W

ith the March for Science and its satellite marches just a couple weeks away, a much-awaited part of programming is finally being revealed: the speakers. And one of the most familiar names to be announced so far is noted Harvard biologist George Church, who plans to speak at the Boston march on April 22.

Church has a hand in lots of cutting-edge genetics research, from organizing efforts to synthesize a human genome to leading a team to de-extinct the woolly mammoth.

But in his role at the march, he’ll have a chance to step back from particular projects and reflect on science and politics more broadly. STAT caught up with him to get a sneak peek of what he plans to discuss; the interview has been edited and condensed.

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What will you be speaking about at the rally?

I haven’t finished [the draft], but the theme is going to be participation of regular citizens in science. One of the themes of my group is open and participatory science, and it seems perfectly appropriate for this. I think other people will be talking about more political things or funding or this or that. But I think my main message will be about how the average citizen can and should participate [in science] and how other countries may have a little more STEM involvement in their leadership and citizenship.

What should happen after the march? 

I think everyone hopes that their day of the year lasts throughout the year, no matter what the event is. Take Mother’s Day — you should respect your mother all year long. So for Earth Day, you should respect the Earth, other planets, and our place in the universe every day of the year, every year of your life. I think a wonderful ambition that we can have is that people will reflect on the Earth and biology and their own being on a regular basis. And I’d be game for any innovative strategy for doing that.

You’ve been written about a lot, but there hasn’t been much coverage of your political beliefs or leanings. How political are you going to get with your remarks at the rally?

I think many scientists feel apolitical. I’m sure I did when I was young. But I wouldn’t say that I’m more political, I think I’ve felt that the best way to influence the future is by actually producing technology rather than trying to lobby for it. In other words, if the technology is awesome enough, it will take care of itself. And if you look through history, politicians kind of come and go and fashion kind of ebbs and flows, but technology is something that just keeps growing.

So, it’s not so much that I’m apolitical or that I’m suddenly political in my old age, it’s more that I see an alternative to politics, which is producing just awesome science. Getting the average citizen involved is not necessarily a political or an apolitical statement.

So to you, participating in science and being aware and engaged with science is just another form of civic engagement that everyone should do.

Right. And it shouldn’t be a burden, it should actually be a pleasure. If it’s not, then someone needs to respond to that.

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  • Just out of curiosity, is the March for Science paying an honorarium or travel expenses for George Church or any other speakers? I haven’t seen any information on this. With so many prominent and well-funded scientists (not to mention any names) now forcing their own students to pay their way to scientific meetings, I would think this would be an interesting question to ask.

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