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Do you want to write for the SWCC Blog? SWCC blog posts are coordinated by Cristina Sanza. For more information, or to get involved, please contact us at

About Cristina: Cristina Sanza is a Digital Journalism Instructor and Writing Coach in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. There, she also organizes the Projected Futures international science journalism graduate summer school and edits the department's digital magazine. Formerly an SWCC board director, she currently serves as the blog editor and a member of the digital media committee. Outside of work and volunteering, Cristina loves resistance training, developing high-protein recipes, and tending to her garden.

  • 20 Aug 2020 9:53 AM | Anonymous

    Can the energy lessons of the COVID-19 lockdown guide Canada’s climate change actions for workplaces and transportation? Photo by Chris LeBoutillier from

    Five years after signing the Paris Agreement and pledging to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, Canada so far gets a failing grade. 

    Instead of trending down 30 per cent, emissions in 2030 are likely to reach little more than half this target. This assessment is supported by the most recent biennial report as well as reports from Climate Transparency and the UN.  

    Although effects of the federal government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change may not have been accounted for, climate transparency, the UN and Canadian academics say action needs to be taken to address the shortfall now. 

    Under the Paris Agreement, Canada has only 10 years left to bolster efforts and re-strategize. Developing new policies to lessen what the UN terms a “catastrophic” shortfall is going to be a major challenge. But one factor could strengthen efforts in this area: COVID-19. Modelling and strategic planning associated with the most recent reports were done well in advance of the pandemic.

    What happens if we incorporate lessons we’re learning from the pandemic to strengthen our policies? Is progress so far a prophecy predicting failure, as some experts believe, or are there opportunities to reduce the magnitude of our failure?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be more than a global health crisis. It has had major implications on food security, economics and – owing to full and partial lockdowns to stop the spread – human energy consumption. 

    According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), countries in full lockdown experienced an average of 25 per cent drop in energy demand per week. Their scenario, which quantifies energy impact due to the lockdown, predicts a global eight per cent decline in CO2 emissions. This is double the combined total of all previous reductions since the end of World War II, indicating the colossal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

    It is unlikely such seismic environmental gains from a reduced workforce can or should continue indefinitely but lessons learned so far can be transformative. 

    First, COVID-19 has re-defined work, demonstrating that entire companies can work from home without any loss in productivity. The CEOs of TwitterShopify, and Square, for example, announced that workers can continue to work from home even after the lockdown is lifted. Recently, Jean-Yves Duclos, president of Canada’s Treasury Board, announced that working remotely has not had a negative impact upon the work of the Public Service and could be the new normal. For a sector with over 220,000 employees, this is significant. 

    Before the pandemic, the federal government developed a national strategy for GHG emissions. It includes retrofitting of large buildings with carbon-intensive heating infrastructure to reduce emissions, increasing incentives for electric cars, and the development of greener transit options in Canada’s largest cities. These strategies have gained new relevance in light of the lessons learned from the pandemic. 

    Millions of Canadians can now work from home which has sparked speculation that many large buildings typically used for offices may become obsolete. This raises some crucial questions. How does increasing the home-based workforce across Canada affect GHG emissions from cars? How does working from home affect office buildings with GHG-intensive heating systems?  What changes are expected if 20, 40 or 50 per cent of Canadian workers are home-based?

    This information in a standard form, for example, megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, could inform policies to encourage individuals and large companies, perhaps through tax credits, to reduce their transportation-related GHG emissions by working from home. This knowledge could also be rapidly incorporated into strategies for investment and development of sustainable approaches to restarting the economy. 

    Global experts agree: individual action alone does not result in the drastic reduction in emissions needed. Similarly, reducing transport and the heating of buildings alone will not ensure Canada’s Paris Agreement targets are met. But it is one step in the right direction.

    Among G20 countries, Canada has four times the average GHG emission from transportation and twice the average emissions from buildings. Progress in these areas will certainly require pushing the boundaries of our long-held perceptions of work. 

    But the pandemic has revealed what is possible. Now is the time to reform thinking and policy to match Canada’s goals and stated commitment to environmental stewardship. To do otherwise is to risk not only failure but to disregard our future.

    By: Jasmine Hamilton

    Jasmine Hamilton writes about health, public policy, faith, and everything in between. She earned a Ph.D. in Pathology from the University of British Columbia and a Certificate in Global Health Governance and Policy from Duke University’s Sandford School of Public Policy. She enjoys the outdoors and leads a book club in her spare time.

  • 13 Aug 2020 4:25 PM | Anonymous

    Both biology and behaviour play a part in why the coronavirus hits men harder than women. Photo:

    As the coronavirus sweeps the globe, it seems indiscriminate in its attack, taking down anyone exposed to it. But a pattern is emerging: men seem to be hit harder than women.

    Is it biology, behaviour, or both?

    Women tend to have more robust immune responses, but as a consequence, are more prone to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But this may also mean women are better protected against invading viruses, since their initial immune reaction is stronger than their male counterparts. 

    Sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen are important in modulating the immune response,” says Veena Taneja of the Mayo Clinic, who studies differences in male and female immune systems. 

    One hypothesis is that women’s stronger immune systems confer an advantage to their offspring. Antibodies from mothers’ breast milk help ward off disease while infants’ immune systems are still developing.

    Another explanation may be genetic. Women have two copies of the X chromosome, which contains many immune-response genes. Men have only one.  Taneja says that while a female’s extra X chromosome is generally silenced, around 10 percent of these immune-boosting genes can be activated. It’s possible for women to get a "double-dose" of protection — although the research is still at an early stage, and it's still too soon to know exactly how all this might play out in the context of COVID-19.

    Men may also be disadvantaged by higher concentrations than women of a biomarker associated with increased pulmonary, gut, renal, central nervous system, and cardiovascular manifestations. A recent study published in the European Heart Journal suggests this biomarker, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), indicates susceptibility for the coronavirus to infect healthy cells. This may help to explain why men are more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus) than women.

    Over the last two decades, men were also disproportionately affected by SARS and MERS outbreaks, both caused by coronaviruses. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that more women than men were infected by SARS in Hong Kong in 2003, but the death rate among men was 50 per cent higher.

    It is clear that being male may be a risk factor for COVID-19, just like being older or having medical conditions like asthma or heart disease.

    Gender differences in our vulnerability to the coronavirus are also shaped by social norms and practices. Photo:

    Men’s behaviour may also be working against them during this epidemic. Men often don't seek health care until they feel more symptoms and so are less likely to seek out testing for the coronavirus when they feel sick. This might be because many men are taught to be self-sufficient, seeing self-care as an admission of weakness. This may result in ignoring tell-tale symptoms of the coronavirus. Other behaviours that affect general health such as smoking, may also play a role in the disease’s disproportionate impact on men. 

    Pollution could also be playing a role. In most cultures, men are more likely than females to work outside, exposing them to pollution and its associated risks for lung disorders. 

    Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, public health officials have emphasized the importance of hand washing and hand sanitizing to prevent infection. But a study done by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that men — even those who are healthcare workers — are less likely to wash their hands or to use soap than women. These men also tend to be less compliant with pandemic-related restrictions such as physical distancing.

    When it comes to this latest coronavirus, there is a tendency to group cases by criteria such as age and social standing and make broad assumptions that both men and women are equally affected. They are not. It’s a lesson for both the public and the scientists who are gathering and analyzing data about the new virus.

    By: Sara Chung

    Sara was born and raised in Singapore, and has lived in Canada for more than a decade. She completed her B.Sc. at the University of Toronto, majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology, and currently works in the tech sector. With coffee and tea flowing through her veins, she takes life on with high dopamine and serotonin levels!

    For more details, please check out her LinkedIn:

  • 11 Aug 2020 10:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Rapidly warming oceans have left many northern marine mammals swimming in troubled waters. But perhaps none more so than the strange and mysterious "unicorn of the sea," the narwhal.

    Narwhals breach through an opening in the ice-pack. Photo Credit – US Fish & Wildlife Service.

    An exhaustive new study estimates, habitat suitable to narwhals could shrink by a staggering twenty-five percent by century’s end. Thank to manmade climate change, their watery home is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. And, in a scant few decades, sea-ice, so vital to their survival, could be gone altogether during Arctic summers.

    Narwhals are cetaceans, a family of marine mammals which includes whales and dolphins. Most are found in Canada's Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, in the high Arctic. Others live in waters off Greenland, Norway and Russia.

    Many spend several months each winter beneath the ice-pack, feeding on fish, squid and shrimp. In the summer, thy can be found in more open water in bays, fiords and inlets.

    They’re capable of diving as deep as two thousand meters and holding their breath for an astonishing 25 minutes! 

    They can weigh up to two thousand kilograms and reach a length of about five meters. They're much larger than some dolphin species, but tiny compared to the mighty blue whale. Many migrate along the ice's edge some 17 hundred kilometres from Canada to Russia.

    The males grow long, spiral tusks - actually overgrown teeth - that can protrude up to three metres from their head. While they’re predators, narwhals are also preyed upon. They’re believed to be increasingly falling prey to killer whales (orcas), as warming oceans lure the orcas further north from their usual ranges.

    But humans are, as they have been for millennia, a top predator, too.

    Indigenous hunters of Greenland and the Canadian high Arctic - the Inuit – have long depended on them as an important food source.

    One official survey in 2010 (the most recent I could find) concluded that Inuit hunters took almost a thousand narwhals off Canada and Greenland that year.

    Both countries recognize the right of the Inuit to hunt them. But they must adhere to a quota system. It's based on findings from periodic, scientific aerial surveys.

    Fears of over-exploitation of the species have led to periodic bans being placed on the import and export of narwhal tusks. The Inuit fashion the tusks, made of ivory, into traditional figurines.

    The tusks have also been traded illegally, often for tens of thousands of dollars each, on international black markets.

    So, just how intimately are narwhals tied to their harsh world of ice and snow?

    "Narwhals are uniquely adapted to the extreme conditions of an Arctic existence," the study states, "and their evolution and ecology intrinsically tied to the past and present sea ice dynamics of the region." Narwhals are known to have lived through extreme climatic changes for thousands of years. Yet they're also thought to be among the most vulnerable to those changes of any of the northern marine mammals.

    The researchers hoped, by studying their past, they could gain an insight into their future. What they found was concerning. Before and after the onset of the last ice age (LGM), more than 26 thousand years ago, both the number of narwhals and their genetic diversity were perilously low. But they "responded positively" to both the warming and expansion of habitat which occurred after it ended some 19 thousand years ago. Their numbers increased, and so did other marine predators like belugas and bowhead whales.

    However, the benefits such animals enjoyed in that post-glacial period, may be coming to an end. "Many polar marine predators are being negatively affected by global warming, which is decreasing the availability of habitat and prey," the study finds. "Although the range and effective population size of narwhals increased post-LGM, their future in a rapidly changing Arctic is uncertain. Narwhal distribution will be further affected in the near future, as the species also faces increased human encroachment, changes in prey availability, new competitors and increased predation rate by killer whales."

    Areas which were once inaccessible to people, due to ice and snow cover, are now receding. This is allowing more activities such as fishing, oil exploration and drilling. And narwhals are known to be easily disturbed, and to flee from areas they would otherwise frequent.

    So, are their numbers crashing?

    The researchers admit, there's a good deal of uncertainty when it comes to population trends. World population estimates have ranged from 50 thousand to 170 thousand. As those estimates have wavered, so, too has their status on the endangered species list.

    That has ranged from a species “of least concern,” to one that is "nearly threatened."  

    A veteran biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Steven Ferguson, has extensive experience observing marine mammals in the north. While he doesn't give hard numbers, he paints a fairly bright picture for those living in Canadian waters.

    Dr. Ferguson tells PinP, "Both the Baffin Bay and Northern Hudson Bay populations appear to be relatively constant and do not appear to be depleted."

    However, the good news seems to end there.

    "Populations off the eastern shores of Greenland," he goes on, "seem to be experiencing a decline. And two stocks off West Greenland, appear to be lower in abundance relative to the past."

    So, will these wondrous "unicorns of the sea" continue to ply their way through the world's northern oceans just as they have for so long in the past? Or are their numbers destined to dwindle to a dangerous few, like so many other of Earth's wild things?

    The study appears is in the Royal Society's journal,“Biological Sciences.”

    By: Larry Powell

    I’m Larry Powell. an eco-journalist living in Shoal Lake, Manitoba. I’m a member of the SWCC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I’m authorized to receive embargoed material through the Science Media Centre of Canada, the Royal Society, NatureResearch and the World Health Organization. This allows me to “get a jump” on important stories by fleshing them out with fact-checks and interviews, in advance. Often, this arms me with a “hot-off-the-press” story that’s ready to go, the moment the embargo is lifted.

    I’m prepared to supply interested publications with important stories in the field of the Earth Sciences – stories often stranger than fiction! I publish (PinP), where science gets respect. 

  • 07 Aug 2020 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    With COVID-19 forcing people to practise physical distancing, a pet can make a big difference in terms of emotional support.

    Fortunately, while the novel coronavirus is believed to be a zoonotic disease – which means it was transmitted from animals, presumably bats, to humans – research shows it’s very unlikely people can get it from their pets.

    And despite some initial concerns about pet-to-human transmission of COVID, being forced into quarantine has spurred Canadians to adopt and foster pets at record rates. Furthermore, most animals not only support our mental health, they will likely be key to ultimately beating the virus. Studying animal models is contributing towards vaccine development.

    While there is no evidence people can get COVID-19 from their pets, myths persist that negatively affect animal welfare. Many concerns emerged in late February after a report from Hong Kong confirmed the “first known case of potential human to animal” transmission – though the case suggested a weak strain of the virus had moved between owner and dog.

    Initial fears

    “This first case sparked fears among the public, resulting in acts of animal abuse by people who believed that pets might start to spread the virus to people,” noted a study published online in the journal Forensic Science International by U.S. veterinary pathologist Nicola M.A. Parry. “One group known as the Urban Construction Administration announced it would kill cats and dogs found outdoors, to prevent transmission of (COVID-19). And even officials in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces announced they would begin killing pets that were found in public.”

    Organizations such as Humane Canada in Ottawa, which represents the country’s humane societies and SPCAs (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), worried about what actions pet owners would take, both because of possible fears of COVID-19, as well as severe financial setbacks from not being able to work. 

    “We expected that there were going to be more animals surrendered to shelters because as people started to lose their jobs, and have their incomes compromised, we were expecting them to not be able to afford veterinary care, food and medication for their pets,” said Natalia Hanson, marketing and communications co-ordinator for Humane Canada.

    Humane Canada made sure the public was provided with accurate information about the pandemic. As more people were forced to isolate themselves in their homes, it turned out to be a silver lining for human-animal relationships. 

    “Once people found themselves being home and having more time, they started flooding humane societies and SPCAs with requests for adoption and fostering,” said Hanson.

    For example, Hanson said the Lincoln County Humane Society in St. Catharines, Ont. reported that normally 30 people reach out when they issue a call for foster families. Towards the end of March, that number had jumped to 400.

    “There’ve been all sorts of interesting fostering programs that have crept up,” said Dr. Ian Sandler, the CEO of Grey Wolf Animal Health and a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s national issues committee. “Many of the rescue associations and shelters are, or have been, emptied because Canadians thought this would be a great opportunity to either foster or adopt a pet, and in many ways, it’s been very successful.”

    Of course, while this rise in adoptions and fostering has been positive so far, Hanson said people must also consider what will happen after the pandemic.

    “We want to make sure people understand that adopting an animal should never be an impulsive decision,” said Hanson. “They need to keep in mind that eventually one day they’ll go back to work, to school or whatever they were doing before.”

    Hanson and her colleagues expect that more pets will be relinquished because of their owners’ financial state following the pandemic.

    “Not everybody is financially prepared to continue not being at work,” she said. “While some people may be going back to work and getting back up financially speaking, others may have lost their jobs permanently.”

    Vets on the front lines

    For veterinarians, Sandler said the pandemic has put them on the front lines.

    “The Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association led the way with a number of different initiatives. We worked with many of the registers on all of the provincial associations,” he said. “We helped co-ordinate some of temporary changes around things like telemedicine and the dispensing of certain drugs remotely for veterinarians to ensure that patients across Canada could be taken care of and maintained.”

    The association also provided personal protective equipment and even ventilators to emergency clinics and hospitals.

    “We’ve ensured that the procurement of human ventilators that we’re using, or being used in veterinary medicine at emergency clinics, referral clinics and teaching hospitals, were allocated to provincial hospitals,” said Sandler.

    When society returns to normal, the events of the last few months will also demand new approaches and solutions.

    “We want to ensure that we’re working with government agencies around the appropriate supply chain of food, essential medicines, veterinary medicines and essential services,” said Sandler. “We want to make sure that even if there’s a second or third wave, we can continue to provide care for Canadians on all different levels.”

    Sandler also said it’s important to co-ordinate efforts with governments within Canada and abroad.

    Veterinarians and animal science also have a crucial role to play in human health during the pandemic. For example, researchers are using animal models to provide vital information for developing vaccines.

    Darryl Falzarano is a researcher with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), an organization from the University of Saskatchewan that researches and develops vaccines against both human and animal diseases. Falzarano and his team were awarded $1 million by the federal government as part of a research initiative to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Falzarano is an expert in coronaviruses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). These viruses are closely related to COVID-19 and are also considered zoonotic diseases, but are much less widespread than SARS-Cov2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.

    There have been more than 10 million confirmed global cases of COVID-19 and more than 500,000 deaths.

    Falzarano and his team at VIDO-InterVac are one of many research groups, in Canada and around the world, working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. By researching and testing animal models such as ferrets, Falzarano and his team can better understand how a virus is transmitted, how it affects its hosts, as well as develop a vaccine.

    According to Falzarano, their research has shown positive results and they could soon be ready for clinical trials at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax.

    “At the moment,” said Falzarano, “we are planning to start a phase one clinical trial, provided everything continues to go well in the fall of this year.”

    This article first appeared in Capital Current.

    By: Matthew Guida

    As a native Montrealer, I graduated from Concordia University with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Film Studies. I am currently studying for my master’s degree in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

    My interest in journalism began while attending Concordia. I was a frequent contributor to the university’s independent newspaper, The Concordian. I further honed my skills and experience by working as a List Writer for the entertainment news website Screen Rant.

    Since I started attending Carleton University, I have strived to further improve my skills as a journalist in not only print, but also in the fields of data, investigative and broadcast journalism. In the past year, I have also developed a growing appreciation for radio journalism and podcasts.

    My current interests lie in studying the future of the journalism industry, writing and researching pop culture and social media trends, as well as furthering my career in the field of journalism.

  • 30 Jul 2020 4:49 PM | Anonymous

    Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in 1987’s Dirty Dancing. Online apps have become essential links for romantic liaisons during the pandemic lockdown, but don’t neglect those dance moves.

    Almost every millennial has been here: it's about 11 pm on Friday night, maybe Saturday. One hand fumbles through a bowl of greasy popcorn, the other viciously swipes through a stream of unremarkable faces, while on the flat screen Meg Ryan professes her love to Tom Hanks in "Sleepless in Seattle," or was it "You've Got Mail" this time? 

    Pre-COVID, online dating was a casual pleasure. With the dawn of physical distancing and tightened social circles, it’s become a necessity. Apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Bumble have become essential to singles across the planet, hungry for connection amidst the new normal.

    But can we find true love without physical connection?

    Michael Winterdahl says albeit it’s not impossible to find love in a socially distanced era, it poses its own unique set of challenges.

    "Frankly, individuals may worry about their relationships as they've gotten through everything they needed to talk about,” he says. “Next thing you know you're discussing your favourite fruit."

    Winterdahl is an Associate Professor in Neuroimaging at Aarhus University in Denmark. His research, based at its Department of Nuclear Medicine and PET Center, focuses on the neurochemical oxytocin – also known as the "love" or "cuddle" hormone. 

    For the last decade, the role of oxytocin has been relatively well understood with regard to pregnancy and maternal behaviour, where it plays a pivotal role in not only inducing labour but establishing a strong bond between mother and child shortly after birth. However, Winterdahl explains oxytocin can also play a role in the development of romantic relationships, helping us form bonds with our partners. 

    "It comes like a burst; it gives us that 'kick,' that ‘spark,’ which drives us to be social.

    When we meet that unique someone, oxytocin, amongst several other neurochemicals, begins flooding the brain. 

    "Your entire neurochemistry is going off like fireworks!” Winterdahl says. “Oxytocin, dopamine and pleasure hormones like endoopioids (endorphins) are all firing off in succession." 

    Breaking this process down, Winterdahl explains that oxytocin will link into other neurochemicals such as dopamine – which is associated with learning and rewards – because, we are effectively learning about someone. This, in turn, drives us to be interested in the person and feeds into our innate reward circuits.

    The human brain in love can do some crazy things. We do things that seem a little dangerous, like riding a rollercoaster, to drive us closer together. These thrill-seeking activities cause a massive release of hormones and force us to rely on our partner, which creates another burst of oxytocin, bringing us closer together. 

    Winterdahl says that it’s unclear if seeing someone over a screen can produce these same bursts in oxytocin. But moving dating to an online mode could provide some social value, since it forces us to engage the cognitive portions of our brain before our physical desires.  

    "Essentially, it's shifting our learning from the physical part of relationships to things we may not tap into on a standard first date such as one's beliefs and values,” he says. “People often tend to forget about social compatibility and worship the feeling of being in love."

    "Maybe, years from now, we will be able to look at the marriage-divorce statistics of couples who began with discussing their favourite fruits. They could be onto something."

    But what about that certain Je ne sais quoi, that feeling that draws us to the man or woman across the bar? Can we find love at first swipe? Dating apps, like Tinder and Bumble, might help us cross paths with a beautiful stranger - but Winterdahl says the value of physical interaction, particularly dancing, should not be underestimated.

    When we meet someone, so much of what we are experiencing is happening at an unconscious level and ties back to pure evolutionary biology. For instance, a preference for your partner's smell indicates that your immune systems are compatible. That is, we are genetically designed to prefer the scents of partners who have immune systems different from our own. 

    Winterdahl explains this because if we were to procreate, our offspring would carry different genes from both parents, giving them an immunological advantage. This theory has garnered so much traction that individuals who have amassed a bad case of carpal tunnel from swiping can actually try "Smell Dating." This is a mail-order match-making service that gives you the opportunity to sniff the dirty t-shirt – and unique scent – of your potential mate before meeting them. 

    So, where does dancing come into play? Well, Winterdahl explains that nervous system compatibility is essential to the success of a couple. When dancing with someone, we are tapping into their nervous system; it is as close as we can get to being in touch with someone's brain without physically entering it. 

    Now, no one is saying you need to master the full Dirty Dancing lift. But as pandemic restrictions ease, it might be worth masking up for a quick tango.

    By: Miranda Stahn

    A prairie girl at heart, Miranda completed both her Bachelor's and Master's of Science at the University of Alberta. Her thesis research focused on classifying new bacterial viruses for a unique class of bacteria known as Methanotrophs - named for their ability to survive off of unusual carbon compounds such as methane. 

    Outside of her studies, Miranda has always been passionate about science communications and outreach. Since undergrad, she has been involved in several outreach initiatives run through well-known programs such as the Telus World of Science Edmonton (TWOSE), the University of Alberta's DiscoverE, WISEST (Women in Scholarship Engineering Science and Technology), and Science Slam Canada. 

    Miranda is committed to making science accessible to everyone and firmly believes that effective and entertaining science writing is key to helping the public disseminate truth from fiction.

    For more details, please check out her LinkedIn:

  • 13 Jul 2020 2:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The demands of their profession and society’s expectations put enormous pressure on physicians, leading to mental illness. Photo: and

    With COVID-19 cases soaring and more workload than doctors can handle, their lives are at risk by not only from the virus but by their own hands.

    In late April 2020, the United States COVID-19 case count had just topped one million. In New York, one of the disease’s epicenters, Dr. Lorna Breen, medical director of the emergency department at a Manhattan hospital, died by suicide. Her death is likely a tragic consequence of the pandemic, but physician suicide has been an ongoing epidemic of its own for some time.

    Studies show a high prevalence of physician suicide, something that could be worse under the shadow of the pandemic. 

    Dr. Christine Moutier of the University of California estimates about 400 doctors die from suicide each year in the United States; the highest rate of any of the professions. In Canada, a study of 3,213 physicians found that 20 per cent  and 29 per cent of male and female physicians, respectively, experienced depression. The same report concluded physicians are about three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

    The film “Do No Harm” by Robyn Symon brings light to this “hidden epidemic” by suggesting that a reform of the medical system needs to be made. 

    Just from the trailer of the film, it is seen that sleep deprivation and long hours of work make medical errors more likely. Notably, in the United States, 250,000 patients die per year due to medical error. Thus, a doctor’s burnout is not only a risk to themselves, but also may pose risks to their patients.

    A tremendous amount of responsibility and competency is expected in a physician’s career. It is no secret they have a crushing workload. Reaching medical school is becoming more competitive; staying in school and competing for residency programs is the same. The compulsion to overachieve and stay on top of responsibilities can be daunting.

    Just getting to medical school takes great discipline: endless hours of studying, superior time management skills, and a bar for success that is raised every year due to an increasing number of applicants and competition. Once in medical school, competing for the very few spots in residency programs can be even more stressful. 

    The pressure is on. Burnout can soon follow. 

    What happens to the physician that seeks help? A diagnosis of a mental health problem carries a stigma. It is thought to reflect poorly towards the physician’s capabilities. This ​belief drives physicians to avoid seeking self-help treatments. 

    “We have a system where people [physicians] fear punitive consequences if they get help”, Dr. Moutier says. 

    Research led by Dr. Katherine Gold of the University of Michigan Medical School looked at data from 2,100 respondents. Her work shows that among female physicians, half reported fear of stigma as a reason for keeping quiet about their mental illness and only six per cent reported their mental illness to state licensing boards. This shows that physicians are reluctant to share information or to reach out for mental health treatment as their confidentiality would be compromised once reports are made. 

    Self-care measures are starting to be included as part of the medical education system, but as the alarming numbers of suicide suggest, there is an even longer road ahead when addressing physician suicide.

    Adding to this is COVID-19 creating an environment that is completely different, unfamiliar, and new in its nature. 

    McGill University’s faculty member, Dr. Jason Harley, suggests there needs to be new studies just looking at how health care professionals are dealing with the pandemic and what works in order to support doctors during the time where “we need them at their best.” 

    COVID-19 brought a time of crisis. It also exposed how important our doctors are to all of us. 

    Doctors are there for us. We must be there for them.












    By: Roxaneh (Roxana) Zaminpeyma

    Roxana is a McGill graduate who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Anatomy and Cell Biology with a minor in Social Studies of Medicine. She is currently a candidate for a Masters in Experimental Surgery at McGill. She is an aspiring clinician-scientist who is passionate about immunology, neurodegenerative research, patient advocacy, humane caregiving as well as medical history and technology. Her goal is to translate scientific content into words and images that can bring understanding to all her readers.

  • 06 Jul 2020 11:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Photo caption: Residents of long-term care facilities in Canada have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to a dysfunctional care system and a lack of action to combat the spread of infection.

    To date, a staggering 81 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada are attributable to long-term care facilities. This not only reflects the way we knew COVID-19 could ravage the elderly, but also reveals a care system in shambles, to which eyes have been long averted.

    The devastation COVID-19 could inflict on residents of long-term care facilities should not have been surprising, given the vulnerability of older populations to the virus. Alarming fatality rates had already been reported at outbreaks in other care facilities such as in Wuhan, China.

    Canada’s first outbreak in a long-term care facility came in early March in British Columbia. Swift measures were taken to reduce the spread of the virus by providing adequate personal protective equipment to staff.  Measures were taken to reduce the number of healthcare providers working in multiple facilities, a circumstance known to exacerbate transmission. Due to decisive action, COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities in British Columbia remain relatively low, numbered at 115 as of June 11th.

    Other provinces have fared far worse. Quebec and Ontario were slow to instruct care facility workers not to work at multiple care homes. By then, the crisis was well underway. Officials focused on making sure hospitals had the resources they needed to combat the flood of cases expected to require hospitalization or critical care. Meanwhile, lack of action in long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec resulted in needlessly high death tolls.

    Quebec has seen more than 2,500 deaths in long-term care facilities and Ontario 1,500. At least 273 homes in Quebec have seen outbreaks to date, along with at least 300 homes in Ontario. In response to the provinces’ pleas for help, more than 1,600 members of the Canadian Armed Forces were dispatched to long-term care facilities throughout the two provinces in order to curb an ultimately avoidable crisis that has been years in the making.

    For many family members, the pain of bereavement has been met with the unknowable question of whether there was peace in the passing of their loved ones. Recent military reports in Ontario homes of neglect of and aggression toward residents, as well as of residents having been heard crying out for help for hours and found left in soiled diapers. These reports have led to inquiries into COVID-19 deaths in these homes and the seizing of control of five Ontario facilities by the government.

    It was a deeply flawed system rife with vulnerabilities, needing only a simple trigger to topple the initial domino in a deadly cascade. Long-term care facilities with old infrastructure, limited capacity for social distancing, and a high level of contact between the residents, health care providers, and visiting family, were from the outset not in a position to effectively handle a viral pandemic. Many health care providers were also working at multiple facilities and being paid low wages with few benefits and no sick pay, directly contributing to the surge in cases.

    Changes to the care system have been promised, though few have been implemented. Low rates of facility inspection, a lack of care standards, and poor working conditions have ultimately exacerbated neglect. COVID-19, coupled to a shocking lack of response given numerous warning signs, opened a concealed crack in a care system into a chasm into which the innocent elderly fell.

    While British Columbia has been better able to mitigate the spread of infection, three care homes have also been placed under the jurisdiction of the provincial government due to insufficient care.

    At the least, residents of long-term care facilities should be able to pass the remainder of their years with care and a consideration of their dignity. We cannot know just how many of our elderly were stripped of the respect and attentiveness owed them as members of a society, and, more fundamentally, as members of humanity.

    It is an injustice that a virus long warned to most severely afflict the elderly should have been allowed to spread disproportionately through their care homes. For all of the damage the pandemic has precipitated, longstanding inaction gave way to preventable tragedy.


    By: Natalie Workewych

    Natalie is a PhD Student studying Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. Her academic background includes an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Pharmacology. She hopes to encourage ideas through writing, and bring thoughts on science to anyone the least bit curious.

  • 24 Jun 2020 11:33 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What does mental health look like in the age of COVID-19? It’s still too early to tell. Photo by Serkan Göktay,

    The number of Canadians expressing increased levels of anxiety and depression has quadrupled since the arrival of COVID-19, according to a recent report by Mental Health Research Canada.

    Ontario responded by making therapy free for people with anxiety or depression. Minister of Health Christine Elliott explained that individuals will be assessed by a “trained mental health clinician” and then “offered a therapy program that best addresses their level of need.”

    Research is underway to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Canadians. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto regularly updates its survey numbers online.

    CAMH found that 25 per cent of respondents report moderate to severe anxiety levels. Women, people with children under the age of 18, and younger adults (aged 18-39) are more likely to feel anxious and depressed during COVID-19. People with a job that exposes them to high risk of infection are also more likely to have high levels of anxiety. Job loss also negatively affected people’s mental health.

    “This is the first of a series of surveys,” explains Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist in the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. “We asked a series of questions, such as ‘To what extent are you worried about the impact of COVID-19 on your personal finances, about getting COVID-19?’”

    Hamilton says these questions help link COVID-related events to the person’s mental health at the time. As data rolls in from proceeding surveys, she is getting a clearer picture of how events of the day are affecting people’s wellbeing.

    People have been dramatically affected by social isolation and overall uncertainty of what is to come. 

    “We have to be on the lookout for changes in how the population is adjusting,” Hamilton said. “As we re-open, what are people experiencing? Are anxiety levels going down? Are people drinking less? We’re hoping to see reductions in loneliness as people re-engage on a personal level with others.”

    More information is needed on the mental health impact of COVID-19 in Canada. However, research from China offers insight into what we might expect. Just days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, scientists in China began surveying populations for psychological distress.

    Cuiyan Wang, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at Huaibei Normal University, measured the connection between the pandemic and people’s mental states. Results of the  study are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Wang and colleagues collected data on how people were coping just two weeks after the initial outbreak in China, one day after the WHO declared the virus and international public emergency.

    The study examined 1,210 respondents from 194 cities. Of this population, 53.8 per cent reported a moderate to severe psychological impact score. In a follow-up study a month later, Wang found that people felt less distressed as the government took action to contain the virus. Most people surveyed were concerned about their family contracting the virus. They also were more likely to report anxiety if they were feeling physical symptoms associated with the virus.

    Jianyu Qiu and a team from the Shanghai Mental Health Center shed additional light on the link between COVID-19 and mental health in China. Their study, published in March, analyzed 52,730 survey responses. Of these, 53 per cent reported a moderate or severe psychological impact from COVID-19. Migrant workers experienced the highest levels of distress. This was due to concerns about virus exposure when returning to work, reduced work hours, and reduced income. People over the age of 60 were also among the most vulnerable to distress, as COVID-19 is particularly lethal to this age group. The study also found that women were vulnerable to distress and more likely to develop post-traumatic distress disorder. This suggests that COVID-19 will adversely affect the mental health of some groups more than others, particularly if they are more at risk of infection.

    Hamilton’s research reveals that women, people with children, and people who have lost their job are taking the brunt of psychological distress in Ontario. But some populations remain unaccounted for.

    So far in the province, 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care.  In Toronto, the five most-affected neighborhoods are more likely to have low-income, racialized, and immigrant populations. The pandemic is also adversely affecting homeless shelters’ ability to provide adequate support to people on the street—a population already vulnerable to physical and mental health conditions. More research is necessary to determine how these peoples’ mental health are affected by the increased risk of infection and death.

    By: Eric Dicaire

    Eric Dicaire is a communicator and thinker based out of Ottawa, Canada. He currently holds a Master’s degree in Communication from the University of Ottawa, and is the communications coordinator for the Bruyère Research Institute. He enjoys examining how people think about and interact with media, and how these interactions influence public discourse in Canada. He aspires to be a life-long learner, looking for new ways to challenge his own biases and exploring new concepts and ideas.

  • 22 Jun 2020 12:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A tiger paces in its cage at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park zoo. A PinP photo.

    A study just published in the journal, Facets, begins positively enough. It acknowledges that members of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA - the private, non-profit charity representing thirty such institutions), do try to be leaders in researching this field and, that they do take part in programs aimed at species survival by breeding animals in captivity, then re-introducing them into the wild.

    And on its own website,  CAZA claims, "We are behind some of the most remarkable conservation success stories. This includes, bringing species such as the Black Footed Ferret and the Vancouver Island Marmot back from the brink of extinction,” for example. 

    However, in some key areas, the researchers (a team of two biologists from Laurentian University in Sudbury) suggest, CAZA and its members are falling short. 

    Zoos and aquariums could be "important resources in mitigating biodiversity loss. And the credibility of zoos as conservation organizations can only be enhanced by the production of peer-reviewed science in this field."

    Yet, while CAZA members are turning out more such research (still significantly less than their US counterparts and most in "zoo-centric" journals), most are not on the topic of biodiversity conservation at all, but on veterinary science, instead. 

    "Few studies have explored their contribution to biodiversity conservation efforts and research productivity in general." 

    Increasing collaboration with academic institutions would be one way for CAZA to overcome that shortcoming. So, “It is puzzling that collaborations between these groups are rare. Academics can use the unique environment zoos and aquariums provide for studying species, whereas academic research based on field observations may increase the success of reintroduction efforts led by zoos and aquariums.”

    This new research comes to light against the backdrop of extinctions hanging over tens of thousands of Earth's wild species, “ due to widespread degradation of global ecosystems caused by humans.”

    By: Larry Powell

    Macintosh HD:Users:larrypowell:Desktop:L SCI.jpg

    I’m Larry Powell. an eco-journalist living in Shoal Lake, Manitoba. I’m a member of the SWCC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I’m authorized to receive embargoed material through the Science Media Centre of Canada, the Royal Society, NatureResearch and the World Health Organization. This allows me to “get a jump” on important stories by fleshing them out with fact-checks and interviews, in advance. Often, this arms me with a “hot-off-the-press” story that’s ready to go, the moment the embargo is lifted.

    I’m prepared to supply interested publications with important stories in the field of the Earth Sciences – stories often stranger than fiction! I publish (PinP), where science gets respect. 

  • 16 Jun 2020 3:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Global climate change strike. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

    You could be forgiven for thinking that the world has forgotten all about climate change in the face of the immediate, made-for-Hollywood crisis of COVID-19. Commentators and climate scientists clearly feel the neglect [1] and in response they’ve generated their own minor epidemic of articles and blogs comparing the pandemic to climate change.

    These commentaries have appeared in forums as varied as Yale Environment 360 [2], World Economic Forum [3], The Conversation [4, 5], and the CBC [6]. They draw loose parallels between the dynamics of climate change and COVID-19, and conclude that humans only respond to a threats after it’s become a crisis [6]. Some go further, asserting that our handling of the pandemic holds lessons for how we can deal with climate change. One claims our collective response to Covid-19 "proves" we can act rapidly to reduce global warming [5].

    Such hopeful comparisons seem overdrawn.

    Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are different types of crises and they develop at different speeds. Thinking about them triggers different psychological reactions. Both are complex problems, but in scale and complexity, the challenge of climate change greatly exceeds that of COVID-19. These differences lead to disparities in the ability (and willingness) of governments and individuals to influence their outcomes. In fact, our response to the virus may teach us more about how not to tackle the climate crisis than about how to address it.

    Speed meets psychology

    Relative speed is the most obvious variable separating COVID-19 from climate change. The virus surprised the world with its rapid onset and the breakneck pace with which it challenged and sometimes overwhelmed national health care systems. Climate change, by contrast, is a slow-burn crisis, at least from the human point of view. The policy response to climate change has been even slower.

    Our approach to climate policy could be compared to the pre-World-War-II appeasement of Hitler by Britain’s government. Throughout the 1930s, the Brits continued hoping for the best while conspicuously failing to prepare for the war everyone knew was coming. Does that sound like the last 30 years of climate negotiations to you?

    With COVID-19, however, war has arrived. The Blitz of consequences is upon us. The emergency could not be clearer. People are dying and our medical defenses are stretched to the breaking point. Governments must react.

    The speed and immediacy of a crisis directly affects our psychological response to it. COVID-19 could kill you by this time next week. It’s the sabre-tooth tiger hidden in the grass, which triggers our deepest and most ancient fears. Collectively, we’re fighting it with everything we’ve got. Individually, we understand the need to avoid the existential threat. So, most of us cooperate with public health measures, hide out in our apartments, and practice social distancing.

    By contrast, psychological barriers to climate action hinge on people seeing it as an abstract problem whose consequences always lie somewhere in the future. These barriers are personal, collective, and political. They’ve managed to thwart policies and actions to combat climate change for the last 30 years. The psychologist Robert Gifford calls these “the dragons of inaction” [7]. The dragons include ignorance of consequences and causes of climate change, numbness in the face of its all-encompassing complexity, misunderstanding scientific uncertainty, and of course, good old denial.

    Complexity and management

    The emergency response to COVID-19 is unprecedented and has jolted the global economy. Managing the health of infected patients is medically and administratively complex. However, the pandemic presents us with a well-defined, singular challenge. We understand its characteristics and can tackle it with a fairly limited set of established technologies.

    Climate change, on the other hand, engages the entire Earth System in a dizzyingly complex set of positive and negative feedbacks involving the biosphere, water and weather, ocean currents and ice, atmospheric dynamics, and the human economy. The technologies, policies, and long-term strategies needed to mitigate climate change are quite different to those needed to resolve COVID-19. Some of them have yet to be invented.

    Which brings us, inevitably, to the issue of control. Our success at controlling the spread of the pandemic has been patchy, to say the least. But in principle we could have limited the spread of the virus with tighter border controls, more resilient health care systems, and better communications.

    Climate change is a borderless, planet-wide challenge that demands extraordinary international cooperation. Such cooperation may not currently be geopolitically feasible [8]. And, speculation about geoengineering notwithstanding [9], many aspects of the global climate and carbon cycles will forever be beyond human control. Meeting this global challenge requires a wholesale transformation of our economies, of society, and our relationship with the Earth. It’s a fact many political leaders still seem unwilling to face.

    Lessons learned?

    A few encouraging lessons from COVID-19 might be applied to climate change. We have rediscovered that when the chips are down, we can take extreme action to tackle a crisis. We now understand there’s a critical time lag between the causes (viral transmission, latent cases) and effects (spikes in mortality, overwhelmed health systems) of COVID-19. The USA and UK discovered, belatedly, that procrastination during this time lag would only make the crisis worse.

    Climate scientists understand there are multiple such lags between cause and effect built into the climate system. We must not be forced to experience the consequences of these lags for climate change, because a few more years of procrastination will close the narrow window of opportunity that remains for effective action.

    Sadly, it seems the potential lessons of COVID-19 for climate policy could be lost in the rush to restore business as usual. Many fear that our obsession with the pandemic and subsequent economic recovery could eclipse environmental concerns for years. Even as oil prices crash, the governments of the USA, Canada, and Alberta are spending billions of dollars to shore up shale oil, oilsands, and pipelines [10]. And in a mute commentary on our current priorities, the venue for a critical round of UN climate talks in November has been converted to a hospital for COVID-19 patients [1].


    1. Hook, L. and A. Wisniewska (2020). How coronavirus converns completely shut down talk of climate change. Financial Post  The Financial Times Ltd. <> Accessed Apr 28, 2020.
    2. Gardiner, B. (2020). Coronavirus holds key lessons on how to fight climate change. Yale Environment 360  Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Mar 23, 2020. <> Accessed Apr 27, 2020.
    3. Wyns, A. (2020). How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are linked.  World Economic Forum;  Apr 02, 2020 <> Accessed Apr 27, 2020.
    4. Chassagne, N. (2020). Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change. The Conversation [Online article];   Mar 26, 2020 <> Accessed Apr 27th, 2020.
    5. Galbraith, E. and R. Otto (2020). Coronavirus response proves the world can act on climate change. The Conversation    Mar 23, 2020 <> Accessed Apr 27, 2020.
    6. Gunton, T. (2020). COVID-19 has laid bare how unprepared we are for crises — and climate change will test us even more. CBC: Opinion  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation;  <> Accessed May 07, 2020.
    7. Gifford, R., The Dragons of Inaction Psychological Barriers That Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. American Psychologist, 2011. 66(4): p. 290-302.
    8. McGillis, J. (2020). No, Coronavirus Is Not a Climate-Change Preview. National Review    Apr 22, 2020 <> Accessed Apr 27, 2020.
    9. Ackland, G.J. and A.J. Wood, Emergent patterns in space and time from daisyworld: a simple evolving coupled biosphere-climate model. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society a-Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences. 368(1910): p. 161-179.
    10. Dembicki, G. (2020). This Energy Analyst Says the Oilsands Are ‘Done’. The Tyee, May 11, 2020 <> Accessed May 12, 2020.

    By: Andrew Park PhD

    Andrew Park was born and raised in the United Kingdom and has lived in Canada for almost 30 years. He obtained his BSc at Simon Fraser University before completing his MSc and PhD in Forestry at the University of Toronto. He completed his post-doctoral studies at the University of Quebec and has worked at the University of Winnipeg since 2004.

    Andrew has done forest research in Canada, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, and Malawi. Aside from his areas of expertise, Andrew's research interests include sustainability, environmental ethics and philosophy, and Canadian Natural Resources Policy.


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