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Apr. 16, 2018 11:29 am

‘Objectivity is critical’: Philadelphia Science Action wants scientists to get vocal

The new local advocacy org on this past weekend's #RallyForScience and its mission of public engagement.

#RallyforScience on Saturday, April 14.

(Photo via twitter.com/ConservationPA)

The 2017 March for Science gathered thousands of citizen activists and scientists in Washington D.C. (and millions more globally) in defense and advocacy of evidence-based policy.

While the original marches were partly born out of frustration with the Trump administration’s vehement attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and defunding of scientific research, the newly formed Philadelphia Science Action (PSA) introduces more nuance.

“This was not a reaction to his political party,” said PSA founders via email. “Rather, a reaction to a series of actions that ran counter to evidence-based decision making and impact our health and scientific institution.”

The founders — Kim Beidler (president), Ashley Winslow (VP), Gina Lavern (treasurer), Marion Leary (secretary, who also wrote a guest post for Generocity about the first March for Science), Kristen Kepics (board member) and Roland Wall (board member) — created the org to keep the energy of last year’s march going “beyond a single day.”

The collective of scientists, researchers and policy designers, which hosted this year’s local #RallyForScience on Saturday, April 14, at Thomas Paine Plaza with around 600 people in attendance, proudly bears its nonpartisan badge.

“Beyond [Donald] Trump, this is a long delayed reaction to a more insidious movement in society, a movement towards the ‘death of the expert’ and a decline in the impact of scientific evidence in a public opinion,” said PSA founders. “Our group would like to translate the momentum from marching into sustained action supporting re-engagement of society with science.”

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The org’s goals, which include the intentions “to spearhead dialogue” around science policy and impacted social issues and to encourage civic engagement, may soon include informational events for the public.

“There is sometimes a reticence for scientists to engage in activism,” said the founders. “Objectivity is critical to science, but it doesn’t mean that scientists cannot speak about the data and for the data. We feel it is important that there be more direct communication and that this communication become commonplace.”

Crowd of science supporters at #RallyForScience.

#RallyForScience. (Photo by George Manos)

PSA’s plan for the immediate future is to focus on expansion of diversity, both internally and externally, because its founders acknowledge the lack thereof within the science community.

“We are determined to increase access to STEM/STEAM for all Philadelphians,” said PSA founders. “We are looking to identify partners, as we don’t want to re-create the wheel, but will promote and support great work that’s already being done, and find opportunities for collaboration.”

The following were speakers at the 2018 Rally for Science:

  • Dr. Walter Tsou, president, Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility; former health commissioner, City of Philadelphia
  • Laura Guertin, professor of earth science, Penn State Brandywine; writer on geoscience education for the American Geophysical Union
  • Patrick Callahan, cofounder, CompassRed
  • Josh McNeil, executive director, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania
  • Halle Van der Gaag, manager, Delaware River programs, National Wildlife Federation
  • Monica Taylor, assistant professor and director, exercise physiology, Department of Kinesiology, Samson College of Health Science, University of the Sciences
  • Steve Luxton, executive director, Energy Coordinating Agency
  • Andrew Javier Matamoros, Ph.D. Candidate, Drexel University College of Medicine; senior city coordinator for Taste of Science
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