Thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts braved cold, rainy weather on Saturday to march in Washington, DC, in the name of disciplines they love, the research and discoveries they value, and the policies they oppose. And they came bearing signs — some of the cleverest, most creative, hilarious ones we’ve seen in an already protest-heavy year.
Many in the crowd said they never imagined they’d be out at a rally for science support.
“It never occurred to me that a politician wouldn’t support science,” Amy Blackmer, a marcher from Richmond, Virginia, said. “Caring about science isn’t new, but thinking that I have to fight for it is.”
For Blackmer — who held a sign that said, “My sister was a patient at the NIH” — scientific research is personal. Her sister, who suffered from mesothelioma, had to have a lung removed and her diaphragm replaced by Kevlar. “We asked the doctors what we could do to help. They said, ‘Vote for people who will fund us.’ We need that now more than ever.”
Walking across the wet turf of the National Mall on Saturday, I kept hearing this refrain. “I’ve never thought I had to march, but things are so severe I had to be here,” May Ann Ti, a former engineer from Sterling, Virginia, said. “So severe, even the nerds are here,” her sign read.
The march represented a sort of coming-out party for many scientists flexing a fledgling political muscle. In the past, there have been values voters and working-class voters, but “science voters” has yet to be a constituency. Perhaps with the Trump presidency — and the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and science funding that may come with it — that’s changing.
Charlotte Froese Fischer, an 87-year-old atomic physicist, has had quite a career: She’s authored more than 300 scientific papers on atomic structure, and is still working hard to make fusion energy a reality. But until today, she had never attended a political rally of any kind, let alone one for science. “I always thought science was important, and this is an opportunity to express it,” she told me.
“I think this [march] jump-starts everybody and lets everyone know you’re not alone.” says Kelly Charles, from Voorhees, New Jersey.
Among the non-scientists in the crowd who got into the spirit was Dara Moss, a DC resident who works in digital advertising. She had a profane message for Trump in binary. (Think zeroes and ones. It’s the building block of computer coding. It might have been the nerdiest sign I saw.) “A lot of us were comfortable over the last eight years,” she says. But the president “fired up a group of people who wouldn’t normally come out and do this sort of thing.”
And come out they did. Common chants included, “Nerds united will never be defeated," and, “Science not s.” The crowd unleashed a deafening roar when Bill Nye — one of the country’s most famous science celebrities — took the main stage. He got a louder reception than Questlove, the Roots musician who co-hosted the festivities.
Some of the signs needed some decoding, like this one from high school physics teacher Caitlin Sullivan of Silver Spring, Maryland.
“I teach the things students remember when they are older and voters,” she says. “They need to know that evolution is real, DNA is real, climate change is real.”
Pictured in the middle here is Corbin Shefelbine, age 9, from Boston. He had to explain to me several times that the figures represent “Laplace's equation,” which is a type of differential equation. I asked him why he likes science. “It makes up everything,” he said.
Chuck Flannigan, from Cumberland, Maryland, was out to show support for mortuary science (it’s “rarely represented,” he says) — and, of course, for Carl Sagan.
Spock could have been made an honorary co-chair. His visage was on signs everywhere.
Data, also a Star Trek character, was well represented.
Another delightful nerdy touch to this march: brain hats, or “thinking caps,” a riff on the pussy hats that so many women sported during the Women’s March in January. Genetic counselor Ellie Sine shows off one she’s been knitting for weeks.
This man, who asked not to be named, explained this sign to me several times. I still don’t get it.
“I’ve never thought I had to march, but things are so severe I had to be here,” May Ann Ti, said.
Rebecca Bradman, on the right, shows off her biology education in her sign about climate change.
“Got Polio? Me Neither. Thanks Science!”
This was a very common sign, a riff on Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan.
Brenda Clough, a science fiction author, says she marches for science because without real science, there would be nothing for the imagination to use to write fiction.
Beaker — from The Muppet Show — was almost as popular as Spock.
“We were mad scientists. Now we’re furious.”
Alas: There was a lot of pi, but no pie.