From Lab Coats to Online Sensations

 The March for Science over the weekend attracted thousands of people who have never participated in a protest, injecting fresh blood into a venerable event to celebrate Earth Day. Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

 The March for Science over the weekend attracted thousands of people who have never participated in a protest, injecting fresh blood into a venerable event to celebrate Earth Day.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The March for Science injected fresh blood into Earth Day celebrations over the weekend. The peaceful demonstrations that took place in more than 600 locations around the globe reminded us of the value of a fresh idea to enliven a venerable event.

Earth Day traditionally has been devoted to people clearing stream banks, planting trees and promoting recycling. Donning the clothing of protesters with knitted brain hats, shark outfits and periodic table T-shirts, thousands of people voiced support for science and gave us a line for life: “There is no Planet B.”

Perhaps more important, the marches made headlines and flooded social media. Suddenly Earth Day was a thing again.

The marches provided red carpets for scientists tied at the hip to their laboratories to step out and talk about the social benefits of scientific inquiry and the dependence of science on bipartisan government funding. For many scientists, it was their first time hitting the streets to speak their piece. 

The March for Science was a global phenomenon from city streets to frozen Antarctica to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The March for Science was a global phenomenon from city streets to frozen Antarctica to the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Amid fretting over the potential for politicizing science, the march for science underscored the consequences of undervaluing and underfunding scientific efforts. The marches drew more than nerds in lab coats. Media reports indicated crowds included school teachers, science enthusiasts and curious kids. And, of course, people alarmed at climate change deniers in charge of governmental agencies responsible for addressing climate change.

From a marketing point of view, the March for Science created headaches for organizers faced with an unrelenting diversity of interests. But the confluence of diversity turned into a part of the overall message. Marchers talked about science small and large, the advances in fields from medicine to energy production. There were marches in the nation’s capital, on every continent and in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The immediate topic animating the marches were Trump administration budget proposals that scalp funding for the National Institutes of Health and climate change research sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. But marchers in Cambridge in Great Britain and Santiago, Chile demonstrated more for the universal role of science and science education in promoting progress. As one sign summed up, “Sin ciencia, no hay progresso.”

While typical Earth Day activities produce pictures of people in natural settings, the March for Science produced a string of pictures of people in the middle of cities carrying clever, often iconoclastic signs. Politico.com created a gallery of some of the best signs including a man in a Santa suit (My workshop is melting), a woman in sunglasses (Got the plague? Me neither. Thanks Science!), an anonymous hand extending up through umbrellas (Truth) and a serious-looking man (No science, no beer).

However, the best sign by far – and the one likely to endure – is “There is no Planet B,” which pretty well summed up the message of all the marchers.

Because of the energy released during the march, the March for Science is likely to become an ongoing movement, sustained by social media. It literally will be a street event that shifts to a sprawling, diffused online presence. The March for Science will stand for how to turn widespread frustration into a focused force.