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March for Science and March for Humanity

Short opinion piece written to commemorate Earth Day 2017.

Published by NY Daily News, April 21, 2017

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The importance of Earth Day's March for Science

On Saturday, April 22, 2017, Earth Day, scientists and science enthusiasts around the world will publicaly stand up for science.


In recent months, it might seem like the attacks on science are new but science has always stoked controversy and criticism. What is new has been gradually happening over the last few decades but has picked up momentum. That is the diminished support for utilizing expert scientists and government-funded research to influence and direct policy, particularly policy that should be directly informed by scientific findings.  


Starting during the industrial revolution and peaking with the government-funded space program in the 1960s, scientists and scientific findings increasingly influenced public opinion and public policy. During the past forty years, however, government funding for science and the role of scientists in policy making has decreased. Paradoxically, during these recent decades, scientific knowledge, particularly as relates to health and disease, has exponentially increased. Now is the time when policy should be most informed by scientific evidence.


Throughout history, science has pushed society to expand our thinking. More often than not, significant scientific discoveries have required significant modifications in our perception of the world. Consequently, there is frequently pushback from proponents of established schools of thought. Fortunately, efforts to absorb and accept new theories have been rewarded with additional discoveries that have furthered mankind.


There are many examples throughout history of new findings restructuring our conception of the world and our place in it, such as the observations that the earth is round and the sun is the center of our solar system. Dogmas are challenged and refuted through careful experimental design and analyses. In neuroscience, it is now accepted that a memory can be held in a connection between two brain cells and that adult brains can make new brain cells. Both of these findings were controversial but are now widely accepted and the basis of new research.


The original theories were not inherently bad but were rather the best formulation of our knowledge at the time. Like good friends or siblings, scientists challenge each other through careful critiques of their work. Theories are put forth, tested, and often modified until accepted by the field. Scientists appreciate that our knowledge is never complete and that future studies with different methods or new perspectives might alter or even refute the accepted theories.


For these reasons, it is very rare that scientific theories are ever declared scientific ‘laws.’ Unfortunately, some latch onto the nomenclature of ‘theories’ and conclude that they too can develop contradictory theories based on their own beliefs and not scientific principles.


Scientifically disproving competing theories can and should strengthen the prevailing theory. Rationally, we know that there are right and wrong answers but irrationally, ungrounded debate continues at times.


While it is important to know when a theory is no longer valid, it is equally important to recognize when a theory is upheld after scientific scrutiny. This is the case with the safety of vaccines and human-driven climate change. Trust the scientific process and scientists to do their jobs.


Science is ever evolving and our knowledge is ever expanding. Science is improving the quality and duration of our lives. Most of the significant breakthroughs are made upon the foundation of many small discoveries. These small discoveries on their own are not marketable and will not directly turn a profit for any company but nonetheless they are critical for advancement of knowledge for the betterment of society. Our government, therefore, must continue to provide the resources and support to enable basic scientific research to continue to flourish in this country.


Recently, our government has drastically diminished experts’ abilities to advise policy and has called into question its need to fund science research. This dismissal of scientific knowledge and expertise threatens our ability to fight disease and endangers our planet. We are better informed with better communication than we have ever been so we could soon be discovering and inventing and preventing things beyond our imagination. Let’s not silence the next Galileo because her findings don’t fit with our politics.


Scientists are marching on Saturday because silence is compliance to the new status quo. I encourage you to march as a fellow science enthusiast. We must demonstrate to our fellow citizens that science research betters our future and evidence based decision making creates stronger policy.



Abigail Kalmbach, PhD

Research Scientist

Columbia University

New York State Psychiatric Institute

Department of Neuroscience

Advocacy Chair for braiNY, NYC Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience

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