Catherine McGuinness is a zoologist and science communicator. She works mainly with the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin Zoo and more recently with the Festival of Curiosity and Soul Kids at Body and Soul. She is a contributor to radio and TV.
Let me tell you a story.
When I was in 3rd class my teacher put me outside the door for fibbing. I had been telling her and the class about these huge spiders that lived in the jungle called tarantulas and they were so big they could eat birds. She didn’t believe me – she thought I was making it up and punished me. The next morning I sneaked my encyclopaedia into my school bag. When my teacher sat down at her desk, I marched up to her, slammed the book down with the spider page open and with an air of protest I pointed to the animal. I then sat down triumphantly at my desk leaving her with my book (I felt she needed it more than me).
Children have a wonderful sense of justice – particularly when they feel they’ve been mistreated. Their sense of right and wrong is rigid. It’s not unlike the “scientific habits of mind” that Shane talks about in his blog. This clarity of vision, the ability to read sensationalist news headlines and have your gut tell you “that doesn’t sound right”. This is a sense we should all have, but we don’t – and that’s dangerous. Ideally critical thinking is incorporated into every school subject, but it is not taught effectively – not just in Ireland, but in schools across the globe. Unless you have had the advantage of a third level science education, critical thought is not instinctive in most people. This leads to a population who are happy to believe what they read or hear without caveat emptor – “buyer beware”. This is why across the ocean we have millions of people happy to buy into “alternative facts” – an oxymoron in itself. This is why science communication is so important. This is why scientists must have a voice. This is why I’m marching.