T-Minus: 48 hours

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Treasures from the ends of the earth. Photo creds: ANSP Instagram.

A couple weeks ago, I went to a pizza party. This in and of itself is not unusual – I’m in college, and you can find a pizza party somewhere every night without looking very hard. However, some of us like to party differently – which is how I ended up in a quaint study tucked away in the twisting hallways of the Academy, chowing down on slices with a good majority of Philadelphia’s paleontologist population and discussing salamander Terminators (among other things).

In case you’re not aware, the team that brought you Tiktaalik was down in Antarctica last Christmas, hunting for fossil fish under a starless sky. Within the past month, the samples have finally made it back to the labs where preparation and cataloging can begin. Dr. John Long from Flinders University in Adelaide was here for a few days to take a look at the fossils he helped collect, so the decision was made to invite all manner of paleo professors, grad students, and undergrads from the Philly universities over to hang out for an evening. The night was enough of a success that it was decided this would be the first of many similar events (and it’s official too. There’s a mailing list and everything). All in all, six pies, various beverages, and a productive evening well spent.

I mention this because, as a group of scientists, we all do different things with similar interests and mindsets. We had plenty of fish workers there, some mammal workers, general geologists and stratigraphers. We had a couple people doing CT work. (Including, perhaps, yours truly. As always, stay tuned.) Some biomechanics. Preparators and curators and phylogeneticists. And we all came from a variety of backgrounds with different experiences and perspectives, over different amounts of time. There were real lineages representing themselves. People who had just started their academic careers, and people who had been at it for fifty years.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that each and every one of us could agree on a single thing: this Saturday the 22nd would be a very important day for all of us.

I’ll be joining many of them this weekend, convening at City Hall to kick off the Philadelphia March for Science. One will even be a keynote speaker. (It’s Dr. Daeschler, obviously. Because honestly, who else would it be?) The past three months have been building up to this very Saturday and I think it’ll be a paradigm shift of some kind.

I first joined the March for Science Facebook page back in January, when only a few thousand people had joined and there wasn’t even an official name yet. The spark was a tweet from the Badlands National Park account concerning climate change, which was swiftly and suspiciously deleted soon afterwards. It was a pretty big deal. But everyone was astonished when the movement literally grew tenfold overnight, and it was no longer a pipe dream. It was real, and it was huge.

Though I was there in its infancy, I haven’t contributed as much to it as I really wanted to, starting out. Winter term was pretty brutal and I wouldn’t have had the time to put in the work that it deserved. To be clear, I’m not working for the March in any official capacity, although I discussed volunteering possibilities. It never panned out though. Thankfully, others have stood up to the task, and two days out I am thoroughly impressed by what has been accomplished thus far.

Of course, it’s far from perfect. I’ve heard about multiple problems with the Washington DC and/or New York Marches – social discrimination and bureaucracy interfering with the organization process, and privacy issues regarding email consent of the participants (or lack thereof). Which I’m a bit peeved about, to be frank. Particularly regarding the question of politics, which I have previously touched upon – yes, in a perfect world, science would remain unbiased and apolitical, but guess what? We don’t live in a perfect world, and when your funding gets slashed by an incompetently hostile administration, that should be your wakeup call that science is not separate from the rest of the world. I’ve always been reluctant to use the “ivory tower” analogy, but I think it rings true in this case.

Aside from that, however, I’m happy. I haven’t seen/heard any issues with the Philly March. The Chicago March is shaping up to be a barnstormer. Within the past few days, the social media presence of the Marches seems to have skyrocketed again – you’ve got videos from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye and Emily Graslie showing up. Our modern day Muses are speaking up about this. We’ve got geologists running for Congress. I see no signs of complacency any time soon.

My one major concern with the whole thing was that science is such a broad topic, with so many components that deserve equal attention – how do you communicate all that in a single movement? I was sure it could be done, but I had no idea how. Until this morning, when I found this quote by Hahrie Han, a UC Santa Barbara political scientist interviewed in The Atlantic:

“…we typically don’t think of scientists as a political constituency. Seniors are a constituency, or gun owners, or demographic groups. The March for Science is trying to develop scientists as a political constituency with a collective voice.”

If one were to impossibly boil down the March for Science to its most basic form, to a single & easily digestible sentence…I would be happy with that explanation.

We’re two days away from the main event. Hopefully, it will only be a beginning, a glimpse of what’s to come. And if you don’t see why it matters, well…

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More after the weekend.

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