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.

Montreal Gazette - - CITY -

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.

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