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.
This fall, the board of the Canadian Science Writers' Association will be asking members to vote on a proposed set of changes to its constitution. In the lead up to that vote we, the board, want to hear from all members about one of the most fundamental components of our organizational document: what we call ourselves.
The challenge before us is to capture our identities both as individual professionals and as an organization. We are proud of our 45-year history of promoting balanced and accurate science reporting in Canadian media, and encouraging a greater awareness of the importance of science coverage. We also want to respond, in an inclusive way, to an evolving media landscape that has seen our membership grow to encompass a diverse spectrum of roles within science communications.
Over the next few weeks we are asking you to first submit your suggestions and then select a name that you think best represents our organization and identifies our brand to the public.
Submitting is easy to do. If you are a member, you can add your suggestion right here as a comment to this post. Or you can include it in an email to email@example.com
This post will be updated regularly with suggestions added to the list until September 30. (Serious suggestions only, please!) Members will then be asked during the first week of October to select their preferred option from the list of suggestions. The name that emerges from this process will be included with the proposed constitutional changes that members will be asked to consider in November.
Here are the suggestions so far. Got a better idea? Let us know!
1) Retain current name (Canadian Science Writers’ Association)
2) Canadian Science Communicators
3) Canadian Science Writers and Communicators Association
4) Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
5) Science in Society Canada
6) Science Journalists and Communicators of Canada
7) Canadian Association of Science Communicators
Voting will be the first week of October.
We hope all members participate in this collective exercise to ensure our organization's name is meaningful and relevant to us all.
Science Literacy Week is an initiative meant to showcase the excellence of all of Canada's wide range of science and science outreach organizations. Through encouraging them to join together in a blitz of activity and collaborate, particularly in partnership with community groups like libraries, the aim is to reach more people than ever before with outstanding science programming. The week started in 2014 in the GTA, and came to include 4 institutions, and 5 events. For this year, with 160 groups involved, major support from NSERC and Indigo and an estimated 315 events in 50 cities nationally it looks to be its biggest year ever.
At heart, the week aims through libraries to showcase their science collections and encourage people to read something a little different. Rather than Hunger Games and Twilight, we want to see people reading Sacks and Sagan. Events too help reach out to everyone Canada-wide - nature walks, star parties, science demos, public talks - you name it, if it engages the public and celebrates science it's a welcome addition to the week. The week also provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the work of scientists across the country. The website (scienceliteracy.ca) serves as both an events portal to draw people to local activities as well as a centre for finding resources to learn about science - be they books, podcasts, websites or places to conduct citizen science projects of their own. The twitter (@scilitweek) aims to highlight exciting science news, draw people to great resources as well as mention every event happening across Canada. Every participant is encouraged to use the hashtag #scilit16 to share stories, pictures and more about their work, their love of science or to garner attention for events.
With help from NSERC, this can grow to be one of the major pillars of science outreach in Canada. A time when science groups utilize the week to get people talking about science, where major organizations join together in big eye catching events and where Canadians coast to coast take the chance to learn a little more about the world.
photos by Juanita Bawagan
CSWA Member Guest Post By Jano Klimas
Figure 1 photo credit: heathbrother.com
Have you ever wondered about what makes science articles memorable? How come that some writers are remembered while others forgotten? One might say that the aim of academic papers is generally not to make the best argument and have the most interesting ideas, but rather to demonstrate that something is both statistically significant and those findings were derived from a sound methodology which others can duplicate and arrive at the same result. If the statistics and the methodology are no good, it doesn't matter how evocative the descriptions are, does it? So seems that the most basic science communications question is how to integrate the two very different ways of conveying "the truth," in a way that both are understood and remembered. Remembered facts turn into knowledge that can be used to change the world – the ultimate goal of science.
In their book “Made to stick,” the Heath brothers offer an approach to making your ideas sticky and memorable (See Figure 1). The Californians, Chip and Dan, draw upon their experience from teaching at the Stanford University, consulting and publishing teaching literature, respectively. Both were obsessed by studying the process of learning and making it more effective. Having read the book, I’d like to focus on a key principle for impactful writing – the hooks – illustrated by three real-life examples in my own experience. I will also offer specific examples of science articles that don't tie what they are doing to an ordinary person's life experience, and show how added experiential references (hooks), could make articles stickier.
The Heath book is organised in accordance with to the acronym "SUCCES" (with the last s omitted). The letters refer to principles for making your ideas stick, as follows:
Simple — find the core of any idea
Unexpected — grab people's attention by surprising them
Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
Credible — give an idea believability
Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative
In the third chapter – Concrete - the Heath brothers introduce the “Velcro theory of memory” that says that the more hooks we can put into an idea, the stickier it will be (p. 109–111).” A hook can be anything that your readership has experience with, such as, stories about idiosyncrasies of your characters, weather forecasts or a cake recipe. It doesn’t have to be the opening line of your article. Hook works best if it builds on the experience or knowledge that the readers already have. They can relate to it easily and use it to remember scientific ideas readily. Here are three practical examples of article quotes where experiential references could have been used as effective hooks:
Example 1: Vague sentences confuse readers. They have to work harder to understand them. Show, don’t tell, is a rule that certainly applies to strong writing, including science writing. We show by using specific details, features, colours from ordinary person's life, or simply showing a picture of what we want, like I did in my hook after the following vague sentence:
“One prerequisite for the maintenance of dimorphism is that organisms experience a fitness trade off across environments. (p72)”
What is a fitness tradeoff? It’s certainly not a haircut. Sitting in the barber shop when I was 16, I held a book about Beatles in my lap. I adored them. I wanted to look like them. The problem was that staff in this cheap shop was simple and brash. I didn’t have much money to go to an expensive hair salon. When I showed them a photo of John Lennon, my barber shouted at her colleague: “Hey Sue, this is the last one today and look what I got. Why does this always happen to me?”
I felt embarrassed as she flicked through the photos in my book. After a short moment of silence she exclaimed: “That’s like a bowl cut.” Bingo! She got it and got to work on my haircut immediately. The hook to the most common haircut in that shop helped her to solve the problem. It fitted into her mental framework. In the vague sentence above, the “fitness tradeoff across environments” could have been made stickier by saying what organismns need to keep the two distinct forms and by giving a list of examples of dimorphic species who succeeded with “fitness tradeoffs.”
Example 2: An article about the influence of socio-structural determinants of health on people who use drugs concluded:
“… health problems that rendered them unstable and the complexity of their conditions precipitated numerous challenges related to their care.”
Instead, the article could conclude that: “… health problems that rendered them unstable and caused struggles with their care” and give readers a concrete problem or a challenge. For example, drawing upon their past experience with food industry, a clothing company designed a new bag to carry clean syringes for our needle-exchange project. This company didn’t have experience with small-scale made-to-order requests, but was willing to sit down with me and talk about my ideas. We drew pictures of different bags on the back of an envelope when the chief worker said: “That’s like a pizza bag.” She got it. Then, she brought blueprints of their recent design of a bag for a local pizza store. Our new bags worked well. What do people with serious health problems need? They need specialist care because their problems make their care difficult. It’s like driving a space-shuttle versus a tricycle; you wouldn’t go get them fixed in the same mechanic shop.
Example 3: In my last example, we read about genes, evolution and bio-diversity – terms known to most environmentalists. Following after this clumsy sentence is an example of a hook that deals with ecology (e-bikes) too:
“Some of the confusion about the role of hybridization in evolutionary diversification stems from the contradiction between a perceived necessity for cessation of gene flow to enable adaptive population differentiation on the one hand, and the potential of hybridization for generating adaptive variation, functional novelty, and new species on the other (p66).1”
Have you ever returned a Christmas gift? The first time I returned it was when I gave my wife a gift voucher to purchase an expensive electric bike. She was surprised and puzzled to find it under the Christmas tree. A year went by before I found myself returning the gift voucher in the bike shop. The staff was really friendly but needed time to process the unexpected return. After a moment of awkward silence, they said: “It's like a returned purchase.” I knew that they just found a hook in their past knowledge and experience that helped them navigate the new situation. If a customer returned a recent purchase, they would give them their money back, minus 15%; the reason being inability to re-sell the product as new. I got deducted only 10% because I haven't really bought anything.
The above biology excerpt could have used the contradiction to help the readers link the new information with their past experience. “I love you and I hate you,” is a great contradiction that most people understand well. We love someone’s personality, but hate their manners. Genes have to stop flowing, but also need to keep growing for the sake of survival and evolution.
Remember, if you help your readers catalogue your idea in their existing experiential repository, if they file it within their own memory structure, they’ll remember it. You’re sticking to them.
Jano Klimas is a scientist, artist, thinker and writer. As a research fellow in medical schools at University College Dublin and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, he studies ways to better addiction medicine education for physicians. You can find his tweets at @janklimas and he blogs atjanklimas.blogspot.ca
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.
Hold The Date!
Everyone is Welcome
P.O. Box 75 Station A