As a scientist and a science communicator, I live and breathe science. Whether I’m at work, using DNA analysis and data science to keep Canadians healthy, or on the TV screen, taking my audience on a journey of discovery, science makes my world go around.
But am I an outlier, living in a science bubble? Do other Canadians feel the same way about science as I do?
3M shared my curiosity. As a company which applies science to life, they wanted to know what the world thought about the topic – do people appreciate the role science plays in their lives? Do they trust scientists? Do they want their children to pursue a science career?
Canadians are fascinated by science, and that’s something to celebrate.
First, the good news. Nine in ten of us think of science as fascinating, not boring, according to the 3M State of Science Index. And almost everyone – 96 per cent of people surveyed – want our children to know more about science.
We’re excited for the ways science is contributing to renewable energy, fighting disease, and connecting people online. Nearly half of us think that within our lifetimes, we’ll be zooming around in flying cars.
This is fantastic – fascination and wonder are the foundations for a lifetime of interest in science. Recognizing that research and discovery bring us closer to a happy, healthy planet means that people are generally supportive of investments in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
However, Canadians don’t fully appreciate the role science plays in their lives.
As I dug further into the survey results, something surprising emerged. Despite an obvious enthusiasm for science, it seems Canadians have difficulty seeing how science fits into their lives. Seven in ten Canadians rarely – or never – think about how science impacts their everyday life.
We like science – we’re fascinated by it, even – but we don’t connect it to our lived experiences. We don’t stop to think about the technology that allows us to carry a powerful computer in our pants pocket, or the science behind what makes a Post-it just the right amount of sticky, or the evolution that turned a strong and fierce wolf into the tiny chihuahua yapping at our feet.
I was also troubled by the finding that one in four Canadians is skeptical of science in general, and one in five distrusts scientists.
Among the 14 countries 3M surveyed, we sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to our trust in science and scientists, and the science skeptics among us are more like to view science as dull, inaccessible, and irrelevant to our daily lives.
What does this all mean for the future of science in Canada?
We need to start championing science here at home, to our children and to each other.
Most of us – 71 per cent of Canadians – think science’s best days are yet to come. But if we’re to realize that future, we need to change people’s perceptions of science and scientists:
- I believe that deep down, everyone is a scientist – we just need to help them realize it by connecting science to people’s lives such that instead of just being fascinated by science, they are truly engaged with STEM and willing to advocate for it.
- Tapping into our young peoples’ enthusiasm for science could be a powerful driver for change. By showing them how science can put a brighter future within reach and how there’s a place for them in science, no matter what their particular interest or passion, we can keep that sense of childhood wonder alive.
- Canada’s STEM community needs to work together at all levels to champion science. Whether it’s government investment, or scientists in academia and industry putting a more public face on their work, we’re at an exciting point in time where we have the opportunity to shape an inclusive and innovative future that brings science to life.