March for Science

Soggy Marchers Rally for Science-Based Policy

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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From left to right, entomologists Kelley Tilmon (Ohio State), Karen Sime (SUNY-Oswego) and Chris DiFonzo (Michigan State) were among thousands of participants in the March for Science. (DTN photo by Emily Unglesbee)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The rain didn't deter the thousands of protesters who streamed into the nation's capital on Saturday, April 22, to join the March for Science.

They wrapped their signs in plastic, donned ponchos and marched on as the clouds alternated between drizzle and downpour. Among the many attendees were agricultural scientists from industry, government and academics.

One such scientist, an employee in the pesticide re-evaluation division of the EPA, protected her "Show Me the Data" sign with an umbrella.

"Overall, it seems the tenor of politics now is that facts and data are less important and science is less important, as is investment in basic research and science," she told DTN. She declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

She said everyone in the agency is worried about the dramatic budget cuts proposed for the EPA.

Ohio State entomologist Kelley Tilmon said these very fears helped spur her trip from Wooster, Ohio, to D.C. "One of the reasons I'm here is for the scientists who can't be," she said.

She joined Michigan State University Extension entomologist Chris DiFonzo, who traveled from East Lansing, Michigan, to represent ag scientists in the March.

They huddled under a tree near the Washington Monument, as steady showers dampened their "Make America Cogitate Again" signs.

"Many people forget that agriculture is 100% based on science," DiFonzo told DTN. "Farmers are on the front lines of science, every day."

Similar marches occurred around the world on Saturday in 600 cities from Los Angeles to Berlin.

Before they marched up the Mall to Congress in D.C., the crowd massed around a rally stage next to the Washington Monument. Speakers ranging from science educator and television presenter Bill Nye to Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union spoke in defense of science-based policy and investment in public research.

The role of scientists as educators was on prominent display. A group of white "teach-in" tents were set up near the stage. Inside, scientists gave mini-lectures on topics such as archeology, climate change, bee health and ocean conservation.

The signs of many marchers called attention to the dramatic budget cuts proposed for scientific institutions like the USDA and EPA. One man with a bushy white beard and a lab coat held up a black sign with red lettering declaring "No Science Funding = No Future." Another marcher's sign read, "Fund EPA: Prevent Silent Spring."

Both Tilmon and DiFonzo expressed concerns over the budget cuts proposed for EPA and USDA, particularly rural outreach programs. "I think a lot of people underestimate what government programs do for them," DiFonzo said of the agricultural community.

The EPA has a bad reputation among many farmers, but staff cuts could endanger farmers' access to safe and effective pesticides, Tilmon added.

Many marchers focused on climate change science, which has been called into question by members of the current administration, including the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt.

Tilmon and DiFonzo worry that ignoring climate change at a policy level could hurt farmers first. "Of all the industries affected by climate change, agriculture is a huge one," DiFonzo said.

"Farmers live and die by when the next rains come," Tilmon added. "So they're living this -- they're seeing the changes."

Not everyone at the March for Science was a scientist. Software developer Mark Pemburn and his wife, Leanne, who works in insurance, made the trip from Baltimore, Maryland, simply to show their support for scientists.

"Without science, I would not have my work," Mark pointed out.

Leanne said she was discouraged by what she called "the cluelessness" and "indifference" to facts in the current administration.

"We're forgetting how much we have gained from science," she said.

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Emily Unglesbee