A couple of weeks ago, Rick Mercer delivered one of his trademark rants in support of science - pure science, whether or not it confers immediate economic benefit. He criticized the federal government for its lack of respect and support for science and said that Canadians are “as passionate and curious as anyone else” when it comes to science.
Now, as a science communicator - both to kids and to adults - that is my experience too. I've talked to kids, teachers, librarians, parents, and passing adults from Vancouver Island to Nunavut in the past few years. Almost all were enthusiastic about science, curious about how things work, fascinated by the natural world, and delighted to learn new things. (The exceptions were two kids from a religious fundamentalist family and one grown-up radio interviewer - but you can't please everyone, I guess.)
But this, it appears, is not everyone's experience.
Canadian geneticist David Kent, currently at the University of Cambridge in the UK, wrote a blog post politely and articulately disagreeing with Rick Mercer. That triggered an online storm of the best possible kind - some people agreeing with Kent and others disagreeing.
Besides the stream of comments attached to Kent's post - all polite and passionate (including, I hope, my own) - the discussion has continued on other blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds.
One of the commenters, science communicator Kevin Mogk, felt strongly enough about the discussion to repost his own comments, inviting more discussion. Another referred to his own earlier post with concerns similar to Kent's.
A number of people referenced the Council of Canadian Academies' report, issued in August 2014, on the state of science culture in Canada. Among its findings: "Canadians have positive attitudes towards science and technology and low levels of reservations about science compared with citizens of other countries."
The Canadian science blog and blog aggregator, Science Borealis, recently published a careful and detailed set of counter-arguments to Kent's post.
Theresa Liao, science communicator at the University of British Columbia and a friend of David Kent, posted her own response on her blog, Science, I Choose You!
Among the evidence cited for Canadians' interest in and enthusiasm for science are the excellent books, blogs and articles being produced by Canadian science writers for a Canadian and international audience, including:
- nominees and winners of the Canadian Science in Society Book Awards and the Lane Anderson Awards
- the Canadian science bloggers listed and featured on the website of the Canadian Science Writers' Association and the Science Borealis blog
- the substantial audiences attracted by CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks and CBC Television's The Nature of Things
- the crowds of kids and adults who fill science centres, science museums, and open science days at universities and research centres
If you read this far, you care - and you have an opinion. Please share!