The global pandemic demonstrates the strain between science and society, and the risk for humanity when we turn our backs on science. Anti-vaxxers – and now, anti-maskers – are challenging scientific evidence and public health officials with a mandate to keep us safe and stop the spread of the disease. We see the repercussions of their actions in countries like the US, Brazil and Italy where a lack of trust in science, and a lack of political support for scientific information, is contributing to disease spread and the unnecessary loss of millions of lives.
But we didn’t get here overnight. In the closing months of the Second World War, US President Roosevelt had asked his science advisor, Dr. Vannevar Bush, how the nation could continue to benefit from research in peacetime as it had done during the war. Dr. Bush’s report, Science: The Endless Frontier, outlined a basic compact in which society supports science with public funds and assures the scientific community a great deal of autonomy in exchange for the considerable but unpredictable benefits that can flow from the scientific enterprise.
Fast forward 75 years, many of the underlying social, economic, and political assumptions in The Endless Frontier are outdated. The social contract is showing strain as trust decreases, with calls for science to be more inclusive and diverse, and as Canada grapples with meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous people. Canada needs a new social contract for science and innovation that reflects our time.
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