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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.

  • 06 Nov 2019 12:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Photo by Levin on Unsplash

    Joan Hollobon was born in 1920 at Seaview on the Isle of Wight, the first and only child of Ernest Frederick Hollobon, a career British soldier, and Alice Hollobon. Joan grew up outside Rhyl, Wales where she graduated from high school. During the latter part of World War II, Joan worked as a volunteer administrative and press officer with the British Red Cross and the St. John War organization in Rhyl, Wales. 

    At the beginning of 1946, Joan moved to Berlin to work for the British Foreign Office and the Allied Control Commission of Germany and Austria in the British sector of the Quadripartite Powers in Allied-occupied Berlin. Joan served as the British secretary covering meetings of the Health and Civil Administration Committees of the Internal Affairs and Communications Directorate, and the various sub-committees of the four wartime Allied Powers. Her position involved working with her French, Russian and American opposites, especially the Americans, with whom the British worked in the closest co-operation in the quadripartite organisation. Joan left Berlin and returned to the United Kingdom in June 1948 because of the deteriorating political situation in Berlin resulting in the Soviet blockade of Berlin. Thereafter, Joan worked for The Reader’s Digest in London, England until the end of March 1952. 

    Joan decided to emigrate from England to Canada in April 1952. Having a liking for journalism, Joan went to see Ken McTaggart at The Globe and Mail. He counselled her about possible work opportunities and two weeks later, Joan became a reporter at The Northern Daily News in the town of Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, at the time a booming goldmine centre. Her first job as a journalist in Canada was as the women’s editor for The Northern Daily News at $30 a week, at first covering women’s social news such as weddings, but later she covered many major news assignments. 

    After working for the The Northern Daily News for 18 months, Joan went to work for The Daily Nugget in North Bay, Ontario in December 1953, where she worked as a general reporter until early October 1956, when Joan was hired as a general reporter for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. 

    Joan’s first day at The Globe and Mail in Toronto was on Monday, 15 October 1956, assigned as a general reporter to take over the desk of a staff reporter who had left for The People’s Republic of China for a year at the invitation of Chairman Mao Tse Tung, after writing to Mao Tse Tung directly and asking if he could report on the People’s Republic of China. Joan settled into his old oak office chair for the next 29 years, and despite the best efforts of The Globe and Mail to toss the old office furniture when The Globe moved from King Street East to its new building on Front Street West in Toronto, Joan stubbornly held on to that old oak office chair. 2 

    In 1959 Joan became the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, a position she held until her retirement at age 65 years old. During that time, she acquired a reputation as a master of the art and science of medical reporting. Joan Hollobon worked her last day as the medical reporter at The Globe and Mail on 31 January 1985, and took her retirement on 1 February 1985, aged 65 years old. A retirement party was held in Joan’s honour at offices of The Globe and Mail and she was presented with her old oak office chair and gifted a trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. 

    Joan is a founding member and she was elected the first female president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association in 1974 for the 1974-1975 term. 

    Joan served as the CSWA Chair, Science and Society Journalism Awards Committee from 1985-1999. The Science and Society Journalism Awards were awarded annually by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association in recognition of excellence in science journalism in print, including two book awards, radio, television and electronic media. 

    In 2010, at the age of 90 years old, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for the first time in the history of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (established in 1971) by then CSWA president Kathryn O’Hara to Joan Hollobon in recognition of her lifetime contributions to increasing public awareness of science and technology in Canadian culture and her pursuit of excellence in science journalism. 

    By: Andy F. Visser-de Vries 

  • 31 Oct 2019 4:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    How the little amphibian forced a big highway project in southwestern Manitoba to work around it, or face legal consequences. 

    Tiger salamanders in captivity. A Wikipedia photo.

    Just as a multi-million dollar road improvement project was about to begin - between Shoal Lake and Hamiota in July - salamanders were found in the wetlands along the right-of-way. And not just any salamanders. These were the prairie population of tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum), considered a “species of concern” under the Federal Species at Risk Act. 

    As a result, so-called “turbidity curtains” (above) were strung along the area affected. They prevent sediment in what is considered the “hot zone” of construction, from spreading throughout the entire slough. That meant, salamanders trapped within them, had to be caught and moved.

    Luke Roffey (below) works for a company hired by the main highway contractor to make sure provisions of the Act are upheld. He helped with the salvage operation.  

    He tells PinP it’s going well, with more than 11 hundred salamanders trapped and relocated. At this writing, the rescue operation was continuing. 

    Photo by Luke Roffey.

    Minnow traps baited with “glow-sticks” proved an effective method of capture. But that took longer than expected, delaying the construction project somewhat, but, says Roffey, “not by much.”

    He says he got the distinct impression that construction crews would not have “made way” for the salamanders if the federal legislation had not required them to do so. And, he believes, “Many of the 11 hundred would not have survived,” he concludes.

    Salamanders are considered a key part of nature’s food web. Before they emerge from the water as larvae, they eat lots of harmful larvae like mosquitoes. And, after they move to their “on-land” (terrestrial) stage, they, themselves become important food for cranes, foxes, pelicans and many other animals. 

    The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which advises government, says the pressure placed on the habitats of this prairie population by farming, oil development and other human activity, is “immense.”

    By Larry Powell

    I’m 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 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. 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.”

  • 29 Oct 2019 2:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    After interviewing thousands of people and covering an equal number of subjects and miles travelled during her career, Joan Hollobon worked her last day as the medical reporter at The Globe and Mail on 31 January 1985, and took her retirement on 1 February 1985, aged 65 years old. 

    Joan may have retired from The Globe and Mail at the beginning of 1985, but not from medical journalism. In April 1985 she signed up as a freelance writer and contributing editor to The Journal, the publication of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario. At the same time she took on a project with The Wellesley Hospital/ Women’s College Hospital and in 1987 her book was published titled The Lion’s Tale: A History of the Wellesley Hospital 1912-1987 (Toronto, Irwin Publishing, 1987). The book was shortlisted for the 1988 Toronto Book Awards. 

    That her passion for medical research and healthcare was recognised by community leaders is evident in the number of community service positions she held following her retirement from The Globe and Mail. In 1985, Joan Hollobon was appointed to the Community Advisory Board, Queen Street Mental Health Centre, Toronto, and in 1986 Joan Hollobon was appointed to several committees in the health-care field, including as one of the first persons to serve in the Ontario Public Education Panel on the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The same year Joan Hollobon was appointed as a Community Representative on the National Advisory Council on Family Medicine Training, and in 1987 she was appointed as a Member of the Public Awareness Advisory Committee of the Royal Society of Canada. 

    When Joan Hollobon received the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour in 1986 for bridging the gap between the medical profession and the general public through her hands-on reporting, she reflected on her retirement and her long career as a medical reporter with these words: 

    “There is surely no greater good fortune than to be able to earn one’s living doing a fun job that offers unlimited opportunity to learn new things. It seems fainting immoral to receive an award for such good fortune, which included the luck to work for a newspaper that cared about trying to get things right. 

    I decided I could accept it (the Canadian Medical Association Medal of Honour) gratefully on two counts. First, as a recognition by the medical profession that talking to the public is worth doing. When I began medical reporting for The Globe and Mail in 1959 that view was less prevalent. And second, as an honour to be shared with journalist predecessors and colleagues still out there doing a conscientious job. 

    While reporting might have seemed awfully trivial, for medicine at its’ best is still considered among the noblest of callings, the best has never been so subject to differing interpretations, and the ordinary patients, the same old human bag of bones lying in a bed, hurting and scared – may have more old-fashioned virtues in mind. 

    And, of course, taxpayers are entitled to know what is being done with their dollars. The paucity of support for research can be directly linked to ignorance of what is being done or the need for it. 

    If communication can help bridge the widening gaps in all these area between an increasingly impersonal medicine and the people in the street, then it is worth doing. 

    So, I’ve had an awfully good time learning about medicine from a lot of terrific people - the many people who I have interviewed, argued with, written about and learned to respect. Thank you – and please go on talking to all those other science writers out there!” 

    Joan Hollobon not only helped to change the way patients approached their doctors, and how doctors approached their patients, or how Canadians understood healthcare, but she was a mentor and respected by her peers, the general public, and the medical profession. 

    In 2015, Terry Murray, then a staff reporter for The Medical Post, posted on, “Joan Hollobon, once the doyenne of Canadian medical writers, celebrated her 95th birthday yesterday.” Thirty years after her retirement, Joan still commanded the respect of her peers. 

    Peter Calamai (1943-2019), a leading figure in Canadian journalism and a member of the Order of Canada, wrote in his holiday letter to Joan Hollobon in December 2016, “I remember very well the mentoring that I received from Joan Hollobon when I was starting the medical beat. I now try to do some of the same teaching at the School of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.” 

    By Andy F. Visser-de Vries 

  • 24 Oct 2019 2:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This September, I was lucky enough to attend the Reclaiming STEM West Coast workshop in Irvine, California. It was an incredibly impactful experience that is hard to describe. Overall, I was amazed by the work that is being done for inclusion in STEM, but also left wondering whether minorities in STEM must bear the burden of doing this work on our own. 

    Reclaiming STEM is a workshop created by Evelyn Valdez-Ward and Dr. Linh Anh Cat. The Reclaiming STEM twitter summarizes the event as a diverse and inclusive sci-comm workshop, to empower scientists to use STEM for social justice. They discuss exactly why they created the workshop in this article for Sister STEM.

    In attendance were 120 underrepresented minority scientists. These scientists were people of colour, women, Latinx, first-generation graduate students, low-income, undocumented, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and more. There were many speakers and workshops, and the complete program can be found here.

    The keynote was given by Laura P. Minero. Laura (She/Her/Ella) is a doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology department at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Laura is an undocumented queer woman of colour. She was brought to America when she was a child, and was never able to obtain US citizenship. She spoke on how this has made her academic career challenging- for example, Laura was unable to apply for many scholarships when she started university. She must be careful when travelling, which is difficult as a researcher. Despite these challenges, Laura is an extremely successful researcher, and has even led initiatives to protect undocumented students in the USA. Learn more about Laura here.

    Laura also spoke on an issue specific to her field, the WEIRD problem, where up to 80% of clinical research participants are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. This population represents only 12% of the earth’s population. This problem is an example of how the diversity issue in STEM goes beyond minority scientists, and is directly affecting the quality of research.

    Other talks highlighted work being done by minority scientists. Dr. Leslie Berntsen (she/her) recounted how twitter bullying led to the creation of the blog Unique Scientists. Allison Mattheis (she/her/hers) and Dr. Jeremy B. Yoder (he/him) gave a joint presentation on the results of their collaborative study, “A model of Queer STEM identity in the workplace”.

    For me personally, the most memorable part of the workshop was a group discussion let by Dr. Alberto Soto. Dr. Soto is a Mexican-American scientist from Pomona, California. He described the work of being an underrepresented minority in science as sort of a “Second Job”. As a group, we agreed that some parts of the second job are definitely standard work- such as leading diversity committees, or writing blog posts… but other things not so much.

    As minorities, we may find ourselves taking on extra mentees, because we share an identity with them and want to help them. We may spend extra time advocating for our own needs or rights. We take on extra emotional labour, such as explaining our identity to others, or comforting members of our community who have experienced discrimination. We might even spend days creating and running an entire workshop, just to help other minority scientists survive. All this time and energy adds up to the second job.

    As a group, we agreed that second job activities are very important to us, but, they cut into time we could be spending on our research. We are often personally asked to participate in second job activities, and feel unable to say no. Also, second job activities take extra energy because they are so deeply personal. I personally feel this way a lot- I would love to put my head down and just focus on my thesis, but when people in my department are being homophobic or transphobic, I can’t just ignore. It’s too personal.

    Then we talked about Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (she/her/they), an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy. She is also a Core Faculty Member in Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire, and a columnist for New Scientist. On top of all that, she is an incredible advocate for underrepresented minorities in STEM. This quote by them summarized the discussion nicely:

    “Maybe it’s true that I would write more papers if I stopped giving Black, Latinx, and Native American students the needed time and love and attention that their departments are too unconcerned and sometimes incompetent to give. But maybe I’d also hate myself so much that I wouldn't’t be able to function anymore. As a Black person, I was raised to value and care for my community, not to turn my back on them for my own gain. And the safe space I seek to create for them? I want that shelter too. This work is for me as well as them, so that when I retire/ leave the field, it looks different and feels different from the one I started in. “

    At the end of the day at Reclaiming STEM, I felt deeply inspired by my colleagues, but also incredibly tired. The workshop was only one day (an organizer mentioned that this was a funding issue), so we were there from dawn to dusk. I had spent 12 hours thinking about all the work that still need to be done to make STEM a truly inclusive place. I thought about the people who couldn’t make it to Reclaiming STEM due to financial or physical barriers. I thought about all the potential scientists who aren’t even in STEM fields anymore due to barriers they faced as minorities. I felt the weight of the diversity problem in STEM, and honestly, I had to step out of the workshop during the closing keynote. I was overwhelmed, and sad, and tired. Minority scientists are tired. Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s problem, and it feels unfair that we are doing this work alone.

    At the end of the group discussion, Dr. Soto asked us what we want allies to do to support us. Overwhelmingly, the answer was to listen, and take on some of the second job activities work yourself. So reader, if you’ve made it this far, congrats! You’re already doing it. You can do more by following the speakers and organizers of Reclaiming STEM on twitter:

    By: Danielle Hoefelle (She/They)

    I am a student in the Masters of Pest Management program at Simon Fraser University. I study the foraging and communication of an invasive pest, the European Fire Ant. My science interests include ecology, entomology, animal behavior, and animal/human interaction. My personal interests include biking, drag, feminism, weird art, and cats.

    I am currently an outreach facilitator for SFU’s Science in Action, where I create and run programs for children of all ages to learn about insects. I am fascinated about the communication of science to non-experts. I am extremely curious about pseudoscience and misinformation, and how people come to believe in it. I think a lot about how to make science and scientists more approachable.

    I am a queer woman in science, something which I have made a point of highlighting in my communication and outreach work. I feel strongly about making science a place where everyone feels welcome, and I think representation is an important part of that. 

  • 22 Oct 2019 10:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Joan Hollobon’s career as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail afforded her some unique experiences outside the medical field.

    Statue of Jefferson by Alejandro Mallea (CC BY 2.0)

    In November 1963, Joan Hollobon was enrolled in the Advanced Science Writing Program in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University after winning a Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. As fate would have it, John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States of America at the time, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and The Globe and Mail needed a reporter in Washington, DC as soon as possible to cover the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Because of her proximity to Washington as a student at Columbia University in New York, The Globe and Mail sent Joan down to the American capitol to cover the unfolding events in Washington DC and the JFK funeral. Joan quickly arrived at the White House and was issued an official White House Press badge “Trip of the President” on 24 November 1963.

    During the five cold and wet late November days Joan spent in Washington DC in 1963, not only did she cover the funeral for John F. Kennedy attended by dignitaries and officials from around the globe, but her White House Press Badge gave her access to the new American President Lyndon B. Johnson, HRH Prince Phillip of the United Kingdom, HRH Prince Bernard of the Netherlands, and she was able to interview the recently-elected Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, as well.

    In May 1960 Joan Hollobon flew on special assignment for The Globe and Mail in a Sabena Airlines Boeing 707 on its’ inaugural flight from Montreal to Brussels. She then travelled to England where she covered the wedding and honeymoon departure of Princess Margaret and Mr Anthony Armstrong-Jones for The Globe and Mail.

    In 1967, Joan Hollobon travelled to Montreal to cover the 1967 International and Universal Exposition or EXPO 67 for The Globe and Mail. Over 7000 media and invited guests attended the opening ceremony on 27 April 1967, which served as a kick-off celebration of Canada’s centennial year. For Joan, who was granted Canadian citizenship in 1960, it was a poignant event to cover as a leading Canadian journalist.

    By Andy F. Visser-de Vries

  • 17 Oct 2019 1:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A visualization of the IL-2 structure. Credit: Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute

    The most amazing machines in the world live in our bodies and they are called proteins. Proteins are responsible for many important functions in our bodies including food digestion, immune system defense, and muscle contraction. Almost everything that happens in biology, it does because of proteins.

    Proteins are molecules composed of amino acids. In nature, there are 20 types of amino acids which are combined to give rise to a protein. Each of the 20 amino acids is chemically different from each other.

    Let’s do a simple calculation: considering that we have 20 different types of amino acids and each one can occupy any position in a protein composed of n amino acids, then it is possible to give rise to 20 x 20…x n different possible proteins, which can also be represented as 20n. For example, if a protein is composed of five types of amino acids, it is possible to generate 20 x 20 x 20 x 20 x 20 = 3,2000,000 different combinations of five types of amino acids, or 3,2000,000 different proteins. That number is much more than the total number of proteins that we have in nature!

    Scientists are now designing tens of thousands of new proteins on the computer and encoding each one of those in a synthetic gene. This technology has shown great potential to solve health problems such as cancer and infectious diseases. But how is this going to be working?

    A group of researchers from The Institute for Protein Design the University of Washington is redesigning an immune protein called interleukin-2 (IL-2), which has been used to treat aggressive types of cancers. They are using computer modeling to design a new IL-2 from scratch with the same immune boosting functions but without its dangerous side effects. The new version of IL-2 shares only 14% of its original amino acid sequence. Lab tests in mouse models of melanoma and colon cancer revealed that the new IL-2 has superior therapeutic activity and reduced toxicity compared to the natural IL-2.

    The same group is also working on developing a universal flu vaccine that would be effective no matter the virus mutation, which means that once we are immunized with the new vaccine, we won’t have to be vaccinated every year. They are using the protein design methodology developed in their lab to create a universal vaccine. But what does a flu vaccine need to be universal? The flu virus is covered by proteins called hemagglutinin, which have a “head” and a “stem” part. The head part changes every year, while the stem part remains consistent year after year. For this reason, for a universal protection, the new vaccine will have to promote immune response towards conserved regions of the flu virus, i.e. the stem. So far, the new universal vaccine has been tested with animal models and showed protection against not only the specific flu strains used to develop the vaccine, but also against other strains in the flu family tree, which means a universal immune protection.

    Indeed, computation protein design has shown to be a promising tool to solve health problems of the 21st century. This groundbreaking technology can improve not only flu vaccines, but also shed light on developing other vaccines such as HIV, malaria, and hepatitis C. Furthermore, this technology can also facilitate the development of more effective and safer cancer immunotherapies, by designing more specific proteins to boost the immune system without side effects.


    Silva et al. De novo design of potent and selective mimics of IL-2 and IL-15. Nature, 2019.

    Kanekiyo et al. New Vaccine Design and Delivery Technologies. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 2019.

    Alyne G. Teixeira

    Alyne is a PhD Student in Biomedical Engineering and works in the Lab for Tissue Engineering and Microscale Biotechnology at Dalhousie University.

  • 15 Oct 2019 5:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Photo: Penetangont by Squad546

    In March 1967, Joan Hollobon checked herself in at the Oakridge maximum security division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre (formerly known as the Hospital for the Criminally Insane) in Penetanguishene, Ontario, where she worked and slept from a cell among the 38 inmates for four days. Joan went to see for herself firsthand how Dr. Barry Boyd and Dr. Elliott Barker were trying to revolutionise psychiatric treatment working with these 38 incarcerated patients by experimenting with an intensive type of milieu therapy. Locked into her cell at night for her own protection, she was afforded the opportunity to interview each of the patients who agreed to meet with her during the day. One of the patients, a teenage pyromaniac, thought himself a hero for rescuing his victims (eventually) from the fires he set. Many of the patients, despite their criminal records, demonstrated what would be labeled sociopathic tendencies today.

    Joan Hollobon’s article, “Behind the Bars on G Ward” appeared in The Globe and Mail’s April 1968 weekend magazine supplement to the daily newspaper. It unlocked the doors to a world few Canadians were aware of, and explored a completely new and different side of healthcare that would have startled many people. Later, reflecting on her career as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, Joan stated, “The assignment that left the most lasting impression was the 4 days I spent locked in the Oakridge Maximum Security Division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre with those 38 patients. Perhaps it was unforgettable because it provided insight into people whose life experiences and lifestyle most of us rarely encounter, or because of the insight into oneself through encounters in an intense programme that stripped away the usual social superficialities.”

    Perhaps that was the key to Joan Hollobon’s success as a medical reporter – not only was she able to capture the attention of her readers by her thorough hands-on medical research and reporting, but she was empathetic when it came to dealing with and recognising the human condition.

    By Andy F. Visser-de Vries

  • 10 Oct 2019 2:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This blog post, written by Claire Eamer, was originally posted to our site February 3, 2016. As we gear up for our 2019 Book Awards, we reflect on the previous years of science writing and the rewards and challenges that come with it. Let's call this the SWCC's #ThrowbackThursday!


    In this 2010 photo of the Treasury, the grating covering the 2003 excavations is visible to the left of the great door. Photo by Arian Zwegers.

    I spent much of the summer researching a new kids’ science book. (Sorry – can’t get specific yet.) It’s about a very hot research topic – so hot that fresh stories seemed to hit the news every other day all summer long.

    If you’re writing one of those news stories, it’s exciting. You can get your story out in days, if not hours. If you’re writing for a magazine or another long-form medium, you have a problem. Your story might not appear for a couple of months or even longer. That means you have to dig deeper into the background of the story and give your readers the tools to evaluate the hot-off-the-press news stories that will continue to crop up.

    But pity the poor book writer! The authors of non-fiction books can spend years researching their topics, reading the literature, interviewing experts in the field, grappling with the complexity and implications of the topic. And that’s just the beginning. The process of editing, designing, proofing, printing, and publishing usually adds at least another year to the process.

    I write science books for kids, and that gives me an advantage. The books are shorter, so the turn-around time is faster. Still, the book I’ve been working on since late last spring won’t hit the shelves until next fall. And that’s a long time for a hot topic.

    Still – you have to try, even if you’re writing for kids. Maybe especially if you’re writing for kids. They are the scientists and science-consumers of tomorrow, and they need the best, most accurate information writers can give them. Kids’ science writers generally try very hard to provide that.

    And sometimes that relatively short lead time for kids’ books works to our advantage.

    A few years ago, I spent months researching material for Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past, a book for kids aged 10 to 14 on the history of eight different buildings around the world.

    (Yes, I know this blog is supposed to be about science, but we’ll get there. Promise!)

    One of the doorways was the grand entrance to the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, in Petra, Jordan. You’ve probably seen it. In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy dashed up a wide stone stairway and through the imposing doorway of the Grail Temple, he was really dashing up the steps and through the entrance of the Treasury.

    Of course, there’s no Grail Temple on the other side of the door – just a big empty room carved into the red-stone cliff. Both room and façade were created by the Nabateans, who controlled the desert trade routes for several centuries until the Romans took control of Petra in 106 CE.

    The Nabateans built the Treasury about 2000 years ago, and the circumstances of its building and its purpose were lost in time. In 2007, when I was researching my book, the best source of information was Jane Taylor’s beautiful 2002 book, Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans. The author listed the most common speculations about the purpose of the Treasury, and the reasoning behind them. That should be enough, you’d think. After all, I was writing a single chapter in a book for kids – 20 short pages at most, with lots of pictures.

    The trouble is, you have to be sure. So, I searched academic journals, trawled the Internet, and poked through proceedings from archaeology conferences.

    (See – I told you we’d get back to science!)

    Although the journals produced nothing new, the Internet kept throwing up tantalizing references to recent excavations. But – no journal articles, no first-hand accounts, no contact information.

    Finally, I searched for email addresses under the names I’d identified and sent messages to all of the addresses in the hope that one would connect. It did. Dr. Suleiman Farajat of the University of Jordan and the Petra Archaeological Park responded and kindly sent me a draft report with the information I needed.

    In the summer of 2003, with tourism in Jordan all but dead because of political tension, Jordanian archaeologists had done some long-delayed excavating in front of the Treasury, where ground-penetrating radar suggested there was something interesting. And indeed there was. The broad steps and huge entry were not, it turned out, the base of the structure. They were, in fact, one storey up. Beneath them, buried in millennia of flash-flood debris, was an entire storey – tombs, some still holding skeletons and the remains of offerings to the dead.

    The 2003 excavations revealed this narrow stairway leading down to the tombs that once formed the main-floor level of the Treasury. Photo courtesy of Petra National Trust.

    The mystery of the Treasury – still a mystery in the 2002 book – was a mystery no more. The Treasury was a mausoleum built to honour the royal family of Petra and to awe and impress visitors. Its grand entry had once loomed metres above the heads of visitors and worshippers, who filled the plaza beneath it with the smoke of their offerings and the murmur of their prayers.

    When Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past – a book for kids – came out in 2008, it was the only publication with that new information, apart from a print-only annual report on excavations that was shelved in a library in Jordan. And that remained true for a couple of years, until the rest of the publishing world caught up.

    Sometimes, all those awkward timelines just work out right.


    Website of the Petra National Trust and its list of archaeology projects:

    A guide to Petra as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World:

    An account by a tourism operator shortly after the 2003 excavations:

    A story about Petra and celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Europeans’ “rediscovery” of the city (the Bedouins knew it was there all the time):

    “Preserving Petra Sustainably (One Step at a Time)” in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies (2013):

    A rather breathless documentary about Petra from the program, Digging for the Truth – but with some good video and an interview with Dr. Farajat:

    By Claire Eamer (original post: Feb 3, 2016)

    Claire Eamer is a BC-based science writer who writes popular science articles and books for both kids and adults, as well as writing and editing major scientific reports for international science-based organizations.

  • 08 Oct 2019 10:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over the years, Joan Hollobon touched on almost every area of clinical medicine, medical research, and medical politics in her writing as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail. In July 1962 she travelled to Saskatchewan to witness the difficult birth of Medicare something Canadians take for granted today. Commonly referred to as the 1962 Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis, doctors went on strike against the founding of universal medicare in that province. While it is hard to imagine today, when the Saskatchewan Government introduced Medicare in 1962 after several delays, most doctors shuttered their practices or resigned their positions and left the province as a means of voicing their opposition to universal medicare. The Saskatchewan doctors' strike was a 23-day labour action taken by medical doctors from 1 July 1962, the day the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act came into effect, until 23 July 1962 as attempt to force the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government of Saskatchewan to drop its program of universal medical insurance.

    Canadians living at the beginning of the 21st century CE who think of universal medical coverage as a given, if not a right, find the 1962 Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis has echoes of the ongoing fight of Obamacare in the United States of America, something Canadians are perplexed by. But it happened here in Canada as well.

    And Joan Hollobon was there to report first-hand on the difficult birth of this beast called Medicare that was completely new in the minds of the Canadian public. Her reports appeared in The Globe and Mail on a daily basis during the 23-day strike, and as a result she helped to educate the Canadian public about the merits of universal health care. Joan Hollobon was well-placed as a medical journalist to cover the Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis because universal medical insurance was something she learned about first hand in England when her mother was dying of bone cancer in 1948, shortly after the Labour government of the United Kingdom introduced the National Health Service Act (NHS) in 1946, which completely changed the way people could access healthcare.

    Joan Hollobon followed the progress of events in Saskatchewan closely after the dispute was settled and wrote a 10-part series on the state of affairs in that province for The Globe and Mail entitled, “Bungle, Truce and Trouble”. Her writings were later published as a small booklet distributed for free by The Globe and Mail.

    Years later, Joan Hollobon reflected on those three weeks she spent in Saskatchewan in the early summer of 1962. “Research to me was the most interesting, but medical economics and politics were also part of the medical beat. (It was) another totally different experience the three weeks of the Saskatchewan Medicare Strike beginning on 1 July 1962, working almost around the clock, 7 days a week. The rhetoric and the passions aroused! So un-Canadian. Everyone was slightly around the bend by the end of it. Everyone thought then that Saskatchewan, 1962, was an experience no political or medical group would ever risk repeating. So much for that theory.”

    Within a year of the 1962 Saskatchewan Medical Crisis, 97% of doctors who were working in Saskatchewan before the strike had returned to the province or their practices and signed on to Medicare. Universal medical insurance as a concept began to spread like a prairie wildfire across Canada, and there is not a politician or a doctor today in Canada who would not be shouted down by Canadians if they voiced opposition to what many Canadians understand as a right today.

    By Andy F. Visser-de Vries

  • 01 Oct 2019 10:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Joan Hollobon in Portland Maine August 1959

    Joan Hollobon stood out among her peers and made a difference in terms of health care advocacy in Canada as a result of working as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985. As the little girl racing through the woods in the CBC television series Kids in the Hall would say, “It’s a fact!”, (and thirty Helen’s agree). The evidence speaks for itself.

    In recognition of her outstanding career, Joan Hollobon was elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in 1985. An Honorary Member of the OMA is elected by unanimous vote by the OMA’s Board of Directors and must have attained eminence in science and/or the humanities - for contribution to public awareness of medical science, a fitting tribute to Joan Hollobon’s years of making medicine understandable to the lay public. At the time, Joan Hollobon was only the second woman to be elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association, and only the second journalist to do so after her mentor, Kenneth W. McTaggart, who was elected an Honorary Member 20 years earlier in 1965.

    The following year, in 1986, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Medical Association’s Medal of Honour. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Medal of Honour is the highest award the CMA bestows upon a person who is not a member of the medical profession and is granted in recognition of (1) personal contributions to the advancement of medical research, medical education, health care organisation, and health education of the public; (2) service to the people of Canada in raising the standards of health care delivery in Canada; and, (3) service to the profession in the field of medical organisation.

    In the Medal of Honour Citation presented to Joan Hollobon from the Canadian Medical Association at the time, Joan was recognised “for (her) contribution to public awareness of medical science” and “in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the public’s knowledge of health related issues, and the significant contribution which Joan Hollobon made to the public’s understanding of medicine through her newspaper reporting”.

    “Joan Hollobon made a career of listening to doctors talk about remarkable achievements in medical research and health care practice, achievements that the public might well not have known about had it not been for this accomplished writer from Toronto. Medical reporting is an art and a science. It requires raw talent and polished skill. Joan, in her 25 years + as The Globe and Mail’s medical reporter, has become its acknowledged master. She has been one of the medical profession’s greatest allies.”

    Awards recognising journalists over the years clearly demonstrate the degree to which medical practitioners and medical bodies in Canada have changed their views on the value of cooperating with the press and communicating with the Canadian public.

    Joan Hollobon had learned her craft well.

    So much so that on 24 August 1963, with the recommendations from no less than Dr. Charles Best (the Canadian co-discoverer of insulin), Dr Ray Farquharson, and The Globe and Mail general editor Richard Doyle, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to attend the one-year Advanced Science Writing Program at the School of Graduate Studies at Columbia University in New York for the 1963-1964 academic year despite only having a high school education. Following in the footsteps of her colleague David Spurgeon who had received the same award in 1958, Joan Hollobon was only the second Canadian in history to be awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Advanced Science Writing, and the first woman to do so.

    In 1973 Joan Hollobon was recipient of the 1972 Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Medical Journalism Certificate and $1000 Award for Outstanding contribution to Medical Journalism in Canada, presented by Ortho Pharmaceutical (Canada) Ltd. in recognition of a series of three articles on transsexuality and the first sex reassignment operation performed in Canada that was published in The Globe and Mail on 31 March, 1 and 3 April 1972. Nearly 50 years later, this is still a ground-breaking topic, and only taking into account the annual inflation rate, the $1000 award would be the equivalent to nearly $7500 today, which underlines the significance of the award at the time.

    In 1984 Joan Hollobon was awarded a Fellowship in the Academy of Medicine of Toronto, a professional and social organisation for medical doctors founded in the 19th century, and later that year, on 24 Nov 1984, Joan Hollobon was named recipient of the Health Care Public Relations Association Award of Distinction for Excellence in External Media.

    In 1990, Joan Hollobon was awarded The Sandford Fleming Medal & Citation. Since 1982, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science has awarded the Sandford Fleming Medal and Citation annually to a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science. In 1990, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science awarded the medal to both Joan Hollobon and Marilyn Dunlop, the medical reporter for The Toronto Star, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science.

    In 2010, at the age of 90 years old, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for the first time in the history of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (established in 1971) by then CSWA president Kathryn O’Hara to Joan Hollobon in recognition of her lifetime contributions to increasing public awareness of science and technology in Canadian culture and her pursuit of excellence in science journalism.

    Joan Hollobon has not only won awards in recognition of her outstanding career as a medical journalist who helped to change the way Canadians understand health and health advocacy, but she also has an award named after her, which says volumes about her level of standing among her peers and in Canadian society, and the level of accomplishment Joan Hollobon made in her field.

    The Joan Hollobon Award is presented annually by the Canadian Press Relations Society (HCPRA) “to recognize a print or broadcast story that has contributed significantly to the public's understanding of health care.” “The award, named in honour of Joan Hollobon, the esteemed medical reporter who covered health issues for The Globe and Mail for 25 years and who retired from The Globe and Mail in 1986, is offered annually to a member of the media whose work has contributed to the public’s understanding of the Canadian health care system. In a news item from The Ottawa Citizen on 30 May 2017, announcing the 2016 Joan Hollobon Award recipient, The Ottawa Citizen went on to report, “The award is named for Joan Hollobon, a medical reporter with The Globe and Mail until her retirement in 1986. During that time, she acquired a reputation as a master of the art and science of medical reporting.”

    By Andy F. Visser-de Vries

    To learn more about Joan Hollobon and her outstanding work in science journalism, check out the following articles:

    Joan Hollobon's Outstanding Contribution to Medical Science and Health Care in Canadian Society.


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