Registration is now open for the 46th annual SWCC conference and annual meeting. Check out the Preliminary Program and make plans to join us in Ottawa!
The People behind the Story
Sept 13 -16, Ottawa
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada annual conference takes place in Ottawa from September 13 to 16, 2017. The theme of this year’s conference is The People behind the Story. The SWCC 2017 conference will explore the important and changing roles of journalists, communicators, scientists, artists, and knowledge mobilizers and translators, and how we can work effectively together to promote scientific literacy and demonstrate the value of science. The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada - formerly the Canadian Science Writers Association - has a renewed mandate to embrace all professionals with a passion for communicating science. Come join us in Ottawa to learn more!
by Meredith Hanel
Learning and play are two sides of the same coin for kids who get a classroom visit from Let’s Talk Science (LTS), a free of charge, national science outreach program. Besides fun, undergraduate and graduate students, who volunteer with LTS, want kids to take away new knowledge and a love for science. LTS volunteers take away their own benefits from the experience too. For example, being routinely bombarded by kid questions teaches them to think about and explain science more clearly, something that helps them in their own science careers.
Science Odyssey is a 10 day Canada wide celebration of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) established by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to foster a strong science culture. For Science Odyssey 2017, Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) connected me with the McMaster University LTS team and I joined them in bringing some of their hands-on/minds-on workshops to young students. Here I’ll give you the highlights of what we did and some of the things LTS volunteers told me they like about working with children and youth.
For grade ones and twos at Beverley Central School in Troy Ontario, we made science relevant to their world at the playground by discussing how familiar playground equipment like slides, teeter-totters and roundabouts are simple machines that can move them and their friends up and down and around. Then they got to build their own miniature playground equipment.
Kids love animals and we had no trouble getting them to explore and discuss animal adaptations in the arctic. They got to try on a lard-filled mitt and dip their hand in cold water to feel how blubber keeps animals warm.
For the grade 2/3 lesson on friction we had fun imagining being in a room with no friction whatsoever which the students concluded would be fun but dangerous! Students got to measure the ability of an object to slide along various types of surfaces. Kids LOVE being asked what they think will happen and the freedom in doing experiments to see for themselves what will happen rather then just being told.
I especially enjoyed the Dynamic Dinosaurs presentation for Homeschoolers on Campus, because I got to bring my five-year-old son along. Everyone got the idea that digging for dinosaur bones would require patience as they simulated the experience by carefully digging out chocolate chips out of cookies with only a pair of toothpicks. They touched real fossils, made their own take-home fossils and then acted like dinosaurs in a huge dinosaur scene that ended with a dramatic asteroid hit that caused them to die and finally they turned into fossils themselves.
LTS Volunteer Shawn Hercules who is a Ph.D. student in the Biology Department at McMaster told me he loves talking to kids about dinosaurs. “I hope the children leave inspired to love science as much as I do. I want them to have fun while learning science as well”, says Hercules.
Both LTS presenters Shawn Hercules and Sawayra Owais, an M.Sc. student in neuroscience told me they get satisfaction from imparting science knowledge to young students. Sawayra says it feels great to be able to guide students through new topics. “It's really that idea and hope that kids will be excited about learning something new, and then want to share that knowledge with others, is what gets my gears going”, says Owais. One of the things that really makes her smile is when “students, often those of a younger age, ask you such extraordinary questions that you often wonder if you should be running your thesis experiment, or them”.
Shawn thinks that having children ask him questions he hasn’t thought about before makes him a more critical thinker. He adds that “Volunteering with LTS increases my ability to communicate really huge concepts into really small, digestible bits and pieces for various age levels.”
I see science culture in Canada growing both from the kids who experience LTS workshops, viewing science as approachable and fun, and from the University science students who volunteer with LTS. They will form a generation of STEM professionals, more willing and able to communicate with society.
There is a curious kid inside every scientist or science student and a scientist inside every kid who explores his or her world through play. When organizations like LTS and events like Science Odyssey bring these two groups together, it benefits us all.
Meredith is a science writer who once enjoyed life in the lab as a biomedical researcher. She blogs at BiologyBizarre and tweets @MeredithHanel
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is pleased to announce the winners of this year's awards for books published in 2016.
In the youth category the winner is:
Faster Higher Smarter by Simon Shapiro
It takes a lot of talent, skill, and hard work to become a world-class athlete. But it takes even more to make a sport better: it takes smarts! And whether innovators are aware of it or not, it takes an understanding of physics, mechanics, and aerodynamics to come up with better techniques and equipment. From swimming, soccer, and basketball to skateboarding and wheelchair sports, Faster Higher Smarter looks at the hard science behind many inventions and improvements in sports.
In the general audience category the winner is:
The Killer Whale Who Changed The World by Mark Leiren-Young
Killer whales had always been seen as bloodthirsty sea monsters. That all changed when a young killer whale was captured off the west coast of North America and displayed to the public in 1964. Moby Doll — as the whale became known — was an instant celebrity, drawing 20,000 visitors on the one and only day he was exhibited. He died within a few months, but his famous gentleness sparked a worldwide crusade that transformed how people understood and appreciated orcas. Because of Moby Doll, we stopped fearing “killers” and grew to love and respect “orcas.”
'The Killer Whale Who Changed the World' is a riveting and uniquely Canadian science story about how the first observations of a captive orca transformed the understanding of this species and inspired an international conservation effort. It unfolds through lively narrative filled with suspense, clarity and humour to reveal the pivotal role played by a group of Canadian scientists, businessmen and the founding director of the Vancouver Aquarium. The author, science journalist Mark Leiren-Young, chased the story for almost 20 years. We unanimously wish to honour his effort and persistence in chasing and investigating this story, as well as underlying the originality and ongoing relevance of the story. 'The Killer Whale Who Changed the World’ is a must read by all who care about nature, species conservation, and animal welfare, and an eloquent example of excellent science journalism.
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada offer 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. Books are judged on literary excellence and scientific content and accuracy. In addition the two book juries look for initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation, relevance and value in promoting greater understanding of science by the general reader. The independent juries are composed of writers, scientists and members of the intended audience. Winners receive a certificate and cash prize of $1,000. The prizes will be presented at the SWCC annual conference in Ottawa, Sept 13-16.
CSWA, University of Calgary & Loose Moose Theatre
by Jennifer Bon Bernard
I recently had the privilege of participating in an improvisation course called: Act Your Science. The aim of the course was to provide the foundational skills for improvisation, which in turn would improve our public speaking and science communication skills. However, it turned out to be so much more!
Dennis Cahill, the Artictic Director at Loose Moose Theatre, directed each 2 hr. session, which ran for five weeks. Dennis’s directorship was always filled with compassion, clarity and patience. He shared his extensive improvisation knowledge and experience in such a fun manner we were excited to engage in a learning process that always resulted in full-fledged laugher!
The following core principles of improv were taught and repeated in each session. As you will see, the fundamental principles of improv can be applied to any relational interaction that one engages in, not just when performing on stage.
The importance of being present in the moment was a central theme throughout this course. It is critical that improv participants enter into interactions with pristine active listening, as nothing is rehearsed before the interaction occurs. The interactions that had the greatest impact and resulted in the most laughter occurred during the most authentic moments of exchange.
“Don’t think. Get Out of Your Head. Stop Planning and Just Go”
Dennis encouraged participants to say ‘YES’ when called to participate on ‘stage’. By the end of the five sessions, it seemed that everyone was jumping up to participate! I have to admit that I had to restrain myself to saying YES to allow others the opportunity to say YES! Dennis made sure to repeat that when we take chances, our learning is expanded.
“Just say Yes and You’ll Figure it Out Afterwards.”
Dennis was commonly heard saying “mistakes are good” and “don’t be afraid to make them!” We were always encouraged to be okay with making a mistake and to respond in a light-hearted manner when they occur with laughter and ease. Dennis wanted us to always remember that the audience is on our side and want nothing more than for us to succeed!
“If You Stumble Make It Part of the Dance”
The goal of this course was more then achieved! I feel confident in suggesting that all of the participants will be more present, take chances more often and be okay with making mistakes in future speaking opportunities. For myself, this introduction to improv has transformed into ensuring that I make it a life long hobby that I will regularly participate in. It the meantime, until we connect again, I will end by saying:
“It is Always Sad When a Good Show Comes to an End!”
Jennifer Bon Bernard:
Jennifer Bon Bernard is a graduate student at University of Calgary in the department of Community Health Sciences. She always enjoys having fun and exploring her artistic soul whenever the opportunity arises. Improv has brought so much laughter and happiness to her life that she will continue to make this apart of her creative journey forever! Jennifer highly recommends that if you ever the opportunity to enroll in an improv class that you say “YES!”
Act Your Science is the result of a collaboration between the University of Calgary, the Canadian Science Writers Association and Loose Moose Theatre. Act Your Science is scheduled to take place again at the University of Calgary in early summer 2017. Fifteen spaces are available for the five two hour sessions. CSWA members as well as University of Calgary science graduate students are invited to participate at no cost. Yes there will be additional field trips to Loose Moose Theater and a few pub nights because the fun just doesn't want to stop once you learn to listen, take chances and laugh together without the fear of making a mistake.
Inside Your Insides by Claire Eamer
“Wherever you go, tiny hitchhikers tag along for the ride,” this intriguing illustrated nonfiction book begins. “The hitchhikers are actually microbes --- tiny living things so small that you need a microscope to see them. And every person carries around trillions and trillions of these critters.” Six of the most common “critters” that live in and on our bodies are introduced here: bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, protists and mites. Each one has its own preferred environment, and readers will be startled (and likely a little grossed out!) by the many places they live, including the hair follicles on our faces, the folds of our tongues and the lengths of our guts. Just as surprising, only some of them are “bad guys” that cause disease, and many of them are actually “good guys” that keep us healthy. There's even research currently being done on ways to improve or fix our collection of microbes as a way to make us healthier.
Monster Science by Helaine Becker
“What if the terrifying creatures of your nightmares were indeed prowling the big, wide world beyond your blankie?” begins the intriguing premise of this book. “Could they really exist? And if so, how?” In a completely original approach to exploring science, award-winning author Helaine Becker places six different kinds of monsters --- Frankenstein, vampires, bigfoot, zombies, werewolves and sea monsters --- under her microscope to expose the proven scientific principles behind the legends. For example, the chapter on Frankenstein delves into how electricity and organ transplants work in the human body, and whether they could really bring someone back to life --- all presented in short, readable sections.
To Burp or Not To Burp by Dr. Dave Williams and Loredana Cunti
Find out what happens to your body in space—from someone who’s been there. Of all the questions astronauts are asked by kids, the most frequent one is “How do you go to the toilet in space?” This book not only answers that question, but many others about the effect of zero gravity on the human body: How do you brush your hair in space? What happens when you sweat? What does food taste like? The best thing is that the answers are provided by someone who speaks from first-hand experience: Dr. Dave Williams, a NASA astronaut who has accomplished three space walks.
Dinosaurs of the Deep by Larry Vestraete
Driving across the North American Heartland, surrounded by prairie, it is almost impossible to imagine that this was once a huge inland sea. The Western Interior Seaway, which split the entire continent of North America in half, once teemed with predatory creatures—fanged fish and turtles the size of small cars; prowling sharks and giant squid; hungry plesiosaurs and immense crocodiles.Through a cooperative partnership with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre (CFDC), home to ‘Bruce’, the world’s largest mosasaur skeleton, author Larry Verstraete and paleoartist Julius Csotonyi combine fascinating facts, astonishing discoveries, and the latest paleontological information to bring the ancient marine creatures of the Seaway to vivid life.
A Field Guide To Lies: Critical Thinking In The Information Age
Daniel J. Levitin
It's becoming harder to separate the wheat from the digital chaff. How do we distinguish misinformation, pseudo-facts, distortions and outright lies from reliable information? In A Field Guide to Lies, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin outlines the many pitfalls of the information age and provides the means to spot and avoid them.
The Killer Whale Who Changed The World
B. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta
In the 150 years since we discovered that microbes cause infectious diseases, we’ve battled to keep them at bay. But a recent explosion of scientific knowledge has led to undeniable evidence that early exposure to these organisms is beneficial to our children’s well-being. It turns out that our current emphasis on hyper-cleanliness and poor diets are taking a toll on our children’s lifelong health.
Opium Eater: The New Confessions
Amid headlines of overdoses and galloping addiction rates, an outspoken and darkly comic dispatch from the new Age of Opium. North Americans are the world's most compulsive and prolific users of legal opioids. Carlyn Zwarenstein, diagnosed with an inflammatory spine disease as a young mother, eventually turned to them to manage her pain. In this lyrical update of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, she recounts her search for relief and release — with its euphoric ups, hallucinatory lows and desperate pharmacy visits. Along the way she traces the long tradition of opium’s influence on culture and imagination, from De Quincey to Frida Kahlo.
Sorting The Beef From The Bull: The Science of Food Fraud Forensics
Nicola Temple and Richard Evershed
Sorting the Beef from the Bull is a collection of food fraud tales from around the world. It explains the role of science in uncovering some of the century's biggest food scams, and explores the arms race between food forensics and fraudsters as new methods of detection spur more creative and sophisticated means of committing the crimes. This book equips us with the knowledge of what is possible in the world of food fraud and shines a light on the shady areas of our food supply system where these criminals lurk.
CSWA RUNOFF VOTE RESULTS SUMMARY
Thank you to all members who participated in the runoff vote to name the association. By adding your voice you have provided valuable information that will help strengthen the association’s identity and shape its future. A total of 119 votes were cast, only 7% fewer than were cast in the first round. This consistent turnout suggests members continue to be very engaged in the question of what we call ourselves.
In the runoff vote, members were asked to answer a set of three questions to establish which name they prefer. The choice was between the current name and the two most popular alternatives that emerged from the first round of voting.
Here are the results:
Q1: When given a choice between Canadian Science Writers’ Association and Canadian Science Communicators, the vote was split almost evenly.
(CSWA = 59, CSC = 60).
Q2: When given a choice between Canadian Science Writers’ Association and Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, the majority vote (58%) was for the latter.
(CSWA = 50, SWCC = 69)
Q3: When given a choice between the two alternative names, 65% chose Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.
(CSC = 42, SWCC = 77)
Every set of answers also reveals how each individual voter would rank the three names. When compiled, these results show how many picked each option as a first choice.
Canadian Science Writers’ Association = 34
Canadian Science Communicators = 34
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada = 51
This same method can be used to show what voters’ least favourite options were.
Canadian Science Writers’ Association = 44
Canadian Science Communicators = 51
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada = 24
WHAT THE VOTES SHOW:
• More than two thirds of members who voted (71.4%) indicated the association’s current name is not their first choice.
• Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is the most prefered (and the least disliked) among the alternatives.
• Science Writers and Communicators of Canada is preferred over the association’s current name by 58% of those who voted.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:
In the coming months, the board will be be asking members to consider a revised constitution and bylaws. It would require a two-thirds (66.6%) majority to change the association’s legal name to the one that is most popular with those who voted: Science Writers and Communicators of Canada. The board must now decide whether or not to include this name in the revised constitution document and seek the approval of two thirds of the members. What do you think? We invite comments and discussion.
The family of Karen Louise Birchard, an award-winning journalist, joyful story-teller, tennis enthusiast, loyal confidante, foodie and political junkie, sadly announce her passing, of cancer, on Nov 21, 2016 at the Provincial Palliative Care Centre in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Tim Lougheed, President CSWA
The story of Karen’s life captures elements that bind so many of us in the Canadian Science Writers’ Association: curiosity about the natural world and the people who explore it, a desire to build working relationships that make for superior narratives, and above all, a dedication to building bridges between the scientific community and the wider world that is served by that community. Her diverse career path was very much a reflection of the times, such that the routes taken by the next generation of science writers and communicators are bound to be very different. Nevertheless, the core values she instantiated within our organization should transcend any particular place and time, something Karen herself undoubtedly appreciated.
Ian Wilhelm, Chronicle of Higher Education
Karen Birchard loved to tell stories. As The Chronicle’s Canada correspondent, Karen talked often with me when I was the newspaper’s international editor; I usually tried to keep our conversations focused on whatever article I wanted her to pursue. But her almost encyclopedic knowledge of Canadian higher ed would come spilling out along with her ebullient laughter. She’d tell me funny anecdotes about university presidents she’d met, describe a new campus building she'd just toured, and then offer a sidebar on how high the snow drifts were in Prince Edward Island, her home.
I’ll miss those talks. Karen died of cancer this week at age 70. In the 18 years she worked for us, she wrote many, many stories, but a few stood out: a debate over changes in Canada’s science policy; how anti-intellectualism entered the country's politics; and a university’s focus on lobster research.
In this week of giving thanks, I’m thankful for Karen’s enthusiasm for telling stories. It was infectious, and it helped our readers — and me — better understand the world. —Ian Wilhelm
Born Aug. 9, 1946 in Toronto, ON and raised in St. Catharines, ON, she rejoiced in her 20-year relationship with her partner Doug Payne (Michael, Elizabeth, Sam) who predeceased her in 2008.
She was a cherished daughter of the late Thomas Michael and Kathleen Elizabeth Birchard. A beloved sibling of Thomas (Mary Anne) of Toronto and children Kyle, Meghan and Garrett; Monica Kington (Richard) of Burlington and children Andrew and Kathleen; and Keith (Diana) of Silver Spring, MD and children Alexander and Christopher. Karen was predeceased by her sister Maureen (2008).
Karen was a trail-blazer for Canadian women in journalism. She earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Detroit and worked for the campus radio, TV station and newspaper. She landed her first job at CKTB in St. Catharines, becoming one of its first women reporters.
She began working at the Toronto offices of CBC-Radio in 1972. There she was hired for general reporting and editing duties. In 1979, she became CBC-Radio’s first female National Science and Technology correspondent. In 1982-83, she was a recipient of the prestigious Vannevar Bush Inaugural Fellowship for Excellence in Science and Medical Journalism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One year later, she moved to Ireland to begin a new career as a freelance journalist and so began a love affair with a country she would call home for the next 16 years.
Relocating to Prince Edward Island in 2001, Karen continued her freelance career with various publications in Canada and the U.S. Stories she wrote for University Affairs in 2013 and in 2015 were recognized in gold medal wins for the magazine in the annual Canadian Online Publishing Awards. As a member of the Canadian Science Writers Association, she earned the trust of many scientists often wary of the media.
Over the years, she never lost her natural curiosity, a child-like exuberance for life, a gleeful sense of humour, a deep devotion to friends, a love of food and her enthusiasm for oddball presents much sought-after by nieces and nephews.
While the impact of Karen’s work was well known by colleagues and peers, her legacy is found in the friendships she formed and the bonds she made with people. Karen’s greatest accomplishments were the numerous friendships she made and kept with individuals around the world. We will miss her musical good wishes and Advent calendars that arrived via email regularly. Karen touched many lives and will be greatly missed by all who loved her.
Mentally-strong, optimistic and uncomplaining in the face of adversity, Karen was grateful for the unconditional support of family and friends.
Karen’s family and friends wish to thank staff from Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Provincial Palliative Care Centre for the high degree of compassion and care provided in recent months.
Awards For Books Published in 2016
DEADLINE DECEMBER 9, 2016
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 2016 calendar year. The winners will be announced during Canada Book Week in April 2017 and will receive a prize of $1,000 each.
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 forms are available on our website in English and French
Submit a brief biography of the author(s)
Submit 6 copies for judging purposes
Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2016 calendar year and must be received at the CSWA National Office by Dec 9, 2016
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
All entries become the property of the CSWA
Winners of the 2014 & 2015 Book Awards:
2015 Science in Society General Book Award:
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? by Timothy Caulfield, Penguin Random House Canada.
2014 Science in Society General Book Award:
Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive by Mark L. Winston, Harvard University Press.
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.
2014 Science in Society Children’s Book Award:
The Fly by Elise Gravel, Penguin Random House.
Posted by: CSWA Board of Directors
The CSWA board wishes to thank everyone who submitted their suggestions and engaged in discussions about the most suitable name for our association. Your efforts have generated an impressive slate of possible names to consider (including the option of keeping the association's current name).
Now it's up to the members to decide.
Please take a moment to look at the options and express you preference here.
The name that is most preferred by the membership will be the one that is included in proposed changes to the organization's defining documents to be put before members in the coming weeks.
Voting on the name is open through to midnight ET October 24, 2016. Check for results on October 25.
We hope all members participate in this collective exercise to ensure our organization's name is meaningful and relevant to us all.
Hold The Date!
Everyone is Welcome
P.O. Box 75 Station A