Guest Columnist

Iowans are marching for science

People listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa City on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Saturday, Apr. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
People listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa City on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Saturday, Apr. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

It’s easy to say science is important. It’s easy to tell people their understanding of it is incomplete or inaccurate. It’s easy to get upset with politicians for pretty much anything.

What’s difficult is helping people understand the importance, helping them grasp science, or getting politicians to listen.

Science affects every aspect of your life, from the food you eat to your ability to read this in whatever format you choose to your health. We often overlook it, but doctors who keep us well are trained scientists who must identify and treat illnesses that, without publicly supported research, would have killed us. In the last 30 years, we have made astonishing progress in medicine.

Here’s an example I’m intimately familiar with: At 20 weeks gestation, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with congenital pulmonary airway malformation: one of her lungs was filled with cysts. She had no symptoms at birth, but we worked with doctors to monitor her condition. When she was a year old, a CT scan showed the cysts had grown, covering an entire lobe of her lung. She still had no outward symptoms, but her doctor recommended removing the lobe to prevent complications — including the possibility she could drown from a burst cyst. She’s healed and is completely normal except that her heart is in a slightly shifted location.

I learned that the only reason the doctor discovered her condition is because of improvements in ultrasound technology over the last 15 years. Before that, this disorder was poorly understood and only found if a child had outward symptoms. Medical science also developed tests to ensure my daughter only had benign cysts and not cancer or another disease.

We reached this point thanks to publicly funded research and because politicians and most of the public trust doctors to find solutions. So why don’t they trust climatologists? Why don’t they trust crop geneticists? Why do so many representatives deride research they don’t understand and insist on inserting politics into debates over sound science?

I believe it’s because we often don’t hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and beliefs. We must start by making it clear we demand a certain level of responsibility in legislation. I, for one, don’t expect our representatives to be perfect. I do expect them to admit when they don’t know enough about a topic and to seek help.

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But politicians’ responsibilities go beyond science. What we need from them are the same things we need in every aspect of governance: responsible, well-informed policy based on reality and not their gut or what they heard from a friend of a friend or, perhaps worse, a corporate lobbyist.

Join hundreds of your fellow Iowans in holding politicians accountable for their science policy. The second March for Science Iowa, from 1 to 5 p.m. on April 14 at the Capitol, will include interaction with and speeches from multiple candidates for governor and other state and federal offices. It’s your chance to put research, science education and fact-based policy at the forefront of this year’s elections.

March with us. Vote with us. Vote for science.

• Kaitlin Higgins of Ames is March for Science Iowa president and an Iowa State University genetics graduate.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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