They say that you should pick your battles. They say it’s important to know when to fight an issue and when to back down. UWA’s Peter Derbyshire has picked his battle, and on the 22nd of April he and hundreds of others will begin their fight to increase recognition for the importance of science as part of the March for Science campaign.
Peter Derbyshire is one of the ‘generals’ that will be leading the charge in Perth’s March for Science, a protest that will be replicated on the same day in other capital cities worldwide. The aim of the event is to raise awareness in the community about the importance of science and to generate discussion about bringing science back to the forefront of political decision-making. Whilst the Americans are the originators of the event, Peter ensures that the march is not directly in response to Trump’s anti-science semantics, rather, “Trump’s election [was] more of the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Peter argues that the increasing ignorance of scientists and scientific findings in politics is not just a major problem in America, but also here in Australia. “If you go back and look through even the recent Australian government, funding for science has been slashed – jobs at CSIRO, the Climate Council, all these initiatives that work on particularly climate change but also all [sciences] across the board. There is this push where science doesn’t seem to be as important as it once was.” Peter hopes that this event will be a symbolic wake up call for people of all backgrounds to be reminded that “the scientists out there are the ones that are working for the greater good of everyone…they need to be better funded…listened to by experts, [and] better listened to by the general public.”
One of the primary concerns about the negligence of science in political forums is that of miscommunication. If we are to elect people such as Pauline Hanson and David “Avocado” Wolfe into government, telling people that they don’t need to be vaccinated and starting conspiracy theories about science, then we are sending a confusing and misleading message to the public about what they should be believing. Peter acknowledges that scientists are somewhat to blame for this communication breakdown – scientific reports are often indecipherable to people without science degrees, and as a result, the factual findings and truths of these reports that inform people what to really believe are lost in dense paragraphs and data-heavy tables. Peter admits that communication is an issue and that perhaps the growing science communication field could have a role to play in bridging the gap, “it has always been a case of we know why our science is important but we’ve never been very good at telling the public why. This is why it feels like science communication has started to spring up – it’s a missing link between us and the public”.
The March for Science is intended to be a community engagement event for all people, irrespective of their scientific experience or knowledge to get involved in. “I think that it’s the general public” says Peter when asked about his target demographic for the event, “people who know science is important and want their voice to be heard on an issue not often spoken about”. Peter also believes that a key priority for the development of awareness in the future is getting the importance of science to be talked about at a school-age level. He is hoping that amongst the scientists, university students, and passionate community members at the event, that some younger school aged children will be present, or made aware about why we need science in our society. The concept is that the more people who understand science and who care about its development, the more people in our communities who will be indirectly informed about science and engaged in its future.
Words by Maddi Howard
The March for Science Perth will be held on the 22nd April 2017 at Forrest Place. Peter Derbyshire or Kristin Barry can be contacted on 6488 1483 or 6488 3290 respectively, for any questions or queries about the event. Logistics of the event can also be found on March for Science’s Twitter, Facebook and event website.