5 Dec 2014

Are Canadians interested in science? You tell us!

By Claire Eamer

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:
So, who is right? Or are we all right, to some degree? What do we - all of us - need to do to make sure that Canadians have access to scientific information in a form that makes it useful to them? And how can we ensure that kids who are passionate about science (and that's most of them, in my experience) don't lose that passion as they get older, whether or not they become scientists themselves?

If you read this far, you care - and you have an opinion. Please share!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The articles and comments I've read fail to distinguish Canadians' interest in science entertainment from their interest and support for science research and it's application to our lives. Sure we love science and tech TV shows and going to the science and tech museum is great fun but we under fund science, enrollment in science education programs is low and falling, and we elect people who ignore science facts. Nearly half of Canadians don't accept the science of climate change. Frighteningly large numbers of us don't even accept evolution is real. So are we interested? Sure, if it is entertaining.