‘Facts not quacks:’ Locals gear up to march for science

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Neuroscientist Kelly Barford helped organize the April 22 local March for Science, starting at IX Art Park. On April 12 members of Cville Comm-UNI-ty met at Three Notch’d Brewing Company for a fundraiser and to make signs for the march. Photo by Eze Amos Neuroscientist Kelly Barford helped organize the April 22 local March for Science, starting at IX Art Park. On April 12 members of Cville Comm-UNI-ty met at Three Notch’d Brewing Company for a fundraiser and to make signs for the march. Photo by Eze Amos

The University of Virginia received $143 million in biomedical research funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2016. With President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he plans to cut $5.8 billion from the NIH’s budget, local neuroscientist Kelly Barford says it’s time to march.

As a member of Cville Comm-UNI-ty, a group of UVA professors, employees, students and friends not officially affiliated with the university, Barford has helped organize a mini March For Science in Charlottesville on April 22. The official March for Science takes place the same day in Washington, D.C., and the global movement hopes to champion the vital role science plays in the economy, government and elsewhere. 

“Charlottesville is an incredible area for scientists,” she says, alluding to the city’s emergence as a hub for the biotech industry, and the many opportunities presented by the university. But a cut in the NIH budget is a major threat to local scientific advancement, she says.

“The second [threat] is, more generally, on the scientists,” Barford continues. “We tend to not communicate with the community on what we’re doing and what kind of impact that might have.”

So from 1:30-3pm on Earth Day at IX Art Park, local scientists will wear name tags that say “ask me about [insert field of study].” They, along with other science enthusiasts, will give a series of five-minute talks. And rows of booths will offer interactive activities and other information for adults and children.

At 3pm, eventgoers will march, signs in hand, from the art park to the Sprint Pavilion.

Barford brainstormed some of her sign ideas before an April 12 march fundraiser at Three Notch’d Brewing Company. “Facts not quacks,” “Don’t hate, educate,” “Protect our planet” and “Research saves lives if funding survives” made the list.

Also in attendance was Cville Comm-UNI-ty member Judy White, a molecular virologist, who will take her support for science to the nation’s capital this weekend.

“I’m probably a typical scientist who’s a little more introverted by nature,” she says. “It takes an impetus to get us out to do something like this and I think there are two things going on with the march that we support—one is that it’s a celebration of science and all it does for us every minute of the day. But also, there’s this underlying fear that science is being a bit dismissed in society—belittled a little bit—and we worry that the current administration is more on the anti-science side of the spectrum.”

She will march alongside Dan Engel, another Cville Comm-UNI-ty member who studies in the same field, and has coordinated three buses of scientists and nonscientists that will pick up marchers for the Washington, D.C., rally at Scott Stadium at 6am April 22. Each bus holds 55 people and two are already full, he says. Tickets are $50 for the general public and $20 for students (there are 17 spots left).

“People used to debate about whether the world was flat or round, and then it was established that the world is round,” says Engel. “Climate change is in that category now.

“Scientists have reached the point where we think it’s time to stand up and show our politicians on both sides of the aisle that science is really important. We are professional fact finders.”

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