AWARDS PROGRAM DEADLINE FEBRUARY 15, 2016
CSWA Science In Society Journalism & Science Communication Awards
The Canadian Science Writers’ Association offers Science In Society awards annually to honour outstanding contributions to journalism and science communication in Canada.
CSWA Science Communication Award: $1,000
This award goes to an individual or small team, museum, university or college, whose work in 2015 explored or explained the topic of science to the public in an informative, accurate and engaging way. The work can be in any medium, and was produced for the purposes of public communications, outreach, advertising, marketing, or any similar venture. submit here
CSWA Science Journalism Award: $1,000
This award goes to an individual who has a science piece published in their name in any media during the calendar year 2015. submit here
CSWA Herb Lampert Emerging Journalist Award: $500
This award is goes to a student or newly practicing journalist who has a science piece published in any media during 2015. submit here
CSWA GENERAL SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:
Submissions Now Open: Deadline February 15, 2016
Competitors must be Canadian citizens or residents of Canada.
Each award is presented for original material disseminated – in French or English –
during the 2015 calendar year.
The awards will be presented during the CSWA annual conference.
1 entry per person or team
All entries must submit:
· description of the entry, less than 150 words
· biography of the writer(s), less than 150 words
· confirmation of the date published, broadcast, or presented
· online entry form
· entry fee online: entry fee $50 for non-members, $25 for members, (no fee for Herb Lampert Emerging Journalist Award)
Entries in each of the categories may deal with research and development, regulatory trends or social issues. They are judged generally on the basis of initiative, originality,
clarity of interpretation and value in promoting a better understanding of science by the public and on the following specific criteria:
PRESENTATION AND CLARITY
Is it understandable without being overly simplistic? Is the medical or scientific terminology clarified? Have the facts or hypotheses been marshaled in an orderly and progressive fashion? Has the importance, or purpose, of the subject matter been clearly stated relative to its value? Is the grammar good? Is the material in good, logical order? Does the presentation flow easily?
Has the entrant expended more than standard time and effort in soliciting and preparing the entry? For example, this would rule out straight reporting of speakers and papers at scientific meetings, regardless of excellence, unless the entrant has pursued the topic in greater depth or obtained other expert validation, beyond the initial presentation.
Is it relevant to the majority of the audience or does it have a narrow interest appeal? Does it lead to a higher degree of awareness or practical understanding of the importance of science in society today? It may be either educational or informative.
The subject matter does not necessarily have to be new. However, if a familiar topic or review is presented, it should offer more than another presentation of the facts. It should reinforce current understanding of the topic, or create a new awareness by offering a new perspective or innovative concept.
How to Submit Formats:
· four copies of the article or series on one topic or theme
· ora link to the online article or series on one topic or theme
radio or podcast:
· link to mp3 file either through an active url or an archived link,
· or4 copies on DVD
· 4 copies of on DVD
· ora link to an active url
Live Event or Media Campaign (Science Communication):
Event or campaign promotion material, images, video, audio and media coverage as appropriate and relevant to the event. Material can be submitted in any of the formats listed above. You’ll be asked to provide a complete list of all links and DVD or print copies being submitted per entry.
Print copies and DVDs must be delivered by February 15 to:
CSWA SIS Awards, c/o Andy F. Visser-deVries
455 Lakeshore Road, PO Box 249
All audio and video files and links or urls must be active and available throughout the submissions & judging and awards presentation period (Feb 15 to June 30)
(I, CSWA President Stephen Strauss, had intense discussions with Stavros about his new approach to helping journalists finding experts. I thought it was interesting both as a Canadian development and as something that could be of use to our members. What particularly appealed to me was that it was free and that the journalist could craft his or her search for experts according to their own criteria. Accordingly, I suggested Stavros write the blog posting which you will see below.)
Help. I Need An Expert: Now!
While working as a producer on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin I was too often scrambling to find quality experts by deadline. It was frustrating to put less than ideal guests on air. I thought there must be a better way. But nothing beat the power of the Google sledgehammer.
I teamed up with an engineer in Waterloo with a similar passion for knowledge and together we created the tool I wished for as a journalist.
Expertise Finder is a search engine for journalists to find experts.
How Expertise Finder Works: An Example
Canadian Arthur McDonald wins a Nobel Prize for the discovery that subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass. Speaking with specialists in neutrinos would help enhance your story.
Step 1: Search
Step 2: Result
Step 3: Contact Expert
Total time: 10 seconds
American journalists like to note that we have a disproportionately high number of Canadian experts. We certainly do. This makes Expertise Finder particularly useful for Canadian journalists.
Build for the New Paradigm
We don’t have a permanent office or corporate swag. We use open source software. It’s a tool and a business model for the web era. We exist because we have rejected old models that limit experimentation and require lots of money. The result is a tool where it’s utility does the marketing and is free yet has a sustainable business model.
We are not supported by grant money or philanthropy even if our mission has similar goals. Expertise Finder is a money making enterprise. I worked in international development in the former Soviet Union and the experience of seeing unsustainable projects frustrated me and the core issue was not necessarily money.
It could be hard to define success, even if most of the final reports claimed otherwise. My feeling is that the greatest influence often comes over time. Resources spread over a longer period of time to support seemingly intractable situations can do more, but this is not the norm for NGO work in part because funding is cyclical.
For journalism the ability to speak with knowledgeable experts on an ongoing basis is a key to supporting an informed and fact based society. No one story, not even if it wins a Pulitzer can do this.
I’m a Clay Shirky fan, I call him the modern day Marshall McLuhan. The web is redefining how we communicate, and possibly approach knowledge/information. My eureka moment (since science has disproven the eureka moment I use it in the literary sense) was in 2010 with the cost of AWS (Amazon’s cloud computing) to the point where people like me with limited means had the possibility to do something like Expertise Finder.
Video: Why Journalists Use Expertise Finder
Who Is Using Expertise FinderMainly journalists from major media across North America from CNN to CBC. Why You Should Not Trust Us
MIT and Memorial University do not carry the same weight, this if for you to judge, not us. We currently do not list experts where our subjective judgement is a key to determine credibility of an expert for a journalist.
Our search engine is based on relevancy of expertise. We do not rank one institution higher than another. There is no way to buy a higher ranking or listing. There is no advertising.
How We Make Money
We primarily make money selling our software for custom experts directories for universities and colleges. It’s a cloud solution; with no IT they get a directory with our search technology.
Here is a client’s directory we power, Ryerson University: http://experts.ryerson.ca/.
How to Contact Me
Feedback and suggestions appreciated.
Congratulations to Sarah Boon, her guest blog for CSWA has been selected for Kirk Englehardt's list of best science communications articles for 2015. Here it is again. Enjoy!
To Communicate or to Excommunicate?
By Sarah Boon
Despite many excellent examples to the contrary, science communication remains plagued by two overarching stereotypes that seem to pit scientists and communicators against one another:
1. Scientists often are terrible communicators; and,
2. Communicators often get the science wrong.
These perceptions are slowly beginning to change, however, as people realize that scientists and communicators don't live on fundamentally different planets.
For example, in a recent article for BioScience, Vancouver science writer Lesley Evans Ogden cited research that found that scientists and communicators are generally comfortable with each other’s worldviews - likely because those worldviews are actually more similar than they think. Evans Ogden quotes COMPASS director Nancy Baron, who says: “They’re two sides of the same coin…Journalists want to dive in, dig deep, kick hard, and move on, whereas scientists delve deeper and deeper into their topic…Because science is slow and ongoing, that difference of time frames makes for tension.”
Another factor in changing the communications’ stereotypes is that scientists are realizing that they must communicate better - and are actually learning how to do it. At the same time, communicators are more easily able to access scientific publications, blogs, and scientists themselves, so are more readily able see and address potential reporting errors.
With this in mind, scientist-turned-science-communicator Nick Crumpton last month argued that better and more accessible scientific publications are critical given increasingly open access to the scientific literature, and the subsequent need to engage the new audience accessing this literature. In addition, scientists increasingly understand the need to convince people of the relevance of their work – especially in an era of government budget cuts and public mistrust of science. Good communication by scientists is also vital to inform ongoing policy debates around science-related topics such as climate change, vaccination, and GMOs.
Aware of their reputation as poor communicators – and knowing what’s at stake - many scientists are keen to remedy the situation. Ecologist Stephen Heard attributes the dull and unintelligible nature of scientific writing to three factors: a lack of respect for scientists who write creatively, editors and reviewers squashing creativity in scientific articles, and the fact that it rarely occurs to scientists that their writing could aspire to rise above a strictly fact-based writing standard. He champions improved and more accessible science writing, and is writing a book on that very topic to be released in 2016.
Understanding their previous failings, scientists are increasingly reaching out publicly through social media and blogging to share their research. While these efforts are largely attempted on an individual basis, scientists are also taking communications training such as that offered through international programs like COMPASS Online and the Leopold Leadership Program, and Canadian programs like the Banff Science Communications program or the University of Toronto’s Fellowship in Global Journalism.
On the other side of the coin, science communicators increasingly understand the need for rigour in science reporting. In a recent post on the Talk Science To Me, Amanda Maxwell outlined some of the methodological difficulties she faces when determining the quality of the science she’s communicating. “Is the experimental design robust? Are the inferences supported? Does the news come from a genuine source? Am I propagating rubbish?”
Her post shows not only the difficulty in interpreting science, but the careful attention paid by many communicators to make sure they get it right. Science communicators are turning to tools like the UK’s NHS Behind the Headlines to help them assess scientific studies, Retraction Watch to show which studies have gone off track, and the unfortunately now-defunct Knight Science Journalism Tracker to assess how studies are covered. Science writers can also connect with professional organizations such as the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, and with media organizations that facilitate fact-checking with scientists – such as science media centres in Canada, the UK and other countries, with one also planned for the US.
This two-pronged approach (scientists improving their communication skills and communicators improving their reporting skills) has had some great results, from active scientists like Dr. Ray Jayawardhana publishing popular science books, to journalists like Jude Isabella winning awards for their scientific reporting.
Unfortunately not everyone agrees with this approach. Some feel that science writing should be left to the experts, rather than relying on scientists to bring their communication skills up to snuff.
For example, editor Iva Cheung suggests that perhaps academic writing should be done by communications professionals - at least in the biomedical sciences. “Rather than forcing academics to hone a weak skill, maybe we’d be better off bringing in communications professionals whose writing is already sharp,” she writes. She also says, however, that “liberating scientists from writing should not absolve them of the responsibility of learning how to communicate. At a minimum, they would still need to understand the publication process enough to effectively convey their ideas to the writers.”
As a scientist and freelance writer for over a decade, I’ve seen the benefits from both sides. Switching between communicating to a scientific versus a general audience isn’t always a smooth process – and I’ve definitely had missteps along the way. However, my communication skills have been invaluable in preparing high quality, readable scientific manuscripts; in teaching students complex concepts in understandable ways; and in preparing conference presentations that clearly engage with existing research while presenting new ideas. As a communicator, my scientific training has been critical in distilling scientific literature to its key components, and ensuring that the focus is on a well-supported story. I’ve also found that science communication has encouraged me to step back from the minutiae of the science itself to gain a broader perspective on the practice and culture of science. This provides excellent context for understanding how various science studies contribute to society – and how scientists themselves view that contribution. I’ve also found that scientists are sometimes more comfortable talking about their research with someone who’s familiar with science and/or academic culture, and can thus converse in a semi-shorthand about scientific methods and results.
I think that – where possible – it’s more effective for scientists and communicators to meet in the middle and learn from each other, thereby benefitting both fields. As Evans Ogden concludes in her BioScience article, the divide between scientists and communicators isn’t as defined as we may think, and both sides have a lot to gain from each other.
For more on the relationship between scientists and communicators, see this recent Guardian article.
Sarah Boon has straddled the worlds of freelance writing/editing and academic science for the past 15 years. She blogs at Watershed Moments about nature and nature writing, science communication, and women in science. She is a member of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and the Editors’ Association of Canada, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2013. Sarah is also the Editorial Manager at Science Borealis. Find Sarah on Twitter: @snowhydro
The Herb Lampert Emerging Journalist Award is now open to any student or newly practicing journalist (two years or less) who has a science feature published in print, broadcast or online during 2015.
Deadline to Enter February 15, 2016
Competitors must be Canadian citizens or residents of Canada. The award is presented for original material disseminated – in French or English – during the 2015 calendar year.
The $500 award will be presented on June 4th at the awards dinner during the CSWA annual conference in Guelph.
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.
Entries 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.
Entries must be understandable to the layperson 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, and so presented that it increases public awareness.
Here is further information about how to enter:
1 entry per person
· online registration form
· link to the online article or series
· or four copies of the article or series
· or 4 copies on DVD
· or 4 copies of DVD
Any print copies or DVDs must be received at 105 Villeneuve O, Montreal, QC H2T 2R6 by February 15, 2016.
All audio and video files and links or urls must be available throughout the judging period (February 15-June 15)
The CSWA awards for general audience and youth books published in 2015 are open, the deadline is December 15th, 2015.
Here is more information about the awards:
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 2015 calendar year. The winners will be announced in the spring of 2016, and the awards will be presented at our annual conference in Guelph, June 4, 2016
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 form available on our website
Voici le formulaire en français.
Submit a brief biography of the author(s)
6 copies are required for judging purposes
Entry must have been published in Canada during the 2015 calendar year
Entries should be received by Andy Visser deVries, Awards Chair by Dec 15, 2015
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
Thursday, 15 October 2015 marks the 45th anniversary to the very day of the founding of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/ Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques.
This year Canadians will be deciding who to vote for in the dying days of the current marathon Canadian federal election, but forty-five years ago Canadians were gripped by television images and newspaper reports during the “October Crisis”, after members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross, and then Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte.
While James Cross, Pierre Laporte and the FLQ were quickly becoming household names across Canada in the early weeks of October 1970, a small but dedicated band of Canadian science writers was adding the finishing touches towards establishing a Canadian association for science journalists. On Thursday, 15 October 1970, they met late into the evening in Ottawa and revised and approved a draft constitution establishing the Canadian Science Writers’ Association/Association canadienne des rédacteurs scientifiques, known today as the CSWA.
Earlier that Thursday morning, during a briefing held for science writers at the headquarters of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, the atmosphere was charged with tension after a regular meeting of the Science Council of Canada planned for the next day in Montreal was abruptly cancelled after the FLQ threatened to kidnap Dr. Roger Laundry, vice president of the Science Council of Canada, and rector of the University of Montréal. In the early afternoon, the same band of science writers rushed across town to the new multi-million dollar headquarters of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to attend a press conference called by the CMA in support of Québec doctors who were on-strike against the Québec’s government’s health insurance plan.
By 7:30 pm later that same Thursday evening, the same band of science writers had been checked through tight security guarding the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada for a meeting, where, within three hours, they revised and approved the draft constitution establishing the CSWA.
Hours later, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau addressed the nation, and invoked the War Measures Act, giving the police wide ranging powers to arrest and detain suspected FLQ militants. The next day, on Saturday, 17 October 1970, the body of Pierre Laporte was found stuffed in the trunk of a car and abandoned in the bush, after the FLQ announced that they had executed Laporte.
While the founding of the CSWA could hardly compete with the headline news of the October Crisis in October 1970, the quest to raise public awareness of science in Canada began ten years earlier in 1961. Prior to the establishment of the CSWA, a handful of Canadian science writers belonged to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), an American organisation established in 1934. In June 1961, then NASW president Victor Cohn created a new committee to address the needs of members of the NASW who lived and worked in Canada. Chaired by Leonard Bertin, and including members Fred Poland, David Spurgeon, and Ben Rose, the NASW – Canadian Committee was formally established at a meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal in August 1961. The NASW executive extended formal recognition to the Canadian Committee in December 1961, renaming it the Canadian Section of the NASW, with the power to elect its own officers.
In August 1962, during the second annual meeting, held once again at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, the Canadian Committee formally adopted the name Canadian Section of the NASW, and Leonard Bertin was re-elected as chair. Over the next few years, under the guidance of several different leaders, the Canadian Section of the NASW continued to hold its annual meetings in conjunction with the annual conference of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, usually held in January or February each year.
Despite the handful of science writers in Canada at the time, Section members increasingly felt the need for a Canadian association independent of the NASW. At the Section’s 10th annual meeting held in Montréal on 22 January 1970, Section members adopted a resolution to pursue the formation of a Canadian association of science journalists. At a subsequent meeting on 28 May 1970 held in the former Maclean Hunter boardroom in Toronto, a motion was passed to prepare a draft constitution by August 1970. While the deadline was short and ambitious, these dedicated science journalists were used to tight deadlines for copy, and on the evening of 15 October 1970, the draft constitution was revised and adopted and the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was born.
Tucked away in the boardroom of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, under tight security, the meeting was chaired by Earl Damude, editor of The Medical Post in Toronto. Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada, had generously offered the use of the board room for the meeting. Present at the founding meeting were Leonard Bertin, University of Toronto science editor; David Spurgeon, science reporter for The Globe and Mail and editor of Science Forum; Fred Poland, The Montreal Star; Peter Calamai, Southam News Service, Ottawa; Jeff Carruthers, The Ottawa Journal; David Smithers, The Ottawa Citizen; Heather Carswell, The Medical Post (Montréal); Ian J.S. Moore, MD of Canada (Montréal); Ken Kelly, Canadian Press science editor (Ottawa); and Mac Laing, University of Waterloo journalism professor.
The first annual meeting of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association was held three months after the founding meeting, on 20 January 1971. CSWA members gathered once again in the board room of the Science Council of Canada in Ottawa, in conjunction with the scientific sessions of the annual meeting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons being held at the Chateau Laurier. Ken Kelly (Canadian Press), was elected the first CSWA president; Jean-Claude Paquet (La Presse), vice-president; and Peter Calamai (Southam News Service), secretary-treasurer. Earl Damude and Herb Lampert were elected active directors, and Jean Baroux and John Hall associate directors. At the same meeting, Wallace Waterfall, Herb Lampert, Leonard Bertin, and David Spurgeon were elected CSWA Life Members in recognition of their earlier contribution as Section members.
Several news items announced the birth of the CSWA. A short piece went over the Canadian press wire the night of 20 January 1971, and was carried by numerous newspapers. A news article appeared in Content, and another item appeared in Pensées, an internal publication of the Science Council of Canada. A week later, Ken Kelly and Peter Calamai appeared in an interview about the CSWA on Ottawa cablevision. Letters offering best wishes to the CSWA were sent by the Hon. C.M. Drury, President of the Treasury Board; Hon. John C. Munro; Minister of National Health and Welfare; Hon. J.J. Greene, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources; Dr. Omond M. Solandt, chair of the Science Council of Canada; Dr. W.G. Schneider, president of the National Research Council; John Dauphinee, general manager at Canadian Press; and David Perlman, president of the National Association of Science Writers.
The CSWA held its first annual science writing seminar and conference 12-15 January 1972. The conference was chaired by Dr. Omond M. Solandt from the Science Council of Canada, and held at the Bell-Northern Research Laboratories in Ottawa. Conference delegates paid $2 for luncheons and $4 for dinners during the conference. The CSWA booked a block of rooms at the Bruce Macdonald Motor Inn at Bell’s Corners near the conference site, where single room rates were $6 per night.
Forty-five years later, much has changed. The Science Council of Canada is no longer, replaced by a federal government intent on muzzling scientists. Most FLQ militants returned to Canada from exile in Cuba, and The War Measures Act was been replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. James Cross retired from the British diplomatic corps, and is now 94 years old, and the Trudeau most on the minds of Canadians these days is Justin Trudeau, rather than his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who passed away in 2000. The CSWA has grown from a small band of science writers into a national organisation with more than 350 members and has employed four different Executive Directors since 1989.
Summary of Leadership
Canadian Section of the NASW
1961-1962 Leonard Bertin, The Toronto Star
1963 David Spurgeon, The Globe and Mail
1964-1967 Fred Poland, The Montreal Star
1968 Herb Lampert, The Montreal Gazette
1969-1970 Earl Damude, The Medical Post
1971-1972 Ken Kelly, Canadian Press, Ottawa
1972 David Spurgeon, IDRC, Ottawa
1973 Jean-Claude Paquet, La Presse
1974 Patrick Finn, The Montreal Star
1975 Joan Hollobon, The Globe and Mail
1976 Betty Lou Lee, The Hamilton Spectator
1977 Neil Morris, The London Free Press
1978 Karin Moser, The Ottawa Citizen
1979 Lydia Dotto, freelance science writer, Toronto
1980 Tom Davey, Southam News Service, Ottawa
1981 June Engel, Health News, Toronto
1982 Marilyn Dunlop, The Toronto Star
1983 Wallace Immen, The Globe and Mail
1984 Robert Morrow, Communications, Ontario Hydro, Toronto
1985-1987 Sandy Stewart, Television Host, Reach for the Top, Toronto
1987-1989 Bud Riley, freelance science writer, Toronto
1989-1991 Jeffrey Crelinsten, Partner, The Impact Group, Toronto
1991-1993 Patricia Ohlendorf-Moffat, Pathways Magazine, Toronto
1993-1995 Mark Lowey, The Calgary Herald
1995-1996 Frann Harris, freelance science writer, Regina
1996-2001 Michael Smith, freelance science writer, Toronto
2001-2005 Véronique Morin, Sociéte Radio-Canada, Montréal
2005-2009 Tim Lougheed, freelance science writer, Ottawa
2009-2011 Kathryn O’Hara, School of Journalism, Carleton University, Ottawa
2011-2012 Peter McMahon, freelance science writer, Port Hope
2012- Stephen Strauss, freelance science writer, Toronto
CSWA Executive Directors
1989-1991 Catherine Bryant, Toronto
1991-2004 Andy F. Visser-deVries, Toronto and Kingston
2004-2011 Kristina Bergen, Port Hope
2011- Janice Benthin, Montréal
-Andy F. Visser-deVries served as Executive Director of the CSWA from October 1991 to September 2004.
The CSWA awards for general audience and youth books published in 2015 are now open, the deadline is December 15th, 2015.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Kókay Szabolcs
Eight months pregnant and stressed-out was how I found myself roughly two years ago, sitting in front of the computer screen. I was on the Air Canada website, attempting to book a flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg so I could visit family six weeks after my daughter’s due date. But I was terrified to click on “Book Flight.”
Everyone knows that airplane cabins are festering clouds of germs, right? There’s science to back that up: one study of microbes inside airplanes found that circulating cabin air contained an abundance of opportunistic pathogenic inhabitants of the human respiratory tract and oral cavity. So if I brought a newborn with a still-developing immune system on board, would I be putting her life in danger? She wouldn’t even have had her first vaccinations yet. What kind of monster would I be for taking her on this flight?
At the time, my knowledge about the infant immune system was based mainly on what my health care practitioners had told me--which was practically nothing. I had even asked a nurse about airplane flights, specifically, and she said she didn’t know whether or not it was a good idea. That probably accounted for why I couldn’t bring myself to click the button that committed me to the flight.
What I failed to realize at the time was how much the recent research on the human microbiome—the bacteria that live on and inside us--was relevant to the issue. It just required putting together a few scientific pieces.
When a baby is born, she is more-or-less a microbial blank slate. Recent research calls into question the age-old assumption that babies are completely bacteria-free in the womb, but it’s clear that the main bacterial exposure comes during and after birth.) So the act of coming into the world is of great importance to a baby’s health, because the moment she hits the birth canal, she is exposed to a diverse set of bacteria that colonize her tiny -- Tender makes me think of food -- body.
The baby’s immune system is indeed immature at that point, leaving her vulnerable to infections. In fact, a new study actually found evidence of immunosuppression in newborns, which is probably because the baby needs to remain “vulnerable to,” or open to, good bacteria taking up residence. It seems excessive inflammation caused by a sensitive immune system would do more harm than good at that point.
The microbes that colonize a newborn’s body in the first weeks basically are her immune system. When the right kinds of good bacteria are present, pathogens have more difficulty getting a foothold.
So what gives a newborn a healthy collection of microbes that provide immunity? Studies consistently find that infants who have been delivered vaginally, rather than by cesarean section, have microbiomes that contain a greater number of species. Ditto for those who were breastfed--they got a bunch of good bacteria packed into every meal (though certain probiotics can easily substitute). Gestational age at birth also seems to matter, as the colonization happens differently in a preterm baby’s gut -- Are there other ways these bacteria could be acquired? I don't think we necessarily need to guilt mothers who delivered via c-section or who can't/don't want to breastfeed --. Other bacteria, both good and bad, come from the baby’s environment--the people and surfaces that she touches.
The science seemed to say that as long as baby’s good bacteria are thriving, the chances of her getting a terrible bacterial infection on an airplane flight should be quite low. Great news.
But on the other hand, there’s still a problem. Despite the gargantuan importance of the microbiome early in life--with some calling it the “forgotten organ” of the human body and arguing that the effects of early microbial colonization last a lifetime--why are health practitioners not prepared for questions about it? My (anecdotal) survey of friends who’ve recently had babies uncovered not a single report of a care provider who had brought up the topic. It’s a huge oversight, given the volume of research on the topic over the past two years or so. Doctors, nurses, and midwives need to get up-to-date on this, and quickly. Especially because a few good ideas are bouncing around that may help save some newborns from serious infections. In my case, giving me all the facts might just have saved me from unnecessary anxiety.
The end of the story is this: I took the flight, and the baby was fine. In fact, we took 18 flights the first year, and all of them were fine. The risk of taking a baby on an airplane, or anywhere that’s microbially unfamiliar, can be mitigated by ensuring good colonization in those early weeks.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the risk of dirty looks from fellow passengers when your baby cries. Good luck with that, parents.
Kristina Campbell, a.k.a. “The Intestinal Gardener”intestinalgardener.blogspot.ca
2014 Herb Lampert Science in Society Emerging Journalist Award:
Floating Away: The Science of Sensory Deprivation Therapy, by Shelly Xuelai Fan , Discover Magazine, 4 April 2014.
Sensory deprivation was considered the ultimate psychological torture device. Now it is rapidly becoming North America's new drug-of-choice. Across the continent ""float houses"" are increasing in popularity, offering eager psychonauts a chance to explore this unique state of mind. Those running the business are quick to list the health benefits of frequent ""floats"", which range from the believable – relaxation, heightened senses – to the seemingly nonsensical. Are these proclaimed benefits backed up by science or are they simply new-age hogwash? Floating Away delves into the science of sensory deprivation therapy by interviewing the field’s pioneering researcher at the University of British Columbia, and offers a critical look at the past and future of this fringe research area.
Shelly Xuelai Fan is a PhD student in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where she studies protein degradation in neurodegenerative diseases. She is a science writer with an insatiable obsession with the brain, and her work has appeared in Discover, Scientific American MIND, UBC Medical Journal and other publications.
2014 Science in Society Journalism Award:
The Allergy Fix by Bruce Mohun and Helen Slinger, Dreamfilm Productions. The Allergy Fix aired CBC-TV's The Nature of Things, 27 February 2014.
A documentary that explores the science behind the surge in childhood food allergies over the last twenty years. More than three times as many children have food allergies now than twenty years ago, and one out of every three children is now allergic to something, be it food, animals, or plants.
Director/writer Bruce Mohun is a Vancouver-based science journalist and television director who has produced, directed, hosted and written hundreds of hours of TV for broadcasters including CBC, Discovery, and Knowledge. His past documentaries for CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things have won multiple awards including both the Gold and Silver World Medals at the New York Festivals. Bruce has been honoured with both the Science Council of British Columbia's Eve Savory Award for Science Communication, and the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies’ J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Science Communication.
Helen Slinger is a master storyteller who began her career as a newspaper and then television reporter. After a lengthy left turn into news management, she left mainstream media to pursue her passion for documentary. Since then she has directed, written and produced many documentaries, including more than ten made in collaboration with Dreamfilm."
Blinded By Scientific Gobbledygookseries, by Tom Spears, The Ottawa Citizen.
Undoing Forever, by Britt Wray, CBC Radio One IDEAS.
2014 Science in Society Communication Award:
The Giant Walk Through the Brain, by Trevor Day, Jay Ingram and Christian Jacob.
In 1972, neuroscientist Joseph Bogen suggested building a giant 60-story high science museum of the human brain. This giant walkthrough brain would educate and engage students and the public by taking them on guided tours inside, making it possible to visualize anatomical relationships among structures surrounding them. Although this architectural project remains an intriguing idea, the cost makes it unlikely an actual walk through brain will ever be built. However, modern computer technology and advances in computational human anatomy models provide another avenue for exploring a three-dimensional virtual human brain. Our team has developed “The Giant Walk through the Brain”, an innovative, engaging, narrative-driven public science communication performance which takes a live audience on a larger-than-life virtual tour of the human brain. “The Giant Walk Through Brain” is a live theatrical performance, including engaging, story-driven narration, dramatic 3-D computer animations and original live music.
Dr. Trevor Day is a neurobiologist and Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He is music director and leader of the five-piece band “The Free Radicals”. They have written original music to accompany the narration and guided 3-D tour of the brain during the live performance. Dr. Christian Jacob is a Professor and director of the University of Calgary’s LINDSAY Virtual Human Project and the leader of the animation team. They have developed custom-made, scientifically accurate 3-D models and animations in the form of interactive fly-throughs to support the scientific and narrative content of the performance. Science broadcaster Jay Ingram wrote the narration and acts as tour guide for The Giant Walk Through Brain performance. He is a member of the Order of Canada with 30 years of broadcasting experience with CBC Radio and Discovery Channel, author of 13 books and co-founder of Calgary’s Art, Science and Engineering festival Beakerhead.
2014 Science in Society Children’s Book Award:
The Fly by Elise Gravel, Penguin Random House.
The first in a series of humorous books about “disgusting creatures”, The Fly is a look at the common housefly. It covers such topics as the hair on the fly's body (requires a lot of shaving), its ability to walk on the ceiling (it's pretty cool, but it's hard to play soccer up there), and its really disgusting food tastes (garbage juice soup followed by dirty diaper with rotten tomato sauce, for example).
Elise Gravel is an award-winning author and illustrator from Québec. She is winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Illustration in French, and is well known in Québec for her original, wacky picture books. Having completed her studies in graphic design, Elise found herself quickly swept up into the glamorous world of illustration. Her old design habits drive her to work a little text here and there into her drawings and she loves to handle the design of her assignments from start to finish. She is inspired by social causes and likes projects that can handle a good dose of eccentricity.
2014 Science in Society General Book Award competition:
Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive by Mark L. Winston, Harvard University Press.
Being among bees is a full-body experience, Mark Winston writes—from the low hum of tens of thousands of insects and the pungent smell of honey and beeswax, to the sight of workers flying back and forth between flowers and the hive. The experience of an apiary slows our sense of time, heightens our awareness, and inspires awe. Bee Time presents Winston’s reflections on three decades spent studying these creatures, and on the lessons they can teach about how humans might better interact with one another and the natural world. Like us, honeybees represent a pinnacle of animal sociality. How they submerge individual needs into the colony collective provides a lens through which to ponder human societies. Winston explains how bees process information, structure work, and communicate, and examines how corporate boardrooms are using bee societies as a model to improve collaboration. He investigates how bees have altered our understanding of agricultural ecosystems and how urban planners are looking to bees in designing more nature-friendly cities. The relationship between bees and people has not always been benign. Bee populations are diminishing due to human impact, and we cannot afford to ignore what the demise of bees tells us about our own tenuous affiliation with nature. Toxic interactions between pesticides and bee diseases have been particularly harmful, foreshadowing similar effects of pesticides on human health. There is much to learn from bees in how they respond to these challenges. In sustaining their societies, bees teach us ways to sustain our own.
Mark L. Winston has had a distinguished career researching, teaching, writing and commenting on bees and agriculture, environmental issues, and science policy. He was a founding faculty member of the Banff Centre’s Science Communication programme, and consults widely on utilizing dialogue to develop leadership and communication skills, focus on strategic planning, inspire organisational change, and thoughtfully engage public audiences with controversial issues. Winston’s work has appeared in numerous books, commentary columns for The Vancouver Sun, The New York Times, The Sciences, Orion magazine and frequently on CBC Radio and Television and National Public Radio. He currently is a Fellow in Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, and a Professor of Biological Sciences.
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