Science and Society: Influencing the understanding and growth of science

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Science and Society: Influencing the understanding and growth of science
By Isabelle Morin, Contemporary Studies Program student at the University of King's College

    The Influencer’s panel took place as a wrap-up to the three-day Science and Society Symposium in Ottawa. The symposium itself raised questions of citizen engagements in science, trust in science and its methodologies, evolving paradigms, and underlying structures of scientific practice. Panels, workshops, and presentations aimed at raising more questions, and critical thinking pertaining to the relationship between science and the establishment of policy.

With Yves St-Onge as the chair of the panel, and Scott Findlay, Pat Mooney, Louise Vandelac and Denise Amyot as panelists, a broad range of opinions on the questions raised at the symposium was possible. The panel was meant to encapsulate the synthesized take-home messages of the symposium, as well as creating an encompassing overview of the sessions, which was helpful since many of the events had overlapping times, and it was thus impossible to sit in on all of them.

Main themes included the question of how to improve science, using creativity and imagination, open communication of science, incorporating the discussion of valued science (as opposed to objective science), how science is perceived by non-scientists, and the emerging agendas of techno-science.

The discussion around the perception of science was especially interesting, simply because of the viewpoint of those discussing the topic. Since it was scientists talking about the perceptions of the non-scientific community, we were not given a perspective on the non-scientist perspective of science, but rather the scientists’ perception of the non-scientific public’s perception. The speakers fell into the trap of speaking on behalf of the non-scientific community. However, the lines between non-scientific citizens and scientists has been intentionally blurred through the citizen science movement, which has led to innovations in data gathering and other areas, such as This dissolution of boundaries arguably gave the speakers ground to stand on in the face of the perception of the non-scientific community, as the non-scientific community begins to look more and more like a mythical creature.

The discussion of the place of values in science was also intriguing, as it represented a rebuttal to the striving for an objective (value-less) science. Some speakers stood up against the claim that scientists should be seeking objective science, and even against the claim of its existence in the first place. The discussion of valued science created a platform for the discussion of science, policy, and the hegemonic relationships within both that are sometimes not immediately apparent.

The panel effectively raised questions and pointed to fallacies in pre-existing assumptions, such as those mentioned above. As a community, we were urged to challenge presuppositions and to seek new points of view on the rapidly dissolving idea of “traditional science”: that is, the science that stands as an atomized unity, and a science that belongs only to the scientist.