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Science and the Next Generation : Science and Inclusivity, Going beyond the Slogans

October 10, 2018
By: 
Joseph Tafese
Software Engineering and Cognitive Sciences student at the University of Waterloo, SHAD Fellow 2017

What place does inclusion have in Science? What value does it bring to the table? Is it practical to incorporate it into the very fabric of how we use science to navigate the world around us? The SHAD panel has had an interesting take on this, with the incorporation of the ideals that were laid during the formation of its ethos and the leaps and bounds it has taken to put it in practise.

One of the most important aspects of understanding the necessity of inclusivity in science, as I have seen it, is the scientific/socratic method itself. Through the hypothesising and experimentation process, it is necessary to ask questions from a range of perspectives and dimensions, to make sure that what can be accounted for is actually accounted for. During SHAD, in July 2017, this need for inclusivity was elucidated for me through my interactions with the cohort. It was clear to me that the people I was with were genuinely different, not only due to the colour of their skin or their geographic roots, but because they thought very differently.

The hardest part in putting the ideal of meaningful inclusivity, such as this, into practise is in the appreciation of the discomfort that philosophical differences bring. I don’t think it matters how many women to men ratio, or racial representation we have, if the people we bring all think the same. This is merely diversity in visible traits, not a diversity that will produce meaningful contributions to the scientific process.

There is an implicit assumption we make when we push for diversity within companies, diversity in the genders, races, ages e.t.c., that can lead us astray. We assume that since two people look different, they must think different. There is a flaw in that. The human psyche is much more malleable. How people think is shaped by multiple factors, and it could be the case that people who look different also think different, but there is a point when that does not hold. If they have had more or less similar experiences, the breadth of their experiences and philosophies can only cover so much ground, and it follows that the question and perspectives represented in their joint work will be limited. I think that worldviews and perspectives when coupled with scientific training are the main contributors to the real progress we have seen in science. These don’t come from the mere diversity we see in the statistics that are put up in companies, the real change happens when ideas clash, and hard questions are put to the table. Only by the incorporation of different ideas and questions into our use of science can we achieve meaningful inclusion and hence meaningful strides in our quest for scientific knowledge and its application.

Conrad Grebel University College has an interesting song they sang at one of their events titled “There is room at the table, for everyone”. I think it exemplifies the idea of inclusivity in a succinct form. Sure, there are logistical restrictions in the parameters we have set, the table can only be so big, there can only be so many chairs, e.t.c. but the point still stands. There is an urgency to fill the table with as many different people, people who bring another perspective into the conversation, people who can offer more than we give them credit for. Deep inclusion lies at the intersection between the intentional filling of the table and the pursuit to extend the range of experiences represented at said table.

I think the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will be a great place for the SHAD panel, and its topic, since it will offer a real life representation of the need for deep inclusion is science. We do not agree on everything that comes up, but we are willing to listen to each other. Listening, not until it’s our turn to speak, but to understand what the speaker is trying to say. With the audience that the CSPC brings, the importance of the work they do and the array of topics that are going to be covered, I am confident that the scientific quest of Canada and its future are in capable and enthusiastic hands.