Being a part of public science culture – speaking at The March for Science, Calgary

Scientific knowledge is public knowledge

speaking at sci march
Speaking at Science March YYC. (Photo by Miwa Takeuchi)

That’s how I opened my speech at the Calgary March for Science. I was honoured to be invited, but for many reasons I thought carefully about whether I wanted to say yes. In the end, that message is what did it for me. Almost all of my teaching, research and writing comes down to a commitment to creating opportunities for access and engagement in science for everyone and a recognition that creating a public scientific culture is essential: culture where where families, communities and popular media discuss scientific issues, value scientific ideas and practices and can contribute to creating the kind of science that they need. The March was a chance to do just that, to be a part of public scientific culture. So I bundled my daughter up in her stroller (they were calling for snow!) and said that I would speak at the March. And after hearing the other speakers share their professional and personal experiences, hearing what the crowd cheered for (yay, science teachers!), and shaking hands with kids who had made their own signs, I am proud to say that I did.

Below you can find a video of all of the talks, including extraordinary science communicator Jay Ingram, web developed and blogger Aurooba Ahmed, and University of Calgary neuroscientist Naweed Syed. And here is the text of speech I had planned. Mostly because of nervousness, I forgot to say some of it, said some things differently, and added some mention of science dogs (because there were so many good dogs there) but this is what I had planned to say. And I’m glad I took the chance to be a part of the public science culture that I talk about in my work. Afterwards, the first thing my daughter said was “Mommy teacher” and that was pretty much the best review of all.


Hi everyone – I’m Marie-Claire Shanahan and I am incredibly lucky to get to spend every day thinking about and acting to encourage engagement and participation in science. I’m a professor who studies how people of all ages create and become part of scientific communities, I teach future high school science teachers how to design rich learning experiences for their students and I’m a former middle and high school science teacher myself.

The reason that I do all of that, what drives all of it is a simple statement:

Scientific knowledge is public knowledge

It belongs to everyone.

I spend a lot of time working with students in schools. So what does that mean for them that scientific knowledge is public knowledge?

Students deserve opportunities in schools to gain access to scientific knowledge, to learn how to participate in scientific activities and how to use scientific knowledge in their every day lives.

But more than that, when we study the reasons that kids choose to maintain an interest in science or to dismiss and abandon it there is so much more to it than getting good grades or having good science teachers. One of the biggest influences is the value placed on science in families, community culture and popular culture. When it’s clear to kids that science is important, interesting and a valued thing to participate in and to care about, that’s when they stay–and not just to become scientists but to become parents, policy makers, politicians and journalists who care about and value scientific knowledge and practices, even caring enough to question and challenge them sometimes too. And that’s one of the main reasons that I am so pleased to be here today. This is creating public science culture. We are here today saying we care about science, that there are many many different ways to be involved in science and that all kinds of people can participate in and care about it. I’m here because kids deserve communities, families and popular culture stories that value science and their participation in it.

Another major force in supporting and encouraging people to maintain an interest in science is belonging. Students care deeply about whether science is place they feel they belong, that values who they are and the skills and talents that they bring. And sometimes school science can send very rigid messages about who belongs, about who is a science kind of person and for which students there is space to be themselves in science. Science in education settings at all levels need to be places that are for all students – students with disabilities, students of colour, Indigenous students, rural, newcomers, refugees, LGBT students…also creative students, maker students, drama students and political students and for students who begged for a telescope for Christmas (um, me). If science is public knowledge then all of us belong. That means creating spaces in the way we talk about science for students to see themselves and it means working hard to fight discrimination and harassment and drive students out and tell them they don’t belong.

Now so far what I’ve talked about has been my work, work that I’ve been devoted to since I first started visiting elementary schools to do science demos as teenager. But my relationship to public science has also changed dramatically in the past few years. My hilarious, smart and determined daughter also has a rare disease. Her medical care is complex and we need public science in a way I had never experienced before. We need public support and we need stable public funding for basic and applied research contributing to improved care and management, we need research that includes patients and families as knowledgeable participants and collaborators and we need access to that research through open access publications and open science organizations. And she needs a science education that allows her to develop knowledge and skills to understand the medical science that affects her life everyday, to take ownership of it and to advocate for herself on her medical journey. And she needs science education that recognizes that building those abilities in students is every bit as important to science as educating future scientists.

So thank you. This today is public science culture. You are here saying to each other and to anyone who sees this that science is important, science is valued and science belongs to us all. Scientific knowledge is public knowledge and thank you for being here to show that to the city and far beyond.


And also I want to add a special thanks to my colleagues who came out and encouraged me and even looked after my daughter while I spoke. Thank you a million times Gabriela Alsonso-Yanez, Armando Preciado Babb and Miwa Takeuchi (who also managed to grab a few pics for me, thanks!). And thank you to the organizers, Grand Marshall Chantal Chagnon, and the amazing emcee, Adora Nwofor, who created a positive, welcoming and exciting event. 

PS – the embed on the video isn’t really working, but you can see video if you click.


2 responses to “Being a part of public science culture – speaking at The March for Science, Calgary”

  1. Great talk! How many speakers were there at the Calgary March? Looks like they gave you enough time to get the message across!

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