March for Science: U-M experts can discuss
ANN ARBOR—Several University of Michigan scientists plan to join the March for Science in Washington, D.C., April 22. Others decided not to participate, and one U-M team will be there to conduct a research study.
Meghan Duffy is a disease ecologist and associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Her research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, especially in aquatic ecosystems. She was recently selected as a 2017-18 Public Engagement Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and will be one of the main-stage speakers at the April 22 March for Science in Washington.
“We need to advocate for science and make the case for how it benefits society generally,” Duffy said. “I come from a family of nurses and firemen and linemen and transit workers. If we don’t reach out to people like them to talk about what we do and why it is important, they won’t reach out to their representatives to support science funding and to call for evidence-based policies. I strongly disagree with the idea that, by reaching out to the public to talk about my work and to talk about how science affects their everyday lives, I am somehow not able to be objective in my science.”
Duffy said she hopes the March for Science encourages the general public to think more about how society benefits when there’s strong support for science and to realize that investing in science makes a lot of sense economically.
“Science creates jobs, leads to incredible innovations and informs policies that make us all safer,” said Duffy, who also hopes the march encourages scientists to examine the climate within science, and to think carefully about the changes that need to be made in order to recruit and retain a diverse pool of scientists.
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Dan Brown is professor and interim dean at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. He will not participate in the march and believes scientists should focus more on communicating the value of their work.
“We have work to do to restore public trust in all our public institutions and in science,” he said. “When my students get back a peer review of their work in which the reviewer is clearly confused about a point in their paper, I tell them not to blame the reviewer for not understanding but to take responsibility for not communicating clearly. I believe we should focus on better communicating the value of science and of improving—and reforming where necessary—the institutions within which it operates. Marching feels to me like the action to take when we’ve exhausted all other recourse within those institutions, and feel the need to circumvent them.”
Scientists, like other experts, have enjoyed a place of privilege within our society, regardless of administration, Brown said.
“Even now, we have access to power and public funding for our work that many other citizens and professions do not, though that is at serious risk,” he said. “I think we should use our positions of privilege to strengthen public institutions—universities, Congress, the courts, public schools, local and state agencies—by working within and through them.”
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Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, examines the organizational dimensions of American politics. An expert on protest and social movements, he will attend the March for Science to conduct surveys of the participants.
“The March for Science is an unusual opportunity to observe political mobilization on an issue that is traditionally not political,” he said. “Given the increasing attacks on science by President Trump, his administration and Republican lawmakers, it will be interesting to see whether the issue mobilization shifts toward the Democratic Party, or if it remains largely nonpartisan.”
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Bradley Cardinale is an ecologist who studies how biodiversity affects the healthy functioning of ecosystems in nature. He is a professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research. CILER is a research institute jointly sponsored by U-M and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It received nearly $5 million in research funding from NOAA last year, and more than 90 percent of those funds were provided through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has been targeted for deep cuts by the Trump administration.
“I plan to participate in the March for Science because those who support science need to take a stand,” Cardinale said. “We need to educate the public on why science is important in a democratic society, and to demand that policymakers use sound evidence to help them make informed decisions. Scientists who perform research for a living are in the best position to say why their work is important for the nation. This includes professors who do research in the U.S., which has some of the world’s top universities.
“To limit the influence of science on public policy, officials are systematically imposing budget cuts that dismantle scientific agencies, censoring government researchers, and deleting public datasets. These are dangerous precedents. If science in the U.S. gets suppressed, not only will America’s global leadership be jeopardized, we will put national security, public health and the economy at risk.”
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Brian Zikmund-Fisher is a health communications expert and associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the School of Public Health. His research and teaching focus on enabling everyone to share scientific information such as health data in intuitively meaningful ways.
“The issue, for me, is not whether scientists march or don’t march. The issue is that when the march is over, the need for effective communication and dialogue will remain,” he said. “To address this need, scientists must be willing and able to share their work—and to listen and respond constructively to the questions and concerns that the public may have. Scientists need communication skills so that we can explain the process and results of science—including all of the uncertainties—simply and clearly. We also need to understand how valuable it can be to discuss what we do and, more importantly, why we do it with people outside of our academic fields.”
Zikmund-Fisher invites anyone interested in science communications to join U-M’s free, online Teach-Out on science communication and public engagement, called “Reach Out and RELATE,” May 5-7.
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John Vandermeer is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He will be marching in Washington, D.C., with his wife, U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto (firstname.lastname@example.org), a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
“My participation is to protest the Trump administration’s anti-science stance,” Vandermeer said. “Our world today is especially in need of rational thought to solve the urgent problems we face, and the most troubling challenge to the rational thought processes that we have relied upon since the Enlightenment is the apparent rejection of science by the Trump administration. I stand with the bulk of the world’s scientists in opposing this sort of dangerous and ignorant policy.”
Many life decisions are influenced by a whirlwind of political forces, and science is no different, he said. From a practical point of view, being apolitical “simply cedes the debate to dark forces,” he said.
“It is ultimately a strong political statement to suggest that objective truth seeking is somehow a nonpolitical act, especially today with the members of the Trump administration making decisions that threaten both our fellow humans and the planet,” Vandermeer said. “I will march for science and, yes, I know it is a political act.”
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Tim McKay is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education, and director of the Digital Innovation Greenhouse in the Office of Academic Innovation. He will attend the March for Science and looks forward to the opportunity to celebrate science and its contributions to society with people around the world.
“Science isn’t the possession or province of scientists. It belongs to all of us: enriching our lives with astonishing discoveries, shaping society with liberating technologies, and guiding our efforts to create a better world,” said McKay, who stresses that this is a march for science, not a march of scientists. “For me, the march is an opportunity for us all to celebrate science and renew our collective commitment to its continued success.”
In recent months, McKay has helped launch the Michigan Teach-Out, a new series of free, online education events aimed at connecting U-M experts with global audiences. The U-M RELATE program plans to build on the energy of the march by launching a science communications Teach-Out May 5. During this weekend-long event, scientists around the world will learn how to hone their message while sharing their latest research with members of the public.
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Alice Telesnitsky, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical School, studies how viruses such as HIV package their genetic material. She will participate in the March for Science. She was quoted in a recent New York Times article about the march: myumi.ch/LzRd0
Shobita Parthasarathy, associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and director of the Program in Science, Technology and Public Policy, can discuss the intersection of science, society and politics.
“The excitement surrounding the March for Science demonstrates that scientists are becoming aware of their social and political responsibilities, just as some of them did during the Vietnam War and dawn of the environmental movement,” she said. “However, the internal controversies of the march suggest that many scientists are not yet comfortable with the extent to which science is social and political, and how this might affect their roles, responsibilities and activism.”
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Giorgia Auteri is a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Though she will not march in Washington, Auteri will be there next week for the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition’s annual BESC Congressional Visits Day, when scientists meet with their members of Congress to discuss their concerns. She will attend the event as a Science Policy Fellow of the American Society of Mammalogists.
“Though I’m not participating in the march specifically, I see this as a week of scientists taking action in D.C., and I think the march will pave the way for future efforts by showing how many people support science,” she said. “There is a danger that the march will generate a sense of accomplishment that diminishes the likelihood of supporters taking follow-up actions. We need to capitalize on the momentum that the March for Science will generate, and that’s why I’ll be meeting with legislators and staff members shortly after. I would encourage everyone in the scientific community to take action during this time, for example by contacting local representatives or volunteering in science outreach efforts.”
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Irene Park, a doctoral student in human genetics at the Medical School, will travel to the main March for Science in Washington, D.C. In addition to her research on how mutations build up in the DNA of certain cells, she has a strong interest in helping scientists connect with the public and is editor-in-chief of misciwriters.com, a blog written and edited by U-M science graduate students.
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Ben van der Pluijm is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and editor-in-chief of the journal Earth’s Future. His work focuses on societal resilience and the impacts of resource needs, hazards and global change. He will march Saturday in Ann Arbor, limiting the carbon footprint of travel.
“The theme for the march is ‘Science is Essential,’ which is equally applicable to Earth Day. It may mistakenly seem that with our growing cities, air conditioning, modern infrastructure and energy-enabled amenities, we can be more isolated from our environment and less dependent on Earth than our ancestors, but the opposite is true: We are more intimately connected than ever before.
“Many aspects of modern society depend critically on rich real-time data and sophisticated models about all aspects of our planet and its space environment,” van der Pluijm said. “Growing populations and development are taxing natural resources and increasingly altering Earth’s land, ecosystems, atmosphere, ice sheets, rivers, and oceans on a global scale. Globalization makes our societies, including the most developed ones, more sensitive to disruptions. These interdependencies make research in the Earth and space sciences critically important for society.”
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