PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Scientists as social change agents?
Tweeting science issues into the Canadian election of 2015.

Kathryn OHara  

Can scientists taking on an activist role in politics make a difference and do they sideswipe their scientific training to do so? Evidence for Democracy started up three years ago with previously non-politicized scientists who were deeply concerned about the Canadian Conservative government's treatment of science and lack of evidence in policy making. Now the group has organized a campaign around the upcoming Canadian election to get science on the agenda for the four political leadership candidates. In examining the leaders debates during campaigns from 1968-2011, E4D discovered not one question was raised about science policy. Through an assiduous use of social media, the group in its campaign Science Pledge has rallied some of the electorate to ask candidates about 'smart decision making' the need for an independent science advisor, the return of the long form census, and open and transparent access to federal scientists. Margaret Atwood is a supporter. Will this flash of energy make a real difference to an electorate that may be concerned about health, climate and the environment but past research suggests it doesn't translate in the polls? My research involves a study of the strategy of this group based on the election outcome and a companion survey of scientists to explore the attitudes towards this public form of scientist engagement in politics and if this has any measurable effect on the scientists' perception of what public engagement and outreach mean to them and what would motivate them to action. Are activists scientists needed as socially informed citizens of the world. Follow up and funded research from a previous paper that explored the new roots of Evidence for Democracy. And a published peer reviewed book chapter examining ten years of Harper government science policies and the 'muzzling' of Canadian federal scientists.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.