David Kent recently made a blog post on The Black Hole (one of universityaffairs.ca‘s blogs) about Rick Mercer’s rant about science from last week. Kent disagrees with Mercer’s view that Canadians are passionate about science. I, on the other hand, agree with Mercer that we are a passionate country when it comes to science!
I encourage you to read Kent’s post, he makes some good points, and get in on the discussion. Are Canadians passionate about science?
Here’s what I had to say in response to his blog:
As a graduate student in science communications and having worked for three years on the front lines at a science centre, I would agree with Rick Mercer that Canadians love science and that they do get excited about it! They may not always understand or get excited about the finer details of how things work, as you mentioned, but they sure do get excited about the cures, new technologies and discoveries and those are all part of science and the public understands that!
To put it another way, there are lots of people who love to eat cake, but you would never say someone can’t love cake because they don’t know how to bake one. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if everyone got as passionate about the finer details of the how in science, but let’s be honest even physicists don’t understand the finer workings of the cell or RNA. So, please, don’t accuse the public of not loving science because they only get excited about the science they know.
You also point out that the United Kingdom has great programs that are being exported and we don’t see similar programs here in Canada. Could it be that we are having trouble getting these things off the ground not because of a lack of passion from the Canadian people or lack of desire on the part or our broadcasters (Quirks and Quarks, Ideas, The Nature of Things are but a few great Canadian programs that show that passion and desire), but, as Rick Mercer pointed out, from a Government that is not funding science, science communication or even public communication in general? Our public broadcaster keeps facing cuts to its funding, so when the CBC goes to propose something like Planet Earth, can they justify earmarking $25 million and five years of time (the cost and time required for Planet Earth) when they are uncertain if they will continue with the same level of funding?
The most telling sign I have that Canadians love science is when I talk to them. Not at work, not as part of my studies as a science communicator, but just as part of day to day idle chitchat. Whenever the question of what I do for a living comes up and I tell them I work in a science centre, their first words are “That’s so cool,” and they always follow that with some very excited comment about some topic about science, be it simple and small like their bug collection, or big and complex like a recent discovery in astronomy or medicine. They are passionate, they are excited. Maybe all we have to do is take the time to listen.