There are some who've observed that the U.S. general public has backed away from science, or perhaps turned a blind eye to new information generated by science. And in some circles scientists are being called on to step out from behind their Bunsen burners, and gas chromatograph mass spectrometers to connect with the public. And this year it looks like they're listening.
On Earth Day, across the country in many major cities, those "environmental parades" will be graced by the March for Science. The Entomological Society of America is sponsoring the march, and we talked with one ant specialist who will be marching in Des Moines this week.
For Corrie Moreau, an entomologist with Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, there was a plant to walk in the Field's sponsored event in Chicago, but travel restricted that opportunity. "I'm happy that my travel is taking me through Des Moines, and I'll be taking part in the March for Science there," she said. The March for Science is happening in major cities across the country, with the big march in Washington, D.C.
But what's the point of the march? "I think there are a few messages people are trying to convey," she said. "I think in some ways it is to communicate what science is, that fact-based information is important, and [show what] the people who do science look like?"
She noted the stereotypical wild-haired Einstein (or fictional Dr. Brown in "Back to the Future") is what many people think when they hear the word scientist. "But we look like all kinds of people, and there's diversity in who we are and the fields we participate in," Moreau said.
While it's easy to point to climate change deniers or anti-science poseurs as a reason for this march, Moreau keeps the conversation on a higher plain during our talk. "On a broader scale, this is the thing, it's a march for science, and all kinds of work," she said. "For me as an entomologist it's about biodiversity and understanding the biology of insects."
She noted that most of her work isn't in applied science but her findings on ants and ant behavior could have impact in the world in the future. She added that for farmers, they're thinking about bugs all the time. And there are plenty that spread disease and hurt crops. "Most farmers know the good insects in their fields," she said. "And they know the best times to spray to maximize control and protect predators and parasitoids that help control those pests."
During our conversation, Moreau noted that farmers should be in the March for Science since they're involved in environmental science every day. She said your understanding of how things work in the world is valuable, and working in the environment you observe as much as a scientist.
Beyond the march
So the goal is to bring scientists out in public, and share that these are hardworking people who "look just like us." But what happens after the Earth Day march?
"It's important for us to stay in the public view," Moreau said. "And clearly at the Natural History Museum I can do that and I frequently go to the public floor."
She jokes that she studies ants and sometimes she marvels that she's paid to study ants, but it's important work in biology of a key member of the animal kingdom. "I think the message I would say there is that farmers are keenly aware that if they ignore biology they will have more problems than less," she said. "Farmers know that if they don't want the soybean aphid they don't spray right away, that would create more havoc in the field. You want to start by giving the predators and parasitoids a chance to do their work."
"The March for Science is celebrating science from studying climate to insects to fungi, from the solar system to deep sea vents. You may be walking alongside a scientist who studies any one of those and not even imagine it," she said.
You may have seen some of the promotion for the march - like those T-shirts promoted by Tom Hanks that say "There is no Planet B" and protecting the environment. But there's more to science and farmers know it. If you want to learn more about the march, visit marchforscience.com. And the Field Museum has made a video about its participation you can watch below.