Governor General Julie Payette doubled down Wednesday on her comments attacking anti-science “myths."
Payette, a former astronaut and engineer who logged hundreds of hours in space, took the opportunity at an awards ceremony Nov. 22 to “highlight three ‘historical’ myths that relate to the field of science” — one of which was the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked.
“As for the moon landings, they did indeed take place!” she said, according to prepared remarks obtained from Rideau Hall.
“All kinds of evidence exists. We can hold in our hands moon rocks brought back to Earth. Detailed documentation exists for every step of the journey. And there are thousands of people who worked on the missions, including the astronauts who went to the moon themselves.”
It wasn't the first time the governor general has used her position to stand up for science. Earlier this month, Payette took aim at the validity of horoscopes, climate denial, anti-medicine beliefs and creationism, in a speech to scientists in Ottawa.
That speech led pundits to debate her role as the Queen's representative and as Canada's commander-in-chief. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised her remarks, although, that, in turn, provoked disappointment from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
On Wednesday, Payette questioned why “the myth that we didn’t go to the moon” still persists. “Ironically, one reason is because the story of the Apollo missions is receding into history,” she said.
“Many of you in this room will remember the thrill of the first moon landing, but many of you weren’t born at that time. This makes it even more important that we have historians to learn the true story and to clearly and accurately present the facts of the matter for future generations.”
Moon landing, flat earth conspiracy theories abound
Payette was speaking at the Governor General’s History Awards, Canada’s top honours in history and heritage.
The annual awards honour eight Canadian history teachers who are “leaders in the classroom” and also recognizes media, projects and initiatives from local communities, as well as Indigenous and youth accomplishments.
The moon landing’s accuracy bubbled to the surface this week after Fox News issued a tweet that seemed to suggest, without context, that it considered the moon landing to be up for debate. “You be the judge: Skeptics say picture debunks moon landing,” the tweet read.
Another long-running conspiracy theory arose this week when a California man told the Associated Press that he would launch himself in a rocket in order to prove that the Earth was flat.
“I don’t believe in science,” Mike Hughes told the news outlet.
“I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula."
Earlier remarks provoked debate over role
A month into her new job as governor general, Payette spoke to scientists in Ottawa and questioned why “we're still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period.”
"We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention,” Payette went on, “or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”
During that speech, she also dismissed people who believe “maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer” and those who believe in horoscopes, or as she described it, “looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”
Her comments were applauded by Trudeau, who said he appreciated the “firmness with which she stands in support of science and the truth.” But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called Trudeau’s comment “extremely disappointing” in a Facebook post.
“Respect for diversity includes respect for the diversity of religious beliefs, and Justin Trudeau has offended millions of Canadians with his comments,” he wrote.
Trudeau and Scheer's office didn't immediately respond to requests from National Observer for comment.
Debunking Einstein’s grades and Newton’s apple
In her speech on Wednesday, Payette praised history as a “very relevant subject, especially in today’s fast-paced world of instant, global communication.”
“A good history student looks for and evaluates facts and evidence. The study of history teaches us to think critically, about our past, present and future. It helps us understand others. It contains many lessons for us,” she said.
In addition to the moon landing, Payette also questioned the ideas that Albert Einstein failed math as a student, and that Issac Newton developed the theory of gravity after being hit on the head by an apple.
“The historical record shows that all three are wrong, to varying degrees,” she said.
“Einstein didn’t fail math. However, according to school records, he did flunk the language, botany and zoology parts of the entrance exam he took to Zurich Polytechnic when he was 16. But, the exam was given in French, a language he didn’t know well.”
As for Newton, she said he “really did come up with the idea of gravitation when he saw an apple fall from a tree” — but didn’t get hit on the head by an apple.
“That part of the story is false! History shows us we always have more to learn,” said Payette.