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October 10, 2018
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 this 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 or 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 accounted for. During SHAD, in July 2017, this need for inclusivity was elucidated through my interactions with the group. 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 differently from one another.

The hardest part of putting the ideal of meaningful inclusivity, as exemplified by SHAD, into practise is in the appreciation of the discomfort that philosophical differences bring. If the people we bring all think alike, then it does not matter what the gender diversity, or the racial representation within our companies are. This is merely a diversity in visible traits, not a diversity that will produce meaningful contributions to the scientific process.

I think there is an implicit assumption we make when we push for diversity within our companies; diversity in gender, race or age, that can lead us astray. We assume that since two people look different, they must think differently from one another. 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 similar experiences, the breadth of their experiences and philosophies can only cover so much ground. Therefore, it follows that the questions 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 advancements do not come from the mere diversity we see in the statistics that are put up in our company’s end of year report. The real change occurs when ideas clash, and hard questions are brought to the table. Only by incorporating and promoting, 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.

CGU College has an interesting song they sang, “There is room at the table, for everyone”, at one of their events. It exemplifies the idea of inclusivity in a succinct form. Granted, there are logistical restrictions in the parameters we have set; the table can only be so big, there can only be so many chairs etc., but the point still stands. There is an urgency to fill the table with as many different people as possible; those who bring another perspective into the conversation and the ones who can offer more than we give them credit for. Deep inclusion is found when the table is intentionally filled while extending the collective experience of its members.

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. The panelists do not agree on every topic that comes up, but we are willing to listen to each other. We listen, not until it is 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 it does, and the array of topics that will be covered, I am confident that the scientific quest of Canada and its future are in capable and enthusiastic hands.