McGill Alert / Alerte de McGill

Updated: Thu, 07/18/2024 - 18:12

Gradual reopening continues on downtown campus. See Campus Public Safety website for details.

La réouverture graduelle du campus du centre-ville se poursuit. Complément d'information : Direction de la protection et de la prévention.

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Meet Science Mom, Alison Bernstein

On March 26, 2018, we will be hosting a film screening and panel discussion with "Science Mom" Alison Bernstein. Here's her story.

Rewind to July 2013: Picture your typical elementary school cafeteria with rows of uncomfortable plastic chairs filled with nervous parents of soon-to-be kindergartners.

Nervous parent: What kind of snacks do you offer in the afterschool program?

Principal: Typically, juice and a snack. Often these are CapriSun and Cheez-Itz.

Pregnant me (AUDIBLE GASP, whispers to neighbor): Those have artificial colorings, I can’t believe they are serving that to our kids.

Toxicity was my pseudoscience. As a scientist, I have always been firmly pro-vax. I have never doubted the scientific consensus on climate change. I think the scientific evidence supports evolution. The earth is round and rotates around the sun. Chemtrails are just contrails. Yet, the EWG Dirty Dozen app was a constant companion at the grocery store, reminding me of all the ways in which I was poisoning my daughter by not buying 100% organic. Grocery shopping became an anxiety-ridden experience. I criticized the grandparents when they bought regular boxed mac and cheese instead of organic box mac and cheese. I was insufferable and miserable.

For me, there were two key turning points that changed my perspective. First, I joined a lab for my first postdoctoral that studied neurotoxicology of pesticides in Parkinson’s disease. My training and research in this lab brought me face to face with the science of toxicology, exposure science and risk assessment. I realized that many of the resources I had relied on were not scientifically sound.

The second turning point was learning about the anti-GMO propaganda of the organic movement. While I have done all of my research in neuroscience, my PhD is in Molecular Genetics and Genomics. Based on this knowledge, it was obvious to me that literally every argument I heard about GMOs was contrived. The term GMO didn’t even make sense to me (because it was invented by activists against transgenesis and is not a scientific term). These two events made me reexamine my assumptions, biases and decisions. By the time Hybrid #2 was born, I was much more relaxed about everything.

Fast forward to January 2015, in the middle of the Disneyland measles outbreak:

During my transition from scared mom to science mom, I started sharing science based information in groups and on my own social media accounts. I started following a variety of science-based pages and blogs, including Kavin Senapathy and Grounded Parents. People liked what I had to say so I reached out to Kavin for her advice about breaking into scicomm. We used to joke that we were both “clones” of each other because we shared so many similarities. The only difference was that I was reluctant to put myself out there because I had seen the type of abuse people face online. However, with the measles outbreak, I had so much to say. The spread of fear over facts was having dire, real life consequences. Thus, “Mommy PhD” was born.

Through “Mommy PhD”, I quickly connected with a wider network of science and evidence based groups online and met the rest of the “Science Moms”. If I thought Kavin was my clone, this was even better! A whole group of women who shared my interests and goals and who understood my drive to find evidence to guide my parenting decisions. 

When Natalie Newell, the director of the film, approached us about her idea for “Science Moms”, I was floored. Someone wants to make a documentary about us?! Natalie’s vision for the movie was completely in line with my thinking. The narrative of facts over fear is one that is so important, yet does not get voiced loudly enough in our marketplace of ideas. Fear sells, facts don’t. And the voices of fear drown out the facts. My hope is that the “Science Moms” documentary, along with the continued efforts of SciMoms, will help to arm other moms and soon-to- be-ones with facts only.

Alison will be at McGill on Monday, March 26, 8pm, for a screening of "Science Moms" followed by a panel discussion. To find out more about the event, click here.


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