Among the two dozen official partners of the upcoming March for Science, a recent addition dwarfs the rest: The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific organization.
The partnership represents a legitimacy boost for the march, planned for April 22 in Washington, D.C., with satellite marches in various other cities. But perhaps even more noteworthy, it marks a new level of political activism for AAAS, more generally known for publishing journals and sponsoring symposia than for staging political demonstrations.
Details of the nature of the partnership have not yet been released. AAAS is itself a non-partisan organization, and CEO Rush Holt was careful to note that the agreement between AAAS and the March for Science stated explicitly that the event was a non-partisan one. “It’s quite explicitly pro-science rather than against any partisan position,” he said in an interview. “Now, it’s clear that the march is intended to play up the importance of the conditions that are necessary for science to thrive and to advocate for the defense of those conditions,” he said, citing international travel and cooperations as specific examples.
But, if a smaller rally held in Boston last weekend is any evidence, it’s difficult to draw a clear line between resisting President Trump’s policies and protesting against Trump himself. Several hundred people gathered on Sunday afternoon in Copley Square in Boston, with science historian Naomi Oreskes — who gave a plenary lecture at the AAAS annual meeting the same weekend — as one of the speakers.
“Our science has been politicized by people who are motivated to reject facts because those facts conflict with their worldview, their political beliefs, or their economic self-interest,” she said during the rally.
Some have expressed concern that the March for Science could backfire — including speakers at AAAS’s annual meeting. At a panel on February 17, senior Obama-era science advisor John Holdren said that he had not reached a firm decision on the march. “There are potential up and downsides. I think the downside is science making itself appear as just another interest group,” he said, adding that scientists ran the risk of appearing to be marching to protect their own budgets and salaries.
Still, Holt said, AAAS felt it was time to take part. “In 50 years of being a scientist and a science watcher, I’ve never seen anything like this — I’ve never seen such a spontaneous surge of support for the idea of science.”