporters gathered to listen to speakers, hold signs and advocate scientific research within the context of several sister marches throughout the country that threw science into political discourse.

Susan Gerbi, professor of biochemistry, reaffirmed that the march did not aim to be partisan. “It’s even problematic that it’s called a march, because that sounds like a resistance movement,” Gerbi said.

Rather, the march was meant to demonstrate the benefits of science to society. “That should be taken into consideration by politicians when they are making a national policy,”  Gerbi said.

Still, the march called into question many partisan platforms, including the Republican propensity to deny climate change and some of Trump’s more specific policies outlined in his proposed budget, which would defund the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by 18 percent.

Rhode Island politicians also made appearances. “Sound decisions must be made on sound science,” wrote U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse D-RI in a statement read at the march.

Zoe Goris, a speaker at the march, discussed decisions made by the Trump administration and how they negatively impact science. “I want to live in a world that has brought back value to logic, to accountability and to basic empirical reasoning. I want to live in a world that has reaffirmed science’s large role on public health and legislation. I want to live in a world where the scorching of our earth is not met with thunderous applause,” Goris said.

“Scientists need to attend to justice, or we won’t get anywhere,” Roberts said.            

Though people’s reasons for attending the march varied, many stemmed from concern for the state of science.

“I’ve always respected science, and I think it’s important to send that message to the present administration because they seem a little confused,” said Glen Bennet, another attendee, who mentioned he would like to see the government reverse its position on the EPA and respect scientists.

Nate Klimpert, a volunteer for the March for Science, said he assists with  a number of science-related events. “I just want to let people know that there is an Earth that is worth protecting,” Klimpert said, adding that his interest in science began when he was young. “Someone told me I could ask questions for a living, and that sounded really cool to me, so now I’ve just committed to doing that.”

“I think it’s important that we stand up (against) some irrational beliefs that our president is advocating. I think it a big shame and a travesty that our president is undermining the scientific community by trying to cut all funding from it,” said David Meisels, a physician who also attended the march.

Both scientists and their families were in attendance. “Doesn’t everybody care about science?” said Greg Sargent, a behavior scientist, who attended the march with his young daughter, Penelope. Sargent said their sign, which read “Bugs not Bombs,” meant to tie in a scientific interest he and his daughter share.

He explained that Penelope felt very strongly about what the current administration was doing to defund science, including placing Scott Pruitt as the director of the EPA. She suggested that, instead of building golf courses, Trump build an endangered animal reserve.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Susan Gerbi, professor of biochemistry, was an organizer for the march. While Gerbi helped to organize a contingent of Brown community members who attended the march, she was not an organizer. The Herald regrets the error.