Science matters

Published April 03 2017

On April 22, people will gather in more than 300 cities across the U.S. and around the world for the March for Science. The goals of the march are many, but in general, it aims to celebrate science and its vital public service role, promote respect for research and the scientific method, and defend the importance of evidence-based thinking and decision-making.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology wholeheartedly supports the efforts of the March for Science. Scientists at all career stages work every day to maintain the flow of new knowledge through evidence-based research and logic. We train young scientists in critical thinking skills and the scientific method. While interpretations of experimental observations can and do vary, we hold ourselves to high standards for rigorousness and impartiality, and we strive to reach unbiased conclusions as much as humanly possible.

Science and the scientific method are unquestionably nonpartisan. The political affiliations of the scientists doing the experiments should have no bearing on the interpretations of data. Likewise, illnesses and disease are equal opportunists — they welcome members of all political parties.

Everyone deserves to benefit from the discoveries of science; everyone benefits when science is supported in a bipartisan manner, as has been the case for the past 72 years. Vannevar Bush’s report “ Science — the Endless Frontier” is just as relevant today as it was in 1945: “It has been basic United States policy that Government should foster the opening of new frontiers. It opened the seas to clipper ships and furnished land for pioneers. Although these frontiers have more or less disappeared, the frontier of science remains. It is in keeping with the American tradition — one which has made the United States great — that new frontiers shall be made accessible for development by all American citizens.” Our mandate was then and still remains to uncover the realities of how the world works and train new generations to take this knowledge farther.

That science increasingly is distorted for political gain is deeply troubling to me. It’s not that I’m surprised when people sometimes make irrational statements with no basis in fact. I’ve raised teenagers and have been a teenager myself, so I’m not pointing any fingers. But, as a scientist, I worry when people started believing things that are obviously false. As scientists, we hold ourselves to standards dictating that statements must be grounded in evidence, and it is unacceptable to discount or reject facts without evidence-based justification.

So what can we, as individuals, do? First, attend the March for Science wherever you will be on April 22 and show the world how important science is to everyone. Then, in the coming years, become an ambassador for science. Engage with nonscientists and policymakers to explain what you do, how research expands the frontiers of knowledge and why science is essential for national prosperity.

For many of us, reaching out to nonscientists and policymakers isn’t our strong suit. We’d rather spend 12 hours analyzing data than two minutes chatting with the other person in the elevator. The ASBMB has developed many resources to help you begin. An online course developed by the Public Outreach Committee will help you learn how to communicate your work to nonscientific audiences.

The Public Affairs Advisory Committee organizes yearly Hill Day visits to Capitol Hill, an effective way for American citizens to communicate the importance of science to policymakers. The PAAC’s Advocacy Toolkit will teach you how to work with Congress; write letters to senators, representatives and local newspaper editors; and host visits by members of Congress to your lab and institution. Finally, this magazine is a great way to publish your ideas and thoughts on the importance of science in society. You can submit your pieces to asbmbtoday@asbmb.org.

If you’re attending the 2017 ASBMB Annual Meeting in Chicago, both the POC and PAAC have organized events to help you get started in engaging with nonscientists and policymakers. On April 22, the POC will hold outreach events for meeting attendees in Chicago, which will have a satellite March for Science; you can find out about these events on the POC’s website. You also can attend the PAAC town hall on April 24, where we will discuss the impacts of the political landscape on biomedical research (for more details, click here).

Many people I’ve met have told me how they’ve resolved to stand up actively for science. If ever there has been a time to reinforce the importance of scientific knowledge and evidence-based thinking to policymakers and to the world, it is now. Let’s build a bridge between marching for science today and establishing lifelong advocacy for science tomorrow.

Natalie Ahn Natalie Ahn of the University of Colorado, Boulder, is president of the ASBMB.