Yesterday I joined a thousand people on the lawns of Parliament House, as part of the Canberra version of the global March for Science.
I'm not normally part of protests. I'm not sure why, because in many cases I agree with what people are protesting for. I suspect that, like many other scientists, I feel uncomfortable playing the role of the activist.
This march was an opportunity to show support for the scientific endeavour, in all its forms. Science is not just physics or chemistry, it is also health and well-being, social sciences, understanding how to live on this planet. Nor is it a political issue of concerned, left-leaning 'progressives'. Science is equally important to everyone, from all ends of the political spectrum. Science is only inconvenient to those who have a personal agenda which is at odds with the evidence around them.
I think many scientists are concerned about science becoming a partisan issue. We see ourselves as being non-political. We are experts who provide information to the public to help understand an issue, but are not involved politically. But when some people, certain politicians included, misunderstand the scientific process or deliberately marginalise scientific expertise, who else should stand up to defend it but scientists themselves?
For our part, us scientists have to be more vocal in communicating what we find to the public. Because the benefit of the scientific process is that it increases our understanding of the world, and that knowledge belongs in the public sphere. Increasingly, scientists are being encouraged to engage the public and communicate their findings. I think this is good, and I think it needs to happen more. Personally, I want this to be a big part of my PhD. I want to learn how to communicate what I do and what other scientists do, through photography, video, social media, and this blog.