Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

The Science of Why with Jay Ingram

This was my first time at the Writers Festival and one of the most striking features was the audience, keenly waiting for Jay Ingram. As I was speaking to a fellow member we discussed that there were people of all ages present. I believe this observation speaks for his book, The Science of Why, as it was written with everyone in mind. The way the conversation weaved into place during the event, the message that science communication should be made for the audience resonated. What does the audience want to know? Clearly, we want to know why?


Jay brought forth the story of Newton’s apple and his discovery of gravity. Though he expressed that an apple falling from the tree could not have simply inspired Newton to come up with the theory of gravity but rather the story of the apple was Newton’s gift of explaining a complex grandeur phenomena using a simple analogy that everyone could relate to. Jay shared that science communication should strive for just that, making science understandable so that the everyday person can appreciate and find importance in complex ideas, theories and evidence.


The value of scientists learning to communicate is so important as there is a demand for evidence based change in all realms of life. This demand is rooted in beliefs and emotion. Though many people may not pair science with emotion together, however, Jay explained that science communication must move in this direction. Emotion brings forth change however when stances and beliefs are strong, evidence becomes weaker or unimportant and may contribute to further polarization as he referred to the example of climate change. So, the challenge for us, as the public, is how can we change this? The way to start is to teach how scientists (and even science enthusiasts) to communicate the evidence to the public. The need to change the language to ensue passion so it can bring awareness. "Science is the root to being more aware," Jay says.


This book and what Jay conversed is about awareness. Awareness about the questions we always ask ourselves and never pursue to answer. Most of these questions ultimately start with why. Referring to Newton once more, where he morphed gravity into a simple analogy involving an apple to explain it, The Science of Why, does the same. Evoking emotion (in this case happiness and humour), while explaining the evidence in a simple yet elegant way for everyone to enjoy and later share with their family and friends.