Yesterday, I participated in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. I stood outside for hours in the rain, surrounded by people, holding a sign mounted on an increasingly mushy piece of cardboard. If that sounds like a mildly gross, uncomfortable way to spend an afternoon, you would be right. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did it. Let me walk you through three reasons why:
1) I'm glad I marched because funding cuts to NIH/NSF would affect my career and my livelihood
- This is obviously a selfish reason. But, when you do the work I do, where each hour of time at the MRI scanner costs $500+, external funding is essential. Universities provide most professors with a start-up package, but beyond that any research they want to conduct they pay for themselves--which means they have to apply for funds from grants and foundations. If the grant agencies have less money, the likelihood that researchers like me can successfully do our jobs decreases significantly.
2) I'm glad I marched because I was one of the few representatives of psychological and language science
- Although the March was inclusive and the speakers covered a broad range of fields and professions, the overall emphasis was on the physical and life sciences (I know, I know, people like rockets and animals), rather than social sciences. Luckily for me, people really enjoyed my sign, and with all the requests for pictures I got to talk a little bit about my work and introduce people to it.
3) I'm glad I marched because I learned a lot about science communication and what the public may not know about science
- In the speeches that I heard at the pre-March rally, for example, a recurring theme was the importance of basic research--that is, research funded purely for the pursuit of discovery, rather than application to a current problem. One of the speakers, Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, spoke about how she started out conducting basic genetics research in bacteria, and ended up using that knowledge to discover how to generate insulin from bacteria (this was a huge advance because until then insulin was extracted from animals).
- Another example I heard while listening to Science Friday's panel on the March during my drive down to D.C. The panelist mentioned a discussion with a politician who both wanted to cut government spending and train more scientists. This politician seemed unaware that these two goals were conflicting. And unless you are a scientist, you probably wouldn't realize that many students and post-doctoral researchers are paid not by the university where they work, but by external (often federal) grants to their adviser. That is part of why proposing cuts to federal grant agencies is so scary--it would not only put a halt on current research by existing scientists, but would also prevent the training of the next generation of scientists.
For all these reasons, I am glad I marched. I also know that yesterday was only the beginning and this blog post is one small step in advocating for science and making it accessible. But that's how science works; one small step at a time.