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
Dear friends and members of the SWCC:
In light of current events, the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada board of directors has made the decision to postpone the 2020 conference to spring 2021.
The board did not take this decision lightly. The best scientific evidence available from Canada’s public health officials advises the current wave of COVID-19 will not subside in Canada until the middle of the summer. In the interest of protecting the health and well-being of our members, friends of the organization, and the front-line workers across Canada, the SWCC are postponing our annual conference.
The 2021 conference will still be held in Ottawa. We are working hard to announce the dates and location soon.
The interim period will be an uncertain time for the SWCC. The annual conference represents a primary source of income for the organization and is the organization’s main event for professional development and networking among our members. In the coming weeks, the SWCC will be reaching out to members to support us through this time, and to tell them more about how we will be giving back to them, through a new professional development series to supplement professional development and networking in the absence of an annual conference.
Rhonda Moore, 2020-21 SWCC Conference Chair
The Science Writers & Communicators of Canada will be electing new members to its board at the upcoming Annual General Meeting in May — three directors and the treasurer, vice-president and president. If you have ever wanted to have a hand in the way our organization operates, you are asked to please put your name forward.
Please visit the nominations page and complete your nomination package by May 29, 2020!
I am excited to celebrate the news with you that 4 weeks before her 100th birthday, Joan Hollobon was named an Officer of the Order of Canada on 28 December 2019 in recognition of her contribution to Canada during her career as a medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959-1985.
Joan's appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada appears on the website of the Governor General of Canada (www.gg.ca), along with a short Citation:
"For her career in journalism focused on increasing the public's understanding of scientific concepts related to health and medical advances".
By Andy F. Visser-deVries
Welcome to 2020.
I'll skip the jokes about perfect vision (my own eyesight is far from 20/20) and get right down to things.
Terry Lavender has been appointed as the Interim President of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC), effective immediately and concluding at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) at this year’s annual conference in Ottawa June 25 and 26.
The SWCC Board of Directors unanimously approved Lavender’s appointment at its meeting on January 15, 2020. He takes on the role of Interim President after Elizabeth Howell resigned as President for personal reasons in early December 2019.
Terry brings with him more than 20 years of communications experience, chiefly in post-secondary education. He has held posts at the University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, and Simon Fraser University. He is currently manager of communications in the University of British Columbia’s president’s office, where he juggles social media, speeches, videos, blogs, podcasts, and more.
The SWCC Board extends its thanks to Terry for stepping into the Interim President role. His appointment will allow for a smooth transition to a new President, with the usual call for nominations and regular election of the board for 2020-2021 at the AGM in Ottawa at the end of June.
If you are an SWCC member and are interested in joining the board of our organization, or would like to put forward an SWCC colleague as a suggestion, please reach out to our Board of Directors through the Contact Us page at sciencewriters.ca.
With great sadness we announce that Elizabeth Howell is resigning from the SWCC Board as President and Director. Elizabeth is a space and science freelance writer, an international public engagement speaker and a technical writing professor at Algonquin College. She is stepping down from the SWCC Board for personal and professional reasons.
Elizabeth has accomplished an incredible amount for SWCC in a very short time period. She spearheaded a successful membership drive for the organization. She tirelessly supported the teams organizing the 2019 SWCC conference in Winnipeg, and the 2020 conference in Ottawa. She helped to streamline SWCC’s very complicated membership and conference online payment system. She took an incredibly time-consuming inventory of SWCC’s hard copy documents to prepare them for digitizing and archiving. These documents represent the history of SWCC and will be made publicly available online. Elizabeth organized a major refresh of SWCC’s website, including a new theme and a reorganization of pages. She worked with student bloggers to contribute regular articles to the site. Her support for individual SWCC Directors, SWCC’s General Manager and SWCC Committees has been unwavering.
The Board is incredibly grateful for all that she has done and wishes her the best in all of her future endeavours.
If you have any questions about this transition, please contact the Board of Directors through our Contact Us page.
If you're looking for some great gifts for the holidays, look no further than the winners of our 2018 book awards.
And attention authors: Nominations for this year's process are open right now, so please check out this link and respond by the deadline to be considered for next year!
Our three book awardees crafted two incredible books -- one for children and one for adults -- and you can find more information on them below.
Official description: When winter arrives, animals living in cold environments need to cope to survive. Do polar bears build homes? Do penguins snuggle with a friend? Yes! But their homes aren’t made of wood, and they don’t cuddle on a couch. Instead, these animals and many more have adapted in amazing ways to survive chilly weather.
Whether it’s whales layering up with plenty of blubber, turtles burrowing into the mud to snooze and wait for spring, or emperor penguins coming together in a giant huddle, this book is full of fascinating tidbits about animal behaviour in winter.
Written in a question-and-answer format, this interactive nonfiction book encourages kids to predict the answers and shout them out. Playful phrasing and comic illustrations make the content engaging for readers, who will gain newfound knowledge and an early understanding of adaptations in nature.
Etta Kaner writes for both children and educators. A number of her books have won awards, namely, the Silver Birch award, the Henry Bergh award, the Animal Behaviour Society award, the Scientific American Young Readers book award and the Science in Society book award. Etta lives in Toronto, Ontario. Visit her website at: www.ettakaner.com
John Martz is a cartoonist and illustrator in Toronto, Ontario. His 2016 graphic novel for children, A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Early Readers. His book Burt’s Way Home was nominated for Best Book in the 2017 Doug Wright Awards for Canadian cartooning.
Official description: We live at the bottom of an ocean of air — 5,200 million million tons, to be exact. It sounds like a lot, but Earth’s atmosphere is smeared onto its surface in an alarmingly thin layer — 99 percent contained within 18 miles. Yet, within this fragile margin lies a magnificent realm — at once gorgeous, terrifying, capricious, and elusive. With his keen eye for identifying and uniting seemingly unrelated events, Chris Dewdney reveals to us the invisible rivers in the sky that affect how our weather works and the structure of clouds and storms and seasons, the rollercoaster of climate.
Dewdney details the history of weather forecasting and introduces us to the eccentric and determined pioneers of science and observation whose efforts gave us the understanding of weather we have today. 18 Miles is a kaleidoscopic and fact-filled journey that uncovers our obsession with the atmosphere and weather — as both evocative metaphor and physical reality. From the roaring winds of Katrina to the frozen oceans of Snowball Earth, Dewdney entertains as he gives readers a long overdue look at the very air we breathe.
Christopher Dewdney is the author of five books of non-fiction as well as eleven books of poetry. A four-time nominee for the Governor General's Award he won first-prize in the CBC Literary Competition for poetry and was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize, given in recognition of his contribution to Canadian literature. His non-fiction book, Acquainted With The Night; Excursions into the World After Dark, was nominated for both a Governor
General's Award and The Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction, and was published in six countries.
Dewdney appeared in the critically acclaimed film, Poetry in Motion, and an adaptation of his book, Acquainted With the Night, was released
as a feature documentary by Markham Street Films in 2010. The movie garnered a Gemini award in 2011. His most recent non-fiction title, 18 Miles: The Epic Drama of our Atmosphere and its Weather, was published by ECW in 2018. Dewdney teaches creative writing and poetics at York University in Toronto.
Can people really multitask? How do our brains imagine the future? Why do we get so fired up about sports games?
With topics like this under their belt, this year’s Favourite Science Site win is a no-brainer. Minding the Brain, a podcast created and hosted by Dr. Kim Hellemans and Dr. Jim Davies, brings deep yet accessible understanding to complex and varied questions about the mind and brain. The show uniquely combines evidence and ideas from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy – and in this, fills a gap in the science podcast landscape.
Minding the Brain reflects Dr. Hellemans’ and Dr. Davies’ shared passion for teaching, science outreach, and all things mind and brain. So how did it all begin? Appropriately, with a student project. Dr. Hellemans wanted something different to come from one of her students’ independent study courses – something more imaginative and impactful than your typical term paper. Playing to the students’ past experiences in the world of podcasts, the idea for a brain science podcast was born.
Photo by neil godding on Unsplash
But the Minding the Brain story goes back even further. Kim and Jim are long-time teaching colleagues. In fact, this is not the first scicomm project they’ve worked on together. One day, after Dr. Davies sat in on one of Dr. Helleman’s neuroscience classes, the idea for a teaching app on action potentials – basically how neurons, the building blocks of the brain, work- came to him. And so marked one of their first collaborations. Fast forward to Kim sharing the story of her student’s podcast; the project foundations combined with Jim’s long-standing interest in starting a podcast made Minding the Brain the natural next step.
Minding the Brain’s origin story highlights how Dr. Hellemans and Dr. Davies embody science communication in all parts of their professional lives. And the podcast is but one example of their commitment to education and outreach. In a world where many of us can access endless information at our fingertips, what role is there for scicomm? Our winners argue, rightfully, still a big one. In fact, perhaps more now than ever. Sure, we can find information about any scientific topic or field of study – but what does that information mean? Does information equal knowledge, understanding? How can we sift through the nuances and think critically enough to make sense of it all?
In an information rich age, we run the risk of being critical thinking poor. And this is a big part of why the podcast is so important to them – especially for the complex and often misunderstood realm of brain science. As they note, translating science for the public is critical – but scientists haven’t generally done a good job of this.
Minding the Brain is Jim and Kim’s way of helping people better understand the science of the mind and brain – to...
They appreciate the role that good science communication plays in being a trusted source of accurate information that also engages audiences in critical thought.
But talking about science to the public is difficult. Talking about neuroscience and cognitive science in a podcast can be especially challenging given that so much of the learnings are visual in nature - from complex data to literal representations of how brain areas work and connect.
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash
So what makes Minding the Brain work? For one, the podcast’s multidisciplinary approach: by blending neuroscience with not only a psychology or cognitive science angle, but a philosophical angle too, the podcast doesn’t just share information about the brain, it provides a critical lens on that information. We learn about not only the physical brain and how it works, but the mental capacities and experiences that it gives rise to.
Minding the Brain also strikes that difficult balance between making information accessible and engaging, without oversimplifying content or making it gimmicky. These are complicated topics – and we shouldn’t deny that. Minding the Brain acknowledges that brain science is complex but communicates complex and scientifically accurate content in a casual, conversational way. Kim and Jim’s friendship and recognized histories as educators goes a long way in rounding out the engaging nature of the podcast. Their unique voices and unique perspectives on the mind and brain just make sense. As they say: “the magic is in the conversation”.
Dr. Kim Hellemans is an award-winning university instructor, neuroscientist, and Chair of Neuroscience at Carleton University. Her science story starts with her interest in understanding the causes of addiction. In addition to Minding the Brain and her Post Synaptic Simulator app with Dr. Davies, she helps her students run a campaign that aims to decrease stigmas associated with mental health and substance use and runs workshops on addiction stigma with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Her favourite Minding the Brain episode is “#15: Multitasking”
Dr. Jim Davies is an award-winning scientist, artist, playwright, and author. He runs the Science of Imagination Lab at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University – the only Cognitive Science department in Canada! He is a long-time member of Science Writers and Communicators of Canada and as a lover of science communication, produces content on how the mind works for a variety of media outlets. His favourite Minding the Brain episode is “#5: Concussions”
They are both always happy to take episode ideas from their listeners!
By: Maria Giammarco
Maria is a Senior Researcher at the Conference Board of Canada where she applies her research skills and background in the behavioural sciences to challenges in education and skills and equity, diversity, and inclusion. On the side She is a Science Borealis co-editor for Science and Society.
Maria holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Guelph; her research focused primarily on understanding the intersection between memory, attention, information processing, and decision-making. She also holds a MSc and HBA from McMaster University where she focused on human psychology and philosophy.
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