Earth Day marchers for science pose for a picture on the steps of the state Capitol.
America has a president who believes global warming is a Chinese plot, orders an end to clean air and water rules and proposes to reduce funding for the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, he not alone in his disdain for science.
But America — including Arkansas — is also a place where vast numbers protested this Earth Day against science-blind, profit-driven and superstitious policymaking, both in D.C. and by the Arkansas Legislature. Hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, turned out on a dreary, cold Saturday for the Arkansas March for Science that started at 1 p.m. The crowd, carrying signs saying such things as "I've seen better cabinets at Ikea," "A Good Planet is Hard to Find," "Clean Energy Jobs Now," "I'm a steminist," "Denial is Dangerous," and "Science is Not a Partisan Issue," filled several blocks of Fifth Street as it moved toward the state Capitol.
State Sierra Club Executive Director Glen Hooks,
Arkansas State University professor of philosophy Dr. Michele Merritt
, local Science Guy Kevin Delaney
and other speakers — too young to remember the early days of the space race when science reigned in America and we all saw "Our Friend the Atom" every year in science class — urged our state and national leaders to once again embrace facts and use science to make our lives better. It's a message that Hooks said the state Legislature isn't getting, governing instead by anecdote and promoting an anti-intellectual climate in which people are ridiculed people for being educated.
"Maybe you're a hunter who needs good science to keep forests and habitat health. A farmer who needs science to grow food," Hooks said, or a fisherman who wants clean water or a researcher or doctor or parent: "Science matters. ... But I'm not seeing that it matters enough to our elected officials and decision-makers." Instead, Hooks said he sees legislators and governor "actively ignoring" scientific data.
Delaney, who works with the Museum of Discovery, a cosponsor of the event, and has made regular appearances on the Tonight Show with his fun science demonstrations, related to the crowd the tragic story of 19th century Austrian Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis
, who realized he could reduce the death rate in his clinic by requiring doctors to wash their hands, but was eventually driven mad by the scientific community's ridicule of the idea.
Delaney said it now seems absurd to think that one need not wash one's hands to keep from spreading germs. It is also absurd, he said, "To deny scientific evidence and fact. ... Our lawmakers need to understand that to continue to deny human-caused climate change is as equally absurd as to deny the existence of germs," he said, adding, "And we have considerably more evidence than Ignaz had."
Other speakers included Sarah Thomas
, a student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who has multiple sclerosis and is focusing her research on the disease. "When our policy makers start wanting to cut [science funding] that kills a lot of dreams for us," Thomas said. Haleigh Eubanks
, a fifth year doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary science at UAMS, said she represented both people of color and "nasty women" (getting a huge cheer there) pursuing careers in science. She noted the international flavor of UAMS' medical and research teams (some who could be affected by Donald Trump's anti-Muslim immigration ban) and the important work being done there. "I want to let Donald Trump know that you cannot pretend to make America great if you threaten STEM research" and make policy with "imaginary facts," Eubanks said. She quoted scientist Bill Nye, saying, "Science is the key to our future, and if you don't believe in science, then you're holding everybody back."