Julie Payette is far from your usual bureaucratic official. Even so, her defense of good science and swipes at climate contrarians and believers in divine intervention was refreshing to science supporters and the science-minded.
Payette is Canada’s new governor general. That’s a symbolic position, where she is the state-appointed representative of the Queen. Generally, they are supposed to be impartial overseers of the democratic process and not involve themselves in politics or spiritual matters.
But at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in November, Payette, fifty-four, made international headlines when she argued for greater public acceptance of science. She said it is time for Canadians to move away from false beliefs such as astrology and divine intervention and speak out against people who insist climate change isn’t real and isn’t being caused by human activities.
“So many people … still believe—want to believe—that maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer … and that your future … can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations,” she said in her speech. Referring to creationists, Payette said we’re “still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention” or whether it came from the natural process of Darwinian natural selection.
She received considerable criticism that the governor general shouldn’t involve herself in such matters, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended her speech, saying she stands in support of science and the truth. “We are a government grounded in science,” said Trudeau.
Payette is a computer and electrical engineer by training and, as astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, has flown on two Space Shuttle missions, in 1999 and 2009, logging twenty-five total days in space. Trudeau appointed her governor general in July 2017, and she hasn’t wasted any time promoting science. Concluded Gizmodo.org reporter George Dvorsky in an article on her efforts, “Payette’s tone may have been harsh, but in this bewildering era of anti-science, her words were a breath of fresh air.” </p’