Q&A: Marching for Science in Lansing

A conversation with research analyst Sierra Owen and retired paramedic firefighter Sara Pack

By Tracy Vence | February 8, 2017

Sara Pack (left) and Sierra OwenSARA PACK AND SIERRA OWENThroughout the last month, science enthusiasts Sierra Owen and Sara Pack of Lansing, Michigan, have each spent more than 40 hours per week planning a satellite March for Science in their own community, and consulting on satellite marches being planned for Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. They’ve been in touch with folks in Kalamazoo and Detroit who are interested too.

“My first week [organizing] I was sleeping about three hours a night,” said Pack, a retired paramedic firefighter. She and Owen, a research analyst, have been fielding hundreds of emails and social media posts, mostly from volunteers. “It was definitely hectic,” said Owen.

The Scientist: Why and how did you become involved in organizing a march in your city?

Sara Pack: My connection is [as], I guess, more of an enthusiast. . . . My background is paramedic firefighter. I’m also a former [Department of] Homeland Security employee. . . . Part of my passion in this is I have lupus and a rare genetic disorder, called Ehlers-Danlos [syndrome], so I’m of course incredibly interested in maintaining public funding for medical research.

I’ve always been an activist of sorts. . . . I’m passionate about this cause, and wanted to make sure it [would] come to Michigan. As soon as I saw the post [for the March for Science in DC], I immediately attempted to organize a march for Lansing.

Sierra Owen: I recently graduated from Michigan State, with a master’s [degree] in marketing research. . . . I still have a lot of connections at the university. . . . I personally saw friends lose not only their job prospects, but also research funding for their graduate work. That’s sort of why I was drawn to the march, initially.

TS: Generally speaking, how do you and your co-organizers aim to show nonpartisan support for “science” with the event you’re organizing?

SP: Really just unification. The main goal here is unification between the public [and] professionals, groups that advocate for science, educational groups. If we can be unified in our belief in empirical science and evidence-based findings, regardless of whether you may be liberal or conservative in your views, if you support that, you’ll naturally want to see policymaking that reflects that. We do have conservative supporters. We’ve got supporters all over the map that don’t want to see the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] abolished. Protecting the environment is still important. There are a lot of medical researchers that don’t want to see public funding removed through policymaking, regardless of their political views. So really just unifying everybody for the cause is the initial aim; we will continue to do outreach and education after the march.

TS: Are there any issues specific to Michigan that your group is hoping to highlight?

SP: We’re definitely seeking to represent Flint. There are quite a few local environmental issues that we would like to see gain more public [awareness] and support. And of course, the issue of immigration. . . . colleagues and some professors who have been locked out of the country for a time; researchers, grad students and Michigan State. We’ve been following quite a few stories on that.

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

SP: It’s been very supportive so far. We haven’t actually run into anyone who isn’t supportive at this point. I imagine that will come to fore. There was an article . . . by a scientist on why he thinks the march was not a good idea. The concern was politicizing science.

See “Will a March Help Science?

TS: Do you think there is any potential for that to happen, or is that concern unfounded?

SP: I definitely feel that the two [science and politics] intersect. There is a need for responsible application of science in policymaking because it affects everyone. It goes across multiple issues.

TS: What would you say to people who are interested in participating in a March for Science but are wary of doing so?

SP: I would encourage them to come out and stand up for what they believe in. I do understand the concerns of some of our federal scientists working for government agencies. They don’t have to identify themselves in coming out to support the march.

TS: Do you have any advice for others interested in organizing similar events in their communities?

SP: Use social media, is my absolute best advice. It’s a great way to gain attention and support. You will attract an amazing amount of volunteers.

TS: Around how many volunteers have signed up for the Lansing march?

SP: For Lansing we’re around 200, [with] more reaching out everyday. For Michigan overall, we’ve had over 450 volunteer responses.

TS: What are some of the roles volunteers are playing?

SP: We were looking for legal counsel. We were looking for people experienced in media relations. . . financial professionals, people who are experienced in tax law, nonprofit organizations . . . people who have been professional fundraisers in different capacities . . . professional marketers. It’s been amazing, the wide variety of professionals that have offered to assist. We’re utilizing them in every possible way.

TS: Have you been in touch with any other march organizers?

SP: A lot. The DC march is using an online forum, basically, with all of us organizers connected to each other. . . . It’s been a great resource for sharing ideas and talking about what direction, nationally, we would like to go in.

TS: What are some of the types of conversations that go on in this forum?

SP: The biggest conversation we’ve had so far, recently, was [on] the DC [March for Science] website. There were a lot of complaints coming about, about the original diversity statement they had up there—that it was overshadowing the march, which a lot of us organizers felt like it was. We of course want to be intersectional, inclusive, and diverse in our groups—we want to see that, but we don’t want the focus taken off of support for science. That was addressed through that forum, and quickly—I mean it was just wonderful, the response. It was amazing to see.

There are . . . over 200 satellite [marches] at this point. And that’s just in the U.S.

Most of the organizers have a science background in one way or another. . . . The general policy discussions are mainly to do with public funding [for research]—what groups we can join forces with . . . to defer to the people who are, legally, better at lobbying for policy change. That’s a large focus—attracting other groups to help us with that. . . . and to make sure that the gag orders are removed, to make sure that we don’t allow the EPA or the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to be abolished entirely, or so deregulated that it becomes potentially dangerous.

Further reading

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 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


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Avatar of: Sci_guy


Posts: 6

February 8, 2017

To Sara Pack-- here's one scientist who absolutely does NOT support your march.  You say you are marching for Evidence Based Science, yet the things you cite as goals for the March are hardly backed up by evidence:  Immigration policy (colleagues prevented from entering the country-- #'s? Institutions? Blocked for how long? countries? Cause? Method of determining all of the above?) The value of the current mechanism for promulgating Environmental regulations--the EPA (what was your analysis of regulations, which ones, when and what was your measure(s) of "correctness" or value of these regs??)

In short you have cloaked your standard biases with the mantle of objective science. Please at least have the decency of lhonestly pointing out your biases and don't claim Evidence based science when you have no evidence at all. You have no idea what Evidence based research entails.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

February 8, 2017

Who is abolishing EPA and FDA entirely??? Why those federal agencies can not be regulated? If they are untouchable, it is religious belief, not "belief in empirical science and evidence-based findings".

And of course, the issue of immigration. . . Who knew that all our science is based on employment of Muslim fanatics?

Avatar of: factotum666


Posts: 25

February 10, 2017


1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.   

Noun a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

Now bear in mind that almost all republicans are conservatives.  If you look at the above definitions it seems pretty clear to me that you are describing a world view that is the antithesis of what science is about.   This would explain why less than 10% of scientists identify as either conservative or republican.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/only-six-percent-of-scien_n_229382.html

So yes, almost by definition the scientific community is not "diverse" in the area of politics.   Scientists are aware at their core that, as Feynman said in his last sentence in his minority report on the Challenger Explosion " Nature can not be fooled"  This is very different than how almost all conservatives live which is in a humpty dumpty world:  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”

Pretending that this is not the case --- Well that is not scientific.   What scientists need to do is to figure out how to make conservatives aware of the nature of the actual physical world, and take them out of humpty dumpty land.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

February 17, 2017


If the climate "scientists" had linked energy-dependent thermodynamic cycles of protein biosynthesis and degradation from the potential of hydrogen (pH) to all biophysically constrained biodiversity via the physiology of reproduction, they might still have a case to be made.

Instead, the failure to link natural selection for energy-dependent codon optimaility to endogenous RNA interferance and cell type stability has left a gap between the National Microbiome Initiative and the Precision Medicine Initiative. Filling that gap with experimental evidence of biologically-based cause and effect will no doubt come first. The CDC will be tasked with preventing the viral apocalypse (much worse the 1918 Spanish flu.)

After the neo-Darwinian nonsense about mutation-driven evolution is eliminated, climate change can be discussed in the context of ecological variation and energy-dependent ecological adaptation to virus-driven energy theft, which appears to be the cause of all pathology.


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