An enthusiastic group of more than 50 unabashed nerds and nature lovers from the North Fork and throughout Long Island converged on downtown Riverhead the balmy morning of April 14 to share their love for all things analytical and real.
They were all a part of the second annual March for Science, taking place in cities throughout the world, organized here by the North Fork Audubon Society and North Fork Environmental Council.
The March for Science, first convened last spring in the wake of the anti-fact climate fostered by the Trump administration, “champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity,” according to its mission statement. “We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good, and for political leaders and policymakers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.”
As the group converged near a gazebo alongside the Peconic River behind Main Street, Debbie O’Kane, who serves as the president of North Fork Audubon and the programs director of the NFEC, pointed out that both local organizations were founded 45 years ago — about the same time as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Today, she said, environmental regulation is under threat, before reminding the group how the banning of the pesticide DDT helped lead to the remarkable comeback of Long Island’s native fish hawk, the osprey.
“The osprey would have been gone if we weren’t able to regulate pesticides,” she said.
Mark Haubner, a climate science advocate from Aquebogue, urged attendees to commit to give 10 percent of their time to advocating for environmental issues.
Coastal scientist Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O said the march “makes an important statement on a national level and here locally, that we subscribe to science.”
Two Democratic candidates for the First Congressional District, real estate financier Perry Gershon and longtime Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist Elaine DiMasi, also attended the march.
“The fact-based world is under attack,” said Mr. Gershon. “It’s important that people stand up and are cognizant of that. People who believe in science are in the majority.”
As a scientist, said Ms. DiMasi, “I’m trained to prove myself wrong. It’s not a successful formula for a politician, but wishful thinking doesn’t really help us in the end. We need evidence-based policy. If a solution won’t solve a problem, it isn’t a solution.”
Wielding banners with slogans like “Stand Up for Science,” “Text Science to 66866 to Support Elaine DiMasi,” “There is No Planet B,” “Show Us The Evidence,” “The Good Thing About Science is It’s True, Whether You Believe It or Not,” “I Wear An Artificial Pancreas: Thank You Science,” “Be Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic,” “Just Do It: Fire Pruitt,” “The Oceans Are Rising and So Are We” and “You Know Something is Very Wrong When People Have to March For Science,” the crowd walked east along the riverfront boardwalk, headed uphill to Main Street, then marched east to Riverhead Town Hall and then back downtown to Grangebel Park.
“I hate to see people who don’t understand science make decisions based on what they read on Facebook,” said one marcher, Kris Minschke of Middle Island, who has a background in chemistry and biology. “We’re reaching the point of no return where we won’t be able to do anything, and there’s too much shouting.”
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Tara Patin of Sayville marched with a sign elaborating on all the things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) have done for her, along with a bright green hat topped with a polar bear.
“One of the most dangerous thing is the refusal to address climate change,” she said of the current national government. “It affects all of us, especially on Long Island.”
Ms. Patin said she is also concerned about allowing natural resources to be exploited in national parks and attacks on the Endangered Species Act.
Ms. Patin said she had marched in the April 2017 March for Science in Washington, D.C., where the camaraderie overcame the pouring rain. She said marching for causes she believes in has become a habit this year.
“I have a stack of signs,” she said. “I didn’t even have to make a new one.”
Many of the marchers were supporters of Ms. DiMasi’s campaign.
Jon Mocko of Setauket, who works in IT, is a volunteer field captain with Ms. DiMasi’s campaign. He said he’d never been politically active before, but in political discussions on Facebook, he’d learned about Ms. DiMasi’s campaign and had gone to hear her speak.
“She always brings new ideas that aren’t out of a can,” he said. “And she always has new data in hand to back them up.”
“I’m happy to wave the flag of truth and facts,” said Ms. DiMasi in an interview after the march. “There’s not one party that has a monopoly on wanting Washington to be based on facts. If I’m in Congress and I’m in a committee and Republicans have the facts right, my job would be to explain to Democrats why I think that is so.”
““The most important thing is for people to realize how many different parts of society have to work together to make science happen,” she added. “Education allows people to be curious about the world, and pass that understanding down. Businesses need to make the right technical decisions, instead of short-sighted decisions. We need to invest in research — we don’t know where the next breakthrough is going to be. There are so many types of people working together, and science pervades all decision-making.”
“This administration is trying to cripple the agency and take teeth out of regulations,” she said, adding that changes being made could cause “immediate environmental and ecological damage.”
“It doesn’t take many oil spills to knock a whole generation of plants and animals away from where they’re living,” she said. “The planet itself is overcrowded and burdened by our own trash.”