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‘Science is not up for a vote’: Researchers rally against skeptics at Boise march

Molly Wolk, middle, with goggles, is a science teacher who says she hopes scientific literacy can benefit all of her students at the College of Western Idaho. Wolk was one of about 1,000 people who marched at the Idaho statehouse on Saturday as part of the March for Science.
Molly Wolk, middle, with goggles, is a science teacher who says she hopes scientific literacy can benefit all of her students at the College of Western Idaho. Wolk was one of about 1,000 people who marched at the Idaho statehouse on Saturday as part of the March for Science.

It started like so many things in science do — with questions: How can we show the importance of science? How do we make politicians understand our concerns?

The answer? A nationwide March for Science, an “unprecedented” rally that drew crowds in the tens of thousands across the U.S., and around 1,000 participants in Boise alone.

Local organizers pointed to policies borne out of President Donald Trump’s administration that many scientists (and science supporters) took issue with. Gag orders on some government science agencies, potential deregulation and cuts to others and a reliance on “alternative facts“ were some of the more jarring issues, they said from the podium on the steps of the Idaho statehouse Saturday morning.

The Boise march, which fittingly fell on Earth Day, saw attendees from across science’s many disciplines — from rocket scientists and geologists to physicians and farmers. They want science and research in politics, they said. They want science education to be a priority.

“(My students) don’t all have to grow up to be scientists,” said Molly Wolk, a life sciences teacher at College of Western Idaho. “I just want them to be able to read something in the news and think about it and understand it.”

Wolk and her friend Brieann Trueblood, an elementary school science teacher, donned white lab coats and protective goggles to the march, a symbol of the science and research that many fear Idaho legislators are working against. (State lawmakers earlier this year voted to delete standards regarding the human impact on climate change.)

“(Politicians are) deregulating everything that made air and water clean,” said Cathy Parsons, of Nampa. “It’s frustrating that it can just be wiped out in a heartbeat.”

In Idaho, organizers said, climate change could mean a Boise River that floods more frequently, along with wildfires that will become more and more difficult to manage. Kevin Maier, a wildland firefighter from Boise, said he finds that concerning. He and his wife, Elysa, struggle with how to explain the current intersection of politics and science to their two young sons.

“I’m worried about the general lack of respect for science,” Kevin Maier said. “It seems we’ve confused it with politics.”

Cheyenne Jedry, a science teacher in Cascade, said there should be no confusion — when it comes to science, the facts are there.

“There are so many issues that science is really taking care of. I never thought I would have to be an advocate for science,” Jedry said.

The march marks the second weekend in a row that Idahoans have taken to the Capitol building steps in a Women’s March-inspired protest against the Trump administration’s policies. It’s an unusual scale of political involvement for the research world, but Saturday’s crowd made it clear that they have no intention of toning things down if they feel their work is threatened.

“This is not the time to defund science,” said Josie Erskine, who runs Peaceful Belly farm with her husband. “In fact, there’s never a time to defund science.”

Nicole Blanchard: 208-377-6410, @NMBlanchard

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