• 11 Sep 2018 2:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Stephen Strauss

    It has been globally instructive watching Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield turn space flight into a performance art form and in so doing reconfigure what it means to be a successful astronaut.             

    To appreciate this you had to begin by knowing two things. One is what motivated Hadfield to himself go up in space.  He told the Globe and Maillast summer that as a nine-year-old farmers’ son in southern Ontario he saw Neal Armstrong on television landing on the moon, and “I just found it absolutely inspiring; fundamentally inspiring. And I resolved that night, July 20, 1969, to be an astronaut when I grew up.”

     He is far from being alone in making in seeing moon walking as a good career choice. Julie Payette, another Canadian astronaut, watched subsequent moon take offs and landings and bouncy, bounce moon buggy rides and thought. “This is so cool. I’d love to do that. This is what I want to do.”

    The second thing to appreciate is what astronaut Chris Hadfield actually didwhile in space on 31stof January 2013.  I chose this date at random but think it is representative of most days aboard the International Space Station.  In terms of formal work Hadfield spent the bulk of his time setting up a new version of Robonaut. What’s a Robonaut, you might well say? I quote from the NASA webpage describing it. “The first humanoid robot in space was sent to the space station with the intention of eventually taking over tasks too dangerous or mundane for astronauts, and the first such task identified for it was monitoring air velocity....

    It’s not exactly a job that requires a rocket scientist – or astronaut – to accomplish...”

    Specifically what Hadfield and a fellow astronaut did is take Robonaut2 out of its “sleeping compartment”, assemble it, turn it on, and set up a “task board for the upcoming remote commanding of it” and then turn it off. That was however almost fascinating when compared to what he did later in the day, which was to install ultrasound equipment to measure noise in the ISS. And don’t think other astronauts’ work was more engrossing.  Their tasksincluded jobs like cleaning air filters, cleaning water filters, and copying data from the Kulonovskiy Kristall experiment onto a hard drive. This Russian experiment aims at a – I again quote from the websitewhich describes it – “Study of dynamic and structural characteristics of the coulomb systems formed by the charged dispersed diamagnetic macroparticles in the magnetic trap.”

    I recount all of this to point out the obvious. No child, adult or sentient ape ever said to themselves: “I long to become an astronaut because I so, so want to be a weightless robot assembler, or a floating lab technician, or a twisting in space maintenance person.”  Let me repeat: No starry headed human ever dreamed of going into space to do what astronauts are actually supposed to be doing in space today. 

    And that brings me to what Chris Hadfield did in his spare time on January 31, 2013. He sent 11 tweets on that day to the 392,107 people who were at that moment following him. It should be pointed out that Hadfield didn’t do what he had done on many other days, that is release a video podcast explaining something about being in space – how you wash your hands without water for example – or have a question/answer sessions with people on earth, particularly with school children. Or sing while playing his guitar and tumbling.

     Some tweet exchanges sounded mundane but in retrospect weren’t. 

    Jimi Walsh, who describes himself as a “Musician Guitarist/Composer ... Connoisseur, Lothario and part-time Rock'n Roll Rebel” tweeted he was having bacon and eggs for breakfast and wondered what Hadfield had had and if there was anything  he missed. 

    Hadfield replied he had had “oatmeal, dehydrated scrambled eggs, instant cider, instant Kona coffee and dried apricots.”            

     Which caused Jenny Woods to tweet that Hadfield should remind followers in the U.K. that American cider is non-alcoholic. And others to say he must miss the smell of breakfast and did one know what spending time in space did to taste buds? And this led the Canadian Space Agency to weigh in pointing out that Hadfield had answered this question in an open discussionwith the Governor General the day before.

    That is to say how it “feels” to be in space, the sensations which we experience in a milieu that hardly anyone has ever been in continues to excite humans’ imagination. Not to mention actually talk/texting with someone there.

    But a very different version of space as an experience was seen via what Hadfield did in between all his less-than-fascinating “real” work on the ISS. That is alerted people via tweets to the imageshe had photographed out of the windows of the International Space Station.  A full moon rising and looking as it always does like a biologically mute earth.  The oddly cross shaped patterns the lights of Reno, Nevada – “the biggest little town on earth” Hadfield called it, cast. The muscular, intestinal twists of the Amazon River; the perfect circle a meteor craterin Africa forms. “The earth has a belly button,” Hadfield poetically chimed in about it. 

    The most interesting responses by far came from an almost off-hand tweet Hadfield sent out. Officially off work he asked his Twitter followers “if you had a free evening in space, what would you do?”

    There were jokey answers. Catch M & M’s in your mouth as they free-floated in space. Sing “Stardust” by Hoagie Carmichael. Sunbathe. But over and over people said things like “simply relish where I was” and “look down on our beautiful planet” and “float while looking out the space station window.”

    And that to my mind is the subversive message in Hadfield’s tweets.  In 2013 with nobody on the Moon or Mars or anywhere else, the most important reason to go into space is to experience going into space and convey what you see and feel to people still on earth. And if that is the case two things follow. 

    One is that NASA and CSA and other agencies should select astronauts who are really good at explaining what it feels like to be there and even better good at looking down on earth and seeing what should be imaged from space. Think recruiting campaigns actively searching for space minded poets and photographers and emotive writers rather than  free loating lab rats, and maintenance people, and robot assemblers.

    You do this because Hadfield has taught us that daily communication from space isn’t a tangential “social media” activities that “cool” astronauts might do. His tweets aren’t spare time after work afterthoughts. Rather showing what an astronauts sees and feels in space and communicating that is what really inspires most of us on earth who, among other things, fund space flights. 

    And consequently  after he returns Hadfield should give communication’s seminars to existing astronauts explaining that their most significant purpose on the ISS is to inspire some 21stcentury children looking at their tweets and podcasts and photos of the earth to say to themselves:

     “I want to be the best astronaut you can be when people aren’t going to the moon. And that means I want to be a tweeting, talking, singing, flipping about astro-tourist – just like Chris Hadfield.”


    Stephen Strauss is a science writer with over 30 years of experience in the Canadian media. He covered science over a 25 year period for Globe and Mailand since leaving there has written a regular column for the CBC’s website. Stephen is also an accomplished author and speaker with numerous awards and fellowships. He is currently a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada.

  • 10 Sep 2018 10:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Date and location:

    Thursday, September 20
    7:00 p.m.
    Millennium Library
    Ah kha koo gheesh reading-in-the-round space
    Main Floor
    251 Donald St.
    Winnipeg, Manitoba



    SWCC presents Brett D. Huson with Youth Book Award during Science Week

    Author Brett D. Huson won the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada Youth Book Award 2018 for his book The Sockeye Mother.

    Huson will read the book and SWCC board-member Jay Whetter will present the award September 20 at 7:00 at Winnipeg’s Millennium Library.


    The Sockeye Mother explores the intricate connection between the sockeye salmon, the Gitxsan people, and British Columbia’s Skeena River valley. The book presents the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, introduces readers to basic Gitxsan words and is beautifully illustrated with traditional formline art.

    Brett D. Huson (Hetxw’ms Gyetxw) is from the Gitxsan Nation, an Indigenous people from an unceded territory in the northwest Interior of British Columbia. He now lives in Winnipeg.

    The reading is one of many events planned across Canada to recognize Science Literacy Week (www.scienceliteracy.ca). 


  • 20 Aug 2018 7:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Are you creative, enthusiastic, organized, flexible, and eager to enhance your skills set? Would you like to explore the world of Canadian science online, all the while honing your media, public relations, and promotional skills?

    SWCC’s People Choice Award is looking for a few exceptional people to help grow a unique Canadian award, the SWCC People’s Choice Award for Favourite Canadian Science Site.

    If you’re up for the challenge, here’s who we’re looking for: 

    ·     SWCC People’s Choice Award Social Media Coordinator. You will be responsible for implementing our media campaign of tweets and posts promoting the award. You will work closely and coordinate with Science Borealis’ social media whiz Theresa Liao on a creative and effective social media campaign for our award and our sister award for best Canadian blog. 



    ·       SWCC People’s Choice Award Associate Executive Producer, working with the producer, Eva Everything, to evolve the awards. You will help to coordinate this year’s awards from start to finish, from selecting the nominees to congratulating the winner, while connecting with the successful professionals behind Canada’s Fave Science Sites. You will have the opportunity to be the Executive Producer of the award in 2020. 



    ·       Your commitment to this year’s award (for both opportunities) runs from now until the beginning of October. Total commitment involves a few hours a week. 

    We aim to generate excitement and interest in Canada’s online science community and to celebrate Canada best science sites. 

    If either, or both, of these opportunities interest you, contact me, Eva Everything 

  • 12 Jun 2018 3:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is pleased to announce the winners of this year's book awards for books published in 2017. 

    Science Writers and Communicators of Canada offer two annual book awards to honour outstanding contributions to science writing 1) intended for and available to children/middle grades ages 8-12 years, and 2) intended for and available to the general public. Books are judged on literary excellence and scientific content and accuracy. In addition the two book juries look for initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation, relevance and value in promoting greater understanding of science by the general reader. The independent juries are composed of writers, scientists and members of the intended audience. Winners receive a certificate and cash prize of $1,000 that will be presented during Science Literacy Week in September. 


    youth book winner


    The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) | illustrated by Natasha Donovan 

    Portage & Main Press, High Water Press

    To the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia, the sockeye salmon is more than just a source of food. Over its life cycle, it nourishes the very land and forests that the Skeena River runs through and where the Gitxsan make their home. The Sockeye Mother explores how the animals, water, soil, and seasons are all intertwined.

    Brett D. Husonis from the Gitxsan Nation, an Indigenous people from an unceded territory in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia, Canada. For the past decade, Brett has worked in the film and television industry, and has volunteered for such organizations as Ka Ni Kanichihk and Indigenous Music Manitoba.

    Growing up in a strong matrilineal society, Brett experienced and learned about the culture, land, and political landscape he was born into. From this came a passion to create and share the knowledge and stories of his people, which reflect the importance of environmental balance and a cultural knowledge that spans thousands of years.

    The jury for this award was: 

    Teresa MacDonald

    Middle School Math/Science Teacher

    The York School, Toronto


    Neelam Mal (Grade 6 Teacher)

    Student Services

    Twelve Mile Coulee School, Calgary


    Eileen van der Flier-Kelle

    Teaching Professor

    Dept of Earth Sciences

    Simon Fraser University, Vancouver


    Romilla Karnick

    Documentary Producer

    New York, New York


    Jury Chair:

    David McKay

    Communications Dept.

    Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto


    general book winner


    Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Edward Struzik

    Island Press

    For two months in the spring of 2016, the world watched as wildfire ravaged the Canadian town of Fort McMurray. Firefighters named the fire “the Beast.” It acted like a mythical animal, alive with destructive energy, and they hoped never to see anything like it again. Yet it’s not a stretch to imagine we will all soon live in a world in which fires like the Beast are commonplace. A glance at international headlines shows a remarkable increase in higher temperatures, stronger winds, and drier lands– a trifecta for igniting wildfires like we’ve rarely seen before.

    This change is particularly noticeable in the northern forests of the United States and Canada. These forests require fire to maintain healthy ecosystems, but as the human population grows, and as changes in climate, animal and insect species, and disease cause further destabilization, wildfires have turned into a potentially uncontrollable threat to human lives and livelihoods.

    Our understanding of the role fire plays in healthy forests has come a long way in the past century. Despite this, we are not prepared to deal with an escalation of fire during periods of intense drought and shorter winters, earlier springs, potentially more lightning strikes and hotter summers. There is too much fuel on the ground, too many people and assets to protect, and no plan in place to deal with these challenges.

    In 
    Firestorm, journalist Edward Struzik visits scorched earth from Alaska to Maine, and introduces the scientists, firefighters, and resource managers making the case for a radically different approach to managing wildfire in the 21st century. Wildfires can no longer be treated as avoidable events because the risk and dangers are becoming too great and costly. Struzik weaves a heart-pumping narrative of science, economics, politics, and human determination and points to the ways that we, and the wilder inhabitants of the forests around our cities and towns, might yet flourish in an age of growing megafires.


    Edward Struzikhas been writing about scientific and environmental issues for more than 30 years. A fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, his numerous accolades include the prestigious Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy and the Sir Sandford Fleming Medal, awarded for outstanding contributions to the understanding of science. In 1996 he was awarded the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and spent a year at Harvard and MIT researching environment, evolutionary biology, and politics with E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. His 2015 book, Future Arctic, focuses on the effects of climate change in the Canadian Arctic and the impacts they will have on rest of the world. His other books include Arctic Icons, The Big Thaw, and Northwest Passage. He is an active speaker and lecturer, and his work as a regular contributor to Yale Environment 360 covers topics such as the effects of climate change and fossil fuel extraction on northern ecosystems and their inhabitants. He is on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, a citizens’ organization dedicated to the long-term environmental and social well-being of northern Canada and its peoples. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

    The jury for this award was: 

    Annie Locas

    Technical Food Safety Specialist 

    Gatineau, QC


    Kelly Crowe

    Journalist CBC

    Toronto ON


    Jim Davies

    Cognitive Scientist, Playwright, Artist, and Author, Carlton University

    Ottawa ON


    Mark Winston

    Biologist and Writer, Simon Fraser University

    Vancouver, BC


    Jury Chair:

    Veronique Morin

    Journalist

    Québec, Québec


  • 05 Jun 2018 9:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Coming to Winnipeg for SWCC 2019? A few conference attendees will be able to add on an overnight tour of the Experimental Lakes Area.


    By Jay Whetter

    Lake Erie “died” in the 1960s. Excessive nutrients in the lake, due to runoff and pollution, first caused a massive growth in algae. As this algae died, it took up all the oxygen in the water and the fish died. The scientific name for this process is eutrophication.

    In response to the Lake Erie situation, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans set up the Experimental Lakes Area (https://www.iisd.org/ela/) in 1968 to study causes and solutions to eutrophication. Lakes 226 and 227 were the first lakes studied. Those first studies concluded that phosphorus added to a lake caused excessive algae growth that led to eutrophication. By reducing phosphorus runoff through farm and lawn fertilizer practices, regulation of detergent ingredients and improved water treatment facilities, we could greatly reduce algae growth.

    ELA kept going, studying acid rain and mercury effects on freshwater lakes and more recently nano silver, diluted bitumen (from oil pipelines), aquaculture and climate change effects on lake habitat and health.


    The research facility seems stronger than ever. After the federal government pulled funding in 2012, a non-profit called the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) took over. This summer the facility has 60 researchers, students and support staff on site – the most ever. ELA has 58 lakes, chosen for their relative containment and variety of sizes and depths. Through IISD, ELA also expanded its mandate to include education and outreach. That is why the ELA staff look forward to presenting at the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada conference in Winnipeg May 23-25, 2019 and, for a select few, hosting an overnight tour at the ELA site four hours east of Winnipeg.

    Research at ELA is in five primary fields: Water chemistry, hydrology/limnology, fish biology, zooplankton biology and phytoplankton biology.


    Here are a few quick notes and observations from my visit to ELA on Friday, June 1, 2018:

    1.     When studying the effects of additives, researchers use very low doses. They want to mimic the more serious of contaminated lakes and rivers, but they don’t want to test higher levels that will cause unnecessary stress on the ecosystem. So they take a low and slow approach. For mercury research, for example, they use a mercury isotope so it can be tracked through the ecosystem. Over five years they have added only one teaspoon of mercury isotope to the waters. They don’t even use mercury thermometers anymore in case one breaks and adds more mercury unnecessarily. Top predators will accumulate the most mercury, but the good news, as ELA science has shown, is that once mercury levels coming into the ecosystem are reduced, bioaccumulation throughout the ecosystem will start to reverse.

    2.     As many of the research projects at ELA have concluded, once a problem is identified, it can often be corrected through changes in human activity. We can make a difference!

    3.     Because Canadian Shield lakes have bedrock bottoms for the most part, they are not rich in food for fish. Lakes with weedier or bio-rich beds also have more food and therefore more and faster-growing fish. With climate change, the ice-free periods for Canadian lakes are longer. You might think longer summers would mean fish get bigger, but the opposite happens. Fish are cold-blooded, so a longer summer means the fish metabolism is increased for more days per year. But the food source in these Shield lakes does not increase to the same extent. Therefore, since fish can’t take in enough food to match that rising metabolism, climate change means that fish are getting smaller. 

    4.     ELA’s remote and pristine location makes it perfectly suited to study climate change effects on fresh-water lakes because it doesn’t have the other influencers, including human population growth, changes in energy use or sewage treatment, etc., that will confound trend analysis for others bodies of water.

    5.     ELA has its own scientists on staff, but also does a lot of collaboration with various universities and institutions. While I was there, a representative from the U.S. EPA was looking into the diluted bitumen research at ELA.


    In the few hours I was at ELA, I saw a black bear outside my truck window and encountered an aggressive and very territorial ruffed grouse. ELA is a hive of science, complete with lots of indoor labs, ATVs to access remote lakes on little trails, canoes galore and, at night, complete darkness to show off the amazing skies. It combines world class science in a wild Canadian setting. It’s pretty easy to fall in love with the place.

    Here is a link to further information about ELA and science communication. 

    Jay Whetter is on the SWCC board and leads the Winnipeg 2019 organizing committee. He lives in Kenora, Ontario, and spends most of his time writing about agriculture. 

  • 25 May 2018 9:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In a sad week for science journalism in Canada, we note Daily Planet has been cancelled following a tremendously successful 23-year run.

    The Discovery Channel program not only brought fun, informative daily science news to Canadians from coast-to-coast, it served as a unique and important training ground for a generation of science journalists, producers and presenters, many of whom are, and have been, valued members of the SWCC. We send our best to those directly affected by the cut, and thank all of those who have contributed to the program’s effort to enrich our lives with science.

    Douglas Keddy, President

    Science Writers and Communicators of Canada

  • 22 May 2018 10:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Here is the shortlist for the 2017 award for youth science book written by a Canadian.  The winner will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during Science Literacy Week in September, 2018


    The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)illustrated by Natasha Donovan

    Portage & Main Press, High Water Press

    To the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia, the sockeye salmon is more than just a source of food. Over its life cycle, it nourishes the very land and forests that the Skeena River runs through and where the Gitxsan make their home. The Sockeye Mother explores how the animals, water, soil, and seasons are all intertwined.



    Biometrics By Maria Birmingham and Ian Turner

    Owlkids

    Biometrics — the science of using the body to identify a person — is everywhere, not just in science fiction, but in everyday life. Today, biometrics is on the cutting edge of security. It’s used for access into banks and airports, as well as to keep money and personal information safe. Methods like fingerprinting and retinal scanning might be more familiar, but biometrics can also identify people based on ear shape, scent, vein pattern, and much more. 

    This book explores nine biometrics in detail, explaining how each works, where it’s used, its pros and cons, and how it compares to other techniques. It also discusses privacy, security, why we need methods of identification, and touches on biometrics of the future. Engaging and colorful design and playful illustrations alongside surprising anecdotes, historical context, and humor make this an enjoyable, in-depth look at a hot topic. Informational text features include sidebars, diagrams, sources, a glossary and an index.


    Eyes and Spies: How You’re Tracked and Why You Should Know by Tanya Lloyd Kyi,illustrated by Belle Wuthrich

    Annick Press

    Who is watching you . . . and why?

    Social media and the internet are great for sharing information, meeting new friends, and exchanging points of view. But they also make it very easy to find out everything about you—including things you may not want others to know. This book asks three simple questions: Who’s watching, and why? Where is the line between public and private? How can you keep your secrets to yourself?

    Eyes and Spieslooks at the way information and data is collected and used by individuals, governments, companies, and organizations. Each chapter covers one aspect of the subject, from data collection to computer surveillance and personal privacy. Arguments for both increased security and increased privacy are offered, encouraging readers to think critically about the issues. “Creepy Line” sidebars highlight controversial real-life scenarios, often involving youth. “Action Alert” entries explain how to find out more about the implications of surveillance and data mining. Other topics include how students are tracked at school, cyberbullying, and online safety.


    Rewinding:Giving Nature a Second Chance by Ann Love and Jane Drake

    Annick Press

    It’s not too late! The natural world can still be healed.

    Rewilding is an important environmental movement to restore habitats to their natural state. By reintroducing native plant species, we also protect the wildlife that depends on them for food. In this comprehensive look at rewilding, the authors present examples from around the world where endangered animals have been returned to their natural habitats. From pandas and peregrine falcons to jaguars and wolves, the stories of these animals testify to the fact that with good management, the extinction of species can be avoided. This book also relates how cities have begun to create new habitats for animals and plants everywhere from tiny rooftop gardens to huge parks on disused land. This timely book filled with striking photos is for anyone who cares about nature and the environment.


    What a Waste!Where Does Garbage Go? by Claire Eamer illustrated by Bambi Edlund

    Annick Press

    Hold your nose!

    Yes, garbage is disgusting, but it’s also fascinating. Piles of garbage dating back to prehistory reveal how people lived, what they ate, and how they prepared their food. But garbage is also a problem. From leaving it in ancient caves to dumping it at the very edge of space, people have always had the challenge of what to do with it. And now that challenge has reached epic proportions as the world runs out of places to throw garbage away.

    What a Waste! delves into the weird and fascinating world of garbage, covering topics like water pollution, modern “throwaway” culture, landfills, human waste, and recycling. The highly visual treatment with lots of sidebars and humorous illustrations makes this an engaging, kid-friendly introduction to an important issue.

    Readers will find answers to questions like: Why is there so much garbage? What are the different kinds of garbage? Are some worse than others?, and Is there still time to clean up the mess? Fortunately, the answer is yes—and this book looks at the efforts being made around the world to do so.

  • 03 May 2018 2:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Here is the shortlist for the 2017 award for general audience science book written by a Canadian.  The winner will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during Science Literacy Week in September, 2018


    Firestorm

    How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Edward Struzik

    Island Press


    For two months in the spring of 2016, the world watched as wildfire ravaged the Canadian town of Fort McMurray. Firefighters named the fire “the Beast.” It acted like a mythical animal, alive with destructive energy, and they hoped never to see anything like it again. Yet it’s not a stretch to imagine we will all soon live in a world in which fires like the Beast are commonplace. A glance at international headlines shows a remarkable increase in higher temperatures, stronger winds, and drier lands– a trifecta for igniting wildfires like we’ve rarely seen before.

    This change is particularly noticeable in the northern forests of the United States and Canada. These forests require fire to maintain healthy ecosystems, but as the human population grows, and as changes in climate, animal and insect species, and disease cause further destabilization, wildfires have turned into a potentially uncontrollable threat to human lives and livelihoods.

    Our understanding of the role fire plays in healthy forests has come a long way in the past century. Despite this, we are not prepared to deal with an escalation of fire during periods of intense drought and shorter winters, earlier springs, potentially more lightning strikes and hotter summers. There is too much fuel on the ground, too many people and assets to protect, and no plan in place to deal with these challenges.

    In Firestorm, journalist Edward Struzik visits scorched earth from Alaska to Maine, and introduces the scientists, firefighters, and resource managers making the case for a radically different approach to managing wildfire in the 21st century. Wildfires can no longer be treated as avoidable events because the risk and dangers are becoming too great and costly. Struzik weaves a heart-pumping narrative of science, economics, politics, and human determination and points to the ways that we, and the wilder inhabitants of the forests around our cities and towns, might yet flourish in an age of growing megafires.


    The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World

    by David R. Boyd

    ECW Press

    An important and timely recipe for hope for humans and all forms of life

    Palila v Hawaii. New Zealand’s Te Urewera ActSierra Club v Disney. These legal phrases hardly sound like the makings of a revolution, but beyond the headlines portending environmental catastrophes, a movement of immense import has been building — in courtrooms, legislatures, and communities across the globe. Cultures and laws are transforming to provide a powerful new approach to protecting the planet and the species with whom we share it.

    Lawyers from California to New York are fighting to gain legal rights for chimpanzees and killer whales, and lawmakers are ending the era of keeping these intelligent animals in captivity. In Hawaii and India, judges have recognized that endangered species — from birds to lions — have the legal right to exist. Around the world, more and more laws are being passed recognizing that ecosystems — rivers, forests, mountains, and more — have legally enforceable rights. And if nature has rights, then humans have responsibilities.

    In The Rights of Nature, noted environmental lawyer David Boyd tells this remarkable story, which is, at its heart, one of humans as a species finally growing up. Read this book and your world view will be altered forever.


    The Vaccine Race

    Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease

    By Meredith Wadman

    Penguin Random House

    The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases. 
     

    Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.
     
    Meredith Wadman’s masterful account recovers not only the science of this urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs, and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who “owns” research cells and the profits made from biological inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.
     
    With another frightening virus imperiling pregnant women on the rise today, no medical story could have more human drama, impact, or urgency today than The Vaccine Race.


    Rise of the Necrofauna

    The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction

    by Britt Wray

    Greystone Books

    Jurassic Park meets The Sixth Extinctionin Rise of the Necrofauna, a provocative look at de-extinction from acclaimed documentarist and science writer Britt Wray.

    What happens when you try to recreate a woolly mammoth—fascinating science, or conservation catastrophe?

    In Rise of the Necrofauna, Wray takes us deep into the minds and labs of some of the world’s most progressive thinkers to find out. She introduces us to renowned futurists like Stewart Brand and scientists like George Church, who are harnessing the powers of CRISPR gene editing in the hopes of “reviving” extinct passenger pigeons, woolly mammoths, and heath hens. She speaks with Nikita Zimov, who together with his eclectic father Sergey, is creating Siberia’s Pleistocene Park—a daring attempt to rebuild the mammoth’s ancient ecosystem in order to save earth from climate disaster. Through interviews with these and other thought leaders, Wray reveals the many incredible opportunities for research and conservation made possible by this emerging new field.

    But we also hear from more cautionary voices, like those of researcher and award-winning author Beth Shapiro (How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth) and environmental philosopher Thomas van Dooren. Writing with passion and perspective, Wray delves into the larger questions that come with this incredible new science, reminding us that de-extinction could bring just as many dangers as it does possibilities. What happens, for example, when we bring an “unextinct” creature back into the wild? How can we care for these strange animals and ensure their comfort and safety—not to mention our own? And what does de-extinction mean for those species that are currently endangered? Is it really ethical to bring back an extinct passenger pigeon, for example, when countless other birds today will face the same fate?

    By unpacking the many biological, technological, ethical, environmental, and legal questions raised by this fascinating new field, Wray offers a captivating look at the best and worst of resurrection science.


    Matters of Life and Death

    Public Health Issues in Canada

    By: Andre Picard

    Douglas & McIntyre

    Respected health reporter André Picard tackles the nation’s most pressing public health topics.

    Health issues have long occupied top headlines in Canadian media, and no journalist has written on public health with more authority or for as many years as André Picard. Matters of Life and Deathcollects Picard's most compelling columns, covering a broad range of topics including Canada's right-to-die law, the true risks of the Zika virus, the financial challenges of a publicly funded health system, appalling health conditions in First Nations communities, the legalization of marijuana, the social and economic impacts of mental illness, and the healthcare challenges facing transgender people.

    The topic of health touches on the heart of society, intersecting with many aspects of private and public life—human rights, aging, political debate, economics and death. With his reporting, Picard demonstrates the connection between physical health and the health of society as a whole, provides the facts to help readers make knowledgeable health choices, and acts as a devoted advocate for those whose circumstances bar them from receiving the care they need.

    Providing an antidote to widespread fear-mongering and misinformation, Matters of Life and Deathis essential reading for anyone with an investment in public health topics—in other words, everyone.

  • 27 Mar 2018 11:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Tim Lougheed, President SWCC

    For those of us who were writing about science before the Internet was a thing, the discord sown by social media is nothing less than mind boggling. What was once a trade in ideas and arguments has been supplanted by a whirlwind of images, which give rise to their own sets of ideas and arguments quite independently of any coherent process. This orgy of oversharing regularly generates spats unworthy of a kindergarten sandbox, making a mockery of technology that has suddenly enabled upward of half the planet’s population to exchange billions of messages with one another. And yet this same embarrassing medium can likewise redeem itself with rich intellectual exchanges, linking hearts and minds from all walks of life in ways that we could scarcely have imagined a generation ago.

    This conundrum is more than annoying, it has practical consequences. By way of example, consider a dust-up generated by the venerable journal Science, which on the ominous Ides of March published an opinion piece by a University of Toronto doctoral student — Meghan Wright of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering — who saw fit to critique the social media musings of another University of Toronto doctoral student — Samantha Yammine of the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. Wright bluntly argued that Yammine’s online efforts to represent women in science linger too much on personal detail and consequently detract from the important task of trying to create a level playing field for both genders in the scientific community.

    That critique may have merit, but in this case it lost a great deal of credibility by assigning the serious mission of reforming the institutional culture of research to the chaotic information wonderland that is social media. Wright chastises female scientists for Instagram posts of “pretty selfies, fun videos, and microscope images captioned with accessible language and cute emojis.” Apparently exempt from such criticism is Wright’s own Twitter feed that, in addition to detailed updates of her own scientific progress and regular highlights of women’s success in research, includes the prize-winning Millennium Falcon-shaped gingerbread house at her lab’s Christmas party and a bevy of selfies taken after a make-up session.

    The point is not that two serious and accomplished academics have populated their social media accounts with some fluff. For better or worse, social media has evolved to accommodate contributions that include brain-dead trivia as well as our deepest musings on life’s purpose. In this way it is a faithful mirror of our everyday existence, which is shot through with the dreary tedium of life however much we like to think of ourselves as being on a grand quest to somewhere. And what anyone with access to the Web can now learn is that scientists are no different in this regard — we hail their march to the truth, or at least the little bit of light they shine in the darkness, but their most candid social media side reveals them to put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

    Nor should that have come as any surprise to the editors at Science who have spent the past week insisting that they did not intend for Wright to engage in an ad hominem attack on Yammine. Those editors may not have been around on March 2, 2012, when the magazine devoted its high profile editorial page to actor Alan Alda, who was announcing his desire to transform the way in scientists communicate with the public by founding the Centre for Communicating Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    “The intention, of course, is not to turn scientists into actors but to allow them to be more authentically themselves in public interactions,” he wrote, noting that this goal emerged from the enlightening experience of interviewing scientists for his PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. “Having to talk with someone who was truly trying to understand caused an actual human interaction to take place in these interviews. There was more warmth, and the real person behind the scientist in the white lab coat could emerge. Suddenly, both young people and adults could see that scientists were like them, with a natural way of speaking and even a sense of humor.”

    The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada was created and is sustained by people who have come to the same realization as Alda: science is an all too human enterprise, conducted by people who display every glorious facet of what it means to be human, from brilliant talent to disappointing shortcomings, from admirable virtues to shocking vices, from inspiring triumphs to devastating failures. A journal such as Science may want to showcase only the most somber business of its subject matter and set aside these pesky human qualities, but social media has no such agenda, nor does it seemingly have any agenda at all. By allowing what may have been Wright’s well intentioned attempt to raise the tone of science outreach on social media to descend into a poorly framed series of complaints, these editorial gatekeepers not only revealed a poor understanding of social media and its impact on the research community, they did serious damage to their own role in facilitating communication between that community and the wider society that they serve. It would behove them to revisit Alan Alda’s revelation, lest their own ambitious efforts to reach out to society achieve the same confused and questionable status as social media.

    Tim Lougheed

    President, 

    Science Writers and Communicators of Canada

  • 25 Mar 2018 3:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Ashley EM Miller

    Often when we think about science outreach and engaging new audiences, we envision presenting facts eloquently and hoping, with bated breath, that readers will take something away.

    That works for audiences already interested in science. But what about those who aren't invested in the field? Information alone may not be enough.


    Art can be a way to engage the public with science through the the simple fact that novelty sparks curiosity. Artists in the emerging field of sci-art utilize science concepts, methods, principles and information within their practice. Their art, along with the work of science illustrators, can facilitate a deeper emotional connection to science, particularly in those who don’t regularly pay attention or feel welcome.

    However, using artwork in science communication is not as simple as inserting a picture into a body of text and referencing the artist in MLA style.

    For those coming from the sciences, citing your sources, as laborious as that may be, is a given. While that is fine for incorporating  information, that isn’t always adequate for artwork. In the art world, artists know how to ask other artists to use their work. If a scientist or science communicator does not have an “in” with the art community, they may not know where to find legal information about using art.


    Anyone interested in using artwork in their science communication practice, should attend the upcoming SWCC conference’s professional development session "On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". The panel discussion will be moderated by Theresa Liao of Curiosity Collider and Sarah Louadi of  Voirelia, both of whom are intimately familiar with combining art and science in their respective organizations. Sarah and Theresa will lead a much-needed conversation about the benefits and best practices of partnerships between artists and science communicators.


    The session boasts a well-rounded panel. Attendees will gain insights on aspects of the art world with panelists Kate Campbell, a science illustrator, and Steven J. Barnes, a psychologist and artist. Legal and ethical considerations will be provided by Lawrence Chan, an intellectual property lawyer, and April Britski, the National Executive Director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). For those unfamiliar, CARFAC is a federal organization that acts as a voice for visual artists in Canada and outlines minimum fee guidelines among other things.

    Science communicators and bloggers will certainly benefit from the session, particularly early-career freelancers. When working independently, there are no organizational policies and procedures in place for you to follow. It means that you have to check everything yourself, and this session will give you a crash course of what to look for in artist collaborations, what to ask and how to ask it. Even researchers will benefit from the discussion, by learning about the opportunities for working with science illustrators and about what to expect.


    "On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". will take place at 3:15 pm on Saturday April 14th as part of the conference’s concurrent Professional Development sessions. Come and be inspired by how your science communication journey can benefit from art collaboration and learn about the ethical and legal aspects of compensating partners. Art and science operate in different cultures or referencing, attribution and payment. Understanding these differences through open dialogue can reduce conflicts and tension. In the end, we benefit the broader society by facilitating meaning engagement with science.


    Ashley EM Miller is a writer, museum educator, and eternally curious creature. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her as @Dctr_Ash on Twitter and Instagram



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