On behalf of the board of directors of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, I would like to recognize and thank everyone who has given their time to the SWCC. Whether you’ve served on the board, on a committee, organized an event, or helped out in any way, we’re grateful.
This is National Volunteer Week, but believe me, we’re thankful to you year-round. The SWCC was started by a group of volunteers in 1970, and has been representing the interests of Canadian science communicators ever since, thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who have contributed over the past 50 years. And today, because of you and your efforts and energy, we continue to be a strong voice for science communication across Canada.
Thank you again.
Terry Lavender, SWCC President
Popular Canadian science broadcaster Jay Ingram (CM) launches original podcast series examining our complex relationship with wildlife.
ANTHROPOMANIA, the entertaining and thought provoking original series, featuring CBC and Discovery Channel alum Jay Ingram, is a much needed breath of fresh air, inspiring listeners to look at non-human life through a new lens.
TORONTO, MARCH 8, 2020 – A snake with personality. A plant that feels. Feral boars and cocaine hippos. A world famous taxidermist who sings like Roy Orbison. Why do we have such complex relationships with wildlife? All this and more in our inaugural season of Anthropomania.
Dropping on March 15, 2021 across all podcast platforms, the Canadian-made series will explore everything from whether animals have distinct personalities to the enigmas of plant consciousness and the fascinating world of taxidermy. At its helm are heavy-hitting science broadcasters and journalists, including acclaimed television host and bestselling author Jay Ingram (Daily Planet, Quirks and Quarks). He’s joined by two fresh voices: biologist and science journalist, Niki Wilson, and biomedical scientist, Dr. Erika Siren. The trio, alongside fascinating guests, examine — and challenge — our attitudes towards animals, plants, and all life on earth.
Anthropomania is our made-up word, but the concept has always existed. While anthropomorphism means attributing human qualities to other species, anthropomania is that, but magnified to the extreme. Peeling back the layers of our human-centred perceptions, Anthropomania dares to see the true nature of animals and plant life as they really are.
“The deeper we dig on Anthropomania, the more we discover there’s hardly a living thing on this planet which doesn’t bear the imprint of humans,” says Ingram. “We hope everyone who listens will see opportunities to change the way they think about the living world.”
The series fills a gap in the podcast genre, inviting world-class guests to take a contemporary approach to investigating some of the most compelling wildlife questions out there. Weaving together stories and interviews with a diverse cross-section of scientists, experts, and trailblazers, each episode unearths the absurd — sometimes laughable — facets of our own conceptions of the natural world.
Produced by award-winning production agency Lightscope Creative, the podcast also reunites Ingram with fellow Discovery Channel veteran, and agency founder, Frances MacKinnon (Executive Producer).
“During this difficult time in the world, Anthropomania provides an upbeat, optimistic approach to looking at non-human life from a new vantage point,” she says. “Listeners are guaranteed to learn something new, but more than anything, we hope they walk away loving the planet and its creatures a little bit more after every listen. And, on International Women’s Day 2021, we are proud to be amplifying female voices in science.”
Anthropomania straddles culture and science, sparking curiosity in the most unexpected of places, and occasionally ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Established in 2013, Lightscope Creative produces story-driven podcasts and video for some of the biggest and best brands in the world. Founded by Frances MacKinnon, award-winning television producer and journalist, Lightscope brings high quality, documentary-style storytelling to branded content.
For inquiries or interviews contact Victoria Bouthillier, Director of Marketing email@example.com
What do you have in common with the derriere of a Boston terrier? No, this isn't a riddle – but a legitimate question. Now before you lose yourself in a dog's breakfast of ideas, I'll give you an answer.
Both this canine booty and our bodies are composed of thousands of cells – the fundamental unit of life. It’s the focus of Carolyn Fisher's SWCC award-winning book, Cells: An Owner's Handbook, where she elucidates the building blocks of man through the eyes of his best friend.
Carolyn joined me via video link from her studio in Calgary to describe her story's evolution from its initial conception to book, a process akin to how a cell biologist painfully polishes their thesis. The relationship between editor and author mirrors that of student and supervisor, and Carolyn explained the story that ended up on paper could be told five ways.
Her first idea was to write about Paramecium, an organism that fascinated her since drawing it out in Grade 10 science class. However, after being encouraged by her editor to generalize the book to "cells" and letting the idea mull for a few years, it evolved into a comical tale about a girl who catches herself a pet rhinovirus or simply put a nasty pet cold. Not yet striking the right chord, her rhinovirus idea evolved to Cells: An Owner's Manual. The second iteration of this novel, narrated by Phoebe the Amoeba, was close to captivating her editor's attention. Still, she cast about for a relatable story that would captivate these hungry young readers.
Frustrated, Carolyn resorted to a tactic employed by writers and young academics alike: scream into her pillow and thrash her limbs on her mattress. Somewhere between that frustration point and putting pen to paper, telling the story of cells from a tiny but captivating narrator living on the derriere of terrier was born.
I asked Carolyn how she translated a fairly abstract concept to a new generation of scientists, something I struggled with when completing my own thesis in molecular biology. She responded with a take of scientific discovery.
"When I have an idea to make a book like this, I am learning the science too," she said
This discovery approach makes the information within her books so tangible to younger audiences. Cells are complicated machines, with many subparts (known as organelles) and hidden mysteries like deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that codes every creature's trait. By moving along this journey with her grade school readers, it helped clarify whether complicated structures like the endoplasmic reticulum (the cells transport hub) should be included on a page or whether it was essential to define terms like microscope (it was).
The most awe-inspiring aspect of the picture book is viewing a cell's world through the lens of Carolyn's creative microscope. When asked about her art inspirations, Carolyn lit up.
"I've always just thought things you look at under the microscope are beautiful, and you could have many art shows with the beautiful things you see under a microscope."
The real challenge, though, was to capture the ephemeral beauty of cell parts as seen under a microscope. To translate that translucency and movement on paper involved playing around with different textures and media. Carolyn turned to software such as Photoshop or Procreate along with physical techniques such as glass monoprinting. This is a medium where an image can only be derived once, using tools like ink and a brayer (a small roller). Carolyn painstakingly conducted her own experiments to recreate images of what a biologist would see under their own microscopes.
Like most scientists, both the physical and written portions of Carolyn's creation were created by her own hand, which isn't the case for many children's books that clearly separate the author and illustrator's role. However, the same way a professor fine-tunes the error bars on a graphic in their manuscript, she perfected every last drawing, massaged every last word. This resulted in a unique creative process for her.
"Writing is painful. However, it's just never a straight line," she laughed. "Therefore, I end up bouncing back and forth between writing and illustrating, creating many sketches. Sometimes the writing tells me what the illustration needs, sometimes the illustration tells me what the writing needs. Then sometimes, nothing will tell me what it needs."
So, what about the dog’s butt? Well, this part of the story was a bit less defined in Carolyn’s mind than her dive into cellular anatomy. Although not a huge dog person herself, her mind went on a flight of rhyming fantasy. Once she knew it would be a dog, she made a list of all the breeds that she thought would be fun to draw.
"I had settled on the terrier, and the skies open up, and the music started, and I thought, ‘Oh the derriere of a terrier!’"
From here, things just fell together, and as a writer, you have to know run with inspiration like that.
Carolyn did depart with one vital piece of advice for any adult writer vying to embark on a journey into children's literature.
"If you want to try writing for children the first time, just write."
Proving that like a thesis pen might not always hit paper successfully, but eventually, the stars will align, and that dog's breakfast of creative ideas you had could turn into an SWCC award-winning book.
By: Miranda Stahn
A prairie girl at heart, Miranda completed both her Bachelor's and Master's of Science at the University of Alberta. Her thesis research focused on classifying new bacterial viruses for a unique class of bacteria known as Methanotrophs - named for their ability to survive off of unusual carbon compounds such as methane. Outside of her studies, Miranda has always been passionate about science communications and outreach. Since undergrad, she has been involved in several outreach initiatives run through well-known programs such as the Telus World of Science Edmonton (TWOSE), the University of Alberta's DiscoverE, WISEST (Women in Scholarship Engineering Science and Technology), and Science Slam Canada.
Miranda is committed to making science accessible to everyone and firmly believes that effective and entertaining science writing is key to helping the public disseminate truth from fiction. For more details, please check out her LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/miranda-stahn-93229483/
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada joins other journalism organizations in condemning all attempts by governments and third-party agencies to discredit journalists who cover climate issues.
We specifically condemn the Government of Alberta, which in their recent $3.5 million report “A New Global Paradigm: Understanding the Transnational Progressive Movement, the Energy Transition and the Great Transformation Strangling Alberta’s Petroleum Industry,” baselessly attack Canadian climate journalists at many of Canada's most respected and trusted media outlets, including Maclean’s, TVO, the Toronto Star, the CBC, the Globe and Mail, and the National Post. The report falsely claims these journalists and media organizations are part of a “disturbing” movement to “coordinate and effectively distribute propagandized climate change issues in their reporting.”
Irresponsible attempts to erode public trust in journalism not only damage society's capacity to understand and address major crises like human-driven climate change, they also serve to undermine free speech and government accountability — the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.
The SWCC encourages Canadian science journalists to continue to cover the climate crisis with the same rigour and integrity they have consistently exhibited. And we assure the public that, despite the Alberta Government's false claims to the contrary, Canadian climate journalists will continue to inform the public discourse with reporting based on science and facts.
The SWCC Executive Team
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
The new year has so far brought new signs of hope – hope for an eventual end to the COVID pandemic as vaccination ramps up and hope for a more science-friendly climate in our neighbour to the south where the new president has appointed his science advisor to the cabinet.
Because COVID is still very much with us, the SWCC conference will once again be virtual this year. After last year’s successful conference, I’m looking forward to seeing what conference chair Rhonda Moore and her team come up with this year. The AGM will also be virtual again.
At last year’s AGM in November, we were pleased to welcome some new board members and to say farewell and thanks to some departing members.
We said goodbye to treasurer Aniruddho Chokroborty-Hoque and to board members Carolyn Fell, Michelle Reddinger and Natasha Waxman. I’d like to thank all of them for their service.
And we have new board members to welcome: Ki-Youn Kim and Sunita LeGallou joined the board in the course of the year, and Beth Gallagher, Cristina Sanza and Shirene Singh joined the at the AGM. Ki-Youn heads the 50th Anniversary committee, Sunita is chair of the Book Awards Committee and Cristina chairs the Digital Media Committee. You can read the bios of all the board members at sciencewriters.ca/board-members
Getting involved with the SWCC is a great way to hone your skills, to network, to add to your resumé, and it can be a lot of fun as well. If you’re interested in helping out on any of the committees or getting involved in any way, contact us and let us know what your interests are.
Best wishes for a bright new year.
SWCC Awards (Year Unknown)
On October 15, 2020, Canada marked the 50th anniversary of the invocation of the War Measures Act by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in response to the kidnappings of James Cross and Pierre Laporte by the Front de libération du Québec. Historians and political scientists still argue about the necessity of Trudeau’s move, but the outcome of another event that happened that day is much less ambiguous – the founding of the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), which has, of course, since morphed into the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC).
The story of how the CSWA/SWCC came to be is told elsewhere on this site by Andy Visser-deVries who himself has played a large role in our organization’s history.
Over the past 50 years, the SWCC has grown into a nation-wide organization of almost 300 science communicators in print, radio, television, web, social media and more.
As our website notes, we include media professionals, communications officers in science and technology-related institutions, technical writers and educators – all of whom are involved in communicating science and technology to non-specialist audiences.
SWCC operates several national programs, including its annual conference, which highlights current science and technology issues and brings together scientists, engineers, journalists, communicators, educators, youth and interested citizens. Pre-COVID, the conference was held in a different Canadian city each year, while this year it went online for the first time. Whether virtual or geographical, the conference highlights local developments in science and technology and combines public forums and educational workshops to produce a serious focus on ways of communicating the importance of such developments to the Canadian public with the greatest impact.
Our 50th anniversary committee, led by new SWCC Board member Ki-Youn Kim, has a number of events and projects to mark the first 50 years of the SWCC lined-up, including:
Every two months, we will be releasing a new decade for our 50thAnniversary Yearbook, highlighting the growth of the organization and the scientific advances of the decade.
To bring our community closer, we will be hosting monthly social Coffee Klatches starting in November (details to follow). Come with a cup of coffee or even a glass of wine to chat with old and new friends in small online groups.
Keep your skills sharp and knowledge up to date with online professional development workshops in new media, such as social media and podcasting, and much more.
In 2021, we will launch our special science communication lecture series, where we’ll host five trailblazers from the field to share their experiences and insights.
Towards the end of our celebration, we’ll reveal our new logo for the Science Writers & Communicators of Canada. Members will be able to order an exclusive enamel pin for the 50th Anniversary.
We’ll be updating you on plans through this website as well as e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Also, feel free to share the celebration with the hashtag #SWCC50. If you’d like to volunteer some of your time or have any suggestions, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
A big thank you to Ki-Youn and the other members of the 50th anniversary committee – Brigid Prouse, Cristian Zaelzer, Marina Rowbotham, Pippa Wysong and Tim Lougheed. Their energy, innovation and creativity epitomize the spirit of our organization over the past half-century.
It’s a great start to our next 50 years. Happy birthday, SWCC!
Dear SWCC members:
As you know, we recently held a membership vote to reconfirm changing the name of our organization to the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada and to ratify amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws.
Voting was open from August 1 to August 27. Sixty-six votes were cast (286 members were eligible to vote).
Question 1: Do you support the proposed name, Science Writers and Communicators of Canada?
In favour: 64
In favour: 64
Question 2: Do you support the proposed amendment to our Constitution and ByLaws?
In favour: 66
In favour: 66
Therefore, I declare the motions carried.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the vote and the special general meeting on August 27. Special thanks to Tim Lougheed for providing background on the reason for revising the constitution and bylaws, and to Nikki Berreth for arranging the vote and the meeting.
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
This year the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards team is making a special effort to encourage more entries from Canada in all categories. There is no entry fee for the contest, which is judged by independent panels of journalists.
The entry deadline is 1 August 2020. Entries must have been published, broadcast or posted online from 16 July 2019 to 15 July 2020.
We will present two awards in each category, a Gold award worth $5,000 and a Silver award worth $3,500. Please read the Contest Rules and Frequently Asked Questions before submitting.
For more information and to enter, go to: https://sjawards.aaas.org/enter.
SWCC's Annual Conference in Guelph during the speed dating session.
Conspiracy theories about the origin of new coronavirus, exaggerated claims about “cures” and vaccinations, conflicting advice on wearing masks, pundits accusing each other of being armchair epidemiologists … all of a sudden, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, science communication is in the spotlight.
Here in British Columbia, I’ve been struck by the difference in communication style between U.S. President Donald Trump and our own provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Trump, of course, has been making all sorts of wild and sometimes dangerous statements, very few of them based on evidence. Dr. Henry, on the other hand, has been speaking calmly, clearly, and without exaggeration or conscious bias. She doesn’t speculate, she admits what she does not know, and she speaks plainly and without condescension or judgement. She comes across as trustworthy. It’s no wonder that many attribute B.C.’s success in containing COVID-19 in part to her daily public statements.
But it’s not just Bonnie Henry who’s providing a good example of how to communicate. Science communicators in Canada and globally have been doing an outstanding job in sorting through the deluge of news, opinions, claims, rumours, media releases and social media feeds. (See this story in Nature for a great analysis of how science communicators and researchers are fighting COVID-19 rumours.)
Science communication often goes unacknowledged, but its importance cannot be underestimated, especially now. Whether we work for the media, freelance, host a podcast, write a blog, or do corporate, non-profit or university communications, we are needed, we are important. It will be interesting to see whether the public perception of science communication changes once the current crisis is over. I hope not.
And organizations such as the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) also play their part; in providing opportunities for education, networking and more. As it says on our website, we “foster quality science communication that links science and technology communicators from coast-to-coast.”
The SWCC is run by a volunteer Board of Directors. As you know, we’ve had to postpone our AGM and Board elections until November. If you’re interested in running for the Board, we’d love to have you! You can find out more information, and download the nomination form, at https://sciencewriters.ca/election-2020
Stay safe and healthy.
Terry Lavender, SWCC President
Due to the necessity of postponing the June 2020 conference, the SWCC Board of Directors has voted unanimously to postpone the Annual General Meeting until November 2020. The AGM will be held online, as provided for in the SWCC constitution.
Because of the postponement, the Board also voted to postpone the 2020 Board elections until that time. We will provide further details on nominations, voting and the AGM as soon as possible.
Terry Lavender, President
P.O. Box 75 Station A