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Reawaken your sense of wonder

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Somehow, over the years, many of us have lost touch with our childhood curiosity. (Courtesy photo)
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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/sally-stephens/

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a scientist. After all, scientists were the ones who saved the day in the alien-invasion B-movies my brother and I watched after school. Scientists created the sugar-cube oral polio vaccine I was given in elementary school. Scientists were the ones who figured out how to launch humans into space and, ultimately, land on the Moon.

As a kid, I went through periods of being fascinated by dinosaurs, then volcanoes. Space was a constant passion. I built a scale model of the Saturn V moon rocket and that other notable vessel: the Starship Enterprise. Science answered my questions and helped me understand the world around me.

But mostly, science fired my imagination. How amazing is it to know that every atom in my body was originally created in the center of a star? Or to see today the preserved footprints of early human ancestors who walked through a field of ash nearly 4 million years ago? That sense of wonder and awe is what science means to me.

The America I grew up in embraced science and the pursuit of knowledge. Investing in basic research was considered critical to creating a country that could lead the world both technologically and economically. Scientific breakthroughs created a sense that anything was possible.

But there’s always been an anti-intellectual streak in the American psyche. Sometimes it is trivial, as when celebrities claim the Earth is flat. Other times, as with the anti-vaccination movement and climate change deniers, that streak has real negative consequences on the health of humans and the planet.

The past year, however, has seen an alarming increase in anti-science rhetoric and actions, with threats of deep cuts in funding for basic research, censorship of scientists and the removal of scientific data from government websites.

In a desire to stop the attacks and initiate a national dialogue about the role of science in society, a diverse group of scientists and more than 100 professional and science-oriented organizations have organized a March for Science on April 22. The main march will take place in Washington, D.C., but there will be satellite marches the same day in 480 cities around the world.

The San Francisco March for Science will start with a rally at Justin Herman Plaza. Speakers will include “Mythbusters” host Adam Savage and former U.S. Chief Data Scientist Dr. DJ Patil. The group will march down Market Street to Civic Center Plaza. At the end, marchers will find a large, open-air science fair, with booths offering information and lots of hands-on activities for science lovers of all ages. A photo booth will have science-oriented props and an open mike area will encourage people to tell their own stories of science or why they marched.

The day is intended to be a celebration of science and the joy of discovery, but it’s also a protest. It’s not just scientific “facts” that are currently under attack; the entire process of scientific discovery — the pursuit of those facts — is being mocked and dismissed. Organizers hope the march will be the beginning of a long-term movement to ensure a more scientifically literate public and to support the use of evidence-based science to guide policy decision-making.

You don’t have to be a working scientist to march. Anyone who’s ever wondered “Why?” is welcome.

As kids, we’re full of questions. But somehow, over the years, many of us lose touch with that curiosity. We forget how excited we were to learn that dinosaurs laid eggs in nests or that the continents were once all connected together. The march can reawaken that sense of wonder.

I will march on April 22 to share my lifelong love of science. But I will also march for the future, for the hope that we can return to the societal embrace of science and the pursuit of knowledge I remember from my childhood, and keep America a shining beacon of hope and innovation for the world.

The rally begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 22. The march beings at 12:30 p.m. The science fair lasts until 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.marchforsciencesf.com.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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