Modern society is built on science. Electric alarms wake us in the morning, and lightbulbs allow us to cheat sunset. Computers and the internet connect and inform us. Thanks to advances in medicine, we live longer and healthier lives. Scientific discovery and innovation are key elements in thriving democratic societies.
Although science should not be the only factor that informs policy, Canada needs a government that prides itself on listening to all sides, including advice and evidence from its brightest minds.
Historically, the dawn of experimental science also saw the rise of democratic accountability. It’s easy to see why science and democracy go hand in hand, as they share many of the same values: openness to new ideas founded in evidence; skepticism towards established ideals that leaves room for discussion, evolution, and improvement; commitment to reason, transparency, and multiple points of view.
In his acceptance speech for the President’s Medal in London, Prof. Brian Cox reflects on the role of science in a modern democracy:
“All the great, important decisions that our democracy will be forced to take in the next decades, and all the way into the 21st century, are based on science — they’re based on scientific method, they’re based on an understanding what reason and reaching conclusions based on evidence. And if the presentation of science is a Frankenstein presentation of science — a misrepresentation of what we do, a complete misselling of the wonder of exploration — then we have a problem in our democracies.”
Cox goes on to quote Sir Humphry Davy, who said:
“Nothing is more fatal to the progress of the human mind than to presume that our views of science are ultimate, that our triumphs are complete, that there are no mysteries in nature and there are no new worlds to conquer.”
Prof. Brian Cox on Why Science Is Important in a Democracy
Research is the foundation of innovation. Strong economies and resilient communities depend on continued leadership in science. When policies on even the most straightforward science-based issues like climate change and vaccination are obstructed by politics, these decisions are not rooted in evidence.
Government funding for science is essential. This funding enables basic research where commercial interests are still unclear, but paves the way to progress in areas we have yet to imagine. Significant cutbacks to every federal funding agency for academic research undermines Canada’s ability to do the research that ushers in technological advances and informs sound policy.
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