Culture test: The March for Science now has its own ‘alternative facts’ about the northernmost participants


There’s indisputable photographic evidence Bernice Notenboom took part in the March for Science in Longyearbyen on April 22. But the quickly growing “reality” is she took part in the global event’s northernmost march at the North Pole.

Notenboom, a climate journalist from The Netherlands, did indeed reach the North Pole and a message stating “March for Science North Pole Edition” was sent out on her Twitter account that includes a picture of the expedition members with a matching official banner of the event:

She and the other expedition members left the Pole well before the official date of the march, however, flying down to the Barneo ice camp at 89 degrees latitude north and then departing the camp at about 2 a.m. April 21 to return to Longyearbyen. The march there at 78 degrees north latitude was officially the world’s second northernmost, with a march in Ny-Ålesund at 79 degrees north claiming the official title.

But the media narrative rapidly spreading the globe is “The March for Science stretched all the way to the North Pole.”

That headline on an article originally published by Mashable, using Notenboom’s Tweet to support the claim, is being widely republished by mainstream outlets.

Also getting plenty of attention is a Huffington Post article headlined “North Pole Trek Takes March For Science To The Extreme.”

“Talk about an extreme version of the March for Science,” the article begins. “You trek 140 miles over wind-whipped polar snow and ice, with temperatures falling well below freezing and the ground literally shifting beneath your feet as you shuffle along on skis, dragging a sled laden with the gear you need to survive a gruelling three-week slog to the North Pole.”

The article notes immediately afterward the expedition reached the Pole before the march, but waits until the end to disclose the expedition departed the Pole before the event itself.

Notenboom, in an interview the day after the official march, said she got an official banner with a North Pole designation from the march organizers before her expedition and, after calling an event coordinator via satellite phone from North Pole to report the expedition had to depart before April 22 was told “it doesn’t matter. Take photos and we’ll post them.”

“It wasn’t April 22, but we did a march for science for a long time,” Notenboom said, regarding her two-degree ski expedition that covered roughly 200 kilometers. “We had an official banner. We flew the banner. We flew it at the North Pole. We just didn’t fly it on April 22. I don’t understand why that is such a big issue for you. It just should not even come out.”

Notenboom also said she didn’t personally post the Twitter message – it was done by another person posting official updates about the expedition from afar – since she didn’t have internet access during the trip.  But subsequent Twitter messages and responses to comments, some of them referring to the articles, aren’t exactly discouraging the impression they create despite also Tweeting about her participation in Longyearbyen’s march:

Notenboom said she doesn’t care about the inaccurate version of the northernmost march being reported widely.

“I have no control over what happens in the media,” she said. “It does’t undo what we did. That’s all I care about.”

While some might argue – vehemently in Notenboom’s case – about the literal importance of where the world’s northernmost march occurred, there’s an obvious irony such a discrepancy exists in an event where “alternative facts” were among the biggest concerns of its organizers and participants.

The main speaker during the Longyearbyen march, Norwegian Polar Institute International Director Kim Holmén, joked at one point that reality has gotten to the point “where pictures taken now question how many people are standing in this square.”