On Saturday 14 April, people around the world will take to the streets to call for more incorporation of scientific research in public policy. An organiser for the March for Science Australia said engineers are uniquely placed to play an important role in advancing the cause.
The March for Science, which attracted 10,000 participants across Australia last year, was launched in response to the election of US President Donald Trump. His election – and his administration’s reliance on ‘alternative facts’ – inspired people around the world to protest political rhetoric that ran counter to scientific discovery.
But organisers in Australia said the march has progressed beyond that.
“While the genesis of the American movement was at first a reaction to the changed political climate, the movement resonated with people in more than 40 countries around the world,” said Taylor Szyska, a spokesperson for March for Science Australia.
“In Australia specifically, many of the issues the march seeks to address are all too relevant. With the government cutting funding for research, passing policies not supported by scientific evidence, and the fact that this is the second time since the 1930s when there is no Science Minister in the cabinet nor clear place for one to go … the March for Science movement is incredibly relevant in Australia.”
Stuart Khan, professor in the School of Civic and Environmental Engineering at UNSW, echoed this sentiment.
“Like many people, I’ve been increasingly alarmed by the way science has been overlooked and under-prioritised by Australian and international leaders,” he said.
“Short-term political agendas have led to the disregard and sidelining of science in important public policy areas such as sustainable energy systems, water management in the Murray-Darling Basin and protection of the Great Barrier Reef.
“These are the things that drove me to want to contribute to a collective statement that science matters to people and we want it to matter more to our leaders.”
Storming the capital
While organisers encourage anyone who believes in the importance of science to join the march, Khan said engineers offer an underrepresented but important perspective.
“Engineers are, by nature, practical people with skills honed for problem solving. We are trained to examine problems and identify logical, workable solutions. As such, engineers have an enormous amount to contribute to public policy,” he said.
“This includes, for example, identifying and implementing sustainable solutions to the ways in which our cities operate through periods of unprecedented population growth and climate change.
“However, engineers are severely underrepresented in Australian politics, with other professions such as law, business and finance much more heavily represented. Consequently, it’s important for engineers and others to find opportunities to make their voices heard.”
This is Stuart, Associate Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales. “My overarching research goal is to facilitate the improvement of sustainable urban water management. I do this by improving our understanding of water treatment capabilities, water quality monitoring and risk management.” Stuart is also a member of the March For Science Sydney committee. #marchforscience #marchforscienceau #sciencenotsilence #wewillnotbesilent #icareaboutscience #icareaboutsciencebecause #scientistsunite #scientistsunited #water #engineering #research #cleandrinkingwater #cleandrinkingwaterforall
In addition to public welfare, there are more direct reasons for engineers to advocate for greater support from the government.
“In recent years, we have seen the abolition of key science- and engineering-focused national bodies, including the Climate Commission and the National Water Commission. We’ve also seen major cuts to key research programs, including water and climate research at the CSIRO. These cuts affect science and engineering jobs directly,” Khan said.
Khan also pointed to a troubling lack of investment in new technologies, which runs counter to both moral standards and the interests of Australian workers.
“The lack of investment in new technologies, such as renewable energy, disadvantages future engineers as it represents missed opportunities to develop new Australian industries,” he explained.
“As a result, many of the best jobs in these fields will be developed overseas and Australia will be left to import the engineered products produced by these industries.
“Current investments continue to be made in industries that are unlikely to be sustainable over the long term, thus leaving many members of a highly skilled employment market needing retraining to remain employable.”
The March for Science is a highly effective way for members of the community to voice their frustrations and have a tangible impact on public policy.
“The March for Science is an opportunity for all community members, from all walks of life, to come together to send a loud and cohesive message to governments,” Khan said.
“The message is that science matters to people, and we want it to matter more to governments too. The diversity of the people represented and the loudness of their voices are things that elected representatives take note of.”
Bring your signs (and cosines)!
Heading to this year’s March for Science? Here are some signs from last year for inspiration.
Learn more about March for Science Australia and how you can get involved.