Struggling for Good Data on Animal Welfare
CSWA member guest post by Jim Davies
Is this a "medium" sized cage? How the hell am I supposed to know?
A "Whole Foods" supermarket opened recently in my city, and I was very excited because it offers meat that meets what appear to be fairly rigorous ethical standards. For example, when I buy a chicken there, I know that it wasn't raised in a cage. I've read many things that make me think that animals that are raised for meat are pretty miserable, and I didn't want to support that.
I recently got back from the conference of the Canadian Science Writer's Association, which was held in Guelph, Ontario. It was hosted by the University of Guelph, which prides itself as being "Canada's Food University." I met a few farmers there, and what they told me has made me less certain.
We all have a problem with anthropomorphizing animals a bit too much. Without other data, I suppose it's okay, but we really should try to find scientific findings before insisting on this or that treatment. I remember being told by a zoo director years ago that there were people at the zoo protesting the fact that the orangutan was in an enclosure all by itself. But in the wild, orangutans are solitary creatures. So when we insist on good animal treatment, we should take care to know what it is the animals actually want. Of course, we cannot ask them, so we need clever experiments to get the answers we need.
According to the farmers, chickens evolved from a wild bird that liked to live in the roots under trees. They argue that being in a cage is actually less stressful for them than being in the open, because it resembles their ancestral home more. Further, chickens tend to be mean to each other. They have dominance displays that can result in some chickens being malnourished or dying. This is more likely in a cage-free environment. I was also told that chicken welfare has been studied, and the finding was that a "medium sized cage" (I'm don't know how big that is) is better than a cage that's too small and better than being out in the open.
Unfortunately, when you go to the grocery store, we are told that the chickens (or eggs) are either cage free or not, and you have no idea what size the cage was that the chickens were raised in. What's the customer supposed to do?
I also asked about small enclosures. In the book I'm reading right now, Sapiens, there is a picture of a cow in a small enclosure. I am told that this cow only gets out of this and able to interact with other cows on its way to slaughter, about four months into its life. That certainly sounds miserable. I told this to a farmer and she said that maybe this was done with veal, but not with cows. And the reason? Doing that is actually more expensive than putting them in a common pen.
And those pictures of pigs, locked into cages on their side? I was told that this wasn't done for their whole lives, but only for feeding piglets. And why? Because mother pigs have a tendency to flop over and crush their piglets. So even that cage, which looks like a medieval torture device, is used to protect the animals from hurting each other.
I was told that when farmers see videos of animal abuse, they think that the people doing it are idiots and are giving farmers a bad name.
Okay, so who should we believe? The problem is that we see these pictures and videos that are pretty scary, and we don't always know the reasons farmers do what they do (sometimes it's actually in the animals' best interest), and further, we have no idea of whether the abuse we see is systematic. How often does it happen? Are we really supporting that when we buy meat?
I can honestly say that at this point I have no idea. I feel I have no source of information that is from an unbiased group. Animal welfare activists have an interest in making us think the abuse is more widespread than it is (I'm not saying they're guilty of it, only that they have an incentive).
Likewise, the farmers have an incentive to make it look like everything's hunky dory. At the conference I was given a magazine called The Real Dirt on Farming, which was published by the Farm and Food Care Foundation, which is an association of farmers and associated businesses. This document is dismissive of the animal rights movement (p45):
"Activists of any kind are not usually interested in finding solutions, but prefer to focus on problems and dramatic examples to generate funds and support for their organizations."
Wow. If they wanted to look unbiased, they sure screwed up there. Activists of any kind? Really? Is that what they think of the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, or Martin Luther King, Jr.? It makes me wonder if the whole document is bullshit.
So now I'm not sure what to think. Are there any scientific results out there that is from arms-length groups that can shed light on this issue? What is a concerned consumer supposed to do?
(And yes, I tried being vegetarian and I was miserable.)
I have implemented "meat offsets," inspired by carbon offsets, where I donate money every time I eat unethical meat. See my blog post at:
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Jim Davies is a cognitive scientist and author of Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One With the Universe, published by Palgrave Macmillan. He is also a frequent contributor to the popular science magazine, Nautilus.
He is an award-winning associate professor at Carleton University's Institute of Cognitive Science and director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory.
Congratulations to the winner of the CSWA's first ever People's Choice Award for best Canadian science website Hakai Magazine.
Like Shazam, but for Fish
A new device uses infrared waves to rapidly identify species and fight fish fraud.
The runners up were:
Nature Conservancy Canada
We are pleased to announce that the inaugural 2016 Excellence in Data Journalism Award winner is THE GLOBE AND MAIL'S ELECTION FORECAST, a web page created by journalist Matt Frehner in collaboration with political scientist Paul Fairie. Designed and developed by Jeremy Agius and Julia Wolfe, produced by Chris Hannay. This web site aggregated all of the election polls in the lead-up to the October 2015 Canadian federal election, applied a "uniform swing" model to make election predictions, and ran a thousand Monte Carlo simulations to estimate the probabilities of various electoral outcomes. It also allowed the reader to run their own Monte Carlo simulations to view their own potential election outcomes. It provided colorful graphical illustrations of the riding-by-riding results of each simulation outcome. An accompanying article described the methodology in greater detail.
The award committee was impressed with the forecaster's use of sensitivity testing, including providing probabilities of various outcomes as opposed to simply the most likely outcome. We also liked the ability for readers to run repeated iterations of the simulations, and see different results each time. The accompanying methodological article was a bit terse at the beginning, but it did make a good effort to explain to general readers how the numbers were analyzed and presented. And, the topic (federal election predictions) was extremely important and widely discussed during much of 2015, so the web page had significant impact on improving the Canadian public's understanding of the data analysis aspects. (Indeed, it was apparently the second-most highly viewed Globe and Mail web page for all of 2015.) For more information, visit The Globe Election Forecast at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/globe-election-forecast-2015/article25377958/and see the background methodology at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/how-our-election-forecasting-model-works/article25371747/
The Statistical Society of Canada is an organization whose mission includes the development of a public awareness of the value of statistical thinking and the importance of statistics and statisticians in Canadian society. Science writers play a central role in educating Canadians about statistical results and concepts. To recognize and encourage excellence in data journalism and its positive impact on Canadian society, the SSC is proud to sponsor the Excellence in Data Journalism Award.
The CSWA has been delighted to partner with the SSC in creating and judging this award. That collaboration flowed from our belief that great data journalism is a goal all science communicators and all non-science communicators should have in a world in which understanding and depicting statistics has become the intrinsic structural underpinning of much of modern reportage.
Vote for your fave science website and help pick the winner of the very first CSWA People’s Choice Award!
Check out the websites below and pick your favourite. Next, vote for it at the link below the nominees. The winning site gets bragging rights and a one-of-a-kind T-shirt inspired by internet clickbait. You know you want to vote, so do it now!
Voting closes June 4, 2016 at noon ET.
Fun science video animations by Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, based in Guelph, ON. Their Youtube channel has more than 5 million subscribers.
The website is the gateway to a smorgasbord of science, including an annual festival that is the science version of Burning Man, in Calgary, AB. From the minds of Mary Anne Moser and Jay Ingram.
David Suzuki Foundation:
Environmental issues a la Suzuki
Did You Know?
Questions and answers, as well as some debunking of bad science, by chemist Dr. Joe Schwarcz in Montreal, QC.
Science journalism focused on the world’s coastlines, where almost half of the global poulation lives, based in Victoria, BC, edited by Jude Isabella.
Hornby Bald Eagles Webcam:
A live stream eagle cam on Hornby Island, BC
Nature Conservancy Canada:
Site of Canada’s leading national land conservation organization.
Northern Lights Webcam:
Located in Churchill, MB
Polar Bear Webcam:
Located at Waspusk National Park, Churchill, MB
Quirks & Quarks:
The online home of the long-running science radio show.
Take a stroll with skeptical biochemist Larry Moran on his blog.
A group of science bloggers joined forces with the aim of growing science communication while raising awareness of and support for Canadian science.
A group of writers aiming to help parents, teachers, and librarians discover the wide world of science writing for kids.
Website of astronomy magazine SkyNews, edited by Terence Dickinson. Based in Yarker, ON.
A hub for Canadian women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Vote for the CSWA People’s Choice for fave Canadian science website here:
By Ashley E.M. Miller
Online films. We watch them, “like” them, “share” them, “comment”, and “replay”. While many videos tend towards entertainment, the short informational film genre is growing strong. “When you can use a mix of words and images, or voice-over and images it’s so easy to get information across, says Shelley Sandiford, founder of ‘Sciconic’ [http://sciconic.com/], an animation company based out of Ottawa, ON. “What’s on the screen can be different than what I’m actually saying and in a lot of cases that can lead to a clearer understanding,”
For those of us who write with readers in mind rather than video viewers, our work can get lengthy. 500 words, 1500 words, even 3000 words are standard length for print communications. However, transcribing that prose into a script would create a “hugely long video,” says Shelley. So, how do we condense science information into a manageable script? You can find out how at Shelley’s professional development session, “Writing Short Scripts for the Web.”
One of Shelley's recent storyboards for an upcoming video
A full-time animator since 2014, Shelley collaborates with clients, transforming their content into engaging videos with brief, captivating voice-over. In the professional development session, participants will learn Shelley’s framework; the rules she follows when writing scripts for short videos. Distillation is key. Script-writing for the web is about giving your viewer a taste of the topic to tempt them to research on their own. In two minutes, you can’t do much more than that.
Shelley will use the resulting animation as a framework for script do's and don'ts
The session will provide practical experience putting Shelley’s rules to the test. Starting from a piece of long-form science writing, participants will condense the information into a one to two-minute script (about 150 - 300 words). Alternatively, participants can bring a 1500-3000 word piece of their own writing or an article that they've read and enjoyed. Participants with lab backgrounds are welcome to write about their past or present labwork. You will also cover some basics of filming with Jocie Bentley, a Toronto filmmaker. Combined with the opportunity view and critique a sampling of online video, participants will walk away with a solid foundation of the do’s and don’t’s of short-film.
“Writing Short Scripts for the Web” is part of the afternoon concurrent session on Saturday, June 4th at the CSWA conference. The session will run from 2:00 – 4:30 and is limited to 10 participants.
Dr. Ashley E. M. Miller (aka Dr. Ash) is a writer, an educator, and an eternally curious creature. Her interests are wide-ranging. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her tweets at @Dctr_Ash, and she blogs at CrossedBranches.
by Ashley E.M. Miller
When we sit hunched over a keyboard or scribbling drafts in a notebook, we adhere to the adage, “write for your audience”. Usually, this audience is already interested in the topic. It’s why they pick up our articles, or click our links, or read our posters. Having people we know we can reliably reach is wildly validating, but sometimes we need to spread our message further afield. We want to cover new ground and engage people who may not be invested in our topic yet.
These people, according to Kathryn Fedy and Jodi Szimanski of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), are your ‘un-audience’. “You want them to be your audience, but you haven’t been able to make that connection yet,” says Kathryn. In Jodi and Kathryn’s professional development session ‘Reaching your un-audience: How to share your complex story with new markets’, you will learn tools to spread science outside of your typical audience group.
The Quantum Cats Video Game App is just one of the ways that IQC is attracting un-audiences through media-based 'access points.
Kathryn and Jodi are part of the Communications and Strategic Initiatives team from the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. They share IQC research successes to diverse audiences through various print and online media. The team also supports community outreach initiatives to spread IQC’s message with the broader community.
In ‘Reaching your un-audience’, Kathryn and Jodi will draw upon their experience and teach you how to break down complex science into engaging messages by using “access points” and appropriate “frames of reference”. “Access points” are common connections we can use as gateways to new information. An access point can be broad as a media type, like video games or classical music. Or it can be as specific as asking “Do you know who Steven Hawking is?” Your un-audience knows more than they think and tapping into that knowledge is key to piquing their interest.
Quantum Symphony: Music at the Frontier of Science, is a multimedia mash-up of art and science that explores how music works at nature's most fundamental level
While access points can get new audiences hooked, the appropriate “frame of reference” can reel them in and hold their attention. What is an appropriate frame of reference? It’s the take on a topic that addresses what your un-audience cares about. Whether it be economic viability, human health impact, or future technology, the frame of reference is the context that makes the science interesting to them.
By combining “access points” and “frames of reference,” you can craft the right targeted approach to reach your un-audience. The session will also cover strategic communication planning, implementation, execution, and evaluation. With such a range of tools to teach, this panel will benefit “anyone who is trying to find a way to break through the clutter and share their scientific concept or scientific message with a broader audience,” says Kathryn.
‘Reaching your un-audience: How to share your complex story with new markets” is part of the concurrent professional development sessions on Saturday, June 4th of the CSWA conference. It will run from 11:45 – 12:30 pm. In the meantime, you can find Jodi [https://twitter.com/jodisz] and Kathryn [https://twitter.com/kathrynfedy] on Twitter.
Tim Lougheed, President
I have been a CSWA member for more than 25 years, having been introduced to the organization by one of its founders, the immortal Mack Laing. During most of that tme I have been a freelance writer, watching both this profession and CSWA evolve significantly with technology, which has also transformed the economic model for everyone involved in science communications. CSWA continues to find itself in a unique, privilaged position of being able to help individuals in this field confront these dramatic changes. As a longstanding member who ascended all the way to the presidency of the CSWA, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, but what continues to impress me is the stead progress that has been acheived in recent years. So impressed, in fact, that I find myself eager to return to the front lines, to ensure that such progress continues.
Pippa Wysong, Vice President, Journalist
Pippa Wysong is a freelance science writer. She wrote the Ask Pippa Q&A science column for kids for the Toronto Star for 20 years, and contributes news stories and features to a variety of newspapers and magazines, as well as medical trades. She was on staff of The Medical Post for 10 years, and was the Canadian correspondent for EuroTimes – a European ophthalmology newspaper. She joined the CSWA when she first broke into science writing a really long time ago, and has been on and off the Board of Directors doing various things during those years.
For the CSWA, she has organized local events for members in Toronto, spoke on panels, and periodically helped organize parts of some of CSWA's national conferences. She feels her experience can help with future activities of the association. She also served on Council for nine years with the Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Science.
Jennifer Gagne, Treasurer
Jennifer Gagne is a science communicator who loves creating events for people to discover the wonder of the planet through science. Her favourite tasks involve pulling together programs on shoe-string budgets with a bunch of eager volunteers to create moments of wonder and discovery. She is currently trying out her hand at marketing, and looking for the next big science communications project to take on.
Past science communications adventures include being the Interim Executive Director for the CSWA where she was the lead organizer for the 2015 conference in Saskatoon and being part of TRIUMF's Artists in Residence program.
She loves the way scince communication sparks curioustiy and appreciation for our planet, and opens one's mind to ponder our weird, and as of yet, unexplained existence.
Kate Allen, Director, Journalist
Kate Allen has written about science and technology for the Toronto Star's foreign desk since 2012. Her stories about autism research were part of a team nomination for the Michener Award, the governor-general's prize for public service journalism, and the National Newspaper Awards. Her beat has taken her to the fossil-filled badlands of Alberta, a Japanese jellyfish research cruise, the articficial intelligence labs at Google, the inside of a a dead blue whale, and the telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Before coming to the science beat, she covered news and fearures for the Star's city desk. She has also worked or freelanced for the Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Reader's Digest, and the Vancouver Sun, among others. She has a Masters of Journalism from the University of British Columbia and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of King's College.
Kasia Majewski, Director, Communications
Kasia Majewski is an experienced public relations professional with a passion for strategic creative solutions that get clients results. She has worked in all areas of public affairs including, strategic communications, media relations, government affairs, writing, marketing and events planning.
As the only social science and arts grad in a family of scientists and mathematicians, Kasia ‘fell into science’ in her first job as a policy analyst in IT and telecommunications and has not left since. She has since developed a wealth of expertise in translating complex ideas into compelling stories, working with the biotechnology industry (including as editor of BIOTECanada Insightsmagazine), in the wireless and telecommunications industries, at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and currently at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the winners in the annual Science in Society Journalism Awards competition for 2015.
2015 Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award:
Memory in the Flesh: A radical 1950s scientist suggested memories could survive outside the brain – and he may have been right by Arielle Duhaime-Ross, The Verge, 18 March 2015.
Honourable Mention: What We Can Learn from the World’s Longest Hibernator by Yutaka Dirks, Van Winkle's, 6 October 2015.
2015 Science in Society Journalism Award:
Getting Smarter by Dan Falk, University of Toronto Magazine, Summer 2015.
Honourable Mention: Behind a vegetative patient's shocking recovery, by Kate Lunau, Maclean’s, 31 December 2015.
2015 Science in Society Communications Award:
Slice of PI by Colin Hunter, Tenille Bonoguore, Liz Goheen, and Maxwell Lantz, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, 2015.
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.
2015 Science in Society General Book Award:
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? by Timothy Caulfield, Penguin Random House Canada.
The Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award includes a $500 cash prize, and the remaining awards each include a $1000 cash prize. Winners will each be presented with a plaque and their cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA’s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, at the University of Guelph 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the winners in the 2015 Science in Society Book Awards competition in conjunction with Canada Book Day celebrations on 23 April 2016.
2015 Science in Society Children/ Middle Grades Book Award winner:
Cybèle Young is an internationally renowned Canadian artist, represented by galleries in New York, London, Vancouver and Calgary, and her work resides in major collections around the globe. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and has received considerable notice in such publications as Art in America, Canadian Art magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Fiberarts, Maclean’s, Elle and Toronto Life. Her art practice and family life have inspired the creation of several children’s books, including The Queen’s Shadow: A Story About How Animals See.
2015 Science in Society General Book Award winner:
Timothy Caulfield lives and works out vigorously and often in Edmonton where he is a professor in the School of Public Health as well as research director of the Health Law and Policy Group at the University of Alberta. A member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, he has been involved with numerous national and international policy and research ethics committees including Genome Canada’s Science Advisory Committee, and the Federal Panel on Research Ethics. Caulfield is a frequent speaker at academic and public gatherings, and a regular contributor to popular media. Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? makes a case for de-hyping pseudoscientific claims in a colourful and original way.
Cybèle Young and Timothy Caulfield will each be presented with an awards plaque and a $1000 cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA’s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, held at the University of Guelph 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
For further information, please contact the CSWA at 1-800-796-8595 or email@example.com.
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association is pleased to announce the Short Lists in the 2015 Science in Society Book Awards competition.
Short List for the 2015 Science in Society Children/ Middle Grades Book Award competition:
The Spider by Elise Gravel, Penguin Random House.
A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars by Maria Birmingham; illustrated by Josh Holinaty Owl Kids Books.
DNA Detective by Tanya Lloyd Kyi; illustrated by Lil Crump, Annick Press.
Power Up! A Visual Exploration of Energyby Shaker Paleja; illustrated by Glenda Tse, Annick Press.
Short List for the 2015 Science in Society General Book Award competition:
The Personalized Medicine Revolutionby Peter Cullis, Greystone Books Limited.
The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge, Penguin Random House Canada.
Malignant Metaphor, by Alanna Mitchell, ECW Press.
Genius at Play, by Siobhan Roberts, Penguin Random House Canada.
Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Predictionby Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Penguin Random House Canada.
The winner in each category will be announced on Canada Book Day, 23 April 2016. Winners will each be presented with a plaque and $1000 cash prize at an awards dinner held on Saturday evening, 4 June 2016, in conjunction with the CSWA ‘s 45th annual conference, The Science of Life, held at the University of Guelph from 2-5 June 2016 in Guelph, Ontario.
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