LSU Health New Orleans faculty in Genetics, Pharmacology, Medicine, Microbiology, and Public Health, were among the thousands who marched for science here in New Orleans on Earth Day. National organizers say that Marches for Science took place in more than 600 cities on six continents.
The New Orleans event kicked off with a pre-march rally on the steps of City Hall. A non-partisan program of speakers, both national and local, inspired the crowd. One speaker after the next stressed the many ways science has benefited society, not the least of which is saving lives. They cited science’s non-political nature, universal language and hope for the future. Together they made an overwhelming case for supporting science, not cutting it. Organizers asked Dr. Lucio Miele, LSU Health New Orleans Professor and Chair of Genetics, to be one of the seven speakers.
“During my career, I have seen tremendous progress in medicine which resulted almost exclusively from publicly funded research,” said Miele. “When I was a student and took my first steps in the world of research, we had no way of sequencing DNA. Thus, we knew virtually nothing about the role of genes in human disease, and nothing about how the environment affects our genes to cause disease. We had no MRI, no PET-CTs, no HPV vaccine, no good drugs to prevent heart attacks, no treatment for Hepatitis C – a disease that took my father’s life prematurely from liver cancer and that today is curable, thanks to research. We didn’t even know HIV existed. Today, we have drugs that treat it and tests that detect it. We had no targeted cancer drugs, no cancer immunotherapy. The most aggressive form of breast cancer was incurable, and today it is treatable with genetically engineered drugs that would have been science fiction back then. All this and much more has happened during the course of a single career, which is not even close to ending. And it has happened because governments, the US government above all, made long-term investments in basic research, without which none of these marvels would have ever happened. The doubling of the NIH budget back in the 1990s is what gave us precision medicine and immunotherapy today.”
He shared details about the already constrained federal resources for research, as well as the cost to mankind.“Less than 10% of medical research proposals submitted to the NIH receive funding. I am among those who review those applications. I can tell you from personal experience that at least 20-25% of these ideas hold the promise of medical breakthroughs and deserve our support. They don’t get funded not because they are not outstanding, but because there isn’t enough money. How many new treatments and cures are lost in this way, we’ll never know.”
Dr. Susan Antón, a paleoanthropologist at New York University and President of the American Association of Physical Anthopologists, was the final speaker before the crowd began to march. Her speech was punctuated by the audience repeatedly responding to her question of “Why?” with “Because science matters.”
Led by a brass band in true New Orleans fashion, the march processed from City Hall to Loyola, down Poydras and ending at the Marriott, where the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting was underway.
Passionate participants filled the streets, carrying signs like, “We are resistors . . .and transformers”; “A Woman’s Place is in the Lab”; “Without Science It’s Only Fiction”; “A world without science is not humerus”; “Our Silence Will Not Protect Us, Our Science Will”; “Remember Polio? No?! Thanks, Science”; “One Very Mad Scientist”; “Defiance for Science”; “I have 6.022×1023 reasons why Science Matters”; “Thank You, Science! – Antibiotics, Vaccines, Computers, Smart Phones, Solar Cells, The Internet, Water Purification, Space Travel, Medicines, et al.” and many, many more.
The level of support was something to behold. You don’t often see several thousand scientists take to the streets. But for a cause to which they have dedicated their lives and one that has had and will have such an impact on humanity, it was worth every second in the near-90° temperature.
Miele summed up the group’s collective feeling. “We do what we do not out of curiosity, but to serve our communities. Science belongs to everyone, not just to those who practice it as a profession. The knowledge we produce will save human lives and make them better, and only that knowledge can solve global problems that threaten our very survival. Science may be the work of a few, but its fruits belong to all. Society needs science to prosper, but science needs society to survive. That is why we are all here today. The future of this country will be built on science and innovation, and science matters to every citizen. ”