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  • 15 Oct 2015 10:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Andy F. Visser-deVries

    Thursday, 15 October 2015 marks the 45th anniversary to the very day of the founding of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/ Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques.

    This year Canadians will be deciding who to vote for in the dying days of the current marathon Canadian federal election, but forty-five years ago Canadians were gripped by television images and newspaper reports during the “October Crisis”, after members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross, and then Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte.

    While James Cross, Pierre Laporte and the FLQ were quickly becoming household names across Canada in the early weeks of October 1970, a small but dedicated band of Canadian science writers was adding the finishing touches towards establishing a Canadian association for science journalists. On Thursday, 15 October 1970, they met late into the evening in Ottawa and revised and approved a draft constitution establishing the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques, known today as the CSWA.

    Earlier that Thursday morning, during a briefing held for science writers at the headquarters of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, the atmosphere was charged with tension after a regular meeting of the Science Council of Canada planned for the next day in Montreal was abruptly cancelled after the FLQ threatened to kidnap Dr. Roger Laundry, vice president of the Science Council of Canada, and rector of the University of Montréal. In the early afternoon, the same band of science writers rushed across town to the new multi-million dollar headquarters of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to attend a press conference called by the CMA in support of Québec doctors who were on-strike against the Québec’s government’s health insurance plan.

    By 7:30 pm later that same Thursday evening, the same band of science writers had been checked through tight security guarding the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada for a meeting, where, within three hours, they revised and approved the draft constitution establishing the CSWA.

    Hours later, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau addressed the nation, and invoked the War Measures Act, giving the police wide ranging powers to arrest and detain suspected FLQ militants. The next day, on Saturday, 17 October 1970, the body of Pierre Laporte was found stuffed in the trunk of a car and abandoned in the bush, after the FLQ announced that they had executed Laporte.

    While the founding of the CSWA could hardly compete with the headline news of the October Crisis in October 1970, the quest to raise public awareness of science in Canada began ten years earlier in 1961. Prior to the establishment of the CSWA, a handful of Canadian science writers belonged to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), an American organisation established in 1934. In June 1961, then NASW president Victor Cohn created a new committee to address the needs of members of the NASW who lived and worked in Canada. Chaired by Leonard Bertin, and including members Fred Poland, David Spurgeon, and Ben Rose, the NASW – Canadian Committee was formally established at a meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal in August 1961. The NASW executive extended formal recognition to the Canadian Committee in December 1961, renaming it the Canadian Section of the NASW, with the power to elect its own officers.

    In August 1962, during the second annual meeting, held once again at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, the Canadian Committee formally adopted the name Canadian Section of the NASW, and Leonard Bertin was re-elected as chair. Over the next few years, under the guidance of several different leaders, the Canadian Section of the NASW continued to hold its annual meetings in conjunction with the annual conference of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, usually held in January or February each year.

    Despite the handful of science writers in Canada at the time, Section members increasingly felt the need for a Canadian association independent of the NASW. At the Section’s 10th annual meeting held in Montréal on 22 January 1970, Section members adopted a resolution to pursue the formation of a Canadian association of science journalists. At a subsequent meeting on 28 May 1970 held in the former Maclean Hunter boardroom in Toronto, a motion was passed to prepare a draft constitution by August 1970. While the deadline was short and ambitious, these dedicated science journalists were used to tight deadlines for copy, and on the evening of 15 October 1970, the draft constitution was revised and adopted and the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was born.

    Tucked away in the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, under tight security, the meeting was chaired by Earl Damude, editor of The Medical Post in Toronto. Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada, had generously offered the use of the board room for the meeting. Present at the founding meeting were Leonard Bertin, University of Toronto science editor; David Spurgeon, science reporter for The Globe and Mail and editor of Science Forum; Fred Poland, The Montreal Star; Peter Calamai, Southam News Service, Ottawa; Jeff Carruthers, The Ottawa Journal; David Smithers, The Ottawa Citizen; Heather Carswell, The Medical Post (Montréal); Ian J.S. Moore, MD of Canada (Montréal); Ken Kelly, Canadian Press science editor (Ottawa); and Mac Laing, University of Waterloo journalism professor.

    The first annual meeting of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was held three months after the founding meeting, on 20 January 1971. CSWA members gathered once again in the board room of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, in conjunction with the scientific sessions of the annual meeting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons being held at the Chateau Laurier. Ken Kelly (Canadian Press), was elected the first CSWA president; Jean-Claude Paquet (La Presse), vice-president; and Peter Calamai (Southam News Service), secretary-treasurer. Earl Damude and Herb Lampert were elected active directors, and Jean Baroux and John Hall associate directors. At the same meeting, Wallace Waterfall, Herb Lampert, Leonard Bertin, and David Spurgeon were elected CSWA Life Members in recognition of their earlier contribution as Section members.

    Several news items announced the birth of the CSWA. A short piece went over the Canadian press wire the night of 20 January 1971, and was carried by numerous newspapers. A news article appeared in Content, and another item appeared in Pensées, an internal publication of the Science Council of Canada. A week later, Ken Kelly and Peter Calamai appeared in an interview about the CSWA on Ottawa cablevision.  Letters offering best wishes to the CSWA were sent by the Hon. C.M. Drury, President of the Treasury Board; Hon. John C. Munro; Minister of National Health and Welfare; Hon. J.J. Greene, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources; Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada; Dr. W.G. Schneider, president of the National Research Council; John Dauphinee, general manager at Canadian Press; and David Perlman, president of the National Association of Science Writers.

    The CSWA held its first annual science writing seminar and conference 12-15 January 1972. The conference was chaired by Dr. Omond M. Solandt from the Science Council of Canada, and held at the Bell-Northern Research Laboratories in Ottawa. Conference delegates paid $2 for luncheons and $4 for dinners during the conference. The CSWA booked a block of rooms at the Bruce Macdonald Motor Inn at Bell’s Corners near the conference site, where single room rates were $6 per night.

    Forty-five years later, much has changed. The Science Council of Canada is no longer, replaced by a federal government intent on muzzling scientists. Most FLQ militants returned to Canada from exile in Cuba, and The War Measures Act was been replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. James Cross retired from the British diplomatic corps, and is now 94 years old, and the Trudeau most on the minds of Canadians these days is Justin Trudeau, rather than his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who passed away in 2000. The CSWA has grown from a small band of science writers into a national organisation with more than 350 members and has employed four different Executive Directors since 1989.

    Summary of Leadership

    Canadian Section of the NASW

    1961-1962            Leonard Bertin, The Toronto Star

    1963                        David Spurgeon, The Globe and Mail

    1964-1967            Fred Poland, The Montreal Star

    1968                        Herb Lampert, The Montreal Gazette

    1969-1970            Earl Damude, The Medical Post


    1971-1972            Ken Kelly, Canadian Press, Ottawa

    1972                        David Spurgeon, IDRC, Ottawa

    1973                        Jean-Claude Paquet, La Presse

    1974                        Patrick Finn, The Montreal Star

    1975                        Joan Hollobon, The Globe and Mail

    1976                        Betty Lou Lee, The Hamilton Spectator

    1977                        Neil Morris, The London Free Press

    1978                        Karin Moser, The Ottawa Citizen

    1979                        Lydia Dotto, freelance science writer, Toronto

    1980                        Tom Davey, Southam News Service, Ottawa

    1981                        June Engel, Health News, Toronto

    1982                        Marilyn Dunlop, The Toronto Star

    1983                        Wallace Immen, The Globe and Mail

    1984                        Robert Morrow, Communications, Ontario Hydro, Toronto

    1985-1987            Sandy Stewart, Television Host, Reach for the Top, Toronto

    1987-1989            Bud Riley, freelance science writer, Toronto

    1989-1991            Jeffrey Crelinsten, Partner, The Impact Group, Toronto

    1991-1993            Patricia Ohlendorf-Moffat, Pathways Magazine, Toronto

    1993-1995            Mark Lowey, The Calgary Herald

    1995-1996            Frann Harris, freelance science writer, Regina

    1996-2001            Michael Smith, freelance science writer, Toronto

    2001-2005            Véronique Morin, Sociéte Radio-Canada, Montréal

    2005-2009            Tim Lougheed, freelance science writer, Ottawa

    2009-2011            Kathryn O’Hara, School of Journalism, Carleton University, Ottawa

    2011-2012            Peter McMahon, freelance science writer, Port Hope

    2012-                        Stephen Strauss, freelance science writer, Toronto

    CSWA Executive Directors

    1989-1991            Catherine Bryant, Toronto

    1991-2004            Andy F. Visser-deVries, Toronto and Kingston

    2004-2011            Kristina Bergen, Port Hope

    2011-                        Janice Benthin, Montréal

    -Andy F. Visser-deVries served as Executive Director of the CSWA from October 1991 to September 2004.

  • 09 Oct 2015 2:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The CSWA awards for general audience and youth books published in 2015 are now open, the deadline is December 15th, 2015. 

    Here is more information about the awards:

    The Canadian Science Writers’ Association offers two annual book awards to honour outstanding contributions to science writing 1) intended for and available to children/middle grades ages 8-12 years, and 2) intended for and available to the general public. Competitors must be Canadian citizens or residents of Canada, but need not be members of the CSWA. Entries, in either French or English, must have been published in Canada during the 2015 calendar year. The winners will be announced in the spring of 2016, and the awards will be presented at our annual conference in Guelph, June 4, 2016

    Judging Criteria

    Entries may deal with aspects of basic or applied science or technology, historical or current, in any area including health, social or environmental issues, regulatory trends etc.

    Books will be judged on literary excellence and scientific content and accuracy. Specific judging criteria will include initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation and value in promoting greater understanding of science by the general reader.

    Books must be understandable to the layperson or children, with appropriate clarification of medical and scientific terminology, and an orderly marshalling of facts.

    Also the subject matter should be significant and relevant for the majority of the public or children, and so presented that it increases public awareness. 

    Rules for Submissions

    Include a fully completed entry form with each submission:

    Entry form

    Voici le formulaire en français.

    Submit a brief biography of the author(s)

    6 copies are required for judging purposes

    Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2015 calendar year

    Entries should be received by Andy Visser deVries,  Awards Chair by Dec 15, 2015

    Entries failing to comply with these rules will be rejected. For more information please phone the CSWA office at 1-800-796-8595, or email

    All entries become the property of the CSWA

  • 30 Sep 2015 4:43 PM | Deleted user


    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Kókay Szabolcs

    Eight months pregnant and stressed-out was how I found myself roughly two years ago, sitting in front of the computer screen. I was on the Air Canada website, attempting to book a flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg so I could visit family six weeks after my daughter’s due date. But I was terrified to click on “Book Flight.”

    Everyone knows that airplane cabins are festering clouds of germs, right? There’s science to back that up: one study of microbes inside airplanes found that circulating cabin air contained an abundance of opportunistic pathogenic inhabitants of the human respiratory tract and oral cavity. So if I brought a newborn with a still-developing immune system on board, would I be putting her life in danger? She wouldn’t even have had her first vaccinations yet. What kind of monster would I be for taking her on this flight?

    At the time, my knowledge about the infant immune system was based mainly on what my health care practitioners had told me--which was practically nothing. I had even asked a nurse about airplane flights, specifically, and she said she didn’t know whether or not it was a good idea. That probably accounted for why I couldn’t bring myself to click the button that committed me to the flight.

    What I failed to realize at the time was how much the recent research on the human microbiome—the bacteria that live on and inside us--was relevant to the issue. It just required putting together a few scientific pieces.

    When a baby is born, she is more-or-less a microbial blank slate. Recent research calls into question the age-old assumption that babies are completely bacteria-free in the womb, but it’s clear that the main bacterial exposure comes during and after birth.) So the act of coming into the world is of great importance to a baby’s health, because the moment she hits the birth canal, she is exposed to a diverse set of bacteria that colonize her tiny -- Tender makes me think of food  -- body.

    The baby’s immune system is indeed immature at that point, leaving her vulnerable to infections. In fact, a new study actually found evidence of immunosuppression in newborns, which is probably because the baby needs to remain “vulnerable to,” or open to, good bacteria taking up residence. It seems excessive inflammation caused by a sensitive immune system would do more harm than good at that point.

    The microbes that colonize a newborn’s body in the first weeks basically are her immune system. When the right kinds of good bacteria are present, pathogens have more difficulty getting a foothold.

    So what gives a newborn a healthy collection of microbes that provide immunity? Studies consistently find that infants who have been delivered vaginally, rather than by cesarean section, have microbiomes that contain a greater number of species. Ditto for those who were breastfed--they got a bunch of good bacteria packed into every meal (though certain probiotics can easily substitute). Gestational age at birth also seems to matter, as the colonization happens differently in a preterm baby’s gut -- Are there other ways these bacteria could be acquired? I don't think we necessarily need to guilt mothers who delivered via c-section or who can't/don't want to breastfeed --. Other bacteria, both good and bad, come from the baby’s environment--the people and surfaces that she touches.

    The science seemed to say that as long as baby’s good bacteria are thriving, the chances of her getting a terrible bacterial infection on an airplane flight should be quite low. Great news.

    But on the other hand, there’s still a problem. Despite the gargantuan importance of the microbiome early in life--with some calling it the “forgotten organ” of the human body and arguing that the effects of early microbial colonization last a lifetime--why are health practitioners not prepared for questions about it? My (anecdotal) survey of friends who’ve recently had babies uncovered not a single report of a care provider who had brought up the topic. It’s a huge oversight, given the volume of research on the topic over the past two years or so. Doctors, nurses, and midwives need to get up-to-date on this, and quickly. Especially because a few good ideas are bouncing around that may help save some newborns from serious infections. In my case, giving me all the facts might just have saved me from unnecessary anxiety.

    The end of the story is this: I took the flight, and the baby was fine. In fact, we took 18 flights the first year, and all of them were fine. The risk of taking a baby on an airplane, or anywhere that’s microbially unfamiliar, can be mitigated by ensuring good colonization in those early weeks.

    Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the risk of dirty looks from fellow passengers when your baby cries. Good luck with that, parents.

    Kristina Campbell, a.k.a. “The Intestinal Gardener”



  • 08 Sep 2015 1:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    2014 Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award:

    Floating Away: The Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy, by Shelly Xuelai Fan , Discover Magazine, 4 April 2014.

    Sensory deprivation was considered the ultimate psychological torture device. Now it is rapidly becoming North America's new drug-of-choice. Across the continent ""float houses"" are increasing in popularity, offering eager psychonauts a chance to explore this unique state of mind. Those running the business are quick to list the health benefits of frequent ""floats"", which range from the believable – relaxation, heightened senses – to the seemingly nonsensical. Are these proclaimed benefits backed up by science or are they simply new-age hogwash? Floating Away delves into the science of sensory deprivation therapy by interviewing the field’s pioneering researcher at the University of British Columbia, and offers a critical look at the past and future of this fringe research area.

    Shelly Xuelai Fan is a PhD student in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she studies protein degradation in neurodegenerative diseases. She is a science writer with an insatiable obsession with the brain, and her work has appeared in Discover, Scientific American MIND, UBC Medical Journal and other publications.

    2014 Science in Society Journalism Award:

    The Allergy Fix by Bruce Mohun and Helen Slinger, Dreamfilm Productions. The Allergy Fix aired CBC-TV's The Nature of Things, 27 February 2014.

    A documentary that explores the science behind the surge in childhood food allergies over the last twenty years.  More than three times as many children have food allergies now than twenty years ago, and one out of every three children is now allergic to something, be it food, animals, or plants.   

    Director/writer Bruce Mohun is a Vancouver-based science journalist and television director who has produced, directed, hosted and written hundreds of hours of TV for broadcasters including CBC, Discovery, and Knowledge. His past documentaries for CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things have won multiple awards including both the Gold and Silver World Medals at the New York Festivals. Bruce has been honoured with both the Science Council of British Columbia's Eve Savory Award for Science Communication, and the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies’ J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Science Communication. 

    Helen Slinger is a master storyteller who began her career as a newspaper and then television reporter. After a lengthy left turn into news management, she left mainstream media to pursue her passion for documentary. Since then she has directed, written and produced many documentaries, including more than ten made in collaboration with Dreamfilm."

    Honourable Mentions:

    Blinded By Scientific Gobbledygookseries, by Tom Spears, The Ottawa Citizen.

    Undoing Forever, by Britt Wray, CBC Radio One IDEAS.

    2014 Science in Society Communication Award:

    The Giant Walk Through the Brain, by Trevor Day, Jay Ingram and Christian Jacob.

    In 1972, neuroscientist Joseph Bogen suggested building a giant 60-story high science museum of the human brain. This giant walkthrough brain would educate and engage students and the public by taking them on guided tours inside, making it possible to visualize anatomical relationships among structures surrounding them. Although this architectural project remains an intriguing idea, the cost makes it unlikely an actual walk through brain will ever be built. However, modern computer technology and advances in computational human anatomy models provide another avenue for exploring a three-dimensional virtual human brain. Our team has developed “The Giant Walk through the Brain”, an innovative, engaging, narrative-driven public science communication performance which takes a live audience on a larger-than-life virtual tour of the human brain. “The Giant Walk Through Brain” is a live theatrical performance, including engaging, story-driven narration, dramatic 3-D computer animations and original live music.

    Dr. Trevor Day is a neurobiologist and Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He is music director and leader of the five-piece band “The Free Radicals”. They have written original music to accompany the narration and guided 3-D tour of the brain during the live performance. Dr. Christian Jacob is a Professor and director of the University of Calgary’s LINDSAY Virtual Human Project and the leader of the animation team. They have developed custom-made, scientifically accurate 3-D models and animations in the form of interactive fly-throughs to support the scientific and narrative content of the performance. Science broadcaster Jay Ingram wrote the narration and acts as tour guide for The Giant Walk Through Brain performance. He is a member of the Order of Canada with 30 years of broadcasting experience with CBC Radio and Discovery Channel, author of 13 books and co-founder of Calgary’s Art, Science and Engineering festival Beakerhead.

    2014 Science in Society Children’s Book Award:

    The Fly by Elise Gravel, Penguin Random House.

    The first in a series of humorous books about “disgusting creatures”, The Fly is a look at the common housefly. It covers such topics as the hair on the fly's body (requires a lot of shaving), its ability to walk on the ceiling (it's pretty cool, but it's hard to play soccer up there), and its really disgusting food tastes (garbage juice soup followed by dirty diaper with rotten tomato sauce, for example).

    Elise Gravel is an award-winning author and illustrator from Québec. She is winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Illustration in French, and is well known in Québec for her original, wacky picture books. Having completed her studies in graphic design, Elise found herself quickly swept up into the glamorous world of illustration. Her old design habits drive her to work a little text here and there into her drawings and she loves to handle the design of her assignments from start to finish. She is inspired by social causes and likes projects that can handle a good dose of eccentricity.


    2014 Science in Society General Book Award competition:

    Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive by Mark L. Winston, Harvard University Press.

    Being among bees is a full-body experience, Mark Winston writes—from the low hum of tens of thousands of insects and the pungent smell of honey and beeswax, to the sight of workers flying back and forth between flowers and the hive. The experience of an apiary slows our sense of time, heightens our awareness, and inspires awe. Bee Time presents Winston’s reflections on three decades spent studying these creatures, and on the lessons they can teach about how humans might better interact with one another and the natural world. Like us, honeybees represent a pinnacle of animal sociality. How they submerge individual needs into the colony collective provides a lens through which to ponder human societies. Winston explains how bees process information, structure work, and communicate, and examines how corporate boardrooms are using bee societies as a model to improve collaboration. He investigates how bees have altered our understanding of agricultural ecosystems and how urban planners are looking to bees in designing more nature-friendly cities. The relationship between bees and people has not always been benign. Bee populations are diminishing due to human impact, and we cannot afford to ignore what the demise of bees tells us about our own tenuous affiliation with nature. Toxic interactions between pesticides and bee diseases have been particularly harmful, foreshadowing similar effects of pesticides on human health. There is much to learn from bees in how they respond to these challenges. In sustaining their societies, bees teach us ways to sustain our own.

    Mark L. Winston has had a distinguished career researching, teaching, writing and commenting on bees and agriculture, environmental issues, and science policy. He was a founding faculty member of the Banff Centre’s Science Communication programme, and consults widely on utilizing dialogue to develop leadership and communication skills, focus on strategic planning, inspire organisational change, and thoughtfully engage public audiences with controversial issues. Winston’s work has appeared in numerous books, commentary columns for The Vancouver Sun, The New York Times, The Sciences, Orion magazine and frequently on CBC Radio and Television and National Public Radio. He currently is a Fellow in Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, and a Professor of Biological Sciences.

    For further information, please contact the CSWA at 1-800-796-8595 or

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