Sarah McLoughlin is a cancer patient and an Irish scientist that until recently was working on circadian rhythms in the University of Pennsylvania.
I am marching because science is saving my life. Last May, I was diagnosed with early but aggressive breast cancer at the age of 35. I’ve been through the mill with surgery, hormone treatments, chemo which put me in hospital with sepsis, weeks of radiation and I’ll be on drugs for the next 5 to 10 years to hopefully keep the cancer at bay. I’ve had a crap year! But you know what? It is better than the alternative. I would die without these treatments. My medical treatments come from science.
But science can’t stop, to paraphrase Dara O’Briain, because we don’t know everything. As a biologist myself, I’m aware of how little we really know about ourselves and our world and how much more work we need to do to understand it. New studies might not help me but they will help develop new and better treatments for others down the line. I just recently signed up for a 5-yr clinical trial. If I get the drug, it might help keep my cancer at bay another little bit. But more importantly, the knowledge this trial generates will help future cancer patients. That is science and it must keep going.
It isn’t that complicated, really. We need to fund science broadly and well, educate our people to be science-literate and think critically, exchange ideas by allowing the movement of people, then use the findings to make our lives better. Recent political shifts have attacked science on all of these points. Science funding has been threatened by the Trump administration cuts, Brexit splitting from EU grants and here in Ireland by a focus on ‘quick return’ applied science at the expense of basic science. ‘Fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ have gained traction in an absence of critical thinking. The increasing hostility to foreigners in the aftermath of Trump’s election and Brexit, both at an official level with visa bans and a personal level on the street, is a threat to the exchange of ideas and expertise. Many Irish scientists and clinicians have trained or worked in the USA and Ireland has benefited. Before my cancer, I was an Irish scientist in the USA working with people from all around the world. The new knowledge, skills and experience I gathered was due to the ability to work in a different country with many nationalities and I have brought it back to Ireland’s benefit. Trump’s plan to ban visas such mine and Brexit’s immigration threats would impede science in two major research countries. Finally, policy decisions that are not based on evidence or fact can be harmful and expensive, with policies around climate change being a very obvious example.
While most of these things will immediately affect the USA and scientists, the end result will be that we all lose. Everyone. Hindering science and stifling knowledge in the USA will have a knock-on effect to the rest of the world as we all benefit from each other’s scientific progress and suffer from each other’s failures. Science is by people, about people, for people. How might it save your life?