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What’s Motivating People to March for Science?

A survey finds one big reason is to express opposition to political attacks.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Saturday’s March for Science has grown from a single demonstration in Washington, D.C., to a worldwide phenomenon, with related events scheduled in nearly 500 cities. But what is it really about?

While President Donald Trump’s dismissal of scientific evidence regarding climate change was a clear catalyst, organizers insist the event is not anti-Trump. Rather, they argue, it is pro-science.

To get a better idea of why actual marchers are attending, the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication surveyed 1,040 members of March for Science Facebook groups or pages. They were presented with a number of possible reasons to participate, and asked which they considered “very important.”

“Encouraging polices based on science” received the most support, with 97 percent calling it very important. This was followed closely by “Encouraging the public to support science” and “Opposing political attacks on science,” each of which was considered very important by 93 percent of participants.

“Protesting cuts in science funding” was just slightly behind, with 90 percent calling it a very important issue. It was followed by “Celebrating the value of science to society” (89 percent), and “Promoting scientific literacy” (86 percent).

Receiving less, but still substantial, support were “Encouraging scientists to engage the public,” which was considered very important by 70 percent of participants, and the somewhat vague statement “Encouraging diversity in science,” which was strongly endorsed by 68 percent.

Fifty percent of respondents identified themselves as scientists. Eighty-two percent were residents of the United States, and — perhaps surprisingly — 81 percent were women. It’ll be interesting to see what the gender ratio will be in the actual marches.

Even more interesting is whether the event — and the organized activity leading up to it — will inspire participants to get involved in political persuasion and science advocacy on a regular basis. Survey participants’ answers to another set of questions suggest it may very well.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said their experiences with March for Science “pages, groups, or hashtags” made them “more likely to contact public officials” on science-related issues. Fifty-nine percent said it inspired them to “discuss science with people you know.”

Bigger majorities said it made them more likely to participate in science advocacy, whether online (78 percent) or off (74 percent). Seventy-six percent said they were now more likely to “like” or “share” science-related messages.

They can do so safely: Recent research concluded scientists can advocate policies without losing credibility in the eyes of the public. The findings of this survey, conducted under the direction of Barbara Ley, suggests many are ready to do just that.