“OK ladies now let’s get information”
“Girls just want to have fun…ding for science”
These are just some of the witty quips that were etched onto placards in support of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), at the London March for Science on the 22nd of April.
Draped in white lab coats, marchers brought the streets of central London to a halt chanting:
“What do we want? Evidence based policy! When do we want it? After peer review!”
An estimated 10,000 scientists marched with colleagues, friends, family and supporters, from the science museum to Parliament Square. Among the feminist signs, costumes, children, dogs and even Dr Who, there were also pro-Europe, anti-Trump and climate change action signs.
Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London says he marched to advocate for the values of “wisdom, evidence, investigation and internationalism.” Rapley added that the UK public have “paid for my salary and my grants, so there is an obligation to speak up.” When it comes to climate change, Rapley says “the planet is talking to us very loud and clear: the ice is melting,” and “anyone who denies the science is living in a fantasy world.”
Marching under a Green Party banner, David Flint, a retired management consultant, says he marched to “defend science and campaign against climate change.”
Jo Lawbuary, a shopkeeper who joined the march, says “it’s so bizarre to have to defend science, it is extraordinary and very worrying.”
The march is “about understanding the spirit of research; the principle of being open to questions,” says Helen Czerski, a physicist, oceanographer and supporter of the campaign group, ScienceGrrl.
Author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, Angela Saini told WEN: “I’ve seen many feminist signs today. It reflects the many different hats [scientists] wear; I’m pro-science and feminist, pro-immigration and anti-racist.”
While the signs were funny, the statistics are not; in February this year, women made up only 25% of the UK’s STEM graduates, and 21% of the UK’s STEM workforce. One barrier to getting more people into STEM fields is “a perception of elitism,” says Czerski. Discouraging people from science and engineering is “the most dangerous thing” says Saini. Science “is what builds industries and makes economies strong.”
There is an estimated 40,000 UK STEM jobs vacant – this is known as the ‘skills gap’. Employers say this gap is threatening UK businesses. To help fill the gap and encourage a variety of people into STEM fields, Czerski says scientists need to be having conversations with everyone around them, whether in person or on social media. “The more conversations that happen, the more we can include everyone.”
Science blog coordinator for The Guardian, Pete Etchells echoed these sentiments, saying to thousands gathered in Parliament Square: “science is for everybody.”“We have to be more inclusive and more diverse. Then the quality of research will be better and the questions asked will be more interesting,” he said. “We are not just old white men with crazy hair and lab coats; anyone can be a scientist.” Talking to WEN after the march, Etchells says he hopes people will talk to scientists more as a result of the march. “They are just people, they walk their dogs, they have hopes and dreams and fears like everyone else.”
Andrew Steele, chair of the science advocacy group, Science is Vital, urged those interested in science to “get involved and help out. Join up! We always need more volunteers. Turn up, sign a petition, it might not seem like much individually but collectively it makes a big difference.”
March for Science organiser, Story Sylwester, speaking at the end of the march, said the pro-science movement will continue, with future events and updates to be found at the Cosmic Shambles Network.
Lucy EJ Woods is a freelance journalist specialising in energy and environment reporting. Currently based in London she has reported on environmental issues from Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia and the Philippines for various international titles, including The Ecologist, China Dialogue, The Inquirer, Mongabay and many others. You can find more of her work at: lucyejwoods.com, or follow her on Twitter: @lucyejwoods