April 2017 Letter from the Director: Marching for Science

This month’s news is dominated by the March for Science in its various expressions around the world.  In Washington, Carnegie President Matt Scott hosted a breakfast event the morning of the march that brought together well over 100 Carnegie employees, family, friends, and supporters. 

A group photo at our March For Science breakfast and poster-making gathering for Carnegie Institution for Science friends and family on Saturday, April 22, before the March. We are proud to stand up for science together! (Photo by Michael Colella)

Carnegie participants in Washington and our departments in California all wore new blue T-shirts, prepared especially for the event on the hope that we would appear as a pale blue dot amongst the thousands of other participants at the march.  Great idea, but unfortunately, the cold rainy weather forced everyone in Washington into their rain gear, which ended up being effective camouflage amongst all the other similarly attired march participants.  Besides a very nice buffet breakfast, P-Street provided a wide variety of materials for the group to prepare the posters they would carry to the march.  Sign preparation well displayed the diversity of opinion, and artistic talent, of the DTM participants.  My favorites included Shaun Hardy and Merri Wolf's statement about the depth of knowledge of science librarians, Sharon Wang’s documentation of the uniqueness of Earth based on her experience searching for Earth-like planets around other stars.  An award for the most creative “mounting” of a poster goes to Larry Nittler who fashioned a stovepipe hat from his poster.  This turned out to be a magnet for the many reporters covering the event according to Conel Alexander, who was quoted on various matters in both the Washington Post and on Irish television

Shaun Hardy and Merri Wolf sticking up for science librarians! (Photo courtesy of Shaun Hardy, Carnegie Science)

From P-Street, the crowd marched towards march-central at the Washington monument, stopping for a group photo at the White House, then merged with another crowd that looked like they were coming from the AAAS.  As I suspect most of you know, the National Park Service, once charged with providing the official attendance count at events on the Mall no longer are allowed to serve this role.  My own, unofficial, count identifies the event as HUGE, perhaps the largest assemblage of people in recorded history.  Well, maybe not quite that big, but there were a lot of people in attendance.  For me, the highlight was being surrounded by 40,000 some people, all there to support the important contribution that science makes to the human condition.  The overwhelmingly good mood of the attendees, which was surprising given the miserable weather, was bolstered by the positive messages from the speakers and dancing to the music from the stage. Appearing on stage was our frequent seminar attendee, and “Mother of Hubble,” Nancy Roman, and Carnegie Trustee, Rush Holt, representing the AAAS. The signs from the march appeared to be one of the most reported aspects of the march with some notable ones including:

  • Without Science, its just Fiction
  • E=MC2 – not bad for some immigrants, eh!




Although messages about climate change dominated the Earth-science focused posters, being a geologist, one of my favorites was “Earthquakes are Dangerous:  Ban Plate Tectonics,” which was accompanied by another “Subduction is Stealing Our Crust Away.”

DTM research trainee Maggie Thompson stands with her sign reading 'Make America Smart Again' at Carnegie's pre-march poster-making session. (Photo by Michael Colella)

Whether the support for science that was on exhibit at the march can be sustained will be seen.  Although my bias is clear upfront, I cannot imagine a U.S. where science is allowed to decline.  The U.S. became a world power through industrial, technological, and scientific development dating back to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but the role of science was particularly on display during World War II where Carnegie played foundational roles in the Manhattan project, and DTM developed the proximity fuse.  On more humanitarian causes, one of the most moving statements I’ve heard on the importance of science’s role came in a speech by Bill Gates at the National Academy of Sciences.  While describing the amazing work his foundation is doing addressing the problems confronting developing nations, he noted that “Poverty has been with us forever, but science has not.  This means the future does not have to be like the past.”

Paul Butler stands with DTM postdoc Sharon Xuesong Wang and the poster she made to carry in the March for Science. (Photo by Megan Falla)

Studies done at the Carnegie departments provide continuing contributions to our understanding of animal and plant development, track the ecological health and sustainability of various terrestrial environments, develop novel materials, and help us understand the nature of the Earth that we live on and its place in the Universe.  All these topical areas are returning major discoveries in real time, some of which are reported in this newsletter.  Being one of the thousands of scientists on the Mall celebrating the good things that science can provide humanity, as well as the excitement of discovery, was, if nothing else, a mental recharge and recognition of a field that like no other has such great potential to advance the human condition.  

Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science
April 2017 Newsletter

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