Hank Ratrie's creaky knees kept him from the Washington, D.C., march, but he was planning to take his students caving.

Hank Ratrie

Lots of scientists marched yesterday. Five explain why they didn't

Saturday’s march coverage focused, naturally enough, on those who turned out in the streets. But Science’s Dorie Chevlen spent some time talking with those who didn’t march, for one reason or another.

Turns out not marching can be a sensitive topic: When Dorie posted a note looking for nonmarchers on a march-related website, several commenters called for her post to be removed, accused her of being a troll, and even suggested she was a Russian operative trying to wreak havoc. Even simple questioning about the march, it appears, can to some people feel like an assault on science itself.

Here’s what some nonmarchers told Dorie:

Hank Ratrie, a biology professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, agreed with the march’s aims, but trekking to D.C. to walk around the Mall for several hours wasn’t easy at his age. “I’m getting old,” the 71-year-old Ratrie explains, “and I’m not a big fan of crowds, either.” So he was planning “to make my science gesture by taking my students caving instead” – giving them some first-hand exposure to field observation.

Virginia Schutte

Virginia Schutte

Virginia Schutte, science communicator in Houma, Louisiana, didn’t think a march is the best way to encourage support for science. “It seems like the way the event has been set up and branded, it’s not going to reach outside of the people who are already aligned with the cause. It won’t be able to change any minds.” She’s thought long about that challenge (and even penned a 5-step strategy online) and thinks ultimately the way to communicate the march’s cause will be through one-on-one conversations: “Many people shy away from topics that they know are hot-button … but letting people see that people they already like have different views from them, that is what will bring about real change in the long run."

Nick McMurray

Nick McMurray

Nick McMurray, entomology undergraduate at University of California, Davis, and small business owner in Nevada City, California, was concerned about the possible fallout from the march. “It’s good to see people getting involved and passionate,” he says, but “I’m afraid that it’s going to be perceived as just another liberal-democrat progressive’s complaining-fest. … And I don’t think that any of the people who we need to be reaching about science are going to listen.” Rather than organize a march, McMurray believes that “we need to better articulate [the importance of sound science policy and funding] to people—because some people don’t have a good education, some people may need more time, but we’re all intelligent people on some level.”

Tracey Mueller-Gibbs

Jenn Danzig

Tracey Mueller-Gibbs, conservation biologist and advocate based in San Diego, California, had been on the fence, but in the end she didn’t march. The event would have benefited from “look[ing] beyond the partisan ideals,” she says, and instead asking “what did we do as members of this society to allow the problems that exist to get here?” And she urged marchers to take on the “everyday practice of looking at what we are doing as scientists, as well as individuals outside the scientific community, to question what are we doing—let’s be aware, let’s speak up, let’s see the smaller problems rather than allowing them to become grand problems.”

Anahita Hamidi

Anahita Hamidi

Anahita Hamidi, neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at University of California, Davis, was inclined to support the march. But as a minority—queer, Iranian-American, a female researcher—she wasn’t happy about how its U.S. organizers handled diversity issues. “I’m not sitting on the outside policing every statement … but a lot of the people in the leadership positions who were part of the organizing and part of the diversity committees stepped down. And I think that was a big red flag for me.” If the march had been the only opportunity to stand up for science, she says, she’d have been there, but “I don’t see that this is the end-all, be-all. I don’t think that this is my only opportunity to be an activist for science.”