In times when the term "fake news" seems to be part of the everyday vocabulary, taking a stand for facts and science is something each scientist or science enthusiast should do. To underline the need to encourage research, we could name the often cited examples of vaccines or climate change in this context, but let's begin even a bit closer to what we work for: ignorance and a lack of research are two of the main reasons neglected diseases are still abundantly spreading throughout many countries.
Despite the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need for further research in areas largely uncharted, funding for science is not sufficient and in many cases, scientist's suggestions go unheard in the noisy political discussions. To point out these problems and get together to celebrate science, people all over the world have connected and organized the March for Science on the 22nd of April, 2017 - in Berlin it was organized, amongst others by Vladislav Nachev and Julien Colomb.
Interview by Kathrin Stilz
We got the chance to get an exclusive interview with Julien and Vladislav, both of them researchers with a strong interest in the Open Science movement. In a lively discussion, they shared their view on Science and why they became involved in the March for Science movement - below, we sum up their statements of how they set out to save evidence-based scientific progress!
Why have you chosen the here and now as the time for the March for Science?
The decision to organize a March for Science was made in Washington D.C. and designed as a regional event. However, eyes were focused on this event and scientists all over the world felt the need to join in, showing solidarity, but also in order to express what they think is wrong in the world from their perspective. This led to an international movement.
What did you intend to be the main message of this march?
Science is a necessary basis for every democracy and attacking it endangers our society. Consequently, the aim was not to focus on scientists only but rather to create awareness that science is important for everyone. This is the only way we can protect the freedom of thought and research for the benefit of mankind.
How did everything start?
The first meet up was scheduled in the beginning of February. It was an open and visible event for everybody interested in it. A Facebook and a twitter page were set up the same day and from then on we joined forces and started meeting on a regular basis to promote open science. At our third meeting, 30-40 people arrived, implying that all of a sudden there was a huge interest in the topic. We first worked on our mission statement and figured out which points we would like to express.
Who are the people in your team – mostly scientists?
The team consists of a good mix – about half and half - active researchers and people working in other fields, although they can be related to science. We have PR specialists, artists and great graphic designers in our team as well as many people from Charité and Ex-scientists.
How is your team organized and structured?
The team was organized by whoever put the most work into the project and got things done. We started to split the work into categories: people worked on writing emails to political parties and supporters providing content for the mission statement, financing the project, associating with social media to raise awareness, designing posters etc. We just had a few experts but other than that people were working wherever they thought they had the best skills, even though they were not necessarily specialists - ‘If you want to do something, just do it!’ (Julien)
How successful was the march, did everything work out the way you wanted it?
The outcome was much better than we expected. We anticipated about 1,000-5,000 people joining in for the march. In the end, 11,000 people came to the event. Our first goal was to generate interest for the topic in the society and to gain support for science. And now we feel we did better than we ever expected.
How do you use this awareness now, are you already planning further actions?
Now is the time to use the momentum that was generated by the march and to continue meeting within the team. We will collect the ideas born out of the march, as many as possible, and then decide what to do next, now that we have people’s attention.
What was most surprising to you during the march?
We were expecting more criticism - the feedback we received was very constructive. More than anything, we were surprised by the sheer number of people we could mobilize to the march and by all the institutions that supported us.
What does the future of science look like?
Bright (Julien - laughing) - In terms of open science it would be great if open access gets more accepted than it already is: more than 60-80% of articles should be openly accessible. German Universities should become less dependent on commercial publishers such as Elsevier and instead develop their own infrastructure for science communication with the help of their libraries. Furthermore, protocols and statistical skills should be improved in order to avoid misleading information, misleading statistics and the misuse of science. By this, people could be convinced to trust science and innovation and, for example, to encourage parents to vaccinate their kids more often.
Another part of the solution would be a trust program between society and science: We, as scientists, need to talk more to the general public and make them understand what we are doing. By this a domino effect of spreading information to the population could be achieved. When people understand what scientists are doing they can fight back fake news together with them.
Vladislav Nachev, scientist at HU Berlin
Julien Colomb, scientific freelancer and CEO of drososhare
At this point, we would like to thank Julien and Vladislav for their input and advice and want to quote their very important message: ‘Don’t forget, just because the march is over does not mean that the event is over. We will still post information, our website will be updated and interested people can subscribe to our mailing list.’
And what is the biggest inspiration to us: The Berlin March for Science proved that when you have the idea and you want to change something, you can create a whole movement from scratch– and you can assemble 11,000 people.