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by Tim Lougheed, President SWCC
For those of us who were writing about science before the Internet was a thing, the discord sown by social media is nothing less than mind boggling. What was once a trade in ideas and arguments has been supplanted by a whirlwind of images, which give rise to their own sets of ideas and arguments quite independently of any coherent process. This orgy of oversharing regularly generates spats unworthy of a kindergarten sandbox, making a mockery of technology that has suddenly enabled upward of half the planet’s population to exchange billions of messages with one another. And yet this same embarrassing medium can likewise redeem itself with rich intellectual exchanges, linking hearts and minds from all walks of life in ways that we could scarcely have imagined a generation ago.
This conundrum is more than annoying, it has practical consequences. By way of example, consider a dust-up generated by the venerable journal Science, which on the ominous Ides of March published an opinion piece by a University of Toronto doctoral student — Meghan Wright of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering — who saw fit to critique the social media musings of another University of Toronto doctoral student — Samantha Yammine of the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. Wright bluntly argued that Yammine’s online efforts to represent women in science linger too much on personal detail and consequently detract from the important task of trying to create a level playing field for both genders in the scientific community.
That critique may have merit, but in this case it lost a great deal of credibility by assigning the serious mission of reforming the institutional culture of research to the chaotic information wonderland that is social media. Wright chastises female scientists for Instagram posts of “pretty selfies, fun videos, and microscope images captioned with accessible language and cute emojis.” Apparently exempt from such criticism is Wright’s own Twitter feed that, in addition to detailed updates of her own scientific progress and regular highlights of women’s success in research, includes the prize-winning Millennium Falcon-shaped gingerbread house at her lab’s Christmas party and a bevy of selfies taken after a make-up session.
The point is not that two serious and accomplished academics have populated their social media accounts with some fluff. For better or worse, social media has evolved to accommodate contributions that include brain-dead trivia as well as our deepest musings on life’s purpose. In this way it is a faithful mirror of our everyday existence, which is shot through with the dreary tedium of life however much we like to think of ourselves as being on a grand quest to somewhere. And what anyone with access to the Web can now learn is that scientists are no different in this regard — we hail their march to the truth, or at least the little bit of light they shine in the darkness, but their most candid social media side reveals them to put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
Nor should that have come as any surprise to the editors at Science who have spent the past week insisting that they did not intend for Wright to engage in an ad hominem attack on Yammine. Those editors may not have been around on March 2, 2012, when the magazine devoted its high profile editorial page to actor Alan Alda, who was announcing his desire to transform the way in scientists communicate with the public by founding the Centre for Communicating Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“The intention, of course, is not to turn scientists into actors but to allow them to be more authentically themselves in public interactions,” he wrote, noting that this goal emerged from the enlightening experience of interviewing scientists for his PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. “Having to talk with someone who was truly trying to understand caused an actual human interaction to take place in these interviews. There was more warmth, and the real person behind the scientist in the white lab coat could emerge. Suddenly, both young people and adults could see that scientists were like them, with a natural way of speaking and even a sense of humor.”
The Science Writers and Communicators of Canada was created and is sustained by people who have come to the same realization as Alda: science is an all too human enterprise, conducted by people who display every glorious facet of what it means to be human, from brilliant talent to disappointing shortcomings, from admirable virtues to shocking vices, from inspiring triumphs to devastating failures. A journal such as Science may want to showcase only the most somber business of its subject matter and set aside these pesky human qualities, but social media has no such agenda, nor does it seemingly have any agenda at all. By allowing what may have been Wright’s well intentioned attempt to raise the tone of science outreach on social media to descend into a poorly framed series of complaints, these editorial gatekeepers not only revealed a poor understanding of social media and its impact on the research community, they did serious damage to their own role in facilitating communication between that community and the wider society that they serve. It would behove them to revisit Alan Alda’s revelation, lest their own ambitious efforts to reach out to society achieve the same confused and questionable status as social media.
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
by Ashley EM Miller
Often when we think about science outreach and engaging new audiences, we envision presenting facts eloquently and hoping, with bated breath, that readers will take something away.
That works for audiences already interested in science. But what about those who aren't invested in the field? Information alone may not be enough.
Art can be a way to engage the public with science through the the simple fact that novelty sparks curiosity. Artists in the emerging field of sci-art utilize science concepts, methods, principles and information within their practice. Their art, along with the work of science illustrators, can facilitate a deeper emotional connection to science, particularly in those who don’t regularly pay attention or feel welcome.
However, using artwork in science communication is not as simple as inserting a picture into a body of text and referencing the artist in MLA style.
For those coming from the sciences, citing your sources, as laborious as that may be, is a given. While that is fine for incorporating information, that isn’t always adequate for artwork. In the art world, artists know how to ask other artists to use their work. If a scientist or science communicator does not have an “in” with the art community, they may not know where to find legal information about using art.
Anyone interested in using artwork in their science communication practice, should attend the upcoming SWCC conference’s professional development session "On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". The panel discussion will be moderated by Theresa Liao of Curiosity Collider and Sarah Louadi of Voirelia, both of whom are intimately familiar with combining art and science in their respective organizations. Sarah and Theresa will lead a much-needed conversation about the benefits and best practices of partnerships between artists and science communicators.
The session boasts a well-rounded panel. Attendees will gain insights on aspects of the art world with panelists Kate Campbell, a science illustrator, and Steven J. Barnes, a psychologist and artist. Legal and ethical considerations will be provided by Lawrence Chan, an intellectual property lawyer, and April Britski, the National Executive Director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). For those unfamiliar, CARFAC is a federal organization that acts as a voice for visual artists in Canada and outlines minimum fee guidelines among other things.
Science communicators and bloggers will certainly benefit from the session, particularly early-career freelancers. When working independently, there are no organizational policies and procedures in place for you to follow. It means that you have to check everything yourself, and this session will give you a crash course of what to look for in artist collaborations, what to ask and how to ask it. Even researchers will benefit from the discussion, by learning about the opportunities for working with science illustrators and about what to expect.
"On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". will take place at 3:15 pm on Saturday April 14th as part of the conference’s concurrent Professional Development sessions. Come and be inspired by how your science communication journey can benefit from art collaboration and learn about the ethical and legal aspects of compensating partners. Art and science operate in different cultures or referencing, attribution and payment. Understanding these differences through open dialogue can reduce conflicts and tension. In the end, we benefit the broader society by facilitating meaning engagement with science.
Ashley EM Miller is a writer, museum educator, and eternally curious creature. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her as @Dctr_Ash on Twitter and Instagram.
Registration for the conference is open until March 29. Check out the other great sessions on offer here:
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You’re flitting through social media, and you find a graphic dense with data but delightfully designed. It’s beautiful, it’s charming, and it gives you pause.
Infographics are powerful communication tools that suck you in and leave you wondering, “How did they do that?” and later thinking, “I want to do that.”
But, if you don’t have any experience creating images more complicated than a bar-graph, the thought of creating a compelling infographic can seem impossible. Or perhaps you have art skills, but don’t have the background in visual storytelling and design to pair your artistic eye with science information.
The keys to an excellent infographic are strategic messaging, functional images and engaging story-telling. Learn these skills, and become familiar with the appropriate tools, and you’re well on your way to creating infographics that make your science communication stand out.
The SWCC 2018 Conference Session “Infographics: Worth a Thousand Words” is a hands-on workshop on infographic design lead by Fuse Consulting’s Kate Broadly and Sonya Odsen. By the end of the session, participants will complete their first hard-copy draft of an infographic, and they'll be familiar with the digital tools best suited for their skills and experience.
Even if you don’t think you’ll incorporate infographics as a significant part of your science communication practice, the session will provide you with the language of design. You’ll be better able to communicate with any designers or illustrators you collaborate with in the future to help them convey your vision. Moreover, honing an eye for design can help you with other forms of visual communication: presentation slides, information posters or graphics for blogs and articles.
You don’t have to be an excellent artist to benefit from the workshop. Kate and Sonya will review the digital tools appropriate and functional for any ability. For those who aren’t comfortable drawing their graphics, the duo will point you to free options for icons and symbols you can incorporate into your work. They’ll also discuss software options for building the infographic. You’ll learn about beginner-level free drag and drop online tools, to intermediate workflows using Microsoft applications to more advanced options and software.
If that seems like a lot to consider, take heart! As a science communicator, you already have the skills necessary to draft an infographic. After all, the very first step to creating infographics is similar to crafting any science communication message: know your audience.
Through instruction and peer critique, you will be led through the stages of honing the content to a few key messages for your audience. You'll sift through the fascinating but irrelevant-to-your-audience noise in the research and filter your infographic's content into a cohesive and meaningful story.
The workshop on infographics will teach scientists and science communicators how to craft succinct messaging, create or locate graphics that add to the story rather than act as mere decoration, and how to use elements of design to create beautiful, informative and compelling images. The best part is that you can spend as much or as little time on infographics as you want.
“The medium itself can be so flexible in terms of how much you want to share, how you want to share it and how much time you want to put into it,” Sonya explained.
Fuse Consulting is a communications business based in Alberta, and the team is no stranger to sharing techniques and best practices for infographic design. Be sure to check out their blog Knowledge to Practice for tips and advice on creating infographics.
The session, on Friday, April 13th, will be an active, hands-on workshop - so come with your science and be ready to create! Kate and Sonya have planned some fun activities to get your creative juices flowing. “Infographics: Worth a Thousand Words” is going to be one fun session.
The Preliminary Program is up and early bird registration is now open for our 47th annual conference in downtown Vancouver with our host partner Simon Fraser University. It's time to grab your spot while you can and the rates are low because this is shaping up to be our most popular conference yet. We're offering unique space limited opportunities like the Beakerhead mini-course and a Snorkel Safari so it's no surprise that people are keen to come to Vancouver this year. Plus it's Vancouver in April.
A keynote on Oceans. A keynote on Cannabis. Breakout sessions that could give you that one tip that lets our career take off - Story Pitching to Editors and Producers, Alternative Careers in Science Communication. Breakout sessions to improve your skills and help you with the problems that come up in the job that you do have - Info graphics, Emerging Topics in SciComm Ethics, Frontiers in SciComm Policy and Practice. What is the best of the best? Come and check it out. Meet the panelists over lunch, in the hallways and at the Dine Around on Friday night.
We're sharing our first day at Science World in collaboration with our friends at STAN (Science and Technology Awareness Network) There will be tours to look behind the scenes and under the hood at TRIUMF, at Science World - and more. What better way to get to know each other? Perhaps a networking lounge? A Town Hall on Science Communications? A social evening with fun events like power point karaoke? Yes, we have those.
Did we mention it's Vancouver in April? Cherry Blossom Festival.
Find out more:
by Malgosia Ip
SWCC People’s Choice Award Winner - Canada’s Favourite Science Site: Let’s Talk Science
Amy Cook was a graduate student at Western University when she and her colleague Mira Ray started a small not-for-profit organization called CRAM Science. They were both passionate about science outreach, but found that outreach activities typically missed the teenage demographic.
“Interest in science tends to wane for teens,” says Ray, so we wanted to do something that would connect their world with science and technology.”
The result was an online, interactive, popular science magazine for teens to engage with scientific content. With stories written by an army of graduate student volunteers, CRAM Science explored teen-relevant topics through a scientific lens.
But as Cook and Ray finished their stints at Western and took on other full-time roles – Cook as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Ray as a consultant with McKinsey & Company—they needed to find a new home for CRAM Science.
“With full time jobs, we didn’t have the capacity to take it to the next level,” explains Cook, “but we wanted to ensure its longevity and continuity.”
During her time at Western, Cook was a site coordinator for Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development. Let’s Talk Science was already well connected with the educator community, an area that Cook and Ray wanted CRAM Science to grow into. It was the perfect fit.
Ten years later, CRAM Science is CurioCity, part of the network of websites featured on Let’s Talk Science’s site, winner of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada’s People’s Choice Award for Canada’s Favourite Science Site. With over one million page views last year from Canada alone, Let’s Talk Science is an important online resource for teachers, parents, and youth.
But this type of success story is nothing new for Let’s Talk Science, which despite being a national organization with 45 sites across Canada, is at its core made up of local volunteers and their ideas.
The founder and current President of Let’s Talk Science, Bonnie Schmidt, was in the third year of her PhD in physiology at Western University when she had the idea for a science outreach organization. The timing was right: the country was in a recession, and funding for the sciences had been hit hard. Never had it been more important to rally public support for research.
“At that time, there was really no such thing as University outreach,” says Schmidt. “If a teacher wanted to know something about research, they didn’t know who to call.”
Schmidt recruited graduate student volunteers who were then matched with elementary and high school teachers in the region to lead their students in hands-on science activities and share their research experiences. It was an easy and effective model for any University to implement, and what started out as a small outreach project soon grew to multiple sites and became what Let’s Talk Science is today.
Because of her own experience turning an emerging idea into a national, award winning organization, Schmidt makes sure that Let’s Talk Science consistently encourages the entrepreneurial spirit and supports the big dreams of its volunteers.
Each year, Let’s Talk Science hosts a national conference for all of its site coordinators. They meet, learn what’s new and exciting at each site, and decide the direction they want their own site to take. Amy Cook was inspired to create CRAM Science at one of these conferences, after a presentation on accessing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through different forms of online and print media.
Paul Cassar, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, also left his site coordinator conference with the enthusiasm and motivation to do something big. He and his fellow graduate students, David Grant and Angela McDonald, were inspired to create a youth-oriented TED-style event about stem cells. With the support of Let’s Talk Science, Cassar, Grant, and McDonald created a program model and drafted a proposal for the Toronto District School Board.
The first StemCellTalks event, sponsored by the Stem Cell Network, ran in March 2010 at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. High school students from across the city learned about stem cells from experts in the field, listened to debates, and participated in breakout sessions. The model was soon picked up by other Universities. In 2018, StemCellTalks events will run in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Guelph, and are expected to reach over 1000 high school students.
Pick any of the major Let’s Talk Science initiatives listed on their website and chances are, there’s a passionate group of graduate students behind it. Cassar says Let’s Talk Science is really “a platform for grad students,” where they can learn the skills they need for their future career path. For Cook, it cemented her interest in STEM outreach and education.
“[Let’s Talk Science] definitely influenced my career move outside of academia and shaped where I am today,” says Cook.
Cook is currently the Director of Knowledge Mobilization at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and continues to build on the skills she acquired with Let’s Talk Science and CRAM Science.
Today, Let’s Talk Science, continues to grow, not just because of its enthusiastic volunteer base, but also because of the increasing awareness of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education in schools—70% of tomorrow’s jobs will require STEM. The Let’s Talk Science Canada 2067 initiative focuses on shaping the future of STEM learning for Kindergarten to Grade 12.
According to Bonnie Schmidt, the Founder & President of Let’s Talk Science, “The world is changing. We want to show [youth] that they’ve got capacity—even if they have to work at it—and that there are so many opportunities.”
This applies not just to the elementary and high school kids served by Let’s Talk Science’s outreach programs, but also to its volunteer base of graduate and undergraduate students. That’s the secret to making big ideas happen.
The People's Choice Award for Canada's Favourite Blog was won by Body of Evidence. Read about it here:
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada & Simon Fraser University
April 12-14, 2018
Vancouver, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia
Dip your toe in the ocean. Climb a mountain. Enjoy the leading edge of springtime in Canada.
Plus our three areas of focus are all on the edge too!
British Columbia. Controversial science topics. The future of science writing and communication.
We are going to be at Science World with our friends at STAN on April 12 and at SFU Harbour Centre April 13 & 14. April 15 will be at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.
Everyone is Welcome!
Comments from our previous conferences:
The conference was my first exposure to SWCC. What a breath of fresh air. As a mid-to later stage professional, I don't get the opportunity to interact with other communicators and writers. I came back with information and contacts that are beneficial for me and my organization. I feel reinvigorated in my practice. Follow up and responsiveness on the part of the organizers after-the-fact has also been excellent.
My second week into my Masters of Science Communication program I was lucky enough to attend the 2017 SWCC Conference. It was a great experience to get a broad view of science writing and communicating in Canada as well as having a chance to listen to and meet some amazing presenters. When thinking about future career opportunities the SWCC Conference really got my wheels turning about where I can go and the different kinds of things I can do. It was perfect for my introduction into the exciting field of Science Communication. Highly recommended!
I look forward to this conference every year and there's nothing like it. SWCC keeps a community connected across Canada and these few days energize us for the rest of the year. The people you meet and the insights you gain are so important for all science writers and communicators' work.
The SWCC conference is a chance to get out of your science silo and pick up new approaches to communicate science, learn about other exciting scientific fields and share ideas with your science writer colleagues from across Canada.
The SWCC conference 2017 offered me a perfect way to not only learn some good 'best practice' tips in science communications but more importantly offered me an opportunity to meet, network and benefit from learning from an incredibly friendly, smart and experienced group of science communicators. I have already recommended the conference to a number of my colleagues back in the UK.
"The annual conference is a great place to meet your peers, strike up friendships, and to maintain relationships over the years -- important in such a lonely profession. As a writer, I've found stories and more than paid for the cost of a trip. As an editor, I've had the chance to get to know writers who have ended up freelancing for me, or have been offered jobs working with me." Jude Isabella, Editor- in-Chief Hakai Magazine
"I needed to find an expert on cattle for a story I was doing about wearable technology in the beef industry, and immediately thought of USask because of the tour we had done during the conference." Brian Owens, New Scientist, Canadian Geographic, Inside Science, Hakai
Book Awards 2017
The 2017 book awards are now closed for submissions.
The winners will be announced in June and the awards will be presented during
Science Literacy Week in September, 2018
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada 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 SWCC. Entries, in either French or English, must have been published in Canada during the 2017 calendar year.
The prize for each award is $1,000 and the presentations will take place in the authors hometowns during Science Literacy Week.
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
Submit a brief biography of the author(s)
6 copies are required for judging purposes
Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2017 calendar year
Entries should be received at the SWCC National Office by Dec 15, 2017
Entries failing to comply with these rules will be rejected. For more information please phone the SWCC office at 1-800-796-8595, or email email@example.com
All entries become the property of the SWCC
Entry Form available here
On The Edge
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada & Simon Fraser University
Controversial science topics.
The future of science writing and communication.
This is what delegates had to say about our 2017 conference:
By Kristina Campbell, Photos by Theresa Liao
Where do you get your science information from?
This was the question that greeted the attendees of #ScicommnightBC, an SWCC event hosted in collaboration with the Royal BC Museum, Science Borealis, and Curiosity Collider in Victoria on Friday, September 22nd.
"Coworkers" figured prominently, yes—so, learning about science through real-life social interactions. But "Twitter" and "journal articles" were the top answers, closely followed by "Google". This meant the majority of people in the room regularly got their science information from digital sources.
The digital world, of course, allows people to create communities around their own narrow set of interests. And while it's great to have a thriving online hub for soil bacteria enthusiasts and devotees of astrophysics—where does that leave all that's local?
The SWCC science communication event took shape to explore this question. And the gathering of some of Victoria region's best science communication talent—the 100-mile diet of #scicomm, if you will—did not disappoint.
First up was the SWCC 2017 book award, presented to Mark Leiren-Young for a story he chased for more than 20 years: The Killer Whale Who Changed the World. Leiren-Young, a seasoned writer and interviewer, says many of the book's stories were brought forth from a single question he asked the people around him: when did you first see an orca?
Next came representatives from the blog aggregator Science Borealis: co-founder Sarah Boon introduced spider scientists Catherine Scott and Sean McCann, who shared stories of their early-morning expeditions to local beaches to track and photograph spiders. In their passion fused with scientific inquiry (plus videos of the cutest, fuzziest spiders ever), Scott and McCann argued convincingly that spider stories can help almost anyone get to appreciate arachnids a little better.
Shelley McIvor of Curiosity Collider then took the podium, sharing stories of their unique efforts to draw in those who might not normally take an interest in science. When the organization brings together scientists, artists, and other collaborators in various projects—from a dance that models how the brain forms a memory, to a line-following wheeled robot—the audience may be inspired to think outside the traditional "science" box. Vancouver artist Larissa Blokhuis, for example, challenged the #SciCommNightBC audience to imagine a beetle species that changed some aspect of its body or behaviour after the recent eclipse. Her explorations of the same challenge were represented in an art installation at the back of the room during the event.
The collections manager of invertebrates and the curator of invertebrates at the Royal BC Museum took the opportunity to speak about the science communication work of their institution. They emphasized the constant battle against the idea of museums as places to park old specimens: in reality, not only does the Royal BC Museum lead dynamic research efforts, but they also do constant outreach in the wider community. And even these taxonomists emphasized that it’s not the specimen or its name that matters—it’s the story. This, they said, is what science communicators should always be trying to uncover.
The final activity of the night, led by Chris O'Connor, Program Developer in the Learning Department at the Royal BC Museum, made use of all the science communication talent in the room, professional & amateur alike. O'Connor gave each small group an object that looked like a random, unremarkable item a small child would have collected from a BC beach: a shell perforated with holes; a hollow rocklike object, brown and crumbling. O'Connor asked each group to come up with a name and a one-sentence story about the object.
In five minutes, the mundane objects all been transformed with a story. They had all been tethered to something, or someone, that had made them come alive.
Also at the event: the definitive Victoria faceoff between "Oxford Comma" and "No Oxford Comma". Attendees voted with their spare change. Although various participants argued eloquently on both sides, Oxford Comma was the winner with 79% of the proceeds.
Sarah Boone wrote a report about this event for Science Borealis. You can read more about it here
This event was organized as part of Science Literacy Week.
#SWCCan2020 - Postponed
New dates TBD
P.O. Box 75 Station A