By Ashley E.M. Miller
Online films. We watch them, “like” them, “share” them, “comment”, and “replay”. While many videos tend towards entertainment, the short informational film genre is growing strong. “When you can use a mix of words and images, or voice-over and images it’s so easy to get information across, says Shelley Sandiford, founder of ‘Sciconic’ [http://sciconic.com/], an animation company based out of Ottawa, ON. “What’s on the screen can be different than what I’m actually saying and in a lot of cases that can lead to a clearer understanding,”
For those of us who write with readers in mind rather than video viewers, our work can get lengthy. 500 words, 1500 words, even 3000 words are standard length for print communications. However, transcribing that prose into a script would create a “hugely long video,” says Shelley. So, how do we condense science information into a manageable script? You can find out how at Shelley’s professional development session, “Writing Short Scripts for the Web.”
One of Shelley's recent storyboards for an upcoming video
A full-time animator since 2014, Shelley collaborates with clients, transforming their content into engaging videos with brief, captivating voice-over. In the professional development session, participants will learn Shelley’s framework; the rules she follows when writing scripts for short videos. Distillation is key. Script-writing for the web is about giving your viewer a taste of the topic to tempt them to research on their own. In two minutes, you can’t do much more than that.
Shelley will use the resulting animation as a framework for script do's and don'ts
The session will provide practical experience putting Shelley’s rules to the test. Starting from a piece of long-form science writing, participants will condense the information into a one to two-minute script (about 150 - 300 words). Alternatively, participants can bring a 1500-3000 word piece of their own writing or an article that they've read and enjoyed. Participants with lab backgrounds are welcome to write about their past or present labwork. You will also cover some basics of filming with Jocie Bentley, a Toronto filmmaker. Combined with the opportunity view and critique a sampling of online video, participants will walk away with a solid foundation of the do’s and don’t’s of short-film.
“Writing Short Scripts for the Web” is part of the afternoon concurrent session on Saturday, June 4th at the CSWA conference. The session will run from 2:00 – 4:30 and is limited to 10 participants.
Dr. Ashley E. M. Miller (aka Dr. Ash) is a writer, an educator, and an eternally curious creature. Her interests are wide-ranging. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her tweets at @Dctr_Ash, and she blogs at CrossedBranches.
by Ashley E.M. Miller
When we sit hunched over a keyboard or scribbling drafts in a notebook, we adhere to the adage, “write for your audience”. Usually, this audience is already interested in the topic. It’s why they pick up our articles, or click our links, or read our posters. Having people we know we can reliably reach is wildly validating, but sometimes we need to spread our message further afield. We want to cover new ground and engage people who may not be invested in our topic yet.
These people, according to Kathryn Fedy and Jodi Szimanski of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), are your ‘un-audience’. “You want them to be your audience, but you haven’t been able to make that connection yet,” says Kathryn. In Jodi and Kathryn’s professional development session ‘Reaching your un-audience: How to share your complex story with new markets’, you will learn tools to spread science outside of your typical audience group.
The Quantum Cats Video Game App is just one of the ways that IQC is attracting un-audiences through media-based 'access points.
Kathryn and Jodi are part of the Communications and Strategic Initiatives team from the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. They share IQC research successes to diverse audiences through various print and online media. The team also supports community outreach initiatives to spread IQC’s message with the broader community.
In ‘Reaching your un-audience’, Kathryn and Jodi will draw upon their experience and teach you how to break down complex science into engaging messages by using “access points” and appropriate “frames of reference”. “Access points” are common connections we can use as gateways to new information. An access point can be broad as a media type, like video games or classical music. Or it can be as specific as asking “Do you know who Steven Hawking is?” Your un-audience knows more than they think and tapping into that knowledge is key to piquing their interest.
Quantum Symphony: Music at the Frontier of Science, is a multimedia mash-up of art and science that explores how music works at nature's most fundamental level
While access points can get new audiences hooked, the appropriate “frame of reference” can reel them in and hold their attention. What is an appropriate frame of reference? It’s the take on a topic that addresses what your un-audience cares about. Whether it be economic viability, human health impact, or future technology, the frame of reference is the context that makes the science interesting to them.
By combining “access points” and “frames of reference,” you can craft the right targeted approach to reach your un-audience. The session will also cover strategic communication planning, implementation, execution, and evaluation. With such a range of tools to teach, this panel will benefit “anyone who is trying to find a way to break through the clutter and share their scientific concept or scientific message with a broader audience,” says Kathryn.
‘Reaching your un-audience: How to share your complex story with new markets” is part of the concurrent professional development sessions on Saturday, June 4th of the CSWA conference. It will run from 11:45 – 12:30 pm. In the meantime, you can find Jodi [https://twitter.com/jodisz] and Kathryn [https://twitter.com/kathrynfedy] on Twitter.
Tim Lougheed, President
I have been a CSWA member for more than 25 years, having been introduced to the organization by one of its founders, the immortal Mack Laing. During most of that tme I have been a freelance writer, watching both this profession and CSWA evolve significantly with technology, which has also transformed the economic model for everyone involved in science communications. CSWA continues to find itself in a unique, privilaged position of being able to help individuals in this field confront these dramatic changes. As a longstanding member who ascended all the way to the presidency of the CSWA, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, but what continues to impress me is the stead progress that has been acheived in recent years. So impressed, in fact, that I find myself eager to return to the front lines, to ensure that such progress continues.
Pippa Wysong, Vice President, Journalist
Pippa Wysong is a freelance science writer. She wrote the Ask Pippa Q&A science column for kids for the Toronto Star for 20 years, and contributes news stories and features to a variety of newspapers and magazines, as well as medical trades. She was on staff of The Medical Post for 10 years, and was the Canadian correspondent for EuroTimes – a European ophthalmology newspaper. She joined the CSWA when she first broke into science writing a really long time ago, and has been on and off the Board of Directors doing various things during those years.
For the CSWA, she has organized local events for members in Toronto, spoke on panels, and periodically helped organize parts of some of CSWA's national conferences. She feels her experience can help with future activities of the association. She also served on Council for nine years with the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science.
Jennifer Gagne, Treasurer
Jennifer Gagne is a science communicator who loves creating events for people to discover the wonder of the planet through science. Her favourite tasks involve pulling together programs on shoe-string budgets with a bunch of eager volunteers to create moments of wonder and discovery. She is currently trying out her hand at marketing, and looking for the next big science communications project to take on.
Past science communications adventures include being the Interim Executive Director for the CSWA where she was the lead organizer for the 2015 conference in Saskatoon and being part of TRIUMF's Artists in Residence program.
She loves the way scince communication sparks curioustiy and appreciation for our planet, and opens one's mind to ponder our weird, and as of yet, unexplained existence.
Kate Allen, Director, Journalist
Kate Allen has written about science and technology for the Toronto Star's foreign desk since 2012. Her stories about autism research were part of a team nomination for the Michener Award, the governor-general's prize for public service journalism, and the National Newspaper Awards. Her beat has taken her to the fossil-filled badlands of Alberta, a Japanese jellyfish research cruise, the articficial intelligence labs at Google, the inside of a a dead blue whale, and the telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Before coming to the science beat, she covered news and fearures for the Star's city desk. She has also worked or freelanced for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Reader's Digest, and the Vancouver Sun, among others. She has a Masters of Journalism from the University of British Columbia and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of King's College.
Kasia Majewski, Director, Communications
Kasia Majewski is an experienced public relations professional with a passion for strategic creative solutions that get clients results. She has worked in all areas of public affairs including, strategic communications, media relations, government affairs, writing, marketing and events planning.
As the only social science and arts grad in a family of scientists and mathematicians, Kasia ‘fell into science’ in her first job as a policy analyst in IT and telecommunications and has not left since. She has since developed a wealth of expertise in translating complex ideas into compelling stories, working with the biotechnology industry (including as editor of BIOTECanada Insightsmagazine), in the wireless and telecommunications industries, at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and currently at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the winners in the annual Science in Society Journalism Awards competition for 2015.
2015 Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award:
Memory in the Flesh: A radical 1950s scientist suggested memories could survive outside the brain – and he may have been right by Arielle Duhaime-Ross, The Verge, 18 March 2015.
Honourable Mention: What We Can Learn from the World’s Longest Hibernator by Yutaka Dirks, Van Winkle's, 6 October 2015.
2015 Science in Society Journalism Award:
Getting Smarter by Dan Falk, University of Toronto Magazine, Summer 2015.
Honourable Mention: Behind a vegetative patient's shocking recovery, by Kate Lunau, Maclean’s, 31 December 2015.
2015 Science in Society Communications Award:
Slice of PI by Colin Hunter, Tenille Bonoguore, Liz Goheen, and Maxwell Lantz, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, 2015.
2015 Science in Society Children/ Middle Grades Book Award:
The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See by Cybèle Young, Kids Can Press.
2015 Science in Society General Book Award:
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? by Timothy Caulfield, Penguin Random House Canada.
The Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award includes a $500 cash prize, and the remaining awards each include a $1000 cash prize. Winners will each be presented with a plaque and their cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA’s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, at the University of Guelph 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the winners in the 2015 Science in Society Book Awards competition in conjunction with Canada Book Day celebrations on 23 April 2016.
2015 Science in Society Children/ Middle Grades Book Award winner:
Cybèle Young is an internationally renowned Canadian artist, represented by galleries in New York, London, Vancouver and Calgary, and her work resides in major collections around the globe. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and has received considerable notice in such publications as Art in America, Canadian Art magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Fiberarts, Maclean’s, Elle and Toronto Life. Her art practice and family life have inspired the creation of several children’s books, including The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See.
2015 Science in Society General Book Award winner:
Timothy Caulfield lives and works out vigorously and often in Edmonton where he is a professor in the School of Public Health as well as research director of the Health Law and Policy Group at the University of Alberta. A member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, he has been involved with numerous national and international policy and research ethics committees including Genome Canada’s Science Advisory Committee, and the Federal Panel on Research Ethics. Caulfield is a frequent speaker at academic and public gatherings, and a regular contributor to popular media. Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? makes a case for de-hyping pseudoscientific claims in a colourful and original way.
Cybèle Young and Timothy Caulfield will each be presented with an awards plaque and a $1000 cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA’s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, held at the University of Guelph 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
For further information, please contact the CSWA at 1-800-796-8595 or email@example.com.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the Short Lists in the 2015 Science in Society Book Awards competition.
Short List for the 2015 Science in Society Children/ Middle Grades Book Award competition:
The Spider by Elise Gravel, Penguin Random House.
A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars by Maria Birmingham; illustrated by Josh Holinaty Owl Kids Books.
DNA Detective by Tanya Lloyd Kyi; illustrated by Lil Crump, Annick Press.
Power Up! A Visual Exploration of Energyby Shaker Paleja; illustrated by Glenda Tse, Annick Press.
Short List for the 2015 Science in Society General Book Award competition:
The Personalized Medicine Revolutionby Peter Cullis, Greystone Books Limited.
The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge, Penguin Random House Canada.
Malignant Metaphor, by Alanna Mitchell, ECW Press.
Genius at Play, by Siobhan Roberts, Penguin Random House Canada.
Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Predictionby Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Penguin Random House Canada.
The winner in each category will be announced on Canada Book Day, 23 April 2016. Winners will each be presented with a plaque and $1000 cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA ‘s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, held at the University of Guelph from 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
Are you looking forward to the day when the life on Mars could be us humans? Do you wonder how we're going to feed all the people back here on earth in the meantime? Curious about bacteria in the Poopy Lab where 'lab stools are not what you expect'? Want to know more? Learn more! We've got the data, we've got the drama, and we can dance. We have a preliminary program and it's already the bees knees. (Yes. We even have the bees knees.) We're going to really live it up this year. You're invited to join us and our conference partner the University of Guelph for the CSWA's 45th annual conference, The Science of Life June 2 to 5, 2016
By Stephen Strauss
Free access to peer-reviewed, high quality journal articles and comments often tops the list of things which journalists and other science communicators know they need to do their job well. While some may get this access from their workplaces, large numbers of people don't have that as an information port of entry. So board member Asher Mullard has put together for CSWA members a list of places they can go to get the sort of journal access they need - and get it for free. If you are a member, sign in at http://sciencewriters.ca/members and follow Asher's instructions.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is also offering to alert people when articles with Canadian authors or co-authors appear in the journal Science. To get these alerts see http://www.aaas.org/newsroom
Or I say this and then note the obvious: While this kind of heads up is good for science journalists, it may also alert public information officers about discoveries which their institution's scientists may not have thought to tell them about.
CSWA President Stephen Strauss has written about science over more than 30 years initially at the Globe and Mail and in the last few years as a freelancer for various publications including CBC.ca, The Medical Post, Nature Biotechnology, EnRoute, New Scientist, Nature as well as various government agencies. He has won numerous awards for his writing, including numbers of Science in Society Awards from CSWA and has been the recipient recently of two CIHR journalism bursaries. his personal motto is that of Austrian journalist Karl Kraus: “Say What Is.”
by Meredith Hanel
Peaches and nectarines are the same fruit minus a small genetic variation that makes nectarines hairless. When I first learned this little trivia tidbit I wondered about the difference in flavour. I prefer nectarines to peaches, but wondered if the taste difference was all in my head. Well, it’s not.
The genetic variation affects flavour, aroma, size, shape and texture. While the rough location of the genetic change has been known for some time, the exact gene and the exact change in the DNA sequence of “nectarineness” has been a mystery. In March, scientists from Italy finally identified a disruption in a “fuzz” gene that is absent in peaches.
Agriculturists in China gifted fruit lovers with the peach about 4000 to 5000 years ago. At least 2000 years ago, again in China, nectarines burst on to the scene. Charles Darwin pondered about how nectarines popped up on peach trees and vice versa and described the odd finding of one fruit that was half and half. Would we call that a “peacharine?”
Darwin, and others, deduced that the nectarine was a peach variety. In 1933, scientists determined a recessive gene variant was responsible for the inheritance pattern of the nectarine's hairless (glabrous) skin. The glabrous trait was given the designation G, with big G for the normal fuzzy peach character and little g for the glabrous nectarine character. Each fruit has two copies of this gene. Each parent gives one to the offspring fruit, which can be either GG, Gg, or gg, and only the gg fruits are nectarines.
The chromosomal location of the G trait was already roughly landmarked but the Italian research team zoomed in on the spot, sort of like how you zoom in to street view with Google maps. Many DNA sequence differences exist between nectarines and peaches that are not located in genes but are useful as landmarks along the chromosomes. These are called genetic markers. To zoom in on the G trait, the researchers crossed peach and nectarine trees and followed the offspring through two generations. The offspring had a mixture of peach and nectarine markers along their chromosomes but certain genetic markers, the ones closest to the G trait location, always went along with the nectarineness. These genetic markers landmarked the region to search for genes with mutations that could explain a nectarine’s fuzz-less-ness.
Within the landmarked region, the researchers identified a disrupted gene. The peach to nectarine gene disruption is a genetic modification by the hand of Mother Nature, an insertion of a transposable element. This type of DNA element can move because it contains its own code for the production of an enzyme that can “cut”and “paste” the transposable element to other locations in the genome. Transposable elements can get pasted right in the middle of genes, disrupting the DNA sequence. They are a known cause of genetic variation in plants. If you like chardonnay wine, you can thank a transposable element for disrupting the cabernet grape genome long ago.
In nectarines the transposable element stuck itself right in the middle of a gene called PpeMYB25. Genes with similarities to PpeMYB25 in other plants are important for making plant hair, called trichome, which can occur on the stem, leaves, flowers and fruit of plants. The PpeMYB25 gene is the recipe for making a protein that is a transcription factor, a type of protein that controls when and how much other genes are turned on, so a mutation in this one gene could explain not just baldness in nectarines but other nectarine characteristics as well, depending on what these other genes are that it controls. In this report the researchers focused on the peach fuzz characteristic. When they looked at flower buds during the period when fuzz or trichome first develops, they found PpeMYB25 to be active in the peach but not the nectarine buds.
This is the first description of a specific genetic modification that can explain the difference between peaches and nectarines, something that has long been a mystery.
This research makes a strong case that nectarine lack of fuzz is due to the inability of nectarines to produce the PpeMYB25 protein. How lack of PpeMYB25might lead to the other nectarine characteristics — flavour, for instance — still needs to be worked out.
Vendramin, E. et al. (2014) A Unique Mutation in a MYB Gene Cosegregates with the Nectarine Phenotype in Peach. PLOS ONE. 9: e90574
Ien-Chi, W. et al. (1995) Comparing Fruit and Tree Characteristics of Two Peaches and Their Nectarine Mutants. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 120(1):101-106. </a>
Darwin, C. (1868) The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, Volume 1, pg 363.
Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885) public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Nectarine Fruit Development by jjron - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Meredith is a science writer who once enjoyed life in the lab as a biomedical researcher. She blogs at BiologyBizarre and tweets @MeredithHanel
By Claire Eamer
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.
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, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.
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: http://petranationaltrust.org/UI/showcontent.aspx?ContentId=79
A guide to Petra as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World: http://www.theworldwonders.com/new-petra.html
An account by a tourism operator shortly after the 2003 excavations: http://www.diggingsonline.com/pages/rese/arts1/2004/petra.htm
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): http://www.gadventures.com/blog/200-years-of-discovery-petras-re-discovery-bicentennial/
“Preserving Petra Sustainably (One Step at a Time)” in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies (2013): http://www.psupress.org/Journals/Journal%20PDFs/JEMAHS_mockup_FINAL.pdf
A rather breathless documentary about Petra from the program, Digging for the Truth – but with some good video and an interview with Dr. Farajat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeKabIpA69A
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.
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