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Speak up for Science 2013: Lynne Quarmby

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Biologist Lynne Quarmby

Biologist Lynne Quarmby

Last September several scientists gathered on the step of the Vancouver Art Gallery to speak up for science, joining other similar demonstrations across the country.  Among them was Dr Lynne Quarmby, and I have reproduced a few excerpts of her speech below.

The speeches are as relevant now as they were four months ago, unfortunately.  So I’ve collected excerpts to share for the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto, Thomas Kerr, and Alexandra Morton.

Lynne Quarmby, Molecular Biologist at SFU, has been called one of BC’s most influential women for advocacy of science. 

Dr Quarmby’s choice of research topic could hardly be more obscure, at least to the lay public.  Her lab was researching how a unicellular alga, chlamydomonas, sheds  its flagella in times of stress.  (The alga uses a flagella, a whip-like structure, to swim towards better lit areas or to avoid trouble, somehow.) This is research driven by pure curiosity: how does that work?  This is, unfortunately, also research that is often targeted by funding cuts.  What’s the point of finding out why and when something that looks like green scum gets rid of something so obscure?

Well, the results happen to show that the genes that control this phenomenon have a close relative in humans; and this has led to a much better understanding of how human diseases, such as kidney polycystic disease, progress, and potentially how they could be cured (see here and here).  This is one of the very many instances where curiosity-driven research has led, unexpectedly, to very important practical applications.  This kidney disease, which affects yound children, appears to be

Dr Quarmby is also a distinguished educator, having received the 2011 Teaching Excellence award from SFU (see here).  Her talent as a communicator may well be why she has decided to play an active role in the environmental community, one of the first ethical requirements of a scientist being to communicate information for the benefit of the general public.

She joined her SFU colleague Marc Jaccard in a civil disobedience action against coal trains, one of her first participation in a protest.  She gave a lengthy interview about it to JB MacKinnon in the Tyee (read the full transcript here), in which she said:

One of the long-term issues I’ve been involved with is women in science, and because of that I’m pretty tuned in to science policy, and I’d been working hard in the usual political channels to raise some red flags about what Harper’s been doing to science funding. On the other side, I am an environmentally inclined person — I’m reluctant to say an “environmentalist,” because people automatically put you in a slot — so when Harper started impacting science on the environment, I really got upset, and when I saw the White Rock blockade information come up on my Facebook page, I just said, “Yeah, I’m there.”

During the Stand Up for Science demonstration, Quarmby summarized her views by saying:

I never could have predicted where pond scum research would take us. But that is how basic science works. There are similar stories all over Canada in math, science, chemistry. The role of basic science is essential to find brand new ways to do things. It is a mistake to target funding to areas where we think the technology should go because basic science is a font of unexpected results. The discoveries of science are an enormous part of culture and have fundamentally changed how we see ourselves. We need to embrace the needs of the spirit and reap beyond ourselves, to understand things we never thought it possible to understand.

 

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Written by enviropaul

February 14, 2014 at 4:11 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] Last September several scientists gathered on the step of the Vancouver Art Gallery to speak up for science, joining other similar demonstrations across the country.  The speeches are as relevant now as they were four months ago, unfortunately.  So I’ve collected excerpts to share for the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto,Thomas Kerr, Alexandra Morton, and Lynne Quarmby. […]

  2. […] I went to court today. There was a last-minute call for a show of support for the defendants against a lawsuit brought by KinderMorgan against BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposing KinderMorgan Expansion), as well as against selected individuals, including SFU biology prof Lynne Quarmby. […]


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