Q&A: Marching for Science in Los Angeles

A conversation with graduate student Alex Bradley

By | March 3, 2017

Alex BradleyJAMIE ALLIOAlex Bradley is a PhD candidate studying developmental biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Frustrated by the spread of misinformation and science skepticism he has recently observed, Bradley became involved in the national March for Science through Facebook and, ultimately, spearheaded the launch of a satellite march in Los Angeles. Bradley said he and his co-organizers are planning to continue their science advocacy after the April 22 march, with annual marches and regular science expos.

The Scientist: How did you become involved in the Los Angeles march?

Alex Bradley: I got involved because there have been a lot of polarizing events in the science world as far as it pertains to policy and the public, and I was tired of not doing anything about it. I was actually at lunch with a friend of mine, who is also a PhD candidate at UCLA, and right around the time the DC/national [March for Science] group had really picked up steam, I was just exhausting him with my frustrations about how misinformation about science gets construed to the public. It was kind of a unique moment because I told him “I’m tired of caring so much and doing so little,” right as he was looking at his phone and seeing that our friend in San Diego had just invited us to join the national group. I realized this was picking up traction, and that there was really an opportunity for me to do something locally.

TS: Why is now the time to march for science?

AB: I don’t know that it’s ever been the wrong time for a march, but it’s a particularly opportune moment now because we have so many supporters behind us. If, two years ago, you’d tried to get a bunch of scientists together to hold up signs in support of science, I don’t think they would have been interested. [Scientists show] an aversion to anything even mildly political . . . for fear of losing our credibility, so most scientists won’t get involved in something like this. The staggering number of scientists supporting this movement really speaks to how important it is to us.

TS: Why march, as opposed to engaging in another form of advocacy?

AB: Well, I think one of the most important things is numbers. It matters that you have a single collective, cohesive voice, and I think it really impresses the importance of an issue on people when they see hundreds of thousands of people all collecting in one space to shout their support for something. Particularly when that demographic is introverted scientists, coming out to hold signs in support of science. . . . A march is a great opportunity to just visually show that support.

TS: What’s your response to the opinion that a march could politicize science, perhaps even do more harm than good? Are you taking steps to prevent this?

AB: I have a worldview that doesn’t consider that anything derived through evidence-based facts can be harmful. I think our whole team shares that opinion . . . I don’t think it will do more harm than good, not at all. We’ve had some skeptics [who] have voiced opinions that we’re definitely listening to in planning this march. We want to be as inclusive as possible—the last thing we want is for this to be a divisive statement that further establishes a boundary between scientists and non-scientists. The very fact that academics use the term “layperson” kind of suggests elitism, and I think it’s very important that the general public recognizes that it’s not us and them. It’s all of us pursuing truth.

The only measures we’ve really had to take . . . have been in moderating discussions online. Online, sometimes people get heated about scientific subjects. I’ve definitely been there before. We’ve done our best in that realm to moderate discussions that get a little off track. When people start bashing political parties and each other, and stray from the facts of the issue, it muddles what we’re trying to accomplish here.

TS: What’s been the response so far from the local scientific community?

AB: It has followed a really interesting trajectory. Initially, many academics, given that many of them have funding through federal funds, were fearful that if they got involved in this and it became some form political statement their funding would be jeopardized. I think in light of recent changes—or proposed changes—in the funding structure, some of them realized that maybe their funding was already in jeopardy. As the march picks up traction, particularly from endorsements like AAAS [the American Association for the Advancement of Science], scientists came out of their holes, so to speak, and realized it’s looking safer and safer to support this movement.

See “March for Science Gains Support from Scientific Societies

TS: What happens after the march?

AB: One thing we want to do, certainly, is hold a march annually. I think it’s going to be a successful event, and we’d like to continue that success each year just to advocate for science on a regular basis. Also, following the march . . . we’ll have a science expo, and this will be roughly 80 different booths, various vendors, just advocating for science communication and education. We’re hoping to have several interactive demos for children and families, to kind of funnel the post-march energy into something productive.

Once we see how this event goes, we’ll definitely consider doing a lot more events like that throughout the year.

Further reading

"Q&A: Marching for Science in San Diego," The Scientist, February 27, 2017

"Q&A: Marching for Science in San Francisco," The Scientist, February 15, 2017 

Q&A: Marching for Science in Houston,” The Scientist, February 13, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Lansing,” The Scientist, February 8, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Anchorage,” The Scientist, February 6, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Cleveland,” The Scientist, February 2, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Eugene,” The Scientist, February 2, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Buffalo,” The Scientist, February 1, 2017

Q&A: Marching for Science in Atlanta,” The Scientist, January 30, 2017

See "Science Policy 2017"

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Comments

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

March 6, 2017

I do not think that PhD student is in a position to understand and represent  problems of modern science. All he can do is to suggest to march more often.

Avatar of: John Saba

John Saba

Posts: 8

March 7, 2017

Why should anyone trust anonymous posters who call themselves true anything, and who only post to belittle things that do not match their beliefs. No real scientist would call him or herself a "True" scientist.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

Replied to a comment from John Saba made on March 7, 2017

March 9, 2017

No discussion or conclusions should be based on trust, beliefs, or faith, unless it is religious cult forum. Instead, look at logics and facts presented in various opinions, compare and analyze them rigorously.

Regarding name - too many people are calling themselves scientists just by affiliation. Making living by looting public RD funds and demanding more and more money does not make anybody a scientist in any way. Unfortunately, the name True American Scientist has been already taken...

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