Moving forward after the march

On 22 April, many thousands of people participated in demonstrations, teach-ins, museum open houses, and science festivals in hundreds of places around the world, including several German cities such as Tübingen.

The March for Science in Tübingen was very successful, with almost 3000 participants. Supporters of the March included people from all walks of life, not only from Tübingen, but also from Stuttgart and many other Southern German cities. Both the Universities of Tübingen and Hohenheim were represented by their Rectors, and the participants were a cross section of professors and directors from the Universities, University hospitals and independent research institutes such as the three Max Planck Institutes, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as many concerned citizens.

Scientists are not usually the first to demonstrate in the streets. What drove so many to venture into the public? And what drove so many non-scientists to join them? If a single message can be discerned, it was a deep concern about the waning status of science in many societies and our governments that propelled people to speak out. The President of the Max Planck Society said in Munich: “We cannot accept that in times when human beings change this planet as never before in history, decisions are made without reverting to scientific facts!” 

In Tübingen, Detlef Weigel, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology and one of the main organizers of the local march, told the demonstrators that one cannot choose which scientific facts one accepts: “If one uses science to argue that climate change must be stopped, one cannot at the same time oppose vaccinations!” The four main speakers, university professors Nicholas Conard, Jürgen Wertheimer, Dorothee Kimmich and the Lord Mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, reminded the participants that science is complex, and that scientists must stand up for scientific truth, no matter whether the truth is convenient or not. Palmer earned much applause when he reiterated his support for legally sanctioned animal experimentation, while Conard made a very appropriate connection of the March for Science to the beginnings of the Earth Day movement, as the event was held on Earth Day.   

The marchers asserted that science offers not only healthier lives, a cleaner Earth, better jobs, food security, a stronger economy, and a better-functioning society through tangible products and better public policy, but also an improved understanding of our place in the world. Weigel reiterates, that “without science, a satisfactory future is impossible. In a time of Twitter and Facebook, simple explanations are often the ones that are heard the easiest.” And further: “Our world is, however, complex, and most of the challenges we are facing have no simple solutions. Hence, science helps to find answers to difficult problems!”

Text: Detlef Weigel, Beate Fülle