March for Science

On April 22 a series of rallies and marches (known as the March for Science) are planned for Washington, D.C. and other cities across the world. Education unions can play a key role in the campaign, particularly in pushing for increased public funding for science, greater protection for academic freedom and improved job security for researchers.

The March for Science has its origins in the United States, where on the back of the successful Women’s March, organisations have come together to challenge recent and unprecedented attacks on scientific research, academic freedom and freedom of thought, especially in relation to climate science. The first few months of the Trump administration, for example, have seen the appointment of anti-climate change campaigners in key policy roles, ‘gag rules’ on scientific and environmental organisations and proposed cuts in federal spending on science.

While the actions of the Trump administration have been a useful rallying cry, March for Science aims to unite a diverse, nonpartisan group to support science for the common good. It also seeks to reassert the value of evidence-based policy making and the need to stand up for scientists, particularly when they are silenced or threatened. Given the worrying trend towards ‘post-truth’ political narratives, these core principles and goals are more important than ever.

Despite having a broad-based mission, the March for Science has had to address a number of criticisms. Some scientists, for example, challenged the lack of references to diversity and equity in the original messaging, while others continue to worry about a perceived ‘politicisation’ of ‘pure science’. And yet these controversies haven’t stopped a growth in organisational sign-ups: over 100 hundred US organisations are now registered as partners, including the American Federation of Teachers.

Dozens of international solidarity or satellite marches are also planned for the 22 April. These share the broad goals of the US campaign, albeit with local specificities. In the United Kingdom, for example, academics are highlighting the negative impact of ‘Brexit’ on scientific mobility and on collaboration with European partners, while campaigners in Australia are calling for more public investment in scientific research by the Australian government, particularly in basic research.

Both Education International and its European region, ETUCE, have come out in support of the March for Science and a number of affiliates, for example in Italy and France, are encouraging members to participate in local satellite marches. Education unions are uniquely placed to ensure that broader political messages around democracy, citizenship and equality and diversity are part of the campaign to defend scientific knowledge and research. And as we represent researchers from all disciplines, unions are able to call for an inclusive notion of science, which includes the arts and humanities as well as traditional STEM subjects.

Finally, there is also an opportunity to highlight the importance of good working conditions, in particular the essential link between security of employment and academic freedom, as one of the prerequisites for quality science.  This year is the 20thanniversary of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel which is the most important international standard in higher education. The UNESCO recommendation includes the right of academics to carry out research work without any interference or suppression of the results. It also states that “Tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, constitutes one of the major procedural safeguards of academic freedom and against arbitrary decisions.”

The March for Science may provide an opportunity for unions to highlight how our governments are failing to uphold these principles. Building alliances with scientific and professional associations, student groups and the wider public, including on 22 April, could also help to strengthen our campaigns in this area.    

 


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Rob Copeland

Rob Copeland is a policy officer with the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK. His areas of responsibility include international affairs and UK education policy issues such as teaching, research, academic freedom and governance. Rob is the Chair of the ETUCE’s Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC).  

 

 

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