For some, science is more than a lifelong passion or a suitable career path: it’s the difference between life and death.
Carrie Lazarre, a Tompkins County resident who has been suffering from stage IV colon cancer for the past decade, says that sustained colon cancer research has been crucial in keeping her alive all these years. Along with hundreds of others, Lazarre chose to participate in the March for Science at the Bernie Milton Pavilion on Ithaca Commons on April 22 to showcase the importance of science for everyday Americans.
The march was part of a larger endeavor across the United States and the world to stand up for science research, funding and policy. The main event, which attracted approximately 40,000 people, took place in Washington D.C., with satellite marches in around 500 locations across the United States.
Hundreds of scientists, students and concerned citizens from and around Ithaca participated to voice their anger over the uncertain future of scientific research while demonstrating their enthusiasm for the brighter future that such research makes possible.
According to one organizer, the goal of the demonstration was to “promote inclusiveness, help everyone find their inner scientist and bridge partisan divides on science.” Demonstrators pledged to defend scientists from censorship and to “encourage electoral participation for science on all levels of government.”
One major concern was the proposed reduction in the budget of the National Institutes of Health. The Trump administration’s budget blueprint for 2018 promises to slash funding for the NIH by 20 percent, from $31.7 billion to $25.9 billion. 80 percent of the NIH’s budget funds biomedical research. In other words the center funds nearly 300,000 scientists around the world.
These cuts would especially impede the progress of cancer research. Conventional cancer therapies have their beginnings at the NIH and most experts agree that the institute plays a crucial role in researching treatments that companies would usually find too risky to pursue.
Coinciding with Earth Day, one of the most prevalent concerns of those at the march was the negative effects that climate change would have on small communities such as those in Tompkins County. Prof. John Wootton, biomedical sciences, attended the march and told The Sun that he is seriously concerned about the new administration’s dismissal of climate change and its introduction of policies aimed at environmental deregulation. He said that these policies are not simply a threat to the environment but also to people’s health and safety.
The current administration’s budget blueprint lays out a plan to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by $2.6 billion. This includes slashing the Clean Air Act’s budget by half and nearly eliminating funds for a program intended to screen chemicals for hormone disruptors to prevent developmental problems in children.
The march included talks by scientists and science advocates on these topics. Demonstrators held up signs with slogans like “Science not silence,” “Education makes America great” and “Defiance for science,” all while chanting “fund science! Use science!” before key speakers took the stage.
Roger Selgeken, science commentator and one of the speakers, dryly remarked, “if you take the planetary walk in Ithaca, you’ll know more about science than the entire West Wing of the White House.” Selgeken also emphasized the importance of skeptical scientific inquiry and curiosity, exemplified by renowned Cornell astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan’s critical fascination by the way the world works.
Elvis Cao grad also spoke at the event and detailed a diagnostic smartphone application called Feverphone he was developing. The app, which is targeted toward developing countries, would be able to diagnose six infectious diseases — including malaria, dengue and typhoid — based on a blood sample supplied to a coffee machine sized device. The cheers that followed demonstrated the wide support for continued innovation in areas that have greater importance in developing countries than in the United States.
For some, the March for Science in Ithaca was a way to express their enthusiasm for science. For others, like a group of Cornell Veterinary College students, it was about the importance of tackling climate change and the spread of vector-borne illnesses that it would help accelerate.
But for many ordinary Americans, rallies like this might decide whether they continue to reap the benefits of cutting-edge, innovative and transparent scientific research.