The World Marches for Science
The numbers are impressive: more than 300 marches around the world, 239 marches in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and 400,000 Facebook followers. The March for Science, being held on April 22, 2017,
began as a Reddit Science discussion but will likely be the largest assembly of scientists and science lovers ever.
The ASCB was pleased to be an early and strong supporter of the March, which it has officially endorsed. ASCB staff members have worked with the March organizers and have developed a website with information for ASCB members. The website, http://marchforscience.ascb.org, offers carpool and room-share matching services, a grassroots advocacy toolkit for the March, and t-shirts Marchers can buy to wear while they march.
In announcing the ASCB’s support for the March, ASCB Executive Director Erika Shugart said, “We see the March for Science as an opportunity for scientists from across disciplines and across party lines to stand alongside members of the public to advocate for publicly funded science, which is the cornerstone of evidence-based policy making.” Shugart went on to say, “It is critically important to continue to support the work of scientists who are solving the challenges we face as a modern society, challenges that extend from the health of our tiniest cells to developing the next cure for disease to enhancing the way we live and work.”
Despite many Americans feeling fear and anxiety about the policy plans of the new administration, the March organizers and the ASCB leadership feel it is important to make the focus of the March positive. The mission statement for the March says, “The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not about scientists or politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.”
Just to Be Clear, Congressman, Will Science Prevail at HHS?
During confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) asked then Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary-designate Tom Price some questions about his scientific views. Price, an orthopedist by training, was, at the time, a member of Congress from Georgia. (He has since been confirmed as HHS Secretary.) Menendez’s questions were likely the result of media reports about the positions taken by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and its journal. Price was at one time a member of the Association.
A transcript of the exchange follows:
Sen. Menendez: Congratulations, Congressman Price. Let me ask you a series of questions. Given your medical training and time spent as a practicing physician, I have a couple of simple yes or no questions to start off with. In your medical opinion, does HIV cause AIDS?
Rep. Price: I think that the scientific evidence is clear that HIV and AIDS are clinically directed.
Sen. Menendez: In your medical opinion, have immigrants led to outbreaks of leprosy in the United States?
Rep. Price: I don’t know what you are referring to, but I suspect that there are instances where individuals have an infectious disease and they come to the United States—
Sen. Menendez: I am not asking about an infectious disease. I’m asking specifically about immigrants in the United States causing leprosy in the United States, in your medical opinion and scientific background.
Rep. Price: Again, I don’t know the incident to which you refer. Are you referring to a specific incident?
Sen. Menendez: There are statements that have been made in the public domain that immigrants have led to outbreaks of leprosy in the United States. As the person who is going to be designated as the director of Health and Human Services, that is not only the national but the world’s health epicenter, I want to know in your medical opinion is there such a causation?
Rep. Price: Anytime you get two individuals together in any relationship whatsoever whether it is an immigrant or a visitor, and one individual has an infectious disease, then it is possible that that individual transmits that infectious disease.
Sen. Menendez: Including leprosy?
Rep. Price: In any infectious disease whatsoever.
Sen. Menendez: In your medical opinion do abortions cause breast cancer?
Rep. Price: The science is relatively clear that that is not the case.
Sen. Menendez: In your medical opinion, do vaccines cause autism?
Rep. Price: Again, in that instance the science is that it does not. But there are individuals across our country who are very—
Sen. Menendez: I am not asking about individuals, I am talking about science because you are going to head a department in which science, not alternate universes of people’s views, is going to be central to a $1 trillion budget and the health of the nation. Can you commit to this committee and the American people today that should you be confirmed, you will swiftly and unequivocally debunk false claims to protect the public health?
Rep. Price: What I will commit to doing is doing the due diligence that the department is known for and must do to make certain that factual information is conveyed to the President and to the American people.
Sen. Menendez: And that factual information will be dictated by science, I would hope?
Rep. Price: Without a doubt.
ASCB Opposes Trump’s Travel Restrictions
Within days of becoming president, Donald Trump issued an executive order placing sweeping restrictions on the ability of travelers from seven Islamic countries to enter the United States.
The ASCB swiftly and strongly rejected this action. In a public statement soon after the executive order was issued, the ASCB said, “Should these orders stand, they will have significant, harmful impact on the United States’ standing as the world leader in scientific research. With the assistance of our immigration laws, our world class research institutions have been the place future scientists have come to learn the secrets of the cell, the atom, and the stars.” Several days later, ASCB President Pietro De Camilli, Past President Peter Walter, and President-Elect Jodi Nunnari sent a joint message to all ASCB members explaining their opposition to the action by the president. Their message said, in part, “American science itself would simply not be able to function without the daily contributions of students, postdocs, and faculty who call other countries home.”
The original executive order was soon struck down by several federal courts, but several weeks later the Trump administration issued a second order. That order bans travel into the United States by residents of six predominantly Muslim countries; Iraq was removed from the list of countries. The executive order also suspended the entire U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program for 120 days and reduced the annual number of refugees admitted into the country from 120,000 to 50,000.
In a second statement, the ASCB made the point that the new order “maintains the same basic flaws found in the administration’s first attempt to restrict entry into the country.”
At press time, two federal courts, in Hawaii and Maryland, had struck down Trump’s second travel ban.
Along with the second travel ban, the administration also announced a six-month suspension of the option for expedited review of H-1B visa applications, beginning with those filed on or after April 3, 2017.
Because of the new attention on immigration and the impact on science, the ASCB has reissued a White Paper calling for the modernization of the U.S. immigration system’s approach to science. The White Paper, which can be found at www.ascb.org/advocacy, calls for changes to immigration rules that make it easier, not harder, for the best and the brightest from around the world to come to the United States to study and then stay when their studies are completed. To read the ASCB’s statement on the most recent travel ban go to www.ascb.org/trump-immigration-eo/.
About the Author:
Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: email@example.com