On April 22 scientists around the world are downing microscopes, pipettes and lasers and declaring it’s time take a public stand and be counted. Standing shoulder to shoulder with their scientific kindred, they’ll raise fists to the sky, united with one voice and shouting “science is… [insert message here]!”
The question is: what is the message?
We appreciate it’s hard to combine diffuse and complicated ideas about the modern relationship between science and society into one straightforward message. As science writer Ed Yong has pointed out, scientists seem to be planning to march for as many as 21 different things, including:
Celebrating passion for science and the ways science serves our communities
Encouraging the public to value, invest, appreciate and engage with science
Encouraging scientists to share their research
Encouraging scientists to listen to the wider public
Affirming science as a vital feature of a working democracy
Showing that science is a human process
Calling for robust funding
Advocating for open and accessible science, and so on.
Others have boiled these down to four core points: a support for universal science literacy; open communication of scientific results; better use of science in policy; and a more stable investment environment for science.
More personal reflections on these can be found in the March for Science Facebook page. These include personal stories of disease survival thanks to science, stories of science transforming lives and of science transforming communities around them.
These are all valid points, and important for us inside the scientific community to recognise.
But imagine a reporter sifting through these various points trying to find the story on April 23. What pictures do scientists want the rest of the world to see? What headlines do we want the world’s newspapers to write? What do we want to achieve with this march?
In short, what specifically do we really really want people to be talking about the next day?
Now we need to turn that into one simple, direct, plain-language sentence. No jargon, no caveats or butt-covering. Just one short, straightforward sentence that’ll make other people listen and care. If we can’t do it, how could someone reporting on us be expected to?