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What Five Entomologists Learned at the March for Science Summit

ESA delegates to March for Science SIGNS Summit

Five entomologists, participating on behalf of the Entomological Society of America, attended the March for Science summit “Science | Government, Institutions & Society” (SIGNS, for short), in Chicago, July 6-8. From left to right: Jessica Ware, Helen Spafford, Michelle Duennes, Meaghan Pimsler, and Adrian Massey.

In an ideal world, scientists could work on science and then rest assured that the outside world would know what to do with it. But, in real world, that is often not the case.

If the 2017 March for Science was any indication, scientists are increasingly opening their eyes to the notion that advocating for science and helping society understand science are critical components of their jobs.

In 2018, the grassroots movement that drove the March for Science has turned its focus toward raising the profile of science in public discourse and decision making. To that end, the March for Science organization hosted a summit, titled “Science | Government, Institutions & Society” (SIGNS, for short) that gathered a diverse array of science advocates for a weekend of knowledge sharing and collaboration focused on the call to “stand up for science.” Attendees at the summit in Chicago, July 6-8, hailed from local satellite marches, universities, science centers, scientific societies, student groups, social justice campaigns, communications firms, political advocacy organizations, and more.

Among them were five entomologists, participating on behalf of the Entomological Society of America, all of whom have been active in organizing local March for Science events or in the ESA science policy program (or both). They came out of the event with a renewed energy for science advocacy, and after the SIGNS Summit Entomology Today posed the following question to them:

How will you stand up for science?

Below are their answers.

Helen Spafford, Ph.D.

Helen Spafford, Ph.D.

Helen Spafford, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, University of Hawaii, Manoa; future MPA graduate student, Department of Political Science, University of New Orleans; ESA Science Policy Fellows Class of 2015

Throughout the summit I heard, “Relationships matter!” In an increasingly polarized environment, the key to breaking down the ideological and emotional barriers between us is to build relationships. At the SIGNS Summit, we were encouraged to take the risk to step out of our partisan bubbles and communicate with others who think and feel differently than we do. Once we start talking, we can find our common values and build on those in a genuine way. Many policy makers and others feel like scientists just come in and tell them what to do or to ask for more funding. We can work to change that perception through intellectual humility.

Throughout the summit, attendees were encouraged to act locally in meaningful, community-led activities. Although we might show up to a rally or march, scientists have been shown to be less engaged, as a group, in civic activities, town halls, and online political discussions. For example, if you care about STEM education, join the school board. We must give people a better experience with science and scientists. This is where I will be focusing my efforts.

Meaghan Pimsler, Ph.D.

Meaghan Pimsler, Ph.D.

Meaghan Pimsler, Ph.D., post doctoral research fellow, molecular ecology, University of Alabama; ESA Science Policy Fellows Class of 2017

As is common with ESA members, I do a lot of outreach events. Most are with K-12 groups, and I had been relying on the infrastructure of my home institution to find outreach and mentoring opportunities. As a result of the messages I heard at the SIGNS Summit, I am expanding my radius to look for students at nearby smaller liberal arts institutions who may have just as much enthusiasm and interest but fewer opportunities at their home schools.

I am also very excited about many of the outreach and advocacy nonprofits I learned about, such as ScienceRiot and Science Debate, and am thinking about ways I can get involved in these sorts of outreach opportunities which are targeted at adults.

In terms of advocacy, one of my personal reasons for becoming an ESA Science Policy Fellow was to encourage and facilitate science-informed policy. While our efforts so far have focused on interacting with policy makers, I really like the idea of getting candidates and elected officials to publicize their position on various science policy issues. This would give the electorate the opportunity to make science-informed voting decisions and allow those working in science advocacy to better understand the position of the lawmakers with whom we are interacting.

Michelle Duennes, Ph.D.

Michelle Duennes, Ph.D.

Michelle Duennes, Ph.D., assistant professor, biology, Saint Vincent College; ESA Science Policy Fellows Class of 2016

I was particularly moved by the “Facing the History of Science, Politics, and Oppression: Reflections and Accountability in Service of an Equitable Future” panel. One of the topics highlighted was how often the history of racist and colonialist attitudes in science is left out of science education. It also highlighted how the lack of representation of scientists of color in the classroom can make students of color feel like there isn’t a place for them in the scientific community. I am excited to incorporate social justice into my classrooms by engaging students in discussions of the important history of oppression in the sciences so that the future scientists I am teaching can work toward a more equitable scientific community.

I also found the “Science is for Everyone: Science Communication and Engagement with Religious Audiences” workshop enlightening. This workshop facilitated group discussions on how to effectively involve religious communities in science advocacy and provided me with a lot of tools for starting conversations about science with people of different faiths. As a new professor at a religiously affiliated institution, this panel empowered me to strive toward being the kind of approachable and empathetic mentor with whom students will be comfortable having open, honest conversations about their faith and science.

Up to this point most of my science advocacy work has involved local community outreach events and my science policy work with the ESA Science Policy Fellows. But, as I begin a new position as an assistant professor, the SIGNS Summit has inspired me to bring new components of science advocacy into the classroom that make students of marginalized communities and diverse faiths feel like they have a place at the table within the sciences.

Adrian Massey

Adrian Massey

Adrian Massey, graduate student, fish and wildlife ecology and management, Montana State University

I was most encouraged by the hope and enthusiasm at the SIGNS Summit. Despite the partisan political climate we currently face, it is clear that the majority of people still highly regard scientific discovery and that it wholly transcends political parties. This fact is paramount to the cause and is at the core of the March for Science as well as the Entomological Society of America’s advocacy efforts.

Effectively communicating the fundamental nature of science to a general audience was my goal in organizing the 2017 Bozeman, Montana, satellite March for Science and is the key to this endeavor. This was repeatedly emphasized at the SIGNS Summit, whether it be from a diversity, advocacy, or policy standpoint; communication is the foundation. Translating this into action, particularly at the ballot box, this November and beyond, is a priority. There were a number of people and organizations, like Science Debate, at the summit whose aim is focused in this direction.

I share the goal of coming from a place of humility and rationality. Asking questions of people and candidates who have differing opinions from my own, rather than bombarding them with data to try and prove a point, is a more effective means of working toward the common good.

Jessica Ware, Ph.D.

Jessica Ware, Ph.D.

Jessica Ware, Ph.D., assistant professor, entomology and evolutionary biology, Rutgers University-Newark

I learned a lot about how to mix science and activism effectively at the SIGNS Summit, but it was being surrounded by folks who were like-minded that taught me the most perhaps. Simply being around so many scientists from different fields who had successfully combined the science and advocacy was really inspiring and made me start thinking of creative ways to merge the two back at my institution.

I found that several of the tools to integrate advocacy and activism into my lab’s daily routine were ones we are already using, like social media and doing publicly engaged scholarship. My students and I have been working on ways to open up the spaces we are in to a greater diversity of researchers, and so the discussions I heard on the panels at SIGNS about how to communicate to welcome and support diverse scientists was really useful. If we want to support a diversity of researchers, we need to create welcoming spaces for them to do their work without the burden of intolerance. I know that this goal is something shared by my institution and many in science more broadly, so I attempted to live tweet (@jessicalwarelab) the content for my colleagues, students, and friends to have access to the information as well.

The more science-based portion of the summit that I enjoyed the most was learning about the variety of career paths that ecology and evolution researchers had chosen to follow, from science communication to museum education to academia to documentary film-making. I have rarely been at a summit or conference where there were people of colour and/or women leading panels, or making up the majority of panelists, but that was the scenario at SIGNS, which felt incredibly welcoming and was a transformative moment for me on a personal level.

On a lighter note, working with scientists from chemistry, physics, mathematics, and technology was really eye-opening during the science trivia event; in the end, Michelle and I were on a team that came in second (Meaghan’s team came in first!), but participating was a great reminder of how narrowly focused we all are in our studies when compared to the breadth of science—and that I need to brush up on my physics!


  1. With prases like, “the key to breaking down the ideological and emotional barriers between us is to build relationships”, “make students of marginalized communities and diverse faiths feel like they have a place at the table”, “the partisan political climate we currently face ” and “working on ways to open up the spaces we are in to a greater diversity of researchers,” the SIGNS Summit made significant observations and CAME UP WITH SUGGESTIONS THAT CAN AND MUST BE PURSUED TO LINK AND IMPROVE THE INTERFACE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND SOCIETY.

  2. I inadvertently omitted the following phrase, “to encourage and facilitate science-informed policy.” Yes, proactive involvement in influecing political and other policies that affect science MUST be based on CONSULTATION and DIALOGUE with scientists.

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