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San Diegans Join Global March For Science

Thousands of science advocates gathered in downtown San Diego to march, April...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Thousands of science advocates gathered in downtown San Diego to march, April 22, 2017.

Several thousand science advocates rallied in the San Diego March for Science Saturday in downtown San Diego. The local event, which coincided with marches in Washington, D.C. and around the world, was pitched as a nonpartisan demonstration in support of science and against its increasing politicization.

Organizers said a crowd estimated at 15,000 people gathered at Civic Center Plaza in the morning for the march to Waterfront Park.

Participants represented a diverse mix of ages, occupations and backgrounds. Students, professors, biotech workers and families with young children marched together and cheered for speeches at both ends of the route.

Video by Matthew Bowler

Several thousand science advocates rallied in the San Diego March for Science Saturday in downtown San Diego.

"I think science is so crucial," said Solange Jacobs Randolph as she marched down Broadway, carrying a sign that read "Make America Cite Again."

"We can't have policy that's not based on facts. And we've got too much of that going on in America today, where our president, at the highest level, is not leading with fact-based evidence," she said.

UC San Diego postdoctoral researcher Laura Berner marched with a group of friends wearing hats knit to look like the folds of a human brain. She wanted to show her support for science funding. Her own research uses brain imaging to study eating disorders.

"If we don't understand what's happening in people's brains that contributes to those disorders, we're never going to develop better treatments," Berner said. "And if our science is de-funded, that means millions of people are going to be suffering who don't need to be."

Many who showed up to march were not scientists professionally, but described themselves as strong supporters of science. Kent Sligh said he worries about the president's budget proposal, which calls for deep federal funding cuts for science.

"Especially right now when we have so many challenges, it's really important for us to support scientists and to support the great work that they are doing," Sligh said.

San Diego lawyer Melissa Slawson, a lead organizer for the local march, kicked off the event, saying, "Fact is being branded as a partisan issue, something to be feared and dismissed. But science is not political. It is not swayed by partisan beliefs or emotions, and it doesn't care who you voted for."

Most of the signs carried by demonstrators kept with that nonpartisan tone, featuring witty pro-science messages like "Remember Polio? Neither Do I. Science Saves Lives" and "A World Without Science Is A World Without Alcohol."

However, many signs commented on the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton's campaign slogan "I'm With Her" was repurposed to call for protecting the Earth. And President Donald Trump was called out with messages like "Get Your Tiny Hands Off My Data" and "Alternative Facts (Citation Needed)." A small number of marchers chose messages that had little to do with science, such as T-shirts linking Trump with the Russian government.

Some local scientists did not participate in the march, worrying that the demonstration could feed into perceptions that scientists are politically biased. That concern motivated Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate scientist Ram Ramanathan to stay home.

"If I participate in the March for Science, I'm concerned I would lose that neutral voice. Even if I remain neutral, the perception would be that I'm a biased activist," he said.

RELATED: Why Many Will March For Science In San Diego (And Why Some Won’t)

But many other local scientists chose to march. Two of Ramanathan's colleagues at Scripps, Ralph Keeling and Lynne Talley, spoke about the scientific consensus on climate change and the need to fund research toward understanding how it will impact the world.

Scientists from local research institutions like UC San Diego, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the Salk Institute were also in attendance.

Derek Wampler, a Salk research intern, marched with colleagues who wore matching shirts that read "Science Cures." He said it feels like the public has been losing its faith in science, so it was positive to see so many people rallying behind science in San Diego.

"As far as my lifetime goes, I don't ever remember a time when it was even questioned. And now all of a sudden it's being questioned," Wampler said.

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