Tacoma March for Science: Keep your politics out of our facts

Four centuries ago, scientist-philosopher Galileo told the world that it orbited the sun and not the other way around.

For that he was called a fool and a heretic.

The 17th century astronomer’s place in society has parallels to today’s scientists, a speaker at Saturday’s March for Science in Tacoma said.

More than 1,000 people filled Tollefson Plaza on Pacific Avenue for the rally and march. It was one of hundreds happening across the country, including in Olympia, on Saturday, Earth Day.

“Science plays such an important role in each of our lives,” speaker Haneen Rasool said. Like Galileo, she said, today’s scientists must face down those who would deny the findings of their research.

“No matter how much criticism the scientific community may face from the current administration, it’s the scientific community that has the knowledge and therefore the power to make a difference,” Rasool said.

Rasool, 22, is a molecular and cellular biology student at the University of Puget Sound. She’s also majoring in religion. She said it’s important to support scientists.

“Their research is why we know what’s happening to our planet,” Rasool said.

Though climate change was the common topic of most of the speakers, Rasool touched on technology, engineering and medical research in her speech.

Science deniers are worldwide, she said. The anti-vaccine movement has spread to Pakistan, her family’s home country, where polio is making a comeback because of distrust of Western medicine.

The march was billed as nonpolitical, but politics ran through it.

Many signs referenced climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA chief Scott Pruitt has stocked his agency with skeptics of climate change.

But local politics played a part as well.

At one point, opponents to Puget Sound Energy’s liquid natural gas facility, proposed for the Tacoma Tideflats, tried to drown out Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello’s speech.

“Mello and PSE don’t respect climate science” their signs read. The group is pressuring Mello to denounce the plant.

Mello, a longtime environmentalist, paused for a moment.

“The First Amendment is totally awesome,” he continued.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer said he’s fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 31 percent budget cut by the Trump Administration.

“While the oceans are rising, so are we,” Kilmer said.

He brought his two daughters to the event.

“Our kids are only as safe as the air they breathe and the water they drink,” Kilmer said.

Two marchers, Monica and Andy Childs of Tacoma, wore matching capes that read, “Science is my Super Power.”

Monica is a biologist. She was holding a sign that read, “What has science ever given me, besides every convenience of modern life and a sense of wonder?”

“A lot of the discoveries are made in academia, which then move into industry and get translated into therapeutics for people,” Monica said.

Translation: University research leads to new medicine that helps people.

“Funding is getting tight,” she said. “It’s absolutely vital to us as a country to have that funding, for medical research mostly, but all sciences.

A woman carrying a sign that read, “Facts Still Matter” didn’t want her name used. The woman, who works in the data industry, said she’d just recently become political.

“I never even considered being in a march until this year,” she said. “I didn’t see the point.”

She marched in the Women’s March and now the March for Science.

“Reasonable people need to be more visible,” she said.

Speaker Sheri Tonn, founder of Citizens for a Healthy Bay and professor of chemistry at Pacific Lutheran University, said scientific research shows how Puget Sound gets polluted, how to clean it and how to prevent further damage.

“I march today to support future generations of scientists,” she said to cheers.

Steven Neshyba, a chemistry professor at the University of Puget Sound and a climate scientist, told the crowd that climate change is happening faster than most in his field thought possible. Ice fields are melting quicker, and carbon dioxide is entering the atmosphere at record rates.

“The pace of the change is surprising even scientists,” he said. “Don’t let any climate denier tell you differently.”

Neshyba suggested ultimately facts will trump politics.

“Science has a way of being right in the end,” he said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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