Looking Up: Earth Day and An Antidote to Despair

Aileen Zhang, Columnist

 Senior Aileen Zhang’s column “Looking Up” is about breakthroughs, cool facts and ethics in modern science, especially astronomy. This week she discusses the importance of appreciating science in the current political climate. Don’t forget about the March for Science this Earth Day, April, 22!

You can probably tell that scientists are not happy with the policies of the new administration. You have probably heard about the funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health and the undermining of the Environmental Protection Agency. Maybe you are planning on attending the March for Science in Houston or Washington, D.C. this Earth Day.

Some naysayers claim that science should not be politicized in any way. They have a point: we should not hijack the scientific process to further a political agenda. Others contend that good science is vital to good policy. They also have a point: the decisions of our lawmakers should be supported by evidence, not speculation. But no matter which side you believe, you can’t deny the increasingly visible anti-intellectualism that has swept the country. With a president that denies all things science, from climate change to the efficacy of vaccines, we are looking at potentially dark days ahead: epidemics, food shortages, flooded cities.

I have a proposal for those stricken with despair when they hear of these developments. Instead of sulking in private or posting tirades on social media, you can do something simple and actionable. Something anyone can do, with just a little bit of effort. You can tell a story. At dinner with your family, you can talk about how gene therapy is revolutionizing how we treat disease. At lunch with your classmates, you can tell them about the many, many potential uses for carbon nanotubes. You can advertise the miracles of the modern age: organs grown in the laboratory, robotic explorers on other planets, billions of transistors in a pocket-sized package. But more importantly, you can talk about how these miracles lie rooted in physical law. How human understanding is more satisfying than willful ignorance. Even after the March ends, these conversations shouldn’t.

The imposed divide between “science” locked in ivory towers and the “common folk” living on the land is an entirely artificial one.

There are already numerous ideological divides in our nation, and some think that the Science March will only further divide us. But it is important to realize that the imposed divide between “science” locked in ivory towers and the “common folk” living on the land is an entirely artificial one. The sheer number of people attending the March, people from various backgrounds, schools and career fields, demonstrates that point.

I will support my fellow scientists and science-enthusiasts in their demonstrations this Saturday, and I think that you should too. Science is nonpartisan. Science furthers a larger truth that should be allowed to flourish, not squashed in a conflict of interest. And if a march will support the quest for this truth, an afternoon of walking is a very small price to pay.

Face it: our lives are inundated with the fruits of research. From the gargantuan produce in our supermarkets that bear no resemblance to their wild counterparts to the the synthetic fibers of our clothing spun cheaply and lustrously from a chemical slurry, everything holds a story that begins with human ingenuity. Find it. Tell it.