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Editorial: Science is not the enemy – denial is

As a research university and a place dedicated to bettering our relationship with the environment, UMaine is a place where science should always be welcome. But recently, the pursuit of science has been attacked from all sides.

There is no one enemy here—instead, there are many faces that threaten the free flow of information. President Donald J. Trump has proposed unsettling budget cuts toward entities such as the EPA’s research sector and the entirety of the Sea Grant program. Even the National Institutes of Health faces budget cuts in the coming years—an institution which pursues research of cancer and other infectious diseases. Trump’s budget policy has been called “anti-science.”  

The media plays a role, often challenging the very existence of the battles we are trying to face and ignoring evidence. The critical thinking skills that make great advancements to life and society face devaluation as the nation argues with itself. Rather than skepticism toward research and awareness, we should be celebrating the achievements of the science community and striving toward a better, safer world.

This was the integral war song of U.S. citizens and scholars this past weekend. On April 22, hundreds of marches took place in support of the larger March for Science in Washington, D.C., aptly placed on this year’s Earth Day. March for Science hosts a website to inform people of their goals and outreach. Their vision aims to empower, connect and engage everyone in the nation. “In short, our goal is to champion science for the common good.” This is a strong declaration that aligns with UMaine’s green, science-backed mindset.

On our own campus, a satellite march took place concurrently with the D.C. march. UMaine’s page promoting the march claims, “It is a day to celebrate the achievements of science and to bring together scientists and science supporters across the state to affirm the value of science.” Support for the march was very positive.

Considering the background of the university, this is hardly surprising. The campus promotes itself as a safe place for science and environmentalism. There is evidence of this even in the smallest details—like the trash bins, with designated spots for recycling versus regular waste and the composting efforts by dining halls. The fact that we are a tobacco-free campus concerns more than smoking itself—it also addresses the wastes that cigarette use can lay on the land. UMaine has a long-standing tradition of a naked bike race on Earth Day to raise awareness about the environment alongside having a little fun.

On April 24, UMaine will host its 2nd annual Student Symposium to celebrate the accomplishments of student research. The Center for Undergraduate Research was formed in 2008 and furthers crucial interaction with students and scholarly work. UMaine is home to several other programs—all centered around science. Whether marine-based or sustainability-centered, there is a strong desire in the UMaine community to engage with our world through the lens of scientific progress.

Where would the students presenting for the Student Symposium, everyone working at CUGR and every STEM-field student be without free engagement with science? This is not the time or place to be tightening the belt on science and especially not the education of future leaders in STEM communities and programs—not while the planet is hurting in ways we have never seen before.

Though public opinion heavily differs on the threat of climate change, it is difficult to deny statements from heavy-hitting organizations like NASA, the United Nations and dedicated teams such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, the U.S. is still at odds about the reality of climate change and the fight is multi-faceted. Even UMaine, ripe with generally forward-thinking action, has work to do. Simultaneously with the marches, the UMaine system announced a change in investment policy backed by ESG criteria. These are standards that consider environmental, social and governance factors in tandem with previous qualifiers. This will help in deciding the impact UMaine has on the environment in their investments.

March for Science now aims to transition to a non-profit organization, concerned with pushing action and connection in the aftermath of the public awakening. This is perhaps some of the most critical work happening nationwide, worthy of continued support.

Science denial does not only affect the scholars and academics at work in the field. It affects the U.S. public as a whole. Everything about modern life is threatened by the suffocation of STEM fields and facts—public health, disease prevention, climate awareness, land conservation, engineering and countless other fields. Rather than stifling our nation’s bright minds, we should be amplifying and making an example for the global community.

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