Science Matters: Taking It to the Streets

I was honored to stand up and speak out for science at the March for Science in San Francisco on April 22, 2017. The following is my speech for the event. Science is for everyone—and our future depends on it. Let’s get to work to turn this march into a movement!

Hello everyone! It is so great to be here with you on this beautiful day!

I am here today because I believe that science is the essential tool for protecting our environment, helping people, and saving lives. I am also here to participate in this growing community of people who care about how we, as a society, value science.

Like all of us, I was born a scientist. I conducted my first formal experiment in 5th grade, for the local science fair. I had some guppies, a small prolific tropical aquarium fish, and I wanted to know if, over time, their population size would level off at some stable number. It didn’t really work out, I was forced me to reject my hypothesis—and I ended up with many, many more guppies than I started with. Maybe not an auspicious beginning—but I was hooked on science and on fish.

Me and NRDC colleagues at the San Francisco March for Science

Tommy Hayes

However, much as I like fish, I feel even more strongly about people and our environment. That’s why, almost two decades ago, with a doctorate in biology and after several years of research and teaching, I shifted gears to work in the science and policy arena. I wanted a job where it was my job to get science applied.  

I took this path for the same reasons that we are all here today. Science is telling us that we have some really big, really urgent problems—pollution, degraded natural ecosystems, climate change and all of the threats to human health that these problems bring. Because of science, we know what is causing these problems and we know what has to be done to solve them. We’re not here today not just because we have a personal preference for science-based policies. We’re here because we know—we have learned from experience—that policies that are not based on science, facts and evidence don’t work. They don’t solve the problems. And that hurts all of us.  

On top of that, we are here today because we see that, unbelievably, science (of all things!) is under attack. Because science is the essential tool to solve problems, this is perhaps the greatest threat to our future and to the world where our children and grandchildren will live.

We have our work cut out for us. So to help and encourage you get and stay involved, I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I learned on my journey to become a scientist advocate.

Great crowd and great signs! More photos are available on the SF March for Science website.

Neil Parkin

The first piece of advice I’ll offer is—do your homework and understand the context for the issue you want to talk about. This isn’t just about who your audience is, it’s about what they care about. What policy makers, elected representatives and public officials want to know is how your research, your knowledge or your experience can help them do their jobs—and their job is to make good decisions. They want answers, not more questions. So help them out.

Second—communication style and content matter. It’s more than avoiding incomprehensible jargon, it’s about respecting and giving something of value to your audience. To illustrate this, I want to share my favorite quote from Van Jones. He was recounting advice given to him by his father, who told him “There are only two kinds of smart people in this world … there are those smart people who take simple things and make them sound complicated, to enrich themselves. And there are those who take complicated things and make them sound simple, to empower and uplift other people.” This is my inspiration and aspiration—and I hope you may be inspired too.

Finally—just as science is most impactful when it is a collaborative effort supported by diverse partners, so is science advocacy. Rather than trying to go it alone, think about who else you can work with. At NRDC, not only do our scientists, policy experts, attorneys and communicators all work together, we also work with universities, other non-profits, community and environmental justice groups, entrepreneurs and trade groups, artists and students. Our work is strengthened and enriched—yours can be too.

Today’s marches, in Washington DC, here in San Francisco and across the country and world, are an indication of how many of us care about science. But we can’t stop here—we are going to have to turn this march into a movement. It’s going to take all of us—and more. So, to support and advance science for the good of all of us and our planet, let’s get to work! 

Thank you all so much!

About the Authors

Christina Swanson

Director, Science Center

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