Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine, recalls feeling left out during the Women’s March the day after President Trump’s inauguration in January.

“I wanted to go, but I had shingles – on my face,” Gill said.

Gill was laid up in bed but kept tweeting, and became one of several people who nearly simultaneously came up with idea of another march, this one to draw attention to the need to support science.

Out of those sparks of inspiration flashing across the internet, a movement has grown. Science supporters will gather April 22 – Earth Day – in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other sites around the world, including in Orono and Portland, to march on behalf of science, calling on government to back research financially and to adopt policies that are based on sound science.

“We know how to keep our air and water clean, and the outcomes of the research should inform the policy,” said Gill, an assistant professor of paleoecology and plant ecology. She worries that anti-science political stances – doubting climate change, for instance – have undermined both public respect for and the funding of scientific research.

The scientific community, Gill said, generally has not done a good job of communicating with the public and some politicians “are taking advantage of that disconnection to undermine public trust in science.”

She and others hope that a march supporting science will change that and foster a stronger connection between the public, politicians and scientists.

The roots of the disconnect, she said, go back to a belief among many scientists that they should focus solely on their work and let it speak for itself, largely limiting its distribution to those in the scientific community through journals and conferences.

But a newer generation of scientists, Gill said, believes that scientists should advocate for their work, get out of the lab more and connect with the public.

That belief is shared by Caroline Weinberg, a New York science writer who was one of those tweeting on Jan. 21 about a march in support of science and is now co-chairwoman of the April event.

Weinberg said the belief that scientists need to do a better job spreading the word about their own work has coincided with the explosion of social media that offers multiple platforms on which to publicize what they are doing – and to call for more support for science.

Those who had the idea for a march quickly spread the word, she said, using those platforms. Much like the Women’s March, the idea grew organically.

“It exploded on social media,” Weinberg said. “We quickly pulled in many of the people who shared our passion and the idea for the march, including Jacquelyn (Gill).”

“I have been entirely stunned by how it caught on,” Weinberg added. “Within hours satellite marches were popping up around the country, then the world. We are currently in 320 cities and counting.”

Gill’s work gets her out of the lab a fair amount, although not necessarily among large groups of people. She has a joint appointment in the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute and its Biology and Ecology Department, and her work focuses on climate change, extinction and the interactions of different species, communities and ecosystems.

Gill said her inspiration for a career in science came from a “close encounter with the Ice Age” in a class at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

The class went climbing on some of the mountains at Acadia National Park, Gill said, and saw sea cliffs and caves high on the hills. She recognized they had formed at a time when the sea level was higher and were lifted up when Maine’s coast began rebounding after being pushed down by the weight of glaciers during the Ice Age.

“I had this epiphany that nature is dynamic and changing,” she said. “It also made me realize that there were lessons to be learned from the past … and I really fell in love with doing science.”

Eventually, Gill, after earning her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in 2012, was able to return to Maine. Her father was in the Navy, so the family moved around a lot, she said, but spent some time stationed at the shipyard in Kittery while she was growing up and she was eager to get back to Maine.

Gill, who is married, said organizers of the march are worried about it getting politicized. The goal instead, she said, is to keep it from being partisan.

But Gill herself may be politicized.

A group called 314 Action – the name is derived from the first three numbers of pi – has contacted her about possibly running for office, potentially in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

The group wants to see more scientists, or at least more pro-science people, running for public office.

Gill said she’s made no final decision, but will be going to a training course run by the group in Washington in a few weeks.

She said she hasn’t even decided if she would run as a Democrat or Republican.

“If I did decide to run for office, it would be in such a way that aligned with my goals and values – which include more than just science, of course,” she said. Both parties have supported using science to help form policies in the past, Gill said, and that could form the basis for healing some political divisions.

“Democrats and Republicans have come together to value education, the environment and our scientific infrastructure in the past, and could easily do so again,” she said.

Weinberg said those who will march in April will continue to be active even after the walking is done for the day.

“We absolutely intend for the March for Science to continue as a lasting organization with a focus on science outreach, education, and advocacy,” she said. “There is an incredible momentum behind this march (and) we have no intention of squandering that passion and commitment to the importance of science in our everyday lives.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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