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This Earth Day, Toronto joins more than 400 cities around the world defending scientific research
These are troubling times. Donald Trump, whose legacy includes launching the catchphrase “alternative facts” into the global lexicon, has ushered in an era of “post-truth.” In this Trumpian era of contesting facts, the president of three months has already set his sights on altering environmental policy accordingly, to the dismay of researchers around the world.
Last month, Trump signed an Energy Independence executive order which would reverse climate change protections put in place by the Obama administration. A move further eroding the relationship between science and policy making and a major catalyst for the March for Science in Washington.
On Saturday (April 22), scientists and advocates will rally in what is expected to be the largest gathering of its kind in support of sciences – a demonstration that’s been needed in Canada long before Trump came along, says Evan Savage, an organizer behind Toronto’s March for Science.
“In Canada, we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen the cuts to scientific research under [then Prime Minister Stephen] Harper,” he says. “From a Canadian perspective, [this is] one of the really important things that we have to add to this global movement.”
We mined Savage, a software engineering consultant whose work includes collaborations with researchers, for these top five reasons why Toronto’s March for Science deserves your support.
1) The shift away from supporting research is about ignorance
Centuries of research have led to breakthroughs in the way we lead our daily lives. But for some, the sciences at work to improve our lives aren’t accessible. According to Savage, when city centres are the primary hosts of scientific research facilities, this may lead many outside of cities to deny the importance of investing in sciences.
“There’s a divide that’s been opened up in between the urban centres, which are primarily the beneficiaries of investment in science research, and the more rural areas which don’t see much of the benefit of that directly,” says Savage. “They might see it indirectly, but Toronto gets to have initiatives like MaRS.”
2) The march is not just about supporting scientists, it’s about supporting education
Remember when we all agreed that the earth was round? Or when vaccine innovations brought infant mortality rates down? Yeah, we need to get back to this.
On anti-vaxxers: “People used to die of smallpox and polio. It’s unfortunate that we’re starting to see a resurgence of some of these diseases that we had thought were eradicated.”
On flat-earthers: “The ancient Egyptians knew better.”
3) We all benefit from science and research
“When cuts are made to science and science programs everyone suffers. We benefit overall from the technology – telecommunications, medicine etcetera – that had come out of basic research,” Savage says.
4) We know better, now we need to support the fight to do better
There are very urgent reasons for supporting research and evidence-based policymaking – one of the aims of Toronto’s march: among them, preserving the environment.
“The whole environmental issues thing is confounding for me,” Savage says. “I think it’s fair to say, scientifically, climate change is a settled debate. But even if you are unconvinced by that, there are very good reasons to protect the environment that has nothing to do with that and has everything to do with the quality of the air and the water that we are exposed to.”
What are some of the most absurd scientific contentions? “This sort of broad spectrum opposition to environmental issues,” he says. “Then maybe the anti-vaccination movement.”
5) These are also encouraging times – no, really!
From the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada’s (the union representing scientists and science workers) successfully negotiating the right to speak “freely” about their research to putting a stop to funding cuts proposed under Harper, the local fight for science has proven successful.
“We’ve remedied some of those problems here,” Savage says. “So it gives both hope and proof that we can have an impact. We can fight back against these attacks on the scientific community.”
Toronto’s March for Science begins at 11 am at Nathan Phillips Square before moving up to Queen’s Park. Speakers include Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, U of T assistant professor Chelsea Rochman and Dawn Martin-Hill, cofounder of the Indigenous Studies Program at McMaster University.
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