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Scientists take to streets across globe to defend research

Scientists have joined students and research advocates in a series of rallies across the world to push back against what they say are mounting attacks on science.

The March for Science, coinciding with Earth Day, is to take place in more than 500 locations across the world, with a central rally taking place in Washington DC.

Protesters in Geneva carried signs which read: "Science - A Candle in the Dark" and "Science is the Answer".

In Berlin, several thousand people participated in a march from the one of the city's universities to the Brandenburg Gate landmark.

Meike Weltin, a doctorate student at an environmental institute near the capital, said: "We need to make more of our decision based on facts again and less on emotions."

The protest puts scientists, whose work depends on objective experimentation, into a more public position.

Organisers portrayed the march as political but not partisan, promoting the understanding of science as well as defending it from various attacks, including proposed US government budget cuts under President Donald Trump, such as a 20% cut at the National Institute of Health.

Signs and banners readied for the Washington rally reflected anger, humour and scientific references, such as a seven-year-old's "No Taxation Without Taxonomy".

Taxonomy is the science of classifying animals, plants and other organisms.

The sign which nine-year-old Sam Klimas held was handmade and personal: "Science saved my life." He had a form of brain cancer and has been healthy for eight years now.

His mother, grandmother and brother travelled with him from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

His grandmother, Susan Sharp, said: "I have to do everything I can to oppose the policies of this administration."

Scientists involved in the march said they are anxious about political and public rejection of established science such as climate change and the safety of vaccine immunisations.

Rush Holt, a former physicist and Democratic congressman who runs the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said: "Scientists find it appalling that evidence has been crowded out by ideological assertions.

"It is not just about Donald Trump, but there is also no question that marchers are saying 'when the shoe fits...'"

Judy Twigg, a public health professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, had a message for the US leader with one of her signs.

It showed the periodic table of chemical elements and said: "You're out of your element Donny (Trump)." For Ms Twigg, who was wearing a T-shirt that read "Science is not a liberal conspiracy", research is a matter of life and death on issues such as polio and child mortality.

Despite saying the march was not partisan, Mr Holt acknowledged it was only dreamed up at the Women's March on Washington, a day after Mr Trump's inauguration on January 20.

Co-organiser and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg said: "It's not about the current administration. The truth is we should have been marching for science 30 years ago, 20 years, 10 years ago.

"The current (political) situation took us from kind of ignoring science to blatantly attacking it. And that seems to be galvanizing people in a way it never has before. ... It's just sort of relentless attacks on science.

"The scientific method was developed to be non-partisan and objective. It should be embraced by both parties."

Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, a global professional organisation of earth and space scientists, cited concerns by scientists and threats to research as a result of elections in the US and other countries.

Threats to science are heightened in Turkey and elsewhere in Europe, said Ms McEntee, who planned to march with geophysical scientists in Vienna, Austria.

Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, who exposed the dangerous lead levels in the drinking water and children's blood in Flint, Michigan, planned to march in Washington and speak to the crowd.

Before the event, she said: "It's risky, but that's when we make advancements, when we take risks ... for our heart rates to go up, to be a little anxious and scared and uncomfortable."

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