The March for Science movement has garnered attention on the national level, but even at UR, students and faculty have made efforts to respond to the cuts to science funding discussed by the Trump administration.
This uptick in academic activism continued on Friday, with the “Science and Citizenship” teach-in, a day-long series of short talks by science faculty.
The talks were held in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library, starting at 10:00 a.m.
The audience was small at first, but grew throughout the day as students and professors came and went.
By noon, there was standing room only.
Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Carmala Garzione gave a talk titled “The Scientific Process: Why we should trust science to guide policy” and dealt largely with the “built-in checks and balances” in the scientific method that make it trustworthy.
Garzione said she was prompted to get involved in the teach-in due to her concerns about the Trump administration, especially what she described as the administration’s unwillingness to let energy and environmental policies be guided by scientific research.
Another speaker, Professor of Chemistry Lewis Rothberg, discussed his current efforts to teach environmental science in his general chemistry course. Rothberg hopes to improve the “environmental literacy” of his students, noting that while most of the American population is ill-informed on environmental issues, he hopes to inspire his students to make career, voting and life choices that will have an impact on the environment.
Other speakers included Professor of Biology Jack Werren, who spoke about “Evidence for Evolution,” and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Vasilii Petrenko, who gave a talk on the history of Earth’s climate.
Peter Neff, a postdoctoral researcher in UR’s Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) department, says the inspiration for the event came when the Humanities Center held a similar Teach-In last month.
“The idea for a science version came from Karen Berger (EES) and Andrew Berger (Optics), so really they kicked it off and I helped organize,” Neff said in an email interview with the Campus Times.
“The concept of a ‘teach-in’ has a very specific historical context, the first being initiated during the Vietnam War,” Neff explained. “My understanding is that they sprung up after university professors were criticized for joining a one-day teaching strike in protest of the war. The response to this was to, in keeping with their responsibilities as faculty members, hold a marathon teach-in through the night.”
Neff added that he saw Friday’s Teach-In as “a very civilized way to make a statement” on the current political and social climate.
Both Neff and Garzione referenced the timeliness of the teach-in, especially regarding the policies of the current presidential administration.
Neff argued that the area of greatest concern is climate change.
“We know that we know climate change is real, we know it’s caused by us, and experts agree about this,” he said. “We also know that the consequences will be bad, but if we act now we can avoid the worst of them. So, this scientific understanding needs to be very quickly translated to policy action, nationally and internationally. Scientists are organizing events and marches because we need decisions made at the national level to incorporate the best scientific understanding in order to avoid making the wrong decisions […] It is extremely dangerous to ignore science and push on with a political agenda.”
Neff also mentioned the Trump administration’s proposal to reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as another cause for concern. Garzione shared this sentiment.
“[Research done by governmental agencies] is critical for making decisions that are in the public’s best interests,” Garzione said, “and so there is a general concern that short term profits will come at the cost of near- and long-term impacts on the environment and human health that will also have high economic costs. The administration is already in the process of eliminating and reversing several recent EPA rules and there is discussion of pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.”
Garzione pointed out that it can be uncomfortable for scientists to take on the role of political advocates, however, because they are trained to eliminate bias and might be concerned about appearing to take a biased stance.
Both Garzione and Neff mentioned the necessity of reaching out to the public to educate them on scientific issues.
“I think that we need to seek outreach opportunities that extend to broader audiences than we have in the past,” Garzione said. “We need convey the value of science much more broadly.”