On Saturday 22 April 2017, Geneva marches for science, one of hundreds of marches taking place around the world.
But why would anyone march for science?
Thank you science!
There is a children’s book that encourages kids to say thank you for houses, the clean water that flows from the taps, cars, telephones, planes, radios, electricity and hospitals. It doesn’t mention the Internet, MRI scanners or microwaves. Those things hadn’t been invented when the book was written!
The book makes an important point: everyone born inherits the knowledge and technology of inventors and scientists who lived before them. Cave children inherited clubs. Children born today inherit Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web and the Large Hadron Collider, two things from CERN, the research centre that straddles France and Switzerland.
What you don’t understand could help you
Most of us have scant, if any understanding of light and its various frequencies. Yet we all benefit from using remote controls, radios, mobile phones and microwaves.
If you get sick you might need a PET scan, a technology developed with critical input from researchers at CERN who work with technology that is gobbledygook to many non scientists.
Science and knowledge can go backwards
Science does not automatically move forward. Sometimes it goes into reverse. The legendary library and research institute in Alexandria, founded in the third century BC, was later, as politics changed, destroyed, turning back the clock on human knowledge and progress.
In one of his documentaries, the astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan reckons it took 2,000 years to rediscover some of the science lost in the destruction of the famous ancient library.
We risk entering another era where shortsighted decisions are made about science and knowledge. Earlier this year, the US Government started taking down websites with climate change data. Fortunately a group of diehard coders rescued some of it.
In March, the Trump administration proposed a US$5.8 billion cut in funding to the National Institutes of Health. Nancy Davidson, from the American Association for Cancer Research, said she was horrified. She fears the proposed cuts will severely slow down efforts to treat cancer, and erase decades of progress.
Marching for facts
Science does not jump to simple conclusions. It starts with a question and moves from question to question in pursuit of understanding. It is quick to discard anything that doesn’t fit the facts in favour of something that does.
James Beacham explaining his work as an experimental physicist
“‘Alternative facts’ don’t exist, and scientific consensus exists outside of and above politics,” says James Beacham, a scientist at CERN and a member of the organizing committee. “To assert otherwise is to contradict the foundations of evidence-based science, and to disregard what science has done for society.” Another march organiser, Clara Nellist says “Actions and attitudes that are contrary to the free flow of ideas and of people around the globe have negative consequences for science and research.”
Lake Geneva, a global scientific hub, is not immune
“Geneva and the neighboring regions are unique since they’re the home of so many world-leading organizations dedicated to science for peaceful, progressive and humanitarian purposes,” says Daphne Donis, a member of the March for Science, Geneva, organizing committee.
While the government of Switzerland — and the Cantons of Geneva and Vaud in particular — have firm, long-standing commitments to open, inclusive science, this is in stark contrast to the troubling, aggressive, and selective undermining of the credibility of science for political purposes elsewhere in the world.
Science needs you
Thousands of years ago, Eratosthenes, chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria, calculated the circumference of the earth. He also challenged Aristotle’s prejudice and attachment to slavery. But Aristotle was not for turning. When the mobs came to burn down the Library of Alexandria there was no one to stop them. Most people beyond its walls had little understanding of what was going on inside.
“With the combination march and celebration, we hope to bring science and the public closer together and help to lower or even remove the distrust of science that some may still have. Science is not based on magic but reality,” emphasizes Sabine Flury, another organizing committee member.
“As scientists, we embrace the responsibility to share our research with the public,” says Courtney Thomas, a member of the organizing committee. “We invite all members of the public to join us in Geneva on April 22nd for our rally and to join us afterward for the ‘Celebration of Science.’ This event will highlight the groundbreaking research being done by researchers at Swiss institutions, and we invite everyone to discover the exciting world of science and science research.”
The event will begin at 10 am with a rally at Jardin Anglais near the waterfront in downtown Geneva and return after marching for a “Celebration of Science” showcase featuring discussions among the public and scientists, and talks and exhibits from researchers hailing from institutions around Switzerland such as the Université de Genève, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, CERN, and the World Climate Research Programme.
James Beacham, one of the organisers said on 11 April 2017 “As far as we can tell at the moment, we’re going to be the largest and perhaps the only march in all of Switzerland!”
Date: Saturday 22 April 2017
Time: The opening rally will begin at 10:00 am with a few inspirational speeches. The march itself will commence at 11 am.
Location: Jardin Anglais near Geneva’s waterfront. For updates on the event’s Facebook page, Twitter and Website.
Map: Location on Google Maps
Website: March for science Geneva
March for Science press release – opens PDF (in English)
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