By Chris Takahashi | Staff Writer 

The first-ever March for Science is scheduled to take place this upcoming Saturday, April 22. More than 400 events in all 50 states, including four across the island state of Hawaiʻi, have been planned, according to an early April press release from organizers of the nationwide event.

“It’s critical for the future of humanity that we stand up for legitimate science,” said Marti Townsend, director of Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “We need scientific research and scientific education in public schools. We have to make sure that we have the public interest at the heart of science.”

Coinciding with Earth Day (April 22) and affiliated with the much anticipated, flagship march held in Washington, D.C., the Honolulu March for Science will kick off at UH Mānoa (corner of Dole Street and University Street) on Saturday afternoon.

A full slate of speakers representing a variety of science-based institutions and organizations are scheduled to present beginning at 3 p.m., and a march to Moʻiliʻili Neighborhood Park will take place from 4-5 p.m. The Honolulu March for Science will also feature food and music performances by Men in Grey Suits and Liv at the UH Mānoa campus. More than 30 participating organizations will have informational tables at the family friendly event that will conclude at 6 p.m.

“The march itself is for everybody, for everybody who has stake in or concern about the future of science in our society,” said Honolulu March for Science Chair and UH Mānoa professor Helen Spafford. “It’s for people that value the information and tools that the scientific inquiry provides.”

Stuart Coleman, Hawai‘i Regional Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, is listed as the event emcee and will preside over a credentialed lot of speakers. Those individuals scheduled to speak will do so on behalf of a diverse number of institutions including a handful of UH Mānoa academic departments, Bishop Museum, Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and Queens Medical Center, among others.

“I think overall the response has been fantastic,” Spafford said. “The scientific community in general has been very supportive, in both spirit and in action.”

The mission statement of the national March for Science event is as follows: “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

The idea for the March for Science was sparked on the heels of the Women’s March that took place on Jan. 21, one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Though the Women’s March had a distinctly partisan focus on political matters, the March for Science has remained steadfastly nonpartisan.

Spafford reiterated the nonpartisan spirit of the march from a position of advocacy.

“It’s actually exciting, I think, to be having this conversation about what role and what place science has in our society,” she said. “We need to have this conversation.”

She added, “We’ve tended to work in isolation and have mainly communicated among ourselves, and that clearly needs to change. I think that we need to move out of our comfort zone a little bit and engage more with the general public, in not only telling them what we do but the value of what we do for society.”

Still, despite the stance of Spafford and the commitment to nonpartisanship by organizers across the country, there have been some grumblings, even in the scientific community, that the March for Science will continue to “politicize” science.

In fact, science has a long-held, and at times tenuous, relationship with political affairs from the infamous Scopes Trial to even the persecution of Galileo for his views on heliocentrism.

Today, the political debate concerning the advancement of science is still relevant. With the Trump administration’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, many members of the scientific community have been galvanized to speak out against his views regarding climate change.  

In an interview on CNBC from March 9, Pruitt questioned whether or not carbon dioxide is a “primary contributor” to man-made climate change, a view he holds in opposition to a majority of the scientific community.

“Anyone who denies over a century’s worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA,” U.S. Senator from Hawaiʻi, Brian Schatz, responded in a statement. “Now more than ever, the Senate needs to stand up to Scott Pruitt and his dangerous views.”

Townsend of the Sierra Club has taken note of how the Trump administration has impacted civic engagement due in large part to the rhetoric concerning science from cabinet officials such as Pruitt. The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i will have a table at the March for Science focused specifically on climate justice.

“Our membership and support is growing,” she said. “The silver lining to the Trump administration is that people are feeling more empowered than ever to participate in local and state government to engage decision makers.”