One month into her new job as Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette is taking on fake news and bogus science.
Payette was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa Wednesday night where she urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the
explosion of digital media.
“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”
She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe “taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here’s personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”
I am a huge fan of our Governor-General, Julie Payette. I think she has the ability to be one of Canada's best vice-regals, and even if she wasn't in that public position, she is someone who has done a lot more than I will likely every accomplish and should be respected from coast to coast to coast for those contributions and service to our country and the sciences.
But what she said in the above paragraphs is not acceptable.
Don't get me wrong, because I agree with her. I find amusing that people still believe in astrology, support the baseless ideas behind homeopathy, and as an atheist see no reason for a deity and I'm shocked when people tell me they can't accept evolutionary theory. I also know that these ideas can become harmful when brought into the public sphere, as any policy created on the foundation of ignorance will harm someone, somewhere.
But, still, what she said is not acceptable.
I support the general point the GG is making, too. The rejection of science, critical thinking and the erosion of trust in experts and higher education is a huge problem members of the media, politicians, teachers, and most definitely science communicators must address. It's probably a defining crisis of our day, and one that if we fail to get ahead of will get worse and worse until we barely recognize society, and not for the better.
What she said is just wrong, though.
Let's not even address the fact that mocking people for beliefs is not the better way to communicate science. We all know it isn't, and I bet the GG does as well, but I think in the company she was with, she just felt too comfortable, because I get it. It is exhausting to deal with people that refuse to even entertain a concept that goes against their deeply held beliefs.
Oh my goodness, yes, I think the people that put up entire museums based on nothing but their hatred for evolutionary science because some words written a couple thousand years ago disagree are infuriating, ignorant, and petulant.
Don't even get me started on the charlatans that give false hope to sick and tragic people with miracle cures and utter bullshit, I get very angry at their mention, and I would gladly curse and mock them in front of any audience.
Here's the key thing, though - I'm not the Governor-General of Canada.
I don't serve in a public capacity as the nominal head-of-state of a country. I don't have to be ready to hear about the interests and concerns of all those people who believe in what I consider absolute woo. I could mock whoever I want, because I'm a private citizen - Julie Payette is not.
The GG should apologize for her statements, immediately. It is one thing to talk about how to communicate science better, I think that is a very worthy goal and one she should pursue to the end of her term and beyond. You don't do that by mocking the very people you're trying to reach out to, and you certainly do not do it when you're someone serving the people of Canada, all of them, regardless of what they believe.
She should make it right. I would expect nothing less from someone of her stature.