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.
“Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period,” she asked, her voice incredulous.
“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.”
Payette was trained as a computer engineer and later became an astronaut and licensed pilot and in 1999 was the first Canadian to board the International Space Station.
Appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of the conference-goers Wednesday noted she was now the second astronaut to be part of the Trudeau government, along with Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Trudeau has pledged to give science a more prominent place in his government’s policy-making, appointing a chief science adviser earlier this fall and undergoing a national science policy review that reported in the spring. The government’s response to the report of the scientific review panel is still in the works.
Science Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks at the conference Thursday evening where she is expected to outline more of the government’s vision for science. Chief Science Adviser Mona Nemer addresses the gathering earlier in the day.
Payette clearly signalled her background will play a major role in her tenure as Governor General.
She urged her former colleagues in the room to be “vigilant” and aim to make science a topic so well known and understood it is a subject of conversation at cocktail parties in the same way people now talk about the weather or the latest hockey scores.
She said the “the internet, social media, 24-hour news” have meant more and more information is accessible to the public. A learned society is a better society, Payette said, but the fake news and bogus scientific claims have to be refuted.
“Democracy and society have always gained from learned debate but we have to remain vigilant and we cannot let ourselves fall into complacency and we must be vocal, all the time, everywhere, every single one of us, so we can deconstruct misinformation and don’t end up in an echo chamber just listening to what we want to hear,” Payette said.