March for Science San Francisco

Shortly after the widespread Women’s Marches were held on 21 January 2017, I began to hear hints that a March for Science was being organized for Washington, DC, to be held on 22 April 2017, Earth Day.  This march was promptly endorsed by numerous scientific organizations including my primary professional society, the American Physical Society, as well as national and local chapters of other organizations, such as my local Palo Alto chapter of the Association of Women in Science.  I wasn’t prepared to travel to Washington so I was glad to hear that there would be marches in San Francisco as well as several other locations in the Bay Area.

When all was said and done, it has been reported that there were some 600 satellite marches in cities on six continents, in addition to support from scientists in Antarctica.  The stated goal of the organizers was to champion and defend science and scientific integrity.  Because the marches were held on Earth Day there was a close connection to related topics such as climate change.

I decided not to make a sign, but instead to wear my pink “pussy hat” and a pink jacket that I had worn for the women’s march in January.  The San Francisco event was scheduled to begin with speakers at Justin Herman Plaza, followed by a nearly 2-mile march down Market Street to Civic Center Plaza, where there would be a science festival.  Due to another commitment I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza about 30 minutes after the speeches had begun.  The crowd had already overflowed from the plaza into the perimeter areas.

From my vantage point I could see that it was a good-sized crowd, although I could not actually hear the speeches due to a lack of loudspeakers anywhere near where I was standing.  Someone near me commented that she’d been worried that she would arrive and find only a few dozen other participants. I commented that there is such a large population of scientists in the Bay Area that that would not be a concern.  However, I noted that there only seemed to be a few signs, mostly around the edge of the crowd (see left picture).  Shortly after that the emcee, who was introducing the speakers, apparently encouraged the crowd to raise their signs – and suddenly there was a virtual sea of signs filling the plaza (see right picture)!

image of pre-march crowd at Justin Herman Plaza, as I arrived (left) and later when the emcee asked marchers to raise their signs (right)

Pre-march crowd at Justin Herman Plaza, as I arrived (left) and later when the emcee asked marchers to raise their signs (right)

After all of the scheduled speakers it was time for the crowd to make its way to Market Street to begin the march.  From my location across the plaza it took about 25 minutes just to reach the street, which was still quite congested.  The march simply continued along Market Street to Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall, as shown on the GPS track.  The orange dot denotes my location for the speeches.  The route to Civic Center is about 2 miles with virtually no elevation change.

GPS track

GPS track

The march itself was friendly and upbeat.  At times a cheer would start and make its way like a wave through the marchers.  At other times chants began: “Science, not silence” or “Let’s go science,” the latter followed by a clapping version of the cadence that follows the home team chant at a ball game.  In fact, in this chant “science” sounded a lot like “Giants.”

The nature of such a march is that there are signs, and some of the signs have a political message.  Here is one regarding science funding.

image of “Fund science, not walls”

“Fund science, not walls”

There were numerous calls to make something great again; this one had an Earth Day theme.

image of supporting the Great Barrier Reef

Supporting the Great Barrier Reef

There were many signs that were supportive of science.

image of “we love science”

“We love science”

There was even a large banner.

image of science banner

Science banner

Of course, many signs were at least slightly political as well as scientific. On this sign I appreciated the incorporation of science in the letters.

image of “in science we trust”

“In science we trust”

Other ways to support science included statements of achievements made by science.  Many of those achievements were facilitated by funding at such an early stage of research that the target result had not even been identified.  A funding culture too focused on specific results, or too focused on immediate results, or significantly reduced funding levels, will have negative consequences down the road.

image of polio prevention

Polio prevention

There were other signs about smallpox: “Remember smallpox?  Neither do I” that referred to cures or prevention (e.g. vaccines) discovered through funding of science.  Of course, there were many other examples of achievements across the scientific spectrum.

I noted several individuals and small groups wearing lab coats.  Some of the lab coats themselves were signs.  I especially liked this one, since our future progress critically relies on young people choosing to embark on scientific careers.

image of lab coat sign: “scientist in training”

Lab coat sign: “scientist in training”

Because of the Earth Day connection there were numerous signs that would normally be found at Earth Day celebrations.  And of course it is difficult, in the current national political climate, to completely avoid making a political statement.

image of “I’m with her”

“I’m with her”

However, this flag may have succeeded: no words needed.

image of Earth flag

Earth flag

The message on this sign tied together the main themes of science and Earth.

image of “for my grandchildren and their children”

“For my grandchildren and their children”

And then there were a few silly signs, like this one.

image of sign at the March for Science

Sign at the March for Science

I confess that, as a scientist, I especially appreciated that there were a large number of nerdy signs. Yes, scientists can be, in spite of stereotypical depictions, resistors as well as transformers.

image of resistors and transformers

Resistors and transformers

In some cases it helped to know enough science to appreciate the word play.  (Schist is a type of rock.)

image of schist happens…

Schist happens…

I thought this support of alternative energy was quite clever.

image of (wind) power to the people

(Wind) power to the people

And finally, one of my favorites included a great mathematics-inspired word play.  (The square root of minus one is imaginary, in case you’ve not studied enough math to encounter this concept.)

image of alt facts are…

Alt facts are…

These pictures represent only a sampling of the signs I saw, which were in turn only a fraction of all of the signs. I appreciate and admire the creativity behind so many of the signs, as well as the diversity of the messages.

I have not yet found reports of attendance at the San Francisco or other March for Science events, but I hope that appropriate publicity continues to raise public awareness about science and the benefits it provides to society.

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