Local professionals in the science world and laymen lovers of the sciences are generally a docile and curious group, but don't poke them with a stick or they can get stirred up enough to do something about it. Their reaction culminated in Saturday's April 22 National March for Science, here in Rolla. It's an event that played out in towns and cities all over the world, which coincided with Earth Day.

Local professionals in the science world and laymen lovers of the sciences are generally a docile and curious group, but don’t poke them with a stick or they can get stirred up enough to do something about it. Their reaction culminated in Saturday’s April 22 National March for Science, here in Rolla. It’s an event that played out in towns and cities all over the world, which coincided with Earth Day.

Due to inclement weather, over 100 enthusiastic marchers assembled at the Technology Development Center at Innovation Park at 10 a.m. to listen to a warm send-off from speakers that emphasized the importance of the March.

“Science is the basis for making sound decisions,” said Professor Emeritus of Ceramic Engineering at Missouri S&T, Delbert Day. He spoke of the rich tradition of American education institutions, such as Missouri S&T, producing engineers and scientists for nearly 150 years. “You have every reason to be proud,” he said.

Missouri S&T Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Joel Burken, is on the science advisory board for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is in danger of being eliminated, he said. He noted, “When you look at the problems we face as a global society, these are societal problems, not scientific problems.”

“We look at facts, not falsehoods or alternative facts.”
Burken said that when facts are replaced by something like “alternative facts” by those decision-makers at the highest level of government, the time has come to step up and speak-out.

“When truth is hidden, ridiculed and misrepresented, that has major repercussions on future generations for our health and our climate—that’s why I march today.”

Another speaker, Dr. Melanie Mormile, is a professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T. She said she was marching for personal reasons. She said she wanted to be a scientist from an early age and her pursuit of science as a profession has opened up more doors than she could have imagined as a child. Her first job was in a lab at the EPA, across from the University of Cincinnati, where she was an undergraduate attending school.

“My work at the EPA set the tone for my career, and the fact that it is under attack, infuriates me,” she said.

“I want to see that all students that are interested in science have the same or similar opportunities that I had,” she added. She says she is marching for not only her love of science, but is supporting the scientific research sector as a way for upward mobility of those students with limited resources and the knowledge provided by scientists provides seed capital which leads to innovative products that benefit society greatly.

RDN visited with some of the marchers before they set off with their signs, dogs and some with walking sticks. Collectively, these marchers are passionate about the world around them and know the route to discovery has big payoffs for mankind. They think their value to the growth of future generations and to the advancement of society in general is proof enough to continue public funding and should eschew political posturing.

Marcher Kraemer Luks is a semi-retired chemical engineer/consultant from Tulsa, OK. who works in the gas and oil industry, having taught previously at Notre Dame and the University of Tulsa. His interest today is in the field of thermodynamics. His wife Christi is a chemical engineering professor at Missouri S&T. Juggling jobs and a marriage in two states has them visiting on alternate weekends, but the national March for Science was on his Tulsa weekend.

“I drove up because the parade is taking place, here. I could have attended the Tulsa one, but that was too simple,” he joked. “If they [on-lookers] don’t throw rocks at us, I guess they have the right opinion of us,” he continues. “I suppose science is headed for the worst.”

In response to proposed budget cuts at the EPA and the National Institute of Health, Christi chimes in, adding that government grants funded most of her husband’s career, offering another reason for marching. Public money drives discovery.

“I’m probably here just to add mass to the group,” Kraemer jokes again. “I’m happy to march with this group—I believe what they believe in.”
He says the resistance to science wasn’t so prevalent in the 60’s because the nation was focused on getting to the moon. “Every time you hit a new frontier, you discover things you didn’t know before.”
Christi said she has seen people go out of their way to cast doubt on empirical science studies without corroborating evidence. “They have the power to make decisions that affect all of our lives,” she said. “That just makes me crazy.”

Danielle Keane, from Rolla, was here with a  Facebook group that call themselves “Invisible Phelps.” “We’re marching today because we want to have a safe, livable environment for the future,” she said. “I have small kids and I’m here with my step-daughter, Keagan. It’s important for people to do the right thing for humanity.” She says science such as medical research and technology helps a lot of people and that it’s ridiculous to contemplate the advent of polio of chicken pox in 2017.
“If we can support a President who spends three or more million dollars every weekend in Florida, we can surely find the money for continued medical research,” she added.

A couple from Belle drove down for the March to lend support. Michael is a teacher of history and wanted to lend support for science educators. His wife was more succinct stating she was at the March as a supporter of the #Resist movement, referring to resisting any effort for President Trump to govern effectively.

The event provided a lighter side for attendees with live music, a science festival and a taco truck for hungry marchers.
Dr. Elizabeth te Groen was present with a couple young helpers representing the Newburg Children’s Museum. Known for her wit and global viewpoints on many subjects, she said,”The more we concentrate on science, the more we’ll be able to hold on to the world as it is—if we don’t—we’re going to destroy the world.

As someone who has seen abject poverty in other parts of the world and worked to overcome tremendous societal obstacles, she is worried about the fabric of America, but she remains optimistic that we can address continued growing pains—even if that includes a real or perceived assault on the sciences.

She spoke of an earlier time when immigrants arrived in the country and everybody was an American by the second generation, both in mind and heart. She said democracy is the culmination and “this is what we have given to the world.” She wrapped up The March for Science with an observation that put the focus of the March into an expression of free speech that comes with a warning. “You only get freedom with responsibility.” Maybe that’s the real message the marchers the world over, wanted to send to their leaders.