Joan Hollobon in Portland Maine August 1959
Joan Hollobon stood out among her peers and made a difference in terms of health care advocacy in Canada as a result of working as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985. As the little girl racing through the woods in the CBC television series Kids in the Hall would say, “It’s a fact!”, (and thirty Helen’s agree). The evidence speaks for itself.
In recognition of her outstanding career, Joan Hollobon was elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in 1985. An Honorary Member of the OMA is elected by unanimous vote by the OMA’s Board of Directors and must have attained eminence in science and/or the humanities - for contribution to public awareness of medical science, a fitting tribute to Joan Hollobon’s years of making medicine understandable to the lay public. At the time, Joan Hollobon was only the second woman to be elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association, and only the second journalist to do so after her mentor, Kenneth W. McTaggart, who was elected an Honorary Member 20 years earlier in 1965.
The following year, in 1986, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Medical Association’s Medal of Honour. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Medal of Honour is the highest award the CMA bestows upon a person who is not a member of the medical profession and is granted in recognition of (1) personal contributions to the advancement of medical research, medical education, health care organisation, and health education of the public; (2) service to the people of Canada in raising the standards of health care delivery in Canada; and, (3) service to the profession in the field of medical organisation.
In the Medal of Honour Citation presented to Joan Hollobon from the Canadian Medical Association at the time, Joan was recognised “for (her) contribution to public awareness of medical science” and “in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the public’s knowledge of health related issues, and the significant contribution which Joan Hollobon made to the public’s understanding of medicine through her newspaper reporting”.
“Joan Hollobon made a career of listening to doctors talk about remarkable achievements in medical research and health care practice, achievements that the public might well not have known about had it not been for this accomplished writer from Toronto. Medical reporting is an art and a science. It requires raw talent and polished skill. Joan, in her 25 years + as The Globe and Mail’s medical reporter, has become its acknowledged master. She has been one of the medical profession’s greatest allies.”
Awards recognising journalists over the years clearly demonstrate the degree to which medical practitioners and medical bodies in Canada have changed their views on the value of cooperating with the press and communicating with the Canadian public.
Joan Hollobon had learned her craft well.
So much so that on 24 August 1963, with the recommendations from no less than Dr. Charles Best (the Canadian co-discoverer of insulin), Dr Ray Farquharson, and The Globe and Mail general editor Richard Doyle, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to attend the one-year Advanced Science Writing Program at the School of Graduate Studies at Columbia University in New York for the 1963-1964 academic year – despite only having a high school education. Following in the footsteps of her colleague David Spurgeon who had received the same award in 1958, Joan Hollobon was only the second Canadian in history to be awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Advanced Science Writing, and the first woman to do so.
In 1973 Joan Hollobon was recipient of the 1972 Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Medical Journalism Certificate and $1000 Award for Outstanding contribution to Medical Journalism in Canada, presented by Ortho Pharmaceutical (Canada) Ltd. in recognition of a series of three articles on transsexuality and the first sex reassignment operation performed in Canada that was published in The Globe and Mail on 31 March, 1 and 3 April 1972. Nearly 50 years later, this is still a ground-breaking topic, and only taking into account the annual inflation rate, the $1000 award would be the equivalent to nearly $7500 today, which underlines the significance of the award at the time.
In 1984 Joan Hollobon was awarded a Fellowship in the Academy of Medicine of Toronto, a professional and social organisation for medical doctors founded in the 19th century, and later that year, on 24 Nov 1984, Joan Hollobon was named recipient of the Health Care Public Relations Association Award of Distinction for Excellence in External Media.
In 1990, Joan Hollobon was awarded The Sandford Fleming Medal & Citation. Since 1982, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science has awarded the Sandford Fleming Medal and Citation annually to a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science. In 1990, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science awarded the medal to both Joan Hollobon and Marilyn Dunlop, the medical reporter for The Toronto Star, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science.
In 2010, at the age of 90 years old, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for the first time in the history of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (established in 1971) by then CSWA president Kathryn O’Hara to Joan Hollobon in recognition of her lifetime contributions to increasing public awareness of science and technology in Canadian culture and her pursuit of excellence in science journalism.
Joan Hollobon has not only won awards in recognition of her outstanding career as a medical journalist who helped to change the way Canadians understand health and health advocacy, but she also has an award named after her, which says volumes about her level of standing among her peers and in Canadian society, and the level of accomplishment Joan Hollobon made in her field.
The Joan Hollobon Award is presented annually by the Canadian Press Relations Society (HCPRA) “to recognize a print or broadcast story that has contributed significantly to the public's understanding of health care.” “The award, named in honour of Joan Hollobon, the esteemed medical reporter who covered health issues for The Globe and Mail for 25 years and who retired from The Globe and Mail in 1986, is offered annually to a member of the media whose work has contributed to the public’s understanding of the Canadian health care system. In a news item from The Ottawa Citizen on 30 May 2017, announcing the 2016 Joan Hollobon Award recipient, The Ottawa Citizen went on to report, “The award is named for Joan Hollobon, a medical reporter with The Globe and Mail until her retirement in 1986. During that time, she acquired a reputation as a master of the art and science of medical reporting.”
By Andy F. Visser-de Vries
To learn more about Joan Hollobon and her outstanding work in science journalism, check out the following articles:
Joan Hollobon's Outstanding Contribution to Medical Science and Health Care in Canadian Society.
Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash
Monitoring the quality of freshwater throughout Canada is now a little easier thanks to a portable water testing kit created by Water Rangers, a non-profit conservation organization in Ottawa.
The kit includes items such as a thermometer, pH test strips, and a guide book. It was created in hopes of getting everyday citizens involved with collecting data on the health of bodies of water throughout the country.
Professional water testing equipment is expensive and often difficult to use, so this new kit plays a significant role in getting the public involved with water monitoring.
“When I looked for ways to test the water at my cottage, I wasn’t happy with the equipment that was available, ” Kat Kavanagh, founder and executive director of Water Rangers said in a press release. “ We’re making a kit available for first-time users who don’t have a science background like campers, cottagers and community groups.”
Although the portable test kits developed by Water Rangers are cheaper and easier to use than professional kits, they still provide an accurate measure of water quality according to a study conducted at Carleton University in 2018.
The kits can be purchased online at the Water Rangers website or borrowed for free from a host in various cities including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Cornwall, and Prince Edward county.
Participants collect a kit, read the field guide, or watch the online instruction videos, and start collecting data. After testing the water, participants can upload their findings to the open-data map on the Water Rangers website using a smartphone app.
This project is important because Canada is home to a vast collection of freshwater habitats and there is currently a gap in our knowledge concerning the health of water throughout the country, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Watershed Report.
The portable kits allow citizens to conduct various assessments of water, including temperature, conductivity, and pH tests. These analyses are important for determining water quality for several reasons. First, changes in temperature can lead to an increase in plant and bacteria growth in the water, which can influence oxygen levels. Second, changes in conductivity can be an indicator for pollutants in the water, and changes in pH can indicate the presence of sewage or algae blooms, according to the Water Rangers website.
Photo by Austin Censor on Unsplash
Gathering data about the quality of water in different areas is also important because every body of water has a different composition, meaning normal test levels will vary between different regions. Therefore collecting a sufficient amount of data to create baselines for different bodies of water throughout the country is imperative when it comes to discovering problems within our water systems.
The Water Rangers website currently has over 20,000 observations recorded for various bodies of water throughout the world, creating a resourceful database of information about water quality worldwide.
Funding for this project was provided by WWF’S Loblaw Water Fund which offers grants to organizations in Canada working on projects that protect our water. The fund has provided grants for over 60 projects in the past five years.
By: Nicole Babb
Nicole Babb is an aspiring journalist from St. John’s, Newfoundland. She recently graduated from Carleton University with a combined honours degree in journalism and psychology. During her time at Carleton, Nicole wrote articles for the university’s student newspaper and completed a health reporting course which sparked her interest in science journalism and communication. She is passionate about writing and photography, and she also enjoys learning about new scientific research.
Growing up near the ocean, she has always been curious about marine life and she is especially interested in research and reporting concerning the ocean, climate change, and endangered species. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys reading, canoeing, playing basketball and hiking. She also loves animals and spending time with her dog. Nicole is currently residing in Ottawa and she is looking forward to working as a volunteer for Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.
Joan Hollobon’s life and daily routine as a resident at the Kensington Gardens Long Term Health Care Centre in downtown Toronto is rather quiet and inauspicious. She likes to sit in her wheelchair by the nursing station on the fourth floor during the day in order to interact with the staff and she still reads The Week, an international news magazine that provides her with a summary of recent world news and events. While she is hard of hearing, and she can’t be bothered with ‘those damn hearing aids’, she loves to welcome visitors, and reminisce about family and friends. The walls in her private room at the nursing home where she lives are covered in a rich tapestry of photos that tell her life story – photos of her parents, her grandmother, and her aunt May, and others from Joan’s career and with her friends. And then there are the photos of Achilles and Ching and Misty, her cherished German shepherd dog and her two Siamese cats that died long ago but still brighten Joan’s expression whenever she looks at them.
But make no mistake, Joan Hollobon, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in January 2020, made an outstanding contribution to the Canadian public and the medical profession’s appreciation and understanding of importance of medical science and health care in Canadian society.
In her role as medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985, Joan Hollobon served as a pioneer in the print media to help bridge the large gap in understanding and awareness that existed between the medical profession and the general public. In a career that spanned the founding of Medicare in Canada to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, her hands-on reporting helped to foster and establish a dynamic relationship between the medical profession and the general public that we take for granted today in an age where the patient can and will question a doctor’s diagnosis and prescribed treatment, and often obtain a second opinion, or ask Dr. Google. Joan Hollobon helped to change not only the way patients and the general public approach their doctors and interact with them, but also the way doctors approach their patients and the general public and interact with them.
When Joan Hollobon was first appointed the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail in August 1959 (on an interim basis), illustrative of the time 60 years ago, editors at The Globe and Mail were less than enthusiastic about having a woman on the medical beat. But The Globe and Mail needed to replace David Spurgeon, the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail at the time who had been awarded a one year study fellowship at Columbia University in New York. Joan Hollobon had proved herself a reliable general reporter since starting at The Globe and Mail in October 1956, and so she was asked to fill in as the medical reporter for David Spurgeon for the coming year.
Armed with her newly-purchased concise medical dictionary and a steely resolve, Joan was determined to learn her craft well, if only for the one-year assignment. But when David Spurgeon returned from New York in July 1960, he was assigned to the newly-created science beat at The Globe and Mail, and Joan Hollobon became the permanent medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, a position she held for the next 26 years until her retirement in January 1985. The move to medical reporting proved auspicious, not only for Joan Hollobon, but also for the Canadian medical profession, patients, and the general public.
Looking back now in the early part of the 21st century CE, it is difficult to appreciate the overwhelming barriers women faced in the workplace in general, much less what Joan Hollobon faced as the first female medical reporter for a national Canadian daily newspaper. Women who did find work were viewed as the weaker sex, and often treated as little more than secretaries at the beck and call of men who understood they alone called the shots. But through grit and determination, and a love for her job, Joan Hollobon gained the respect of her colleagues, her editor(s)-in-chief, the medical profession, scientists, and the general public, and helped to transform the relationship between the medical profession and the general public in Canada.
Equally illustrative of the attitudes that have changed over the years were those of many Canadian physicians. Trained in the old British traditions, where physicians spoke and were not spoken to, who were served hand and foot by nurses considered second-class at best, these same physicians viewed talking to the press as dangerous, definitely “not done”, and for many, actually unethical.
On one assignment in those early days of her medical reporting career, Joan Hollobon had an interview with a surgeon specialising in orthopedic research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto who had only agreed, reluctantly, to meet with Joan because the Hospital was in the middle of a fund-raising campaign. Upon Joan’s arrival, he handed her a half-page list of facts and considered the interview complete!
As time passed by, this doctor, like so many others in the medical profession, came to understand the value of informing the public about health and medical science and became very generous with his time sitting down and talking to science journalists.
Journalism training for most reporters 60 years ago was about “learning on the job” and that was also true for many science and medical writers – their professors were the women and men like the orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children. The opportunity to enroll as a journalism student at a School of Journalism was a rare opportunity most journalists could not afford.
What made Joan Hollobon unique as a reporter, and a medical reporter per se, was that while she had an office desk at The Globe and Mail, she was always in the field connecting and learning hands-on in order to be able to report firsthand what was important knowledge for the general public. In this age of the Internet where many people use ‘Dr Google’ to research medical diagnosis and potential cures to equip themselves in discussions with their doctors, it is difficult to appreciate the role Joan Hollobon played when it came to equipping the general public (as potential patients) with an understanding of the medical profession and their own personal health care. As the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, Joan Hollobon opened the door for health advocacy – patient health advocacy through increased awareness, open dialogue, and a medical profession that changed the way it talked down to people into an approach that involved talking with people.
Joan Hollobon - "It's a Fact and 30 Helen's Agree"
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Lindsay Fox / EcigaretteReviewed.com
Vaping, which involves inhaling and exhaling vapour composed of fine particles produced by e-cigarettes, was introduced in the mid-2000s as a safer alternative to smoking. However, while not as dangerous, there are still some potential risks to using it. The vapour produced by e-cigarettes contains some harmful elements such as nicotine, as well as THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical found in marijuana that induces the sensation of being high.
One of the growing concerns regarding vaping is the rising number of e-cigarette use among youths. Even though it’s been over a decade since the invention of the first modern e-cigarette, the long-term health risks of vaping remain a mystery. However, it is well-known that vaping is especially harmful to adolescents. In addition to affecting their brain development, adolescents who vape are at risk of developing addictive behaviours and are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. Unfortunately, despite these risks, the number of youths that practice vaping continues to rise. For example, in the past year, the number of Ottawa high school students that were caught vaping is almost three timesthe number from the previous year.
It also does not help that the rise of e-cigarette use among adolescents is coinciding with a dangerous epidemic spreading across the United States. As of September 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 350 confirmed cases of people suffering from respiratory illnesses across 36 states. Since the beginning of September seven people have died as a result. While these cases have been linked to e-cigarette use, the exact cause of the illness is still being investigated. Since late August, the centres have been coordinating with state health officials, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to gather more information, as well as determine what substances were used.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, formerly FDA commissioner, states in an article from the New York Times that he suspects that those suffering from this epidemic may have consumed illegal products. “It’s probably something new that has been introduced into the market by an illegal manufacturer, either a new flavor or a new way to emulsify THC that is causing these injuries”, he said.
In response to this epidemic, the Trump administration is pushing to enact a new policy that would remove flavoured e-cigarette products from the market. Furthermore, while this outbreak has yet to reach Canada, some places, like British Columbia, are already promising to take swift action to crack down on vaping among their youth.
In light of this epidemic, it is now more important than ever to renew our efforts in not only researching the health risks of e-cigarette use, but also to protect and educate our youth about the dangers of vaping.
“Transcript of August 23, 2019, Telebriefing on Severe Pulmonary Disease Associated with Use of E-cigarettes”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/t0823-telebriefing-severe-pulmonary-disease-e-cigarettes.html
“Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html
Ben Miljure (Sept. 13 2019). “B.C. considering crackdown on vaping amid rise in U.S. hospitalizations”. CTV News. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-considering-crackdown-on-vaping-amid-rise-in-u-s-hospitalizations-1.4592948
Blair Crawford (Sept. 13 2019). “For high school students, vaping — like cigarettes — is a hard habit to break”. Ottawa Citizen. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/for-high-school-students-vaping-like-cigarettes-is-a-hard-habit-to-break
Christina Matthews (updated Apr. 5 2019). “Vaping – A Journey Through its History”. Vaping Daily. https://vapingdaily.com/what-is-vaping/vaping-history/
Jacqueline Haward (Sept. 13 2019). “CDC's case count of vaping-related lung illnesses went down, but not for reasons you might think”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/13/health/lung-disease-vaping-cdc-new-numbers-bn/index.html
Julie Mazziotta (Sept. 17 2019). “A 7th Person Has Died of Vaping-Related Lung Illness as CDC Reduces Investigation to 380 Cases”. People. https://people.com/health/a-7th-person-has-died-of-vaping-related-lung-illness-as-cdc-reduces-investigation-to-380-cases/
Linda Richter (October 2018). “RECREATIONAL VAPING 101: What is Vaping?”. Expert Views On E-Cigarettes. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/e-cigarettes/recreational-vaping/what-vaping
Marnie Willman (Sept. 14 2019). “The rise of a mysterious lung illness begins to expose the dangers of vaping”. Massive Science. https://massivesci.com/notes/vaping-mysterious-illness-lung-disease-canada-united-states/
Matthew Lavietes (Sept. 11 2019). “‘It is time to stop vaping’: 6th U.S. death linked to vaping-related illness”. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/5887815/us-vaping-death-kansas/
Maegan Vazquez and Betsy Klein (Sept. 11 2019). “Trump administration moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/11/politics/donald-trump-vape-e-cigarette-flavors/index.html
Rachel D’Amore (Sept. 13 2019). “Trump calls for ban on flavoured e-cigarettes — what is Canada’s stance on vaping?”. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/5899815/vaping-ban-canada-election/
Shiela Kaplan & Matt Richtel (Sept. 11 2019). “The Mysterious Vaping Illness That’s ‘Becoming an Epidemic’”. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/health/vaping-marijuana-ecigarettes-sickness.html
By Matthew Guida
As a native Montrealer, I graduated from Concordia University with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Film Studies. I am currently studying for my master’s degree in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.
My interest in journalism began while attending Concordia. I was a frequent contributor to the university’s independent newspaper, The Concordian. I further honed my skills and experience by working as a List Writer for the entertainment news website Screen Rant.
Since I started attending Carleton University, I have strived to further improve my skills as a journalist in not only print, but also in the fields of data, investigative and broadcast journalism. In the past year, I have also developed a growing appreciation for radio journalism and podcasts.
My current interests lie in studying the future of the journalism industry, writing and researching pop culture and social media trends, as well as furthering my career in the field of journalism.
Figure 1: Active learning improves student performance and engagement. But why do passive lectures still dominate? Photo by Dmitry Ratushny.
For decades, active learning has been proposed as a solution to prevalent issues in science education, including student engagement and performance. Unlike in traditional passive lectures – where an instructor lectures at students who may or may not be engaged – students in active learning contexts are invited to participate in activities such as group asssignments, in-class worksheets, and discussions. In short, in active learning classrooms, students become active participants in the learning process. The evidence for active learning is strong; a 2014 meta-analysis of 225 studies on active learning found that students performed, on average, 6% better on exams and were 1.5 times less likely to fail than students in passive lectures.
Despite the wealth of research reporting benefits due to active learning, a recent survey of American colleges found that the majority of STEM college instructors still rely on passive teaching methods. Though one can propose a variety of potential reasons why students and faculty are so resistant to active learning, researchers at Harvard devised an experiment to tackle the question.
The researchers randomly assigned students to either an active learning or passive lecture and then tested students to see (1) how much students actually learned and (2) how much students believe they learned from each teaching context. The researchers found that, in terms of actual learning, students performed better if they were exposed to an active learning setting than a passive setting. However, what was surprising was that despite learning more, students in the active learning setting believed they learned less effectively than those in the passive setting.
Figure 2: Students performed better on tests of learning if they were in an active learning setting (left, shaded), but consistently felt like they learned less effectively compared to a passive setting (right).
One concern with implementing active learning at higher levels of education is that students who have only been exposed to passive learning contexts will struggle to navigate the shift from passive to active. The results from the Harvard study may indicate evidence for that struggle, as students may simply prefer passive contexts due to students’ familiarity with them. Therefore, the researchers propose the following recommendations for faculty: (1) prepare your students early in the semester for active instruction, and (2) clearly describe the benefits of active instruction to your students.
The researchers also suggest that their findings may suggest a reason why faculty have been resistant to change. As noted earlier, faculty are resistant to active learning, and the researchers suggest this may be due in part to students believing that active instruction is less helpful than passive instruction, and then directly articulating these beliefs to faculty on teaching evaluations. If students are consistently dismissing active learning methods over passive methods, it’s unsurprising why faculty would consistently choose one over the other. However, some faculty may be resistant to active learning simply due to their own entrenched beliefs and/or attitudes towards teaching.
As research on active learning continues, one thing is clear: active learning works, and it works better than passive learning. However, in order to get both students and faculty to fully buy-in to active learning, students not only need to know what active learning is – they also need to know why it is beneficial to their learning.
(1) Deslauriers, L.; McCarty, L. S.; Miller, K.; Callaghan, K.; Kestin, G. Measuring Actual Learning versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2019.
(2) Freeman, S.; Eddy, S. L.; McDonough, M.; Smith, M. K.; Okoroafor, N.; Jordt, H.; Wenderoth, M. P. Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 2014, 111 (23), 8410–8415.
(3) Stains, M.; Harshman, J.; Barker, M. K.; Chasteen, S. V; Cole, R.; DeChenne-Peters, S. E.; Eagan, M. K.; Esson, J. M.; Knight, J. K.; Laski, F. A.; et al. Anatomy of STEM Teaching in North American Universities. Science (80-. ). 2018, 359 (6383), 1468–1470.
By: Jacky Deng
Jacky Deng is from Surrey, British Columbia and is currently a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. Jacky received an honours degree in Chemistry from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus (UBCO). During his time at UBCO, Jacky wrote for the university’s student newspaper The Phoenix as its Arts Editor, and eventually oversaw management of the newspaper as its Coordinating Editor. Despite not having pursued a degree or formal career in journalism, Jacky has accumulated a strong science communication portfolio consisting of both journalistic writing and video production. He is passionate about science education, as well as how data can inform decisions related to social issues, environmental issues, and, most importantly, sports. He is currently reading Pablo Escobar: My Father by Juan Pablo Escobar.
Photo: Doctor with a Stethoscope by Online Marketing on Unsplash
With a warming planet, comes a growing list of health concerns for people around the world. Time and again, scientific studies have linked climate change to increased risks of various health problems such as Lyme disease and asthma. However, information about these risks and how to protect ourselves against them is often hard to find.
That's where a new online initiative developed by the Ontario Public Health Association comes into play. The initiative called # MakeitBetter seeks to inform the public and health care workers about the risks associated with global warming and offers tips on how to protect ourselves against these health problems.
"Climate change is one of the most critical threats to human health," Pegeen Walsh, Executive Director at OPHA, said in a press release. "As health professionals, we all have a responsibility to kids and their parents to raise awareness of these risks and give people the tools and information they need to protect their families."
OPHA is a non-profit organization that provides guidance regarding public health concerns in Ontario. Their online initiative focuses on three health problems connected to climate change, including Lyme disease, asthma, and heat-related illnesses. The risk of these three health problems has increased dramatically in the past few years.
Warmer temperatures have contributed to a rise in the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease, increasing the likelihood of contracting this illness. This is evident in Ontario as the number of people with Lyme disease in the province has risen dramatically in the past decade. According to the MakeitBetter website, in 2009, there were only around 30 cases of Lyme disease per year compared to over 300 cases in 2015. Lyme disease is an inflammatory condition that causes symptoms such as a rash and fever. It's dangerous when left untreated and can result in neurological and cardiac disorders.
Climate change is also leading to warmer days. June 2019 was the hottest on record in 140 years. Extreme heat increases the risk of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses, especially in vulnerable populations such as children. Warmer weather also increases the risk of air pollution from forest fires and pollen, which leads to a higher chance of asthma attacks, according to OPHA.
The MakeitBetter online campaign provides more details about each health issue mentioned above, driving home the seriousness of climate change and offering people solutions to help mitigate growing health risks. The initiative also asks members of the public to take a pledge to protect children in the province from climate related health risks by staying informed, sharing knowledge, and supporting initiatives that fight against climate change. There are currently over 200 people who have signed the online pledge.
At a time when global warming is a bigger threat than ever before, staying informed about how to protect ourselves is important for maintaining our health . Hopefully, this new initiative will help provide people with the information needed to stay healthy in a changing climate.
Climate change has once again become a news topic in Canada, but not for a scientific discovery or jarring event. This time it is political. Elections Canada, our country’s federal agency for conducting elections, has deemed advertising for climate change as a potentially political act. Not stating scientific fact, but a partisan arguing point.
According to Elections Canada this is because Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, a fringe far-right wing populist party, is skeptical climate change is real.
It is not the first instance of Canadian scientist facing political challenges. Scientists working in Canada have had obstacles to their research dating back to the Harper government.
A few months ago, a report stated that Canadian science toward climate is being underfunded, and scientists are leaving Canada as a result.
These challenges toward the scientific community come at a critical point. A recent study pointed out that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
This spring, Ottawa had a flood that broke records it set all the way in…2017.
British Columbia experienced some of its worst forest fire seasons two years in a row, in 2017 and 2018.
In the Yukon, the town of Old Crow declared a climate state of emergency earlier this year.
But with the Elections Canada decision, the scientific community is speaking out this time. More than 350 scientists have signed an open letter to Elections Canada, voicing their concern over this ruling. Climate change is a fact, and the scientists signing this document want it to be treated as such.
By: David Lochead
After growing up in Ottawa and living in Halifax for my early-twenties I have come to back to Canada’s capital to take my Master of Journalism at Carleton University.
While writing is what I am experienced at, I have always enjoyed science. There are endless studies or articles based on it that make me go ‘whoa, that’s cool’.
But what drives me to be a part of SWCC is this subject’s importance. Whether it is getting a better understanding of climate change or the technology we adapt, science is involved.
Before taking my Master’s degree, I graduated from Dalhousie with Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Development.
Outside of work, I love spending time outdoors, whether through sport or activity.
"Forager bees," who gather pollen away from the colony, are believed more vulnerable to pesticides. Photo: Serena Magagnoli.
It's brand name is "Sivanto" (flupyradifurone). It's designed to kill a wide range of insects which eat food crops like soybeans. Bayer plans to register it in many jurisdictions around the world.
After conducting various field studies, Bayer has concluded, "Sivanto
displays a very promising safety profile." The company concedes, it works in ways similar to the neonicotinoids (a group of insecticides which has become notorious for its likely role in pollinator decline). Nevertheless, the company believes, Sivanto “can be considered safe to most beneficial insects, specifically pollinators."
A ground sprayer applies pesticides in Manitoba. A PinP photo.
But a team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego, is not so sure. In recent research, the team gave a range of Sivanto doses to the bees, including those they encounter in the field. By itself, the chemical did not appear to be harmful. But, when combined with the fungicide propiconazole (brand name "Banner Maxx"), widely-used by farmers, the harm was "greatly amplified." The bees either sickened or died, apparently because the fungicide weakened their ability to shake off the toxicity.
It's not uncommon for pollinators to be subjected to a dizzying array of pesticides all at once, while foraging in the fields. Through a process called "synergism," they can suffer harm they would not, if exposed to just a single one.
The spokesperson for the team, Dr. Simone Tosi, tells PinP, she does not believe that regulations in the US require manufacturers to test for synergistic effects when they apply to have their products approved. But neither does she think that such regulations prohibit such testing.
In a news release, her team says, "We believe this work is a step toward a better understanding of the risks that pesticides could pose to bees and the environment. Our results highlight the importance of assessing the effects pesticides have on the behaviour of animals, and demonstrate that synergism, seasonality and bee age are key factors that subtly change pesticide toxicity." They call for further studies to better assess the risks to pollinators.
But at least some of those other studies have already been done. And they come up with similarly negative conclusions. A team from three German universities has found that flupyradifurone binds to the brain receptors of honeybees, harming their motor skills.
Meanwhile, Bayer's marketing plans for its new product are nothing short of ambitious. It promises to "develop, register and sell" Sivanto in many places across the world, including the US, Europe, Asia, Ghana and Brazil. While Canada isn't mentioned, specifically, there seems little doubt it will end up here, too.
The German-based multinational says it wants to see its product "in all major climatic zones allowing agriculture."
Last April, I e-mailed the federal Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Manitoba's Minister of Health, Kelvin Goertzen and Manitoba’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture to ask them about this new research and whether Sivanto will be registered in Canada. Apart from automated responses, I have received no reply.
By: Larry Powell
Larry is an eco-journalist living in Shoal Lake, Manitoba. He’s a member of the SWCC and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He’s authorized to receive embargoed material through the Science Media Centre of Canada, the Royal Society and the World Health Organization. He’s prepared to supply interested publications with important stories about the latest findings in the field of the Earth Sciences. He publishes www.PlanetInPeril.ca (PinP), “where science gets respect.”
In response to recent mass shootings, first-person shooter games like Call of Duty have been said to contribute to a “culture of violence” in the US.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - Multiplayer trailer, YouTube.
August 3 and 4, 2019 were days marred by a familiar tragedy in the United States. In El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, 25 lives became victims of mass shootings, with many more being wounded.
As if something like this had happened before, headlines from all sides of the national gun debate (re)surfaced within minutes of the attacks: “The world thinks America’s gun laws are crazy – and they’re right” (The Washington Post); “Gun Owners of America: Guns save lives every day” (USA TODAY); “A new approach to guns in America” (Vox).
However, President Donald Trump, in his official statement regarding the attacks, chose to shift the focus away from guns and the gun debate. In addition to white supremacy and mental illness, Trump called for a curbing of the “gruesome and grisly video games” that contribute to a “culture of violence” in the US. To Trump, a culture where violent video games are easily accessible inherently breeds youth intent on shooting up their local schools, churches, and shopping centres.
National condemnation of violent video games is by no means novel: in the immediate aftermath of the Columbine High School in 1999, parents of victims filed lawsuits against video game manufacturers due to knowledge that the shooters were fans of first-person shooter video games, like Doom. Similar outbursts against the video game industry emerged following the Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Orlando shootings.
But as these shootings continue to happen, so too has research investigating the video game/aggression relationship.
In June 2019, Harvard researchers Maya Mathur and Tyler VanderWeele published a meta-analysis of the video game/aggression literature. A meta-analysis can be loosely defined as “research about research”. These types of analyses are valuable as they aim to interpret evidence from individual studies – each with their own findings and limitations — through a holistic perspective in an effort to identify general trends across all the research. In this case, Mathur and VanderWeele looked at studies related to the video game/aggression relationship to determine what the field was finding as a whole.
From their analysis, Mathur and VanderWeele concluded that video games likely do increase aggressive reactions in users, but that the effects are small. That is, violent video games can make people a little more aggressive depending on the circumstances, but not enough to be a significant contributor to extremely violent behavior, like mass shootings.
It should be noted that by opting to shine the spotlight on video games, President Trump did not just choose to ignore data and conclusions presented by researchers like Mathur and VanderWeele; he also chose to ignore the substantial amount of data on America’s controversial gun culture:
Of course, correlations must be made cautiously; guns and the American gun culture may not cause mass shootings. But to argue that violent video games deserve more or even equal blame than firearms would be to discount scientific evidence of the simple truth: they just aren’t.
Mathur, M.B.; VanderWeele, T.J. Finding common ground in meta-analysis “wars” of violent video games. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(4), 705-708.
Jacky Deng is a graduate student from Surrey, British Columbia currently attending the University of Ottawa. Jacky received an honours degree in Chemistry from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus (UBCO). During his time at UBCO, Jacky wrote for the university’s student newspaper The Phoenix as its Arts Editor, and eventually oversaw management of the newspaper as its Coordinating Editor. Despite not having pursued a degree or formal career in journalism, Jacky has accumulated a strong science communication portfolio consisting of both journalistic writing and video production. He is passionate about science education, as well as how data can inform decisions related to social issues, environmental issues, and, most importantly, sports. He is currently reading Pablo Escobar: My Father by Juan Pablo Escobar.
Researchers uncover strikingly similar ways in which Indigenous peoples use the twinkling of stars to predict weather and seasonal changes.
The Milky Way and (at right) two Magellanic Clouds shine in the southern hemisphere above Cerro Paranal in Chile's Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO / Y. Beletsky.
Indigenous cultures on opposite sides of the world, with vastly different geographies and climates, interpret and use changes in starlight for marking seasons and weather forecasting in remarkably similar ways, according to researchers from Australia and Alaska.
Studies of Indigenous astronomical knowledge describe the pivotal role the properties of stars, such as colour, brightness and positions relative to the horizon, play in the lives of Indigenous communities, but little has been written about the role of stellar scintillation (twinkling).
Atmospheric turbulence, caused by changes in wind speed and direction, alter the refractive index of light, producing rapid changes in the brightness of the star, making it appear to twinkle: the greater the turbulence, the more pronounced the twinkling. Changes in air density, humidity and temperature also cause stars to change colour or appear hazy. Water in the atmosphere absorbs the green and red components of light more than blue - the predominance of blue over red and orange stars signifies increased moisture levels.
“I came across a reference to Melanesians using scintillation for predicting wind movements, but it was just a passing comment,” explains Dr Duane Hamacher, a Senior Research Fellow from the Monash Indigenous Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “So I interviewed elders from the Meriam Mer community in the eastern Torres Strait where they described how they ‘read’ scintillations.”
Buoyed by this new information, Hamacher investigated further, and a fortuitous conversation at an Oceanic Cultural Astronomy conference in Hawaii with Chris Cannon, who studies the astronomical knowledge of the Northern Dene of Canada and Alaska, led to their collaboration.
“I first became interested in the Northern Dene while teaching astronomy to students in rural Alaska,” says Cannon, a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, United States. “A literature review showed not only a lack of published
information on the astronomy of the Northern Dene, but a misconception that their knowledge of the night sky was poorly developed.”
Together, they discovered both cultural groups have a similar understanding of how scintillation correlates with atmospheric conditions. A surprising result, given that the Torres Strait Islanders are sea-farers from the tropics with distinct wet and dry seasons, while the Northern Dene are from the interior of the arctic and sub-arctic, where half the year is dark and the other half is light.
To the Torres Strait Islanders, “reading” the stars informs them about winds, coming storms, hot weather, and the arrival of the strong northwest trade winds, heralding the wet season, called Kuki in the Merriam Mer language, from January to April.
“There are signs that the seasons change. We see it in trees and gardens, but mainly in the stars,” says Alo Tapim. Tapim is a Meriam elder from Murray Island and a participant in Hamacher’s research. “When the stars twinkle, it means the winds are picking up and fishermen capitalize on that, meaning they will have a good day at sea.”
For the Northern Dene this knowledge also facilitates weather forecasting, with the Ahtna and the Yellowknives Dene using brightly twinkling stars to forecast strong winds - vital information when hunting with sled dogs and skidoo.
The paper provides one of the few detailed ethnographic studies of Indigenous astronomy and - as global language diversity declines - is crucial to safeguarding Indigenous knowledge before it is lost forever.
“There are around 300 Aboriginal language groups in Australia and thousands of Indigenous communities world-wide, we want to expand our research to other Indigenous cultures to see how this knowledge is used in different locations and climates,” says Hamacher.
For further reading, please see Williams' October 2015 article in Australasian Science, "Aboriginal Astronomy & the Natural World." To view the article, you can subscribe to the magazine or purchase a yearly pass online.
By: Carl A. Williams
As a freelance science and technology writer, I combine my passion for science with a love of writing with storytelling that takes the reader on a journey of scientific exploration, discovery, and advancement. I write on a broad range of science topics, from climate change and astronomy to quantum computing and smart materials. And have published articles for Springer Nature, The Royal Institution of Australia, the Australian National Data Services, Australasian Science, Popular Science, and others. I previously worked as a climate change consultant, working with the public and private sectors in the UK, India, America, China, Europe, and Australasia. For a selection of my published writings, check out my website at https://gluons2galaxies.com.
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