• Demonstrators on Parliament Hill in 2012

    Demonstrators protest the Harper government's muzzling of public scientists on Parliament Hill in 2012. Similar demonstrations are planned for Earth Day in major cities in North America and around the world, this time to protest the perceived anti-science policies of the Trump administration. (Photo: Richard Webster)

The day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, more than 500,000 people, most of them women, marched through the streets of Washington, D.C, to protest the U.S. President's divisive politics. They were joined by at least a million more people who participated in solidarity marches in cities around the world, including in Canada. 

It was a powerful spectacle that organizers of a different march are hoping to repeat next month, this time in defence of science-based decision-making. 

Talk of a scientists' march on Washington began after the new administration removed pages detailing former President Barack Obama's policy priorities from the official White House website, including a page on climate change, and replaced them with a pledge to remove "burdensome" regulations on the American energy industry. Trump has since made good on that promise, signing an executive order March 28 that rolls back several Obama-era climate directives.

As the government scrubbed mentions of climate change from its official websites, memos were sent to various federal government departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, outlining new restrictions on what employees could share with the public and press ahead of planned cuts to the agency's budget, a move that was widely considered to be a gag order on climate scientists. 

The Washington March for Science is now set for April 22 — Earth Day — and as with the Women's March, solidarity marches are planned for the same day in other cities. 

The crackdown on scientific research and communication under Trump prompts uncomfortable déjà vu for Canadian public scientists, who during the years of Stephen Harper's majority government were prevented from speaking to the media, particularly if their work related to climate change. In Canada, science marches have been set for almost every provincial capital and major city. 

The vision statement for the marches, drafted by the Washington march organizers and adopted by the satellite marches, reads as follows: 

The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are shared by millions around the world.
The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.
When science is ignored, muzzled, or misrepresented, we all lose.

But unlike the Women's March, the March for Science has appeared to struggle to gain popular support and momentum outside Washington. Twitter accounts and Facebook pages set up to spread the word about local marches have at most a couple thousand followers, and at least one American researcher, coastal geologist Robert S. Young, has publicly called the entire concept of a science march "a terrible idea." 

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Young cautioned that politicizing scientific research will only make it more difficult to convince climate skeptics of the urgency of the problem. 

"A march by scientists, while well intentioned, will serve only to trivialize and politicize the science we care so much about, turn scientists into another group caught up in the culture wars and further drive the wedge between scientists and a certain segment of the American electorate," he wrote. 

As a publication that covers scientific research pertaining to environmental issues, Canadian Geographic knows that problems like climate change, air and water pollution, and habitat loss don't observe international borders, and as such, that the policies of individual nations can have far-reaching consequences. Our magazine also reaches a great number of Canadian scientists, research institutions, and people who are interested in science and the natural world. We want to know: do you plan to take part in your local March for Science? 

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