Speech made at the March for Science in Toronto on April 14, 2018
[Check against delivery]
Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here with you marching for knowledge, for evidence, and for science!
And I want to thank the organizers. Thank you for all the hard work that you put into today. And thank you for inviting me, someone who represents the humanities and social sciences to be part of today’s festivities.
You understand that there’s lots of space for everyone in this parade – everyone, that is, who cares about learning. Who cares about facts. Who cares about truth.
The tools and methods we use will differ depending on the subject, but beneath those differences is something much bigger and more important that unites us – a drive to better understand ourselves and the world we live in.
So this is exactly where we should be on an April morning in Toronto, whether you study biology or politics, physics or the economy.
Of course we don’t just need a diversity of disciplines, we need a diversity of people.
Because great insights and great discoveries have roots in a person’s life experience and personal perspective.
That means our science – and our society – will grow stronger if we throw open the doors of our labs and our classrooms and our governments and our companies to people with the richest and most balanced mix of identities and backgrounds.
And I salute you for putting that diversity right at the centre of today’s event – we can’t be content to pat ourselves on the back, we have to challenge ourselves and the status quo – that instinct is the essence of a scientific spirit.
I have to admit that the first time I heard about the March for Science I thought it sounded kind of funny – like marching for language, or oxygen, or vegetables. I mean, who can be against these things? There was part of me that couldn’t quite accept that some people won’t accept science.
But let’s be clear – those people do exist, and in some frighteningly powerful positions. People with a huge influence on governments, economies, on human lives.
You might say they inhabit a “post-truth” world, but they don’t object to the truth – as long as it’s one they like. Otherwise, the facts are optional.
We’re all guilty of sticking our heads in the sand from time to time. But deep down I know and you know and we all know that living that way is no way to live at all. Not if you’re smart and curious and aspire to engage the world in all its complexity, and not just the parts that fit your agenda.
So today’s march, like most good ones, is at least a little bit about resistance – about pushing back on forces that are bad for us.
But today is too hopeful for me to finish with doom and gloom. This is an important and an exciting moment.
It’s a moment of opportunity in part because we’ve just seen a budget released in Ottawa that presents a chance to fundamentally strengthen research and education in Canada. The budget contained a research package that makes long-term investments based on a thoughtful policy analysis. It’s smart and it’s focused on the future – two things we don’t see always see enough of in our politics.
It was a great achievement by the people who advocated for it: researchers and lab assistants, professors and graduate students, universities and organizations like Evidence for Democracy. They told the government what needed to be done, and made sure it didn’t forget before Budget Day.
As those budget promises get turned into new programs, and then into new grants and partnerships, we need to keep banging the drum for smart, future-focused decisions.
Today is also about something more personal. It’s a chance to stand up for something we care deeply about. A chance to strengthen the foundations of knowledge so they continue to withstand what’s thrown at them in the future.
It’s a chance to show our kids the power we all have to make a fundamental, daily choice about the way we will interact with our world, learn about the world, and act in our world. It’s a chance to choose “smart,” when we can see that the costs of “being uninformed” are just too high.
Marching for science might have once felt funny to me, but it doesn’t anymore. It feels like the right thing to do.
Thank you for coming, thank you for listening, have a fabulous weekend.