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Utah Scientists Join National March

Emily Means

Like Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, they spoke for the trees – as well as for air quality, melting glaciers and medical research funding. Thousands of scientists, doctors and lay people marched to the Utah State Capitol Saturday, in solidarity with other marches for science around the world.

The rally coincided with Earth Day and featured Nobel prize-winning geneticist Mario Capecchi, San Juan County rancher Heidi Redd and skier and environmentalist Caroline Gleich as speakers calling for action against climate change and for a better understanding between scientists and people outside the lab.

Although the march was organized as a non-partisan demonstration, Nalini Nadkarni, a biologist at the University of Utah, says a lack of support from political leaders has impacted the public perception of scientists, something march organizers hope to improve.

“Science requires funding,” Nadkarni said.  “Science requires infrastructure. Science requires people to believe in it and people to believe that it is being supported. So, when Trump brings forward a budget that cuts the National Institutes of Health, for example, by 18%, that’s kind of an expression of non-support and for the kinds of activities that go on in a scientific research institution like the NIH. And so, I think that is where scientists feel that we are beginning to be undermined.”

A researcher herself, Autumn McKnight also marched for personal reasons alongside her 7-year-old daughter, who carried a sign that read “Science Saved My Brother’s Life.”

“My son was born with a rare genetic condition called SCIDs, which is severe combined immunodeficiency,” McKnight said. “Luckily, he was born here with a fantastic children’s hospital. He needed a bone marrow transplant at the age of three months, and he was in the hospital for five and a half months. And he also now will most likely need a kidney transplant from complications from the chemo. But he’s doing so well and if it wasn’t for science and what we do in the lab, he wouldn’t be alive.”

Brigham Young University Law Professor Brigham Daniels also spoke at the rally, addressing the intersection between faith and science. Daniels called science a blessing and stressed the correlation he’s found between practicing his religion and believing in scientific efforts.  

“What science has taught me, for example, is that the air pollution that we have in these valleys is not good for us,” Daniels said. “One thing you can say is it’s bad for public health, but personally I believe if I really want to love my neighbor, I need to think about loving my neighbor’s lungs. Thinking about my neighbor’s heart and what happens when I drive. I’m trying to shorten my trips. I’m really trying to repent. I really believe that that is an ethic that needs to sweep over these valleys.”

President Donald Trump did not respond directly to the marchers’ efforts, but in his Earth Day address called scientific research quote “critical to [his] administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection."