It started as a group text message among four friends from graduate school about new kids, puppies and jobs. You know, the successes and struggles that are the building blocks of everyday life.
In the wake of the election, the discussion changed. While everyday life continued, the four friends - all women working in the climate and ecology fields - faced a new reality. Their discussions turned into an email chain, which grew to include a group of women, until finally it spawned a pledge of inclusivity in science and the need for reason in politics that's now been signed by more than 14,000 women in science.
The group, dubbed 500 Women Scientists, was created in response to President Trump and his anti-science, anti-women comments. Its pledge vows to protect the scientific enterprise from his attacks as well as "build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise."
It's part of a growing movement of scientists pushing back against the rise of what can best be described as a disregard of facts. Trump's cabinet nominees all dodged questions on climate, for example, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently said the world is closer to Doomsday because of the swell of anti-science rhetoric. Scientists have been coordinating online and organizing marches to protest these developments (a number also participated in last weekend's Women's March).
While inclusive of all scientific disciplines, Jane Zelikova, one of the original texters and a fellow at the Department of Energy, said climate change was one of their top priorities in drafting the pledge. That's in part because Zelikova and her friends work in scientific fields and at agencies closely focused on those issues, but also because the climate field had been one singled out by the Trump administration for cutbacks.
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"[The Trump administration] directly impacts me," Sarah Myhre, a paleoclimate postdoc at the University of Washington and a pledge signatory, said. "My job security, the currency or value of my work in the public eye, where my research funding will come from, how I chart my career path: It impacts everything."
Beyond climate research and policy, the administration has also signaled a shift away from fact-based policy making. Moreover, early executive actions on immigration and reproductive issues have underscored that women, minorities and immigrants could face further setbacks under Trump, to say nothing of his comments released during the election about sexually assaulting women.
All of these issues have factored into the 500 Women Scientists' pledge. It's also why the group blew past its initial goal of signatories. As of Friday, more than 14,000 women scientists had added their names. There has also been an outpouring of international support, with signatories from 109 countries.
"Much of the science useful to me and my country originates in the U.S.," said Andrea Vincent, a climate-focused ecologist at the University of Costa Rica and a pledge signatory. "At the same time, the U.S. benefits from our discoveries and perspectives, i.e. from scientists abroad engaged in collaboration with U.S. scientists. Science is a deeply interconnected community of people from around the world."
While Trump's election was the catalyst, the group is about much more than confronting the president. It's focused on combating systemic disparities in science.