SCIENCE SHOULD BE COMMON KNOWLEDGE
As tens of thousands are expected to take part in the March for Science Saturday in Washington, Montreal is holding its own march on Earth Day. Marian Scott talked with organizer Jérémy Bouchez, a science writer at the Université de Montréal.
Q Why a march for science? A The march for science in Montreal was inspired by the one in Washington. This was in response to Donald Trump’s announcement of his intention to cut the budgets of environmental organizations and other governmental organizations in the United States, like NASA.
Originally, it was aimed at the U.S. administration, but it has turned into a march to remind people of the importance of science and empirical evidence for the health of democracies and, more generally, of the importance of science in everyday life.
We are living in an era in which we could not survive without science and technology. But to quote a phrase by Carl Sagan (the American astronomer and science popularizer), which is still very true today: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”
When you look at surveys, fewer and fewer people are aware of the benefits of basic science and of how much we owe to scientific discoveries, for example, in prolonging our lives or improving road safety.
More and more, “alternative facts” are questioning basic science and the scientific approach. We are living in a very dangerous period, when science and research are under attack. So I think this event on April 22 will be an excellent opportunity on a global scale to remember how important science is to society.
Q When you say science is under attack, who is attacking it?
A On the one hand, it’s coming under attack from political ideologies that serve particular interests, whether they are personal or industrial, and which in some cases are harmful to the common good and to citizens’ ability to understand certain phenomena. Because the less people know, the less scientific education they have, the less they will be able to challenge certain government decisions.
At the same time, some people have lost confidence in certain fields of science, like medicine.
We’re seeing people who put their own opinions on the same level as scientifically proven facts. For example, you hear that vaccination causes autism, even though there is absolutely no research that proves it. Unfortunately, facts are being drowned out by all the information you find on the Internet.
Q Who is organizing the march? A It’s basically being organized by citizens, not by any organization. I came up with the idea two days after they announced the march in Washington. I am a science writer at the Université de Montréal and I write an academic blog for a research institute on public health. I’ve been working in the field of popularizing scientific information for 10 years and I’m very passionate about it.
Q What will be the message of the march?
A The main message is to celebrate science and underline the need to protect it, because it brings us prosperity, health and security.
The most important topic today is climate disruption. It gets a lot of attention in the media, for good reason, because it has so many implications for our daily lives. For example, it could lead to wars, like wars over water as rivers disappear. It could cause public health problems like parasites and disease.
Climate science has made a lot of progress in the past 15 years. It’s not for nothing that the Trump administration has made it a priority to cut funding to it because of financial interests like the oil and gas sector. Climate science gives us the tools to foresee environment problems. So cutting funding for it is like taking away the glasses of someone who needs them to read.