#61 Alternative Facts, Pseudoscience, Real Debate

Dr. Roger Reindeau, Professor in the Writing and Rhetoric Program, University of Toronto

May 30, 2019

Within the last couple of years, the concept of "fake news" has generated much interest in mainstream media. Currently, our generation has access to more information than at any other time in human history. But what are we doing to stay critical of all the information we receive? How do we separate the fact from the fiction? On today's episode, our team explores the state of science literacy, current initiatives aimed at improving science literacy, and how medical practice has changed in this "information" era. Melissa and Anton took it to the streets of Toronto to get a sense of where the general public gets their science information and how they decide whether to believe what they hear. Next, Richie spoke with Dr. Vince Stendardo, a family doctor in Toronto, about how the abundance of information available to patients online has changed his practice. Melissa also spoke with Jesse Hildebrand, a University of Toronto alum and founder of Science Literacy Week, to discuss his work with science promotion and outreach. Lastly, Amber sat down with Dr. Roger Riendeau, professor in the writing and rhetoric program at the University of Toronto, to talk about the illusions and reality of evidence, and how people process evidence in order to reach conclusions. So before you fall prey to the next big "fake news" story, tune in to find out how you can be more science literate. Until next time, keep it raw!

Written by: Anton Rogachov

Canada Most Science Literate Country in the World (CBC Article)
Science Literacy Week
Roger Reindeau's Teaching and Writing Site

Mashup [0:00] A new study found that - New research showing - Now a new study has shown - And now a new study finds - Researchers say - Stunning new research - There's just so much information there and I don't, I don't know who to ask. - Without a doubt in my mind, I believe vaccinations triggered Evan's autism. So, I think they need to wake up and stop hurting our kids. - You can't just tell me it's safe. I'm supposed to believe it? I'm not going to. - I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. - Ethan Lindenberger says he turned to Reddit, an online message board, to help them find the truth about vaccines. - Actually, some of them can be trusted, but I think a lot of them can't be trusted. - After reading scientific papers and journals, he came to the conclusion he had to disobey his mother and get immunized. - I don't believe that. - I'm concerned about how many vaccines we have to give our children at once. - So, I'm kind of debating whether, I will do them, but I'm debating the age. When should I have them done? - So, what is it that the public need to know...

Richie Jeremian [1:04] The past few centuries have been marked by an explosion of scientific knowledge. This is in contrast to the early days when science was looked upon with suspicion and scrutiny with many prominent scientists even being accused of being heretics. Needless to say, many aspects of today's world would not exist without science, electricity, computers, telecommunications, space travel, and, of course, healthcare. The majority of the 1900s were marked by widespread dissemination of scientific knowledge and the discovery of many concepts foundational to modern medicine, such as the DNA sequence, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, vaccines, and more, as well as better hygenic standards, and improved methods of healthcare. The standardization of the scientific method and the publication process set the stage for a huge increase in research, and further cemented the importance of an ever expanding and updating body of evidence to drive theories, inform decisions, and underlie the basis of today's medical care. Also, despite previous issues of paternalism, and gatekeeping, particularly in the field of medicine, where physicians in society would abide by a doctor-knows-best approach, the practice of medicine becomes more patient centered and evidence-based with each day. Moreover, the internet is a vast wealth of knowledge accessible at your fingertips, and news of scientific discovery spread faster than ever. Taken together, today's scientists and physicians are arguably more accessible to the public than ever, and the ubiquity of the Internet has improved the scope of this interface. This is all great, but like everything comes with a few caveats. Due to the anonymity of the internet, how do we really know that the info we're exposed to is relevant or even true? Further, the nature of social media often allows people to only subscribe to things and people that they agree with, propping up what is called confirmation bias. And, finally, a lot of experts are popping up who have a good brand, but very little credibility. Taken together, these factors have paradoxically resulted in a resurgence of skepticism towards science, evidence, and the medical field. So, how do we consolidate all this and foster a science friendly future that allows the public to think more critically, challenge their notions of truth and fiction, and to make informed decisions? I'm Richie.

Melissa Galati [3:15] Hi, my name is Melissa.

Anton Rogachov [3:16] And my name is Anton.

Amber Mullin [3:17] And my name is Amber.

Richie Jeremian [3:18] And on this episode, we talk all things science literacy. Let's begin.

Anton Rogachov [3:35] In 2014, a survey conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies found that 42% of Canadians had enough scientific literacy to understand media reports about science. Melissa and I took it to the streets of Toronto to get a better understanding of where the general public gets their science information from.

Word on the Street [3:51] To be honest, probably me scrolling on Instagram cause that's what I'm mostly on 24/7. - Well, usually I read, either I find an article that's unbiased, usually that would be more in the middle. If I can't do that, either, I look at both sides. I look from one perspective, and then the opposite perspective. - Usually Facebook, but I promise you, I do actually do my research. After that, - I think from my family, because they always search about this stuff. And they all watch the news more than me, right? And they read all the scientific papers. So, mostly for my parents, yeah.

Amber Mullin [4:27] It appears that most people rely on social media, the news, and their family as their main source of scientific information. But, what are they doing to be critical of the information they receive? We asked how people know what they're hearing is true.

Word on the Street [4:40] To be honest, I wouldn't know at all. It's just that naturally I'll just believe it. But if I hear other people saying, "Oh, no, it's not true". I'll probably, yeah, yeah, I'm like a sheep. I just follow. Yeah. I don't really know too much about that topic, that's why. - Well, you got to do a deep research. Yeah, you got to go into it and dig into it and find out whether it's true or not. But you don't blindly trust everything you read and whatever. So, do you do your own research or if you don't know, you can ask people. There are a lot of knowledgeable people about. - So usually if I see an article, right? I usually question it. I mean, that's the most common sense thing to do, then I'll Google it. I'll see if other articles say the same thing. I'll make sure it's legit. - Oh, well, that's the problem. I don't check if it's true or not. And I think most people do not check. It destroys the news, especially if it's worldwide news. I mean, serious, right? The channel, and CNN or something, right?

Melissa Galati [5:42] While some admit that they'll believe anything they hear others claim to be more critical and seek additional sources of information before forming their opinions. We were interested in hearing what can be done to make it easier for the general public to be critical of science.

Word on the Street [5:57] Don't go too, analyzing too much or too confusing yourself. So, we got to - everybody have an instinct, then you go with the instinct, your gut feeling, or whatever. And then trust that and they'll help you out. - Honestly, stick to Google but one thing that would really help out is if it had a credible source that wasn't bought out by anybody.

Anton Rogachov [6:22] It is becoming abundantly clear that more and more of us are using the internet, especially Google, as their main source of scientific and medical information. Is this a good thing? Richie sat down with Dr. Vince Stendardo, a family doctor in Toronto, to discuss how the internet has changed his general practice.

Dr. Vince Stendardo [6:39] I think the Internet has affected my practice. Because in several ways, sometimes a little too much information is a bad thing. And unfortunately, people do come in all the time Googling their symptoms, especially the younger people, people under 40. And especially people between 20 and 30 do that a lot. And while I don't mind that the problem is that they're almost always wrong. Just today, I had someone come in and he actually was right. And I was congratulating him because it's rare that someone actually gets the right diagnosis. And there's a couple of problems with that. One. It's dangerous if you're giving the wrong diagnosis. Either they're being told that it's nothing serious, so you don't get it checked out, which is the worst situation, if it turns out to be something serious. Or, they over exaggerate and everything, you think it's some horrific disease, and you're stressed and anxious. And I see that a lot. And people come in for the smallest, smallest things. And they honestly think that they're worried about cancer or HIV. So they're freaked out and they're nervous. And when I tell them that I think everything's okay and explain why they're still not really that convinced sometimes, because Google says something different. So that's frustrating for me. And it's very difficult to deal with. Because those patients, no matter what you tell them, they're gonna leave upset. Unless someone comes up with a better internet solution than what we have now, because I think it's so incredibly crude. Even myself, when I have to look up things on the internet to get more information. I have to sift through a lot of bad websites. And I know what I'm looking for. And I'm putting in very precise search terms. But I think more information is good. It's just that it's not necessarily the right information. It's unfiltered. It's just the whole hodgepodge of whatever the internet decides to give you. And it doesn't only, as you know, as everyone knows, doesn't give you reliable sources. It just gives you what Google thinks is the most relevant source. If the government wanted to take a leading role and develop websites that were reliable that were physician-reviewed, that people could access health care resources, that's totally fine. We have internet-based consults, that we're starting up here at our clinic and I think that's helpful. I would recommend education, information through education starting in grade one and start teaching people about common health care issues, common diseases, so they know when to go to the doctor or when not to.

Amber Mullin [9:01] You may be acutely aware of the issue Dr. Vince Stendardo discussed or maybe you're one of the patient culprits. The age of Web MD, where medical information seems to be freely available, has made treating patients increasingly difficult for clinicians, Doctor Stendardo suggested incorporating basic medical literacy into our early years of school to equip young students with the knowledge of some of the more common ailments. This health literacy gap is part of a larger gap in what we call science literacy.

Jesse Hildebrand [9:28] Science literacy is both the understanding of the scientific underpinnings of the world around us and the knowledge and valuation of the scientific enterprise. It's understanding that most of what we do and what we understand about the world is based off science and the scientific method, and just recognizing that that enterprise is in and of itself valuable.

Melissa Galati [9:52] You just heard Jesse Hildebrand. He's a University of Toronto alum and founder of Canada's Science Literacy Week, an annual Canada-wide celebration that highlights the excellence and diversity of our country's science. We'll come back to Science Literacy Week in a bit. But since Jessie has been organizing this festival since 2014, we thought he might have a good grasp on how Canadians are doing across the board in science literacy.

Jesse Hildebrand [10:14] So, in terms of a formal, measurable thing, a group called the CCAC, a couple of years ago made a big study on this. I think we were number one in the world in terms of our understanding science, which is great. No matter what, by any measure, Canadians are very, very well informed about science. I know, it doesn't seem that way all the time. And certainly, in the last couple years, people have been very freaked out about the gaps in knowledge and science, especially when it comes to public health. But Canadians in the whole do know a lot about science. We do value it. Not as much as some countries. We're not top of the world in that way. Places like Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, UK, do beat us. But we're pretty on the pulse. We're pretty good. And we don't as a nation buy into some of the more pernicious anti-scientific views at some other nations might. So I'll say that. That's where it seems from my perspective, and given the things that I've read about.

Melissa Galati [11:04] So, a lot of our episode is going to be focused on. The episode is broadly focused on science literacy. And a lot of times we have really pessimistic outlook on it as people who know a lot about science, maybe we're all graduate students here. So, should we maybe not be so pessimistic? Or should we be worried at all about people's ability to read into quote unquote, alternative facts or anything like that?

Jesse Hildebrand [11:28] And so this is an answer that could take all day and, with me, it probably will. But I'll try and keep it as short as possible. So my philosophy is never to be pessimistic. I don't think it leaves anything productive for anyone. I'm always optimistic with the status of the world and the scientific knowledge and anything that you're likely to ask me. That said, yes, there are some things like anti-vaccine movement, which are very, very difficult and are literally leading to people dying on mass around the world that are completely unnecessary. That is something worth being alarmed about. Not necessarily pessimistic about, but concerned and requiring of public solutions, including the science communication enterprise to make sure that those things don't happen. I think with regards to that and regards to a few other things, anti-GMO stuff, climate change denial. Two things that are worth noting. One is that these beliefs, these things have always existed. In 1952, people were against a lot of scientific things of the day then too. And they actually had, in many cases, many more pressing and urgent environmental and scientific problems. The difference is that it didn't make a news every single day. It's very easy to get pessimistic about the state of the world if you watch news, where because if it bleeds, it leads. Every bad thing that happened on earth is in everyone's newsfeed, every minute of every day. So, if you watch that, that raises the alarm for you. Bill Gates has a great speech on this. And he talks about the fact that a true headliner would absolutely be true. For the last, I think, it's 40 years that 140,000 people were raised out of poverty. What tremendous story that the shift in the world in less than two years has been overwhelmingly positive. It is the best time to ever be alive in the history of the world ever, by any measure you can possibly think of. And yet, because there are things like fake news, and because there are things like terrorism that we see, on a regular basis, it freaks people out. And that makes sense.

Anton Rogachov [13:22] So Jesse's optimistic about the ability of Canadians to understand science. Despite the onslaught of fake news, he thinks Canadians generally have a good head on their shoulders, or, at the very least, are interested in science and want to understand it. Amber spoke with Dr. Roger Reindeau, a professor at the University of Toronto who recognized the same thing. The current generation of students are the most informed in history. They have access to so much information, especially online.

Amber Mullin [13:48] But their capacity to process this information is essentially the same as previous generations, meaning we can't keep up with the information. Students want to have the tools to address this information overload and sort out the fact from fiction. So, he created a course on the illusion and reality of evidence at the University of Toronto, with the goal of equipping students with essential critical thinking skills to deconstruct arguments and supporting evidence. We asked him why it's so difficult to discern what's true and what isn't.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [14:22] By virtue of the sheer quantity, students are exposed to such a diversity of opinion, diversity of points of view. And of course, those who express points of view, it's in the information mechanisms that we have at our disposal, tend to have some capacity to be able to persuade and particularly to persuade by appealing to emotions. And so it's very difficult for students to separate the the emotional from the rational, to separate impressionistic from the empirical. And so that's the the major challenge they face is how to sort out what kind of evidence is being used, what kind of argument is being presented. And so this is why I've been so interested in the anatomy of argument to get students to understand how to dissect arguments and how to study the internal workings of an argument. And that, of course, gets them down to the level of premises and supporting evidence that sustain the arguments in which they're engaging.

Amber Mullin [15:36] Yeah, leads kind of nicely into my next question, which is, what are some of the typical evidence traps or cognitive biases that people fall into when they're presented with either factual or not factual evidence?

Dr. Roger Reindeau [15:48] Well, in general, I'll say students, but people in general don't understand the nature of evidence and how it's used. I mean, evidence comes in so many forms. I teach students to see evidence in three categories, very broad classifications: fact, authority, and logic. The assumption that students tend to have when they come into university is that a fact is a fact. And of course, fact is not a fact. I always say that factuality is in the eyes of the beholder. And so that's the first lesson, one of the first lessons, they learn is that what you think is fact is not necessarily fact. One person's fact is another person's opinion. So, distinguishing between fact and opinion is a great challenge for them. Furthermore, they're confronted with so many so-called experts. So, what is an expert and what constitutes expertise? And how do you measure? How do you decide what a person's expertise is? And so it's sometimes very intimidating to be confronted with a knowledgeable person. I mean, some people have the capacity to be very persuasive. But if you probe more deeply into what they're saying, there, you have reason to question their evidentiary integrity. And then of course, the broadest category, about evidence, is logic. And again, logic, like fact, and authority is in the eyes of the beholder. And logic involves the processing of fact, and authority to induce or deduce information. And so the student's understanding of fundamental logic is not something that has been taught in high school and so they arrive at university and there's an expectation that they're going to follow the logical parameters within which their courses are taught and within which their instructors work.

Melissa Galati [17:53] Okay, so evidence comes in three broad categories lacked authority and logic. Amber asked Dr. Reindeau, how people can use evidence to push specific agendas.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [18:04] Evidence is not finite. I guess I would start by saying that it's so infinite in terms of of its quality, its nature, its quality, its usage, and of course, it's abusive misuse as well. And so because evidence is so broad, ranging in characteristic, it's easy for an agenda-driven argument to be sustained by any kind of information that is available. And we're particularly, in recent times, we've been introduced to the term "fake news" as something that the current president of the United States, who's probably the greatest purveyor of fake news, but actually very accurately pointed out that we are inundated with fake news, including his news any information that he puts out. And so students coming into university have a kind of inherent assumption that, what they're going to hear, the kind of information they're going to get, in some of the more common sources, like news broadcasts, for example, and what they're going to get from online sources. So they're more apt to believe that this information because it's available, it's presented in a public domain or a public context, that this information has a level of reliability, that's greater than what it really is. And so it goes back to the days when we thought that if it's in print must be true. And, of course, that wasn't true either.

Anton Rogachov [19:49] So, just because you read something online, doesn't mean it's true. And many of those who propagate fake news rely on the ability to appeal to people's emotions, often by illustrating their point in the form of an anecdote.

Amber Mullin [20:01] What is it about anecdotal evidence that is so appealing to people? And you were starting to answer?

Dr. Roger Reindeau [20:06] Okay, yeah. And it's easy to understand. People tend to accept what they understand best. And the more complicated the evidence gets, the more they tune out, they tend to tune out. So this is why sometimes empirical evidence gets shunted aside and replaced by a more simplistic anecdotal style of evidence that is easier to understand.

Melissa Galati [20:32] And believe it or not, the opposite is true as well. You can convince people by providing massive amounts of evidence and presenting it in a confusing way.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [20:40] On the other hand, it could work the reverse to that we can be persuaded by an excess or by rhetorical access. The use of empirical evidence can sometimes convey that we don't understand therefore, it must be true. It's just that it's more complicated. We're the ones that fault. We don't understand, therefore, this person must be right by virtue of his or her ability to express a level of empiricism that goes beyond our reach.

Melissa Galati [21:17] At this point, you may be thinking, great, there's all this information out there. And there are so many ways people can use information and evidence to bamboozle me. So, should we ignore what so-called experts say and just try to figure it out for ourselves? Dr. Reindeau weighed in.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [21:32] Well, if they haven't learned what it is they're figuring out then it's very hard for them to figure it out for themselves. So initially, they have to listen to the experts. But I think at some point, they need to develop that critical capacity to appreciate who are the real experts and who are the experts that need to be questioned.

Anton Rogachov [21:50] So again, it comes back to questioning.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [21:53] We perceive or believe what we want to perceive or believe. And I think that is a common human tendency is we accept information within the context of our biases and prejudices.

Amber Mullin [22:07] But if it's difficult to know who to listen to, and if we tend to side with those who say what we want to hear, how do we know who and what to believe? For Dr. Reindeau, it all comes down to learning how to ask the right questions, be aware of your biases, and get in the habit of asking questions about what you see and hear. We asked him what are the most important questions we should be asking when trying to sort out the illusions from the realities?

Dr. Roger Reindeau [22:33] Number one is the question "why?" Trying to get students to constantly pose the question why. A little bit like how my two year old grandson knows, I guess three year old grandson will constantly ask why, the endless why question. And that, in a way is what we have to do. Even in a mature framework is a tendency towards skepticism, constantly asking the why question, to probe more deeply into the base of information. The second question I like is the one that I feel is the most important question when concluding anything and that is "so what?" I love that question, because even if you find out why, or how or what something is, ultimately, you want to focus attention on the relevance of the information.

Melissa Galati [23:30] We need to constantly question the information we're presented with. But we also need to be aware of why we are seeking that information in the first place. And what it means in the grand scheme of things.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [23:40] The reality of evidence is that it is in the eyes of the beholder, that human beings process information to be used as evidence to support an argument. And so a lot depends on human behavior. And so evidence can be easily, just as easily misused, as used well, and that's the illusion of evidences. It's great capacity to be misused and abused. And so that we need to be able to discern those instances when evidence is being used appropriately versus when it's being used inappropriately. But that's not an easy thing to do. This involves deriving an understanding of the nature of evidence and the nature of the discourse in which we are engaged, whether it's scholarly discourse or more popular discourse. At the end of the day, evidence is a way of thinking about information. It does not provide answers, but I think I'll come back to a common theme here. It helps us form the questions.

Anton Rogachov [24:53] Evidence has its realities, but it also has its solutions as well. It's not as simple as I'm right and you're wrong. Even if someone is misinformed, bombarding them with more evidence won't necessarily set them on the right path. Melissa asked Jessie how he approaches people who are misinformed.

Jesse Hildebrand [25:08] With regard to anti-vaccine and in regards to anti-science, I think the biggest thing that science communicators can do is start with compassion. We know scientifically, you're not going to win people over that are entrenched with pure facts. You're not going to win them over by beating them over the head and telling them they're wrong and they're crazy and they're dying. What you need to start with is a compassionate understanding. Fake news takes hold because it's extremely difficult for people who aren't graduate students, who aren't scientifically trained, to parse out truth from fiction on the internet. If you look up vaccines, the first 10 sites, there's no normal sites that are from the CDC, or World Health Organization or Government of Canada that tell the facts. And then there's the truth about vaccines.org sort of thing, where it's complete nonsense, but it has the exact same veneer of credibility that the World Health Organization does. So if I'm not scientifically trained, and both things present their information in a way that looks equally valid, and one appeals to emotion and says here are some dark stories of people who got vaccines and their children died, whether true or not, you're going to have people that, for the sake of their health or their children, are concerned. So, our role is to get the facts out there, but also meet people halfway and understand why they're concerned, and why they fall for things that are incorrect.

Melissa Galati [26:28] In addition to meeting people with compassion, we can also present information through outlets that people trust.

Jesse Hildebrand [26:34] So the biggest thing that we can do outside of as individuals, and as individual groups reach people with compassion is start to use, and I just came back from a science center conference across Canada. You know, use the facilities and the people and the resources that people innately trust, like science centers, which are the most trusted source of science information in the world as for a fairly recent large study across Canada. And tackle was controversial issues, head on. Don't shy away from the fact that you might scare some people by talking about vaccines or climate change, and all, dive in. And if you present it through those facilities, with those amazing facilitators across Canada, you will reach a lot of people in a positive way. And recognize that, I mean, so I grew up with science from when I was a little, little kid. And I've lived my whole life, I have multiple degrees and yet, there have been scientific things that, because of the misinformation out there, I fell for so to speak. You know, I was a hugely anti-GMO, anti-nuclear kid and teenager. And it took years and lots of evidence to highlight to me the fact that, you know, that was - Bill Nye published an anti-GMO book, right? And as since reneged on that. This is not like people are dumb, and they're just wrong. Intelligent, reasonable people can fall prey to this sort of thing. So, you know, if there's ways to do it, again, compassionately and wide-ranging, and make sure the right messages get out there from, you know, government standpoint too, that's huge. It's very exciting.

Melissa Galati [28:02] And this is exactly what Jesse's been doing since the first Science Literacy Week. You launched and Science Literacy Week back in 2014. Why did you think that having something like that at least? So, you started in Toronto? Why did you think having something like that was so important?

Jesse Hildebrand [28:19] That's funny. So, when I started out, I wish I could say that I had this grand master scheme of how I was going all turn out and be like this. But I'd be totally lying. This is, how it exists now is vastly, unbelievably larger than I ever could have envisioned back in 2014. In fact, when it began, it was literally just an effort to get libraries to showcase their science books, and encourage people to read something a little different. And when I approached the libraries and said, science and literacy, why don't we call it Science Literacy Week, which has been great. And it's led to this, this larger enterprise. Why it's so important and why to build it? You know, there's so many cultural festivals. There's so many sporting events. There's so many things that celebrate other aspects of humanity, in such a brilliant and beautiful way. And there are a few science events across Canada, notably Science Rendezvous had existed for many years, and I came around, but I thought, you know, why not take this effort to highlight libraries, in particular books in particular resources, where people can learn more themselves. That's how I grew up with science. School, for me was always I did well in school, but it's something where I recognize a lot of people didn't. And I lost passion for the way that school taught science very early on. Whereas, when I watch a Steve Irwin documentary, or David Attenborough series, or read an amazing book by Oliver Sacks or Richard Dawkins, that was so inspiring and impactful to me and so the opportunity to use the week to bring together libraries, science centers and more, to give more people that opportunity and inspire them was tremendously exciting. And so that's why we grew is that it went really well in Toronto in 2014. And I was so fulfilled by how it went, that why not try and take it national, and the rest of the success is literally only because of the partnerships and excitement that all the people across Canada conveyed for it. I mean, I got 20 yeses for every no when I reached out to people to ask if they want to be involved, which will never happen again ever in my life.

Anton Rogachov [30:10] Today, Science Literacy Week, is a national initiative financially backed by NSERC, with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. Last year, there were 850 events at universities, libraries, science centers, and museums all across the country.

Melissa Galati [30:25] So what has been sort of the response so far? And how do you guys measure your impact? How do you know that you guys are making a difference?

Jesse Hildebrand [30:32] Really interesting. And I get the measuring impact question a lot.

Melissa Galati [30:36] Yeah. Everyone wants numbers.

Jesse Hildebrand [30:38] Everyone wants numbers and everyone wants different numbers, I find, and everyone doesn't really know what to do with their numbers. So we, I mean, we measure the amount of events. That's very easy. Busy events come in right to the website. We see the number of participants that are involved, the collaborations they make, and the events that come out. So that is the most ready, easy measure to have. Outside of that. It's been very, very informal. And to me, what has been the greatest affirmation of what I've been able to do is the fact that groups now reach out to me to want to be involved, on a regular basis and across Canada, not just for Science Literacy Week, but year round. That's the aim of this. If you look at the news every single day as some sort of day, like cheeseburger day, and then it's telescope day, and there's a similar amount of weeks, and there's similar amount of months. It's ironic that I actually have a bit of a, not to stain, that's not the word. But I [dislike] things that are a week-like festival regularity, because there's just so many of them. So how do you possibly measure the impact of something like that? Yeah. And so what the goal of Science Literacy Week is, and what my mission that has come out of it as become a national enterprise, is I want libraries and communities, and libraries are good facsimile for communities, to say, "Man, there are so many great science groups out there. We want to bring them in to highlight their work to the public". And on the flip side of that, I want scientists to go, "Man, if I want to talk to the public, there are all these venues and avenues for me to do that". And so I want that to be a natural and easy process where, again, community groups aren't reluctant and readily reach out to those scientists and science groups to do that, and where their science groups naturally think of libraries and community centers. So basically, I want to work myself out of the job. My goal, I will succeed in my role, if I can make it so that my role doesn't need to exist. But for the meantime, it's gone from a situation in the last five years where most of you had no idea each other exist, or never worked with one another in the case of science groups with one another. And now on a daily basis, you know, today I've had a call with the Vancouver Public Library, to get them to the science groups in for Science Literacy Week. And before I talked with the, you know, Manitoba Regional Libraries to get them to science groups, not for Science Literacy Week, but for the summer. And then I'm working with groups to connect youth to science groups that I also work with through my other jobs. So there's the measure of success. It's not so much how do you ask someone who's gone to a Science Literacy Week event? Did that event change your life? Are you now fully engaged in science? No, there's one event very seldom does that. But if you go to an event, and you're excited by it, and it's presenting science in a different way, which I've experienced a lot, having gone to individual events. Maybe you're inspired to pick up another book. Maybe you're inspired to go to another event, and another and another. And that's what happened with me. It wasn't one science book that, you know, changed my life. It was the fact that I was interested in things. And then the researchers were made available to me. And then that consistent effort over years, made me passionate about what I'm passionate about.

Amber Mullin [33:39] And in case you're wondering what to expect for Science Literacy Week 2019.

Jesse Hildebrand [33:43] 2019 is super exciting. I don't think this has been announced officially yet, generally just to be in neutral partners. But 2019 theme is oceans. So last year, we did space. We partnered really closely to the space agency and built up excitement for the mission of David St. Jacques, our astronaut currently on the space station. And this year is oceans. And it's oceans, because the last year there's been more coverage on ocean health, ocean research, ocean plastics than there's been in the last 20 years. We've had Blue Planet II come out with this amazing episode on ocean plastics now important they are. Catherine McKenna, as Canada's sort of environmental lead, chose to use the G8 meeting here as an opportunity to talk about ocean health and ocean plastics. We're committing to this in a major way. We're investing in it. We're talking about it as a world. And so why not use the platform of science diversity to bring together all these libraries, all these scientists, and all these science groups, and make the largest ocean festival in Canada's history. So, it's been tremendously exciting. The response and partners and I swear this is the case everyone can say this for an event, but I've been more excited than they've ever been before. We've got ocean-themed coding workshops. We're gonna be going coast to coast. We've got documentary screenings of legacy projects in 2017 centennial across Canada. Going out we've got live streams are amazing ships in the middle of the Pacific. It's going to be a shoreline cleanup. That's a great example. And I really want to highlight that. Great Canadian Shoreline cleanup. Anyone can organize one of these on any kind of shoreline, lake, ocean river pond, storm drain, and clean up trash, which is great in and of itself, but then also highlight what they picked up to contribute to a global data set on ocean waste. So, we're trying to get all these things happening coast to coast to coast, I'm hoping, crossing fingers, for 1000 events, we'll see how it goes. But no matter what the engagement and the advocacy element of this is so great, because with oceans, you can learn about it through any kind of event for adults or kids alike. And then you can do something about it. You can go home and go, "Okay, now I'm going to not, you know, buy coffee cups, I'm going to take my reusable mug, or now I can go clean a shoreline or I can contribute to a citizen science project online". And that's all out there. Or "I can go for a paddle on the ocean and just experience it firsthand", which Canada is the longest coastline in the world. But a lot of Canadians have never been to the coast. Go! Have a vacation. Don't go to somewhere else. Go to Canada. We have this marvelous resource right there. And so if we can make people think about that a little differently and get excited.

Melissa Galati [36:07] Yeah, I'm excited already. This is three, four months away.

Jesse Hildebrand [36:11] Yeah, no way right now. Actually, we're in the midst of Science Literacy Week sister events. A Science Odyssey is happening right now. Wrapping up in a few days. And so there's many more cool events happening right now. And that will lead right into the promotion ramping up for Science Literacy Week in September.

Melissa Galati [36:26] Are you going to be able to attend all these events?

Jesse Hildebrand [36:28] Oh, yeah, I wish. 1000 events. I dropped out at the end. Actually, this year, I'm pretty much hoping. So I've been going to events Toronto for years. Toronto is going to have some of their usual complement of amazing stuff. I'm really hoping to get out and I'm going to make it happen. I'm going to go to St. John's in Newfoundland, because that town is the best single city for science observing in Canada. They do 30 events in the city of 100,000 people to take over the main mall for a five hour science demo. All the groups organized together without me being involved. They just do it all themselves. They get politicians to all the events to get radio stations to cover it. They're mind-blowing, and they're in Newfoundland, which just the best coolest place in Canada.

Richie Jeremian [37:05] So, see all you listeners in Newfoundland in September. As our guests have mentioned, we have access to more information than ever before, which makes it really difficult to parse out what is right and wrong. What's more is that critical thinking is hard to do in isolation and finding evidence is no small feat. So, in light of these challenges, where exactly do we go from here and whose responsibility is it to inform and be informed? Well, as Roger and Jesse have mentioned, scientists need to actively communicate their findings not just to their peers, but also to the public. Thus, good science, communication events, public campaigns, podcasts, and science literacy events are all important for good science communication. As scientists, we're uniquely positioned to educate the public. And we need to make ourselves as available as possible, act as role models to young people, and to reach the public in new and innovative ways. Some might even argue for better representation of scientists in popular media to bolster their position as experts. When was the last time you watched a sitcom about science nerds only to wonder what they're really about? Like us, the public should also feel comfortable updating their knowledge base and re-examining their views and biases from time to time. It is only through nuanced discourse and collaboration that we can grow together, and foster a society that thinks critically and is equipped to tackle the challenges and uncertainties of the future. With the guidance of science, public organizations and campaigns, we hope that the public will feel empowered to engage in research, assess everything they read, see, and hear with a critical lens, and demand to see the underlying evidence if something seems fishy, or too good to be true.

Dr. Roger Reindeau [38:39] There remains a great divide between the sciences and the humanities and social sciences. Maybe humanities and social sciences on one hand. The natural and other sciences, on the other hand. And I think that the challenge of writing to express an argument is something that needs to be done, not just in the humanities and social sciences, but in the hard, what we can call the hard sciences. And so many of my best students have come from the hard sciences, and discovered how much they could learn by engaging in, well, in my case, the scholarly writing process. And, of course, encountering the questions that are raised by the need to communicate information to an audience. I think scientists tend to be engaged in discovery for themselves, as opposed to communication to an audience. The discovery they make then be shared. But it's the discovery that matters more than the sharing. And I think that scientists would benefit from greater understanding of how to communicate with an audience.

Richie Jeremian [39:57] Thanks for making it to the end of the episode. Hopefully, we given you a lot to think about. So, let us know how this episode has changed your perception and attitude toward evidence, science, and truth. Content creation hosting and episode production was done by amber Anton, Richie and Melissa, audio engineering was done by Kat. Now season three is over, but in case you missed Raw Talk Live 2019. You'll be able to listen to the full discussion later this summer. Until next time, you know what to do.

Melissa Galati [40:25] Raw Talk Podcast is a student presentation of the Institute of Medical Science and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. The opinions expressed on the show are not necessarily those of the IMS, the faculty of medicine, or the University. To learn more about the show, visit our website RawTalkPodcast.com and stay up to date by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Raw Talk Podcast. Support the show by using the affiliate link on our website when you shop on Amazon. Also, don't forget to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts and rate us five stars. Until next time, keep it raw.