Transcript: Alan Bernstein: Doubt Everything | Nov 05, 2015

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a black suit, lilac shirt, and white plaid tie, as well as a red flower on his lapel.
Behind him, a wall screen reads “The Agenda, with Steve Paikin.”

Steve says WHEN GALILEO
PRONOUNCED THAT THE EARTH WAS
NOT THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE,
IT FLEW IN THE FACE OF
CONVENTIONAL BELIEFS.
BUT HE QUESTIONED THAT THESIS.
HE DOUBTED.
AND IT IS THOSE DOUBTS THAT ALAN
BERNSTEIN SAYS LEAD US TO SOME
OF OUR GREATEST SCIENTIFIC
ADVANCES.
LET'S FIND OUT MORE.
HERE'S DR. ALAN BERNSTEIN, THE
PRESIDENT AND CEO OF CIFAR, THE
CANADIAN INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED
RESEARCH.

Alan is in his late sixties, with short gray hair and a moustache. He’s wearing a gray suit, white shirt, black tie, and a red flower on his lapel.

Steve continues IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU IN THAT
CHAIR HERE AT TVO.

Alan says NICE TO BE HERE.

Steve says I WANT TO START FROM
DOUBT.
DOUBT FROM THE OUTSET.
THE FIRST SCIENTIFIC SOCIETY,
THE ROYAL SOCIETY, FORMED IN
BRITAIN, 17TH CENTURY, HAS AS
ITS MOTTO -- AND FOR THOSE WHO
DIDN'T TAKE GRADE 9 LATIN, “TAKE
NO ONE'S WORD FOR IT.”
WHY DID YOU THINK THAT WAS AN
IMPORTANT CHOICE OF MOTTO?

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Alan Bernstein. Canadian Institute for Advanced Research."
Then, it changes to “Science’s Strength: Doubt everything. Doubt from the outset.”

Alan says IT'S REALLY
INTERESTING, IF YOU THINK OF
THAT MOTTO, HERE'S A GROUP OF
DISTINGUISHED SCIENTISTS, PEOPLE
LIKE ISAAC NEWTON, WHO CAME
TOGETHER TO FORM THE FIRST
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.
THEY HAD AN ALMOST CYNICAL
MOTTO, TAKE NO ONE'S WORD FOR
IT.
THE CLUE IS TO LOOK AT THE
CONTEXT OF THE TIMES THAT THEY
WERE LIVING IN, AND THE TIMES
THEY WERE LIVING IN, WHICH WAS
THE MID 1600s, WAS A TIME WHEN
THE MONARCH AND THE CHURCH
RULED, AND THEY RULED.
AND WHAT THESE GENTLEMEN -- THEY
WERE ALL MEN -- WERE SAYING WHEN
THEY CAME TOGETHER WAS THAT
SCIENCE OR EVIDENCE SHOULD TRUMP
IDEOLOGY AND DOGMA.
TAKE NO ONE'S WORD FOR IT.
SO THEY WERE REALLY THROWING
DOWN A GAUNTLET.

Steve says AND HOW DID THOSE
WHO HAD THE GAUNTLET THROWN AT
THEM REACT TO IT?

Alan says THE KING
ISSUED THE CHARTER FOR THE ROYAL
SOCIETY, SO I DON'T THINK HE
REALIZED THE IMPLICATIONS OF
WHAT HE WAS DOING, BUT THE
CONSEQUENCE WAS CERTAINLY THAT
FROM THAT MOMENT ON, SCIENCE
JUST TOOK OFF IN THE WEST, IN
WESTERN SOCIETY, PARTICULARLY IN
BRITAIN AND IN EUROPE.
IT JUST FLOURISHED.
AND I THINK THERE WAS THIS
APPETITE AMONGST SOME PEOPLE FOR
QUESTIONING, FOR INVESTIGATING
THE WORLD USING SCIENTIFIC
METHODS.
IT REALLY UNLEASHED THE
FLOODGATE.

Steve says I'M SURE A LOT OF
OUR VIEWERS HAVE HEARD OF THE
MASSEY LECTURE.
YOU DID SOMETHING CALLED THE
MASSEY TALK ON SCIENCE AND
SOCIETY AND THE TITLE YOU CHOSE
WAS KIND OF SIMILAR: “DOUBT
EVERYTHING.”
AND IN IT YOU WROTE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title “It’s Greek to me.” The quote reads “The Greeks had a pride and confidence in human potential, combined with a competitive drive to excel. They also had an insatiable curiosity about the world. And, for those lucky enough to be male and full citizens, they enjoyed the fruits of a fierce belief in democracy, freedom of thought and critical discussion, essential nutrients for science to flourish.”
Quoted from Alan Bernstein, “Doubt Everything,” September 30, 2015.

Steve says YOU PROBABLY KNOW
WHERE I'M GOING WITH THIS, BUT
GIVEN THE COMPLAINTS THAT
SCIENTISTS HAVE MADE ABOUT THE
NOW DEPARTED HARPER GOVERNMENT,
WOULD YOU SAY THAT WE'RE
ACTUALLY PROVIDING ENOUGH,
QUOTE, UNQUOTE, NUTRIENTS FOR
SCIENCE IN CANADA CURRENTLY?

Alan says WELL, THERE
ARE TWO KINDS OF NUTRIENTS, I THINK.
ONE IS MONEY.
YOU NEED FUNDS TO DO RESEARCH,
AND I'LL COME BACK TO THAT.
BUT THE OTHER IS, AND I THINK
INTRINSIC TO SCIENCE IS AN
OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY.
ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I
LEARNED WHEN I WAS GETTING MY
Ph.D. FROM MY Ph.D.
SUPERVISOR WAS YOU HAVEN'T
FINISHED DOING AN EXPERIMENT
UNTIL YOU HAVE PUBLISHED YOUR
WORK, UNTIL YOU HAVE SHARED YOUR
WORK WITH COLLEAGUES, WITH PEERS
ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

Steve says AND HAVE THEM...

Alan says HAVE THEM JUDGE IT.

Steve says JUDGE IT.
OKAY.

Alan says I CAN'T
IMAGINE A SCIENTIST, FOR
EXAMPLE, SAYING I HAVE FOUND A
CURE FOR CANCER, FOR EXAMPLE,
BUT I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU
HOW I DID IT OR WHAT I DID.
THAT'S NOT SCIENCE.

Steve says RIGHT.

Alan says SO SCIENCE
IS ALL ABOUT OPENNESS AND
TRANSPARENCY.
SO I THINK INTRINSIC TO SCIENCE
IS THIS FREEDOM TO SPEAK.
AND IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT FREEDOM,
IT'S REALLY ABOUT CRITIQUING ONE
ANOTHER'S WORK.
SO I THINK AS A TAXPAYER, IF
WE'RE GOING TO FUND, FOR
EXAMPLE, GOVERNMENT SCIENTISTS,
WE SHOULD EXPECT THEM, WE SHOULD
WANT THEM TO SHARE THEIR
RESEARCH WITH THEIR COLLEAGUES
AND WITH US.

Steve says ARE YOU CONFIDENT
THAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN NOW?

Alan says I HOPE SO.
MR. TRUDEAU HAS SIGNALED
INDIRECTLY HE WILL DO THAT.
WE'LL FIND OUT IN THE WEEKS AND
DAYS TO COME.
BUT I THINK ONE WOULD WANT THAT
TO HAPPEN, BECAUSE THAT'S THE
QUALITY CONTROL THAT THEY'RE
ACTUALLY DOING GOOD SCIENCE.

Steve says YOU ALSO SAID MONEY
IS PART OF A NUTRIENT AS WELL.

Alan says MONEY IS
PART OF IT AS WELL.
YOU KNOW, YOUNG PEOPLE --
SCIENCE WITHOUT YOUNG PEOPLE,
I'VE ALSO SAID IN THAT ADDRESS,
THAT SCIENCE WITHOUT YOUNG
PEOPLE IS DEAD SCIENCE.
AT THE MOMENT, IT'S VERY
DIFFICULT FOR YOUNG PEOPLE AT
CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES TO GET
FUNDING TO DO RESEARCH.
AND SO I WORRY THAT THE BEST
YOUNG PEOPLE ARE GOING TO CHOOSE
CAREERS ELSEWHERE.

Steve says AS IN NOT IN SCIENCE
OR NOT IN CANADA?

Alan says AS IN NOT
IN SCIENCE OR NOT IN CANADA,
EXACTLY.
SO I THINK WE HAVE -- HAVING
BUILT UP OVER THE LAST 10 TO 20
YEARS A VERY STRONG KIND OF
INFRASTRUCTURE FOR DOING
SCIENCE, WE RISK LITERALLY
THROWING THE BABY OUT WITH THE
BATH WATER BY NOT ENCOURAGING
YOUNG PEOPLE TO DO SCIENCE,
GIVING THEM THE OXYGEN TO
BREATHE TO DO SCIENCE.

Steve says HERE'S ANOTHER
EXCERPT FROM YOUR TALK...

Another quote by Alan appears on screen under the title “A long list.” The quote reads “It is also a time when science is misunderstood and distrusted: from climate change to the safety of vaccines, fluoridation of water, genetically modified foods, evolution, and on and on.”

Steve says LET'S TAKE ONE OF
YOUR EXAMPLES, YOUR PREMISE THAT
DOUBT IS ESSENTIAL.
SHOULD WE NOT DOUBT THE SAFETY,
FOR EXAMPLE, OF GENETICALLY
MODIFIED FOODS?

The caption changes to "Shadow of doubt."

Alan says IT'S ABOUT EVIDENCE.
AND SO IN THE CASE OF
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS OR
VACCINES OR ANY OF THE OTHER
EXAMPLES THAT YOU READ FROM MY
TALK, STEVE, THERE'S A LOT OF
EVIDENCE THAT GMOs, FOR
EXAMPLE, ARE SAFE.

Steve says GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS.

Alan says GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS.
INDEED, IF YOU THINK ABOUT
AGRICULTURE OVER THE LAST
THOUSAND YEARS, AGRICULTURE HAS
A HISTORY OF DOMESTICATION OF
WILD ANIMALS AND WILD CROPS.
AND WHAT FARMERS HAVE BEEN DOING
FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS IS
BREEDING THESE ANIMALS AND CROPS
SO THAT THEY CAN BE DOMESTICATED
AND FARMED.
WITH GMOs, WITH GENETICALLY
MODIFIED ORGANISMS, WHAT WE'RE
DOING IS ACTUALLY MUCH MORE
PRECISE AND MUCH LESS INTRUSIVE
WHICH IS INSERTING ONE GENE AT A
TIME INSTEAD OF SCRAMBLING GENES.
THE MISTAKE I THINK IN THE CASE
OF GMOs, UNFORTUNATELY, IS THE
MANUFACTURERS, COMPANIES LIKE
MONSANTO, INSISTED THAT THE
PRODUCTS NOT BE LABELLED AS
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS.

Steve says WHICH STARTED A
WHOLE DEBATE ABOUT, ARE THEY
BEING SECRET --

Alan says EXACTLY.
WHEN YOU WANT TO HIDE SOMETHING,
IT IMPLIES YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO
HIDE.
I WOULD HAVE DONE EXACTLY THE
OPPOSITE.
I WOULD HAVE SAID IT'S AN
OPPORTUNITY FOR CLASSROOMS TO
COME TO THE GROCERY STORE AND
LEARN FROM A SCIENTIST FROM
MONSANTO, WHAT DID THEY ACTUALLY DO?
WHY IS THAT TOMATO THAT'S BEEN
GENETICALLY MODIFIED BETTER THAN
ONE THAT HASN'T BEEN?
AND SO I THINK THAT WAS A P.R.
MISTAKE OF THE FIRST ORDER.

Steve says ONE MORE PASSAGE
FROM YOUR TALK HERE...

A new quote under the title “Beauty, mystery and spirituality” reads “The other source of antipathy and hostility to science derives from the feeling that it has somehow robbed us of beauty, mystery, and spirituality.
As Walt Whitman wrote in his poem ‘When I heard the Learned Astronomer,’ we might find ourselves tired and sick of the figures, charts and diagrams of astronomy, and yearn only to look up ‘in perfect silence at the starts.’
For me, science does not remove mystery and beauty from our world but rather adds to it.”

Steve says OKAY.
LET'S TAKE YOU AT YOUR POINT ON
THAT BUT GO ONE STEP BEYOND:
WHAT ABOUT SPIRITUALITY?
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT SCIENCE
IS OFTEN ACCUSED OF DOING IS
SORT OF STEALING SPIRITUALITY
FROM US OR DENYING THAT
SPIRITUALITY CAN EXIST.

Alan says YES.

Steve says HOW COME IT'S NOT ON
YOUR LIST?

The caption changes to "The spirit of science."

Alan says WELL, I
ACTUALLY DON'T SEE IT THAT WAY.
I THINK SCIENCE HAS A CERTAIN
SPHERE THAT HELPS US UNDERSTAND
THE WORLD AROUND US.
IT IS, IN MY JUDGMENT, THE MOST
POWERFUL WAY THAT HUMANITY HAS
COME UP WITH TO UNDERSTAND THE
WORLD AROUND US.
BUT SCIENCE SAYS NOTHING ABOUT
OUR GRIEF WHEN SOMEONE WE LOVE
DIES.
SCIENCE SAYS NOTHING ABOUT THE
IMPORTANCE OF FRIENDSHIPS OR OUR
LOVED ONES, ABOUT OUR SENSE OF
SELF-WORTH.

Steve says SO THERE IS ROOM FOR
SPIRITUALITY AND FAITH THERE.

Alan says WE ARE
COMPLEX HUMAN BEINGS.
THERE ARE MANY LAYERS IN WHICH
WE OPERATE.
AND SO I'M NOT AT ALL SUGGESTING
IN THAT TALK THAT YOU'RE READING
SO WELL THAT WE ONLY SHOULD HAVE
ONE LENS AT LOOKING AT THE WORLD
AROUND US.
AND SO -- AND IF YOU THINK
ABOUT -- AND THE EXAMPLE I GIVE
IN THE TALK, IF YOU THINK ABOUT
THE BIRTH OF A NEWBORN BABY, IF
THE BABY'S HEALTHY, IT'S A
WONDERFUL EVENT.
ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL EVENT.
AND SO WHEN I'VE GONE TO SEE,
YOU KNOW, A NEWBORN BABY, WHEN
MY DAUGHTER GAVE BIRTH OR A
FRIEND OR A RELATIVE HAD GIVEN
BIRTH, IT'S JUST WONDERFUL.
YOU LISTEN TO THE BABY CRY, THE
MOM'S OKAY, AND IT'S
HEARTWARMING.
BUT AS A SCIENTIST, AS A
BIOLOGIST, I ALSO AM ACUTELY
AWARE OF THE LATEST SCIENCE
ABOUT EMBRYO DEVELOPMENT AND HOW
THAT BABY DEVELOPED AND TO ME
IT'S A TRUE MIRACLE THAT THE
THOUSANDS OF GENES AND PROTEINS
AND CELLS THAT HAVE TO INTERACT
IN THAT DEVELOPING EMBRYO TO
GIVE RISE TO A HEALTHY HUMAN
BEING ACTUALLY HAPPENS CORRECTLY
MOST OF THE TIME.
SO I THINK I HAVE AN ADDITIONAL
LAYER OF UNDERSTANDING OF
APPRECIATION BECAUSE I'M A
SCIENTIST.
I DON'T THINK IT TAKES AWAY FROM
MY APPRECIATION OF THAT BABY
SIMPLY AS A NEWBORN BABY.
I THINK IT ACTUALLY ADDS TO IT.

Steve says NO INCOMPATIBILITY
THEREFORE BETWEEN RELIGION AND
SCIENCE?

Alan says I DIDN'T SAY THAT.

Steve says OKAY.

Alan says I'M TALKING
ABOUT MY EMOTIONS WHEN I SEE A
NEWBORN BABY.

Steve says OKAY.

Alan says AND THERE
ARE --

Steve says SOME PEOPLE -- SORRY
TO INTERRUPT.
THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE -- WHAT'S
THE FIRST THING PEOPLE DO WHEN
THE BABY COMES OUT AND IT'S GOT
TEN FINGERS AND TEN TOES?
THEY LOOK TO THE HEAVENS AND
THEY SAY, “THANK YOU, GOD.”
YOU MIGHT NOT DO THAT, AN
EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST MIGHT NOT
DO THAT, SO IS THERE AN
INCOMPATIBILITY BETWEEN THAT
MOMENT YOU OBSERVED AND
RELIGIOSITY.

Alan says FRANCIS
COLLINS, THE DIRECTOR OF
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH IN
THE U.S., SO HE OVERSEES A
30 BILLION dollar...

Steve says DON'T YOU WISH YOU
HAD THAT MONEY?

Alan says I DO.
FRANCIS DOES NOT SEE
INCOMPATIBILITY BETWEEN RELIGION
AND SCIENCE.
OTHERS DO.
I ACTUALLY DON'T TEND TO THINK
ABOUT IT THAT MUCH.
MOSTLY BECAUSE I DON'T THINK
IT'S AN IMPORTANT QUESTION.
I THINK -- RELIGION IS BY
DEFINITION A BELIEF QUESTION.
YOU EITHER BELIEVE IT OR YOU
DON'T AND YOU CAN'T ARGUE A
BELIEF.
IT'S EITHER THERE OR IT ISN'T.
AND SCIENCE IS OVER HERE.
SCIENCE IS ABOUT EVIDENCE.
SO I DON'T THINK IT'S SOMETHING
ONE CAN HAVE A GENERAL ARGUMENT
ABOUT.
FOR ME, SINCE I'M NOT RELIGIOUS,
I TEND TO LOOK AT THE WORLD
THROUGH THE LENS OF A SCIENTIST
AND THE SPIRITUAL THINGS THAT WE
TALKED ABOUT BEFORE.
AND I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY
THEY'RE INCOMPATIBLE.
IT'S ILLOGICAL TO BELIEVE IN
EVOLUTION AND ALSO BELIEVE THAT
GOD CREATED THE EARTH IN 7 DAYS.
AGAIN, THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE
WHO ARE RELIGIOUS WHO DON'T READ
THE BIBLE LITERALLY AND TAKE
THAT AS A METAPHOR THAT GOD
CREATED THE EARTH.
GOD, ONE COULD ARGUE, IS A WORD
WHERE WE WOULD SUBSTITUTE THE
DRIVING FORCES OF EVOLUTION AND
NATURAL SELECTION.
SO THERE'S WAYS AROUND IT.
BUT I JUST -- I FIND IT LESS
INTERESTING THAN THE MYSTERIES
OF SCIENCE.

Steve says YOU HAVE DOUBTS
ABOUT THE VERACITY OF GOD?
THAT'S WHAT THE PROGRAM'S ABOUT,
IT'S ABOUT DOUBT, SO MAYBE YOU
HAVE DOUBTS ON THAT.

Alan says NO, BECAUSE
I THINK BELIEF IN GOD IS SIMPLY
A BELIEF.

Steve says I GET YOU.
LET'S FINISH ON THIS.
EARLIER IN THE PROGRAM, ARTHUR
McDONALD SAID THE NEUTRINO
EXPERIMENTS THAT WON HIM THIS
YEAR'S NOBEL PRIZE WERE VERY
CONCLUSIVE, HAD A 100 MILLION TO
ONE LIKELY OF BEING CORRECT, YOU
CAN'T SAY ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY,
BUT HE SAYS IT'S 100 MILLION TO
ONE THAT YOU'RE RIGHT.
HOW MUCH IS THAT LITTLE BIT OF
DOUBT, THAT ONE SCINTILLA OF A
CHANCE THAT MAYBE HE'S WRONG?

Alan says I THINK AS
CANADIANS WE SHOULD ALL BE
REALLY PROUD THAT A CANADIAN,
ART McDONALD, WON THE NOBEL
PRIZE IN PHYSICS.
I'M PARTICULARLY PRODUCED
BECAUSE HE IS A CIFAR FELLOW AND
HE HAS A LONG AND STRONG
ASSOCIATION WITH MY
ORGANIZATION.
TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION, THINK
ABOUT NEWTON, AND I CAN'T
PREDICT WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE
FUTURE WITH ART McDONALD
SCIENCE, WHETHER IT WILL BE
PROVEN RIGHT OR WRONG 100 YEARS
FROM NOW.
NEWTON'S LAWS OF PHYSICS AND
MOTION WERE ACTUALLY SHOWN TO BE
NOT WRONG BUT A SPECIAL CASE OF
A MUCH BROADER SET OF LAWS WHEN
EINSTEIN CAME ALONG ABOUT 300
YEARS LATER.
THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT WHAT
NEWTON DID WASN'T USEFUL AND
WASN'T AN AMAZING CONTRIBUTION
TO SCIENCE.

Steve says FOR HIS TIME.

Alan says FOR HIS TIME.
AND INDEED MUCH OF WHAT WE DO IN
EVERYDAY LIFE DEPENDS CRITICALLY
ON NEWTON'S LAWS OF PHYSICS.

Steve says LAST I CHECKED, THAT
APPLE FALLING OUT OF THE TREE IS
STILL GOING TO HIT YOU ON THE HEAD.

Alan says AND GRAVITY
IS STILL A FORCE.

Steve says YEAH.

Alan says BUT WHAT
EINSTEIN SHOWED AT HIGH SPEEDS
APPROACHING THE SPEED OF LIGHT
NEWTON'S LAWS DON'T HOLD, FOR
EXAMPLE.
WAS NEWTON WRONG?
AGAIN, THAT'S NOT REALLY HOW
SCIENCE THINKS ABOUT IT.
WHAT HE DID WAS ABSOLUTELY
CORRECT IN TERMS OF EXPLAINING
THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.
EINSTEIN CAME ALONG AND SAID,
GEE, THAT'S A SPECIAL CASE OF
RELATIVE MECHANICS.
SO I THINK THAT'S WHERE I THINK
SCIENCE HAS THIS GREAT POWER,
THIS GREAT DRIVE BY DOUBTING, BY
ALWAYS QUESTIONING, EVEN NEWTON,
QUESTIONING NEWTON HIMSELF, THE
FATHER OF MODERN SCIENCE,
EINSTEIN CAME ALONG AND SAID,
ACTUALLY, NEWTON WAS, YOU KNOW,
OKAY, BUT WE'VE GOT TO THINK NOW
IN THE 20TH CENTURY.
SO I THINK THAT IS THE POWER OF
SCIENCE, OF REINVENTING ITSELF,
OF CONSTANTLY RESHAPING ITSELF
IN LIGHT OF NEW DATA, OF NEW
EVIDENCE.

The caption changes to "Produced by Gregg Thurlbeck, @greggthurlbeck."

Steve says GOTCHA.
DR. BERNSTEIN, THANKS FOR COMING
IN TONIGHT.
ALAN BERNSTEIN FROM CIFAR.

Watch: Alan Bernstein: Doubt Everything