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Science and Society

Saturday, March 22, 2017, is a big day and a lot of it has to do with science and society. These are three events that I’m particularly interested in and how they relate to the importance of science and society.

Spring Into Sprinkles 5 km run – This run is raising funds for a Girls on the Run Council in Edmonton. Girls on the Run is a non-profit organization that envisions “a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” They do this “using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” I have personally always felt free to boldly pursue my dreams but I know that I am not necessarily the norm. We constantly hear about challenges that girls and women face because of a long history of subjugation. Girls on the Run is just one of many organizations that is fighting to change that and they are seeing success. In a small study in Seattle, Washington, Galeotti (2015) found that both short and long-term participation in the GOTR program improved self-awareness, ability to select and maintain healthy relationships, and the likelihood and ability to be “joyful, healthy, and confident” (p. 418). So apart from having science to back up the benefits how does this relate to science and society (at least in my brain). Women were excluded from all long distance running events until the 1970s; one of the reasons was that “some experts claimed that women’s health would be damaged by long-distance running” (Lovett, 1997). And training regimes were often developed through research on men, but when they don’t work the same way for women it can be seen as a failure of women, rather than a failure of the training itself. (See my earlier post about generalizability for a specific example). Without science paying attention to and contributing to societies understanding of sport and health (not to mention the impacts of subjugation on ability) women might still be sneaking onto the marathon courses to run the race (see the Lovett reference above for more info). 

And then there is the discrimination that women have experienced in science itself. Arguments about women being too emotional or not being smart enough in subjects like math and science continue to create stereotypes that girls, women, teachers, and parents can unwittingly fall prey to and contribute to (again check out my post on generalizability for more). Girls on the Run has many challenges that they can help girls overcome and more importantly get rid of for good.

Earth Day is also on Saturday and this year’s campaign is Environmental & Climate Literacy. I have worked in environmental education for a number of years in a variety of different capacities but one of the things that I see the most is the need for people who can take the science, which can be very complex and filled with jargon, and turn it into something that makes sense to someone who hasn’t spent an obscene number of years studying one particular climate or environment related area. And even more than that, it can’t just be an information download, you have to connect the topic to an individual’s prior knowledge and experience. Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson are popular scientists who have the ability to bring science into the public domain. Dr. David Schindler is a limnologist who has played a key role in changing environmental policy, including being the major figure in determining the phosphates in detergents were doing irreparable harm to freshwater ecosystems and having phosphates removed from detergents.  But the examples of scientists who reach out are too few, as  I many scientists express views that they do research not education or policy, or even that staying out of the public realm is necessary to be seen as unbiased, yeah that’s working well. There are some things that locals can know about their environment, but there are many things that we need science to fill in the blanks for, and the only way that really happens is when the research is not only done, but it is disseminated beyond the academic community.

And that brings me to the March for Science. In Canada, we have already lived through the muzzling of scientists and defunding of science (including the Experimental Lakes Area that Dr. Schindler founded), thankfully this is changing since our federal election in 2015. The US is now going through an even more aggressive castration. And unfortunately, the threats to science are not just found in North America. The things is that “Science isn’t Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative” it is the field that “protects our air and water, preserves our planet, saves lives with medical treatments, creates new industries, puts food on our tables, educates the next generation, and safeguards our future” (Earth Day Network, 2017).

We need science in our society.

Galeotti, S. (2015). Empowering pre-adolescent girls: Girls on the Run experiential learning program exploratory study. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(4), 407-423.

March for Science Edmonton 

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About Peyto

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities. Peyto is a reference to Bill Peyto who was an outfitter, trapper, and eventually a park warden in Banff National Park. Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier are both named after him. He is also a distant relative of mine.

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