Apr. 17 2017

Mailman Alumna Rallies for Science

The national co-chair for the April 22 March for Science, Caroline Weinberg, MPH 2012, says science is inherently political.

The idea for a March for Science came to Caroline Weinberg, MPH ’12, one morning in late January. As she saw the Trump administration move to silence science, she knew scientists and their allies had to make their voices heard in Washington.

Many shared Weinberg’s vision, which quickly blossomed into a global movement backed today by 200 scientific partner organizations, thousands of volunteers, and 2 million supporters on social media. The March for Science takes place this Saturday, April 22, in Washington, DC, accompanied by more than 400 satellite marches around the world.

“We must take a stand for the need for evidence-based research to inform policy,” says Weinberg, national co-chair for the March. “Our health and future are at risk.”

President Trump has proposed deep cuts to science funding, including slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent, and the National Institutes of Health budget by 20 percent. He has also restricted the ability of government agencies to communicate their research, particularly around climate change.

Weinberg, a science journalist and health advocate, calls any cuts to science “spectacularly shortsighted” because they ignore its value for health, the environment, and the economy. “All people will suffer, regardless of whether they support science or not,” she says.

While ideology and influence dominate the legislative process, it’s not just lobbyists and politicians who are to blame. According to Weinberg, scientists largely fail to explain why their research matters for people’s lives. “Too much research is only discussed in scientific conferences and behind paywalls. Why would people invest in a field they are completely disconnected from?”

Some argue that scientists should steer clear of politics. While the March for Science is explicitly nonpartisan, critics say it makes it seem like science is taking sides, tainting objectivity.

Weinberg’s reply is that science has always been political. “Science belongs in policy,” she says. “Who science benefits and what research is done is influenced by politics. People who think it shouldn’t be are devaluing science and scientific research. It must be involved in policymaking for the benefit of people worldwide.”

The March for Science will be led by two prominent scientists and advocates for diversity in science: Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician with an MPH who exposed lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, and Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a molecular biologist who helped figure out how to get bacteria to make insulin. They will be joined by Bill Nye, host of the 1990s hit show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and climate advocate. Tens of thousands of marchers are expected, including a contingent coming by bus from Columbia University Medical Center.

Among the March’s core principals is support for “cutting-edge science education.” Weinberg credits her own science education, particularly her Mailman experience, for sparking her interest in policy. Her advocacy work has focused on issues like reproductive and adolescent health in low-income communities, although nothing on the scale of the March for Science.

Even as she makes final preparations for Saturday, Weinberg looks ahead to extending the March for Science through a lasting organization. “The success of the march will not be determined on April 22,” she says. “The fight for science won’t be solved in a day—the march is just the beginning.”