Tag Archives: Science Media Centre of Canada

Sci comm, Canada, and the Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! network of Canadian science blog(ger)s

If a hashtag (ou mot-dièse en français) is a way to judge these things, there’s an upswing of interest in Canadian science communication. The hashtag in question is #cancomm (on Twitter) and seems to have developed a life beyond its original designation as a Twitter stream devoted to one of the sessions at the ScienceOnline2013 conference held Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2013 in North Carolina, USA.

Before mentioning anything about the latest developments (I sent some interview questions to both of the presenters), here’s more about the ScienceOnline 2013 session titled Communicating science where there is no science communication presented by Marie-Claire Shanahan and Colin Schultz who focused on the situation in Canada,

Scientists, journalists, and communicators working outside of the United States and the UK face fundamentally different problems from those living within well-served media landscapes. For example: Canada has few science magazines, a couple television shows, and a handful of radio programmes aimed at a general science audience (with the exception of the French-speaking Quebec, which has a dynamic science writing community). Government funded research grants do not require outreach or education. [emphasis mine] And, government scientists have been all but barred from talking to journalists. In Canada and other countries with sparse science communication infrastructures, the dominant issues revolve not around journalists vs bloggers, or scientists vs press releases vs the media, but instead focus on what can be done to make science communication exist at all, in any form. This session will explore how scientists, educators, and media people can promote scientific discussions and scientific interest in regions that lack established venues.

A number of salient (and I believe them to be indisputable) points are made. I did highlight one statement which is arguable. There is one funding agency (granted, only one) which includes a requirement for outreach/communication and that is the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). From Section 8 of the CFI’s Policy and Program document (PDF) dated March 2012,

As an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada, the CFI places paramount importance on demonstrating to Canadians the impacts and outcomes of its investments. And as recipients of CFI funding, institutions have an essential role to play in highlighting the impacts, outcomes and benefits of research, through communications activities such as:

• news releases, news conferences and other media relations initiatives;

• print and online publications;

• social media;

• special events (groundbreakings, openings, milestone celebrations, conferences and other public outreach activities);

• presentations;

• correspondence;

• advertising.

In the context of these activities, the CFI also requests that institutions acknowledge the financial support of the CFI. (p. 81)

At any rate, I did send off some questions in hopes of an interview with both presenters but, as sometimes happens, Marie-Claire Shanahan has not replied and, more uniquely,  Colin Schultz has decided to publish my questions and his answers on his own blog.  My policy with the interviews I conduct is to publish the replies along with the questions in their entirety changing only the typos. I don’t offer any observations of my own after the fact. Since Colin Schultz has published the interview himself, I will treat it as I do anything else I find on web. I do not copy an entire piece but will excerpt the bits I find interesting and comment at will.

According to the ‘secret source’ who attended your presentation, you and Marie-Claire were very harsh in your assessments of the science communication efforts and environment in Canada. Given that most of my readers won’t have attended the presentation, could you summarize the presentation in a few bullet points and note where you agree and disagree with your co-presenter?

… Science Online pulls together brilliant, creative, hard-working and entrepreneurial problem solvers, communicators with a passion for science and a vigilante spirit. Many of these people, however, also have basically no idea what is going on in Canada in terms of the political atmosphere, the size of the mainstream press, or the scope of the science communication community. [emphasis mine] One of the goals I had in mind when putting together my short introduction for the session was that I wanted to tap into these clever minds so that we could all put our heads together and come up with projects that will work within the Canadian cultural context. [emphasis mine]

The Shanahan/Schultz presentation was 60 minutes long.  So, these people got to know Canada and the Canadian science communication scene well enough in 60 minutes to suggest projects that work within the Canadian cultural context. Interesting.

Here’s more from question 1 (Note: I have removed links),

I opened the session with numbers: We have one mainstream science magazine, two TV shows, and one radio show. A 1998 study found that we had 18 full time science journalists at daily newspapers, and I mused that this number probably went down as the media industry crashed and companies cut their staff.

With no official science blogger database that I know of, I pulled from your (Maryse’s) own annual counts (2010, 2011, 2012) and the self-selected bloggers pulled together by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association to estimate that there are likely a few dozen science bloggers in the country. [emphasis mine] Discussions in the room pointed out that there are probably more than listed in those two places, but the order of magnitude on the guess is probably close enough.

I believe my last annual count (2012 roundup) listed approximately 40 – 50 more or less active, including English and French language, Canadian Science blogs/bloggers. (A colleague recently [Feb. 15, 2013] produced a spreadsheet list of approximately 70 active blogs/bloggers.) More from Schultz on the first question,

From the numbers I moved into my second main point, asking: “Why does any of this matter?” Scientific knowledge is borderless, so does it really matter if we hear about Canadian science?

To answer this I suggested that there is a split: for people learning about science, for keeping up with all the cool developments that are taking shape around the world, then no, it doesn’t really matter. Canadian, American, English, Australian—wherever your news comes from doesn’t really make much a difference.

But, there is the other side of it. There are serious scientific issues in Canadian life—the tar sands, oceans management, fisheries research, the climate of the Arctic—that will only really be addressed by Canadians, and outside of the larger issues of climate change or biodiversity, only really affect Canadians. Without established venues to discuss and report and debate science, without an established culture of science communication, there won’t necessarily be the conversation that we need on these and other issues.

I noted that when people aren’t aware of the work being done by Canadian scientists or Canadian federal agencies that it could become easier for those projects to slide away, a case that came to the fore recently with the cutting of federal scientists, the potential closing of the Experimental Lakes, or the issue of muzzling.

Then, there were the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th questions,

Were you trying to be harsh in your assessment? I read the presentation description which didn’t have a single positive comment about efforts in English Canada; did that hold true for the presentation or did you leaven it with some positive comments (and what were those positive comments)? Note: A link has been removed.

There is a lot of good science communication going on in Canada. Personally, I think that Daily Planet is a treasure, and following the session I had people asking how they could see it from abroad. Marie-Claire, and some audience members, raised examples of informal or non-mainstream media projects that are doing great work on science communication and science outreach.

Would it surprise you to know that about the same time you gave your presentation a group (with no prior knowledge of said presentation) had formed to create a Canadian science blogging network? Full disclosure: I am a member of this group.

I heard whispers of this in the hallways at the conference, and think it’s a great idea. Building a blogging network will help draw people together, and help them find one another. I think that we have a lot of really serious issues to tackle, but this is a great place to start.

Purely for fun, I have three names for a national network. (These names are not from the group.) Which one would you join, if you one had one choice?

(a) Canuckian science blog(ger) network?
(b) Canadian science blog(ger) network?
(c) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Canadian science blog(ger) network?

The last one, definitely.

You can find the entire set of responses at Colin Schultz’s blog. I wish him good luck as he breathes some life back into it. (His last posting prior to this ‘interview’ was on July 13, 2012, and the posting before that was dated Feb. 8, 2012.)

Note: I did correct two of my own interview typos in the words ‘assessment’ and ‘with’.

There are in fact two groups (that I know of) who have talked about putting together a Canadian science blog(ger) network. There was the group forming at the ScienceOnline 2013 conference and there was another group forming as a consequence of a suggestion in my 2012 roundup. The two groups appear to be coalescing but it’s all very loose at this point. Who knows? There may be other groups who just haven’t made themselves known as yet.

What can be said for certain is this,  Mike Spear at Genome Alberta has created the CanComm.org website for Canadian science communicators, aka, CanComm – Communication with a Science Flavour and a Canadian Twist. Sarah Boon, one of the organizers of our hoped for network, has written a Feb. 23, 2013 post on her Watershed Moments blog that provides pointed and thoughtful insight into many of the current issues on the Canadian science scene and the Canadian science communication scene and includes this (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not that we don’t have an interested and involved public and the science communicators to engage them. It’s more that we don’t have the infrastructure to link communicators together like the Americans do with the Science Online meeting in Raleigh or the AAAS Meeting in Boston, or blog networks like PLoS Blogs or the Discover and SciAm networks.

To that end, groups like Genome Alberta, the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC), and Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) are working with individuals such as myself, @frogheart, @8CrayonScience, @raymondsbrain and others to build a Canadian science communication and (ultimately) blog network. If you’re interested in joining, you can register at cancomm.org.

Full disclosure: One of my pieces got a shoutout in another part of Sarah’s posting and I’m chuffed. Regardless, I still would have described her posting as pointed and thoughtful and I notice I’m not alone as per the #cancomm twitter feed.

For anyone interested in the latest regarding the French language version of hashtag, there’s a Jan. 24, 2013 article in The Connexion; France’s English-language newspaper,

THE French government has caused amusement on the internet by insisting the proper term for “hashtag” in French should be mot-dièse.
I look forward to seeing you all at cancomm.org in any language we can use to communicate.

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report celebrated

This morning, Sept. 27, 2012, the Council of Canadian Academies released its 2nd report on the state of science and technology in Canada. I haven’t had time to read the full report (officially titled:  The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012) but did attend (virtually) a webinar/press conference that was hosted by the Science Media Centre of Canada and found the mood amongst the presenters,

  • Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President of the Council of Canadian Academies and chair of the 1st (2006) report on science and technology in Canada;
  • Dr. Eliot A. Phillipson, chair of the expert panel, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto and former President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and
  • Dr. Sara Diamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U)

to be celebratory. The Council of Canadian Academies Sept. 27, 2012 news release on EurekAlert sums up much of what is said in the webinar,

“There is much for Canadians to be proud of as Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs,” said Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson. “The Panel’s findings are comprehensive and represent one of the most in-depth examinations of Canadian science and technology ever undertaken.”

Here are some of the findings (from the news release),

  • The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.
  • Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
  • In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.
  • Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.
  • Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.
  • Several fields of specialization were identified in other provinces, such as: agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba; historical studies in New Brunswick; biology in Saskatchewan; as well as earth and environmental sciences in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The Council of Canadian Academies webpage which hosts the completed assessment, The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 provides links to the full report, an abridged version, an executive summary, a listing of the 18 member expert panel, and more.

Early media responses (as per my Google search of Sept. 27, 2012, 1338 hours (PDT) suggest one of two attitudes: “Canadian science and technology is healthy” or “Canadians are falling behind in the areas of environmental and resources sciences.”

For the moment, I’m going to celebrate and shelve my critique for a later date (probably early next week, Oct. 1-5, 2012) when I’ve had time to read the full report.

Opening it all up (open software, Nature, and Naked Science)

I’m coming back to the ‘open access’ well this week since there’ve been a few new developments since my massive May 28, 2012 posting on the topic.

A June 5, 2012 posting by Glyn Moody at the Techdirt website brought yet another aspect of ‘open access’ to my attention,

Computers need software, and some of that software will be specially written or adapted from existing code to meet the particular needs of the scientists’ work. This makes computer software a vital component of the scientific process. It also means that being able to check that code for errors is as important as being able to check the rest of the experiment’s methodology. And yet very rarely can other scientists do that, because the code employed is not made available.

That’s right,  there’s open access scientific software.

Meanwhile over at the Guardian newspaper website, Paul Campbell, Nature journal’s editor-in-chief,  notes that open access to research is inevitable in a June 8, 2012 article by Alok Jha,

Open access to scientific research articles will “happen in the long run”, according to the editor-in-chief of Nature, one of the world’s premier scientific journals.

Philip Campbell said that the experience for readers and researchers of having research freely available is “very compelling”. But other academic publishers said that any large-scale transition to making research freely available had to take into account the value and investments they added to the scientific process.

“My personal belief is that that’s what’s going to happen in the long run,” said Campbell. However, he added that the case for open access was stronger for some disciplines, such as climate research, than others.

Campbell was speaking at a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre.  Interestingly, ScienceOnline Vancouver’s upcoming (June 12, 2012, 6:30 pm mingling starts, 7-9 pm PDT for the panel discussion) meeting about open access (titled, Naked Science; Excuse me: your science is showing) features a speaker from Canada’s Science Media Centre (from the event page),

  1. Heather Piwowar is a postdoc with Duke University and the Dept of Zoology at UBC.  She’s a researcher on the NSF-funded DataONE and Dryad projects, studying data.  Specifically, how, when, and why do scientists publicly archive the datasets they collect?  When do they reuse the data of others?  What related policies and tools would help facilitate more efficient and effective use of data resources?  Heather is also a co-founder of total-impact, a web application that reveals traditional and non-traditional impact metrics of scholarly articles, datasets, software, slides, and blog posts.
  2. Heather Morrison is a Vancouver-based, well-known international open access advocate and practitioner of open scholarship, through her blogs The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com and her dissertation-blog http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/heather-morrison/
  3. Lesley Evans Ogden is a freelance science journalist and the Vancouver media officer for the Science Media Centre of Canada. In the capacity of freelance journalist, she is a contributing science writer at Natural History magazine, and has written for a variety of publications including YES Mag, Scientific American (online), The Guardian, Canadian Running, and Bioscience. She has a PhD in wildlife ecology, and spent more than a decade slogging through mud and climbing mountains to study the breeding and winter ecology of migratory birds. She is also an alumni of the Science Communications program at the Banff Centre. (She will be speaking in the capacity of freelance journalist).
  4. Joy Kirchner is the Scholarly Communications Coordinator at University of British Columbia where she heads the University’s developing Copyright office in addition to the Scholarly Communications office based in the Library. Her role involves coordinating the University’s copyright education services, identifying recommended and sustainable service models to support scholarly communication activities on the campus and coordinating formalized discussion and education of these issues with faculty, students, research and publishing constituencies on the UBC campus. Joy has also been instrumental in working with faculty to host their open access journals through the Library’s open access journal hosting program; she was involved in the implementation and content recruitment of the Library’s open access  institutional repository, and she was instrumental in establishing the Provost’s Scholarly Communications Steering Committee and associated working groups where she sits as a key member of the Committee looking into an open access position at UBC amongst other things..  Joy is also chair of UBC’s Copyright Advisory Committee and working groups. She is also a faculty member with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) / Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Institute for Scholarly Communication, she assists with the coordination and program development of ACRL’s much lauded Scholarly Communications Road Show program, she is a Visiting Program Officer with ACRL in support of their scholarly communications programs, and she is a Fellow with ARL’s Research Library Leadership Fellows executive program (RLLF). Previous positions includes Librarian, for Collections, Licensing & Digital Scholarship (UBC), Electronic Resources Coordinator (Columbia Univ.), Medical & Allied Health Librarian and Science & Engineering Librarian. She holds a BA and an MLIS from the University of British Columbia.

I’m starting to get the impression that there is a concerted communications effort taking place. Between this listing and the one in my May 28, 2012 posting, there are just too many articles and events occurring to be purely chance.

2011 Canadian Science Policy Conference

It’s the third year for the Canadian Science Policy Conference. The first two were held in Toronto and Montréal, respectively. For a refreshing change of pace, they’re holding this year’s conference in Ottawa. (For anyone not familiar with Canadian geography, these locations are all relatively close to each other and this type of scheduling is the source of much grumbling from those of us in the ‘other’ provinces and the territories.)

You’ll be happy to know that the theme for the 2011 conference is: Building Bridges for the Future of Science Policy in Canada. Being held from Nov. 16 – 18, 2011, the conference features a keynote address from three speakers, Rémi Quirion, OC, Ph.D., CQ, FRSC, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Fonds de recherche du Québec; Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia; and R. Peter MacKinnon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there is no information about what they might discuss although one imagines they will focus on the theme for the conference. (Note: One cannot always depend on one’s speakers to keep to the theme. I know this from bittersweet [it’s funny afterwards] experience.)

I’m a little more interested in the talk which ushers in the first full day of the conference. Scheduled for 8:40 am on Thursday, November 17, 2011 the talk is titled, Building Stronger Communities Through Innovation. Here’s a preview from the 2011 CSPC agenda page,

How do we build innovative communities? This is a central challenge for Canada in the 21st century since innovative communities form the foundation of a prosperous country. As more than a decade of research on industry clusters has shown, a robust innovation system can have a profoundly positive impact on local communities when it translates into high quality jobs, industrial growth, new enterprises, improved public infrastructure and services and a cleaner, healthier environment.

But building innovation into our communities takes the involvement of individuals and institutions across the spectrum of society. Universities, colleges, research hospitals, private companies, governments and non-profit agencies, along with the talented, creative people that work in these organizations, must be free to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.

Yet fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange between different organizations, with different interests and capacities can be challenging. Successful collaboration requires time, resources, communication, shared goals, commitment and risk-taking.

A panel of leading Canadian thinkers in inter-sectoral and inter-organizational collaboration will discuss how university and college researchers can work with local businesses to translate new knowledge into new creative products and beneficial services. They will look at the role of research hospitals in contributing to both the health and wealth of local communities. And they will discuss best practices in overcoming the institutional and cultural barriers to collaboration.

The speakers for this session are:

Gilles G. Patry, Ph.D, President and CEO,Canada Foundation for Innovation; Chad Gaffield,, Ph.D, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; Dr. Kevin Smith, President and CEO, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, St Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Brantford; Fred Morley, Executive VP & Chief Economist, Greater Halifax Partnership; Fassi Kafyeke Director, Strategic Technology,Bombardier Aerospace; Hon. Mike Harcourt, Lawyer, Community Activist, and former BC Premier

Given that the report of the Review of Federal Support to R&D has just been released (my posting will be out later today), it would be nice if they mention the report and its likely impact on the science community. It’s probably too late but it would be fabulous if someone from the expert panel could be persuaded to give a talk.

I’m mentioning these two panels simply because I know a speaker on each. David Kent ( CIHR Postdoctoral, University of Cambridge) is moderating the Education and Training of Scientists panel. David is 1/2 of the blogging team for The Black Hole; Science in Canada Issues Affecting Science Trainees blog (Beth Swan is the other 1/2). You can find out more about the conference and David’s latest panel doings in his Oct. 18, 2011 posting. The other panelist is Tim Meyer (Head of Strategic Planning & Communications, TRIUMF) who’s on the Reaching out with Big Science panel. Are they going to talk about blogging and social media or are they going to focus primarily on mainstream media. Given that two of the other speakers are Penny Park (Science Media Centre of Canada) and Jay Ingram (until recently a host for the Daily Planet programme on the Discovery Channel and author), I’m guessing the focus will be mainstream media.

Note Oct. 20, 2011: A few minor grammatical changes made in a bid to make this piece readable. We’ll see how that works.

ETA Oct. 24, 2011: I can’t believe missed this panel (Science Culture, Organized and Prioritized: Three National and International Initiatives) which features another person I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, Denise Amyot, President and Chief Executive Office of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC). In order to make up for my oversight I’m including a description here,

Culture is big: annually, some 290 million citizens actively participate in the exhibitions, programs, events and outreach initiatives organized by 2,400 science centres worldwide. Other types of institutions, radio, internet, and film build further on that reach. This session will examine three recent initiatives that seek to organize, define, and take strategic advantage of the work of hundreds of diverse science engagement and knowledge creation organisations nationally and internationally. Increasingly, strategic focus among this diverse set of content and communication partners is bringing new attention to science engagement for the benefit of national and global society.

This session will examine Inspiring Australia, an initiative of the Australian government to create regional networks of diverse engagement organizations and connect them effectively with the science knowledge creators in order to better execute science engagement in that country. We will also examine an initiative to benchmark “science culture” in order to better measure future progress . And finally we will examine a global initiative by science centres to use science engagement in a truly global context.

Well, the first initiative is clearly from Australia (perhaps this explains Ian Chubb’s role as one of the conference’s opening keynote speakers and as one of three speakers on this panel) and the third initiative is coming from the science centres (one of the panelists is from the Ontario Science Centre) so perhaps the second initiative is coming from the CSTMC?

Writing about science in Canada

While there is a dearth of science communication in Canada, there are many people working to change that. Canada’s science writers are getting to ready to gather at their 39th annual conference, At A Crossroads: Science Communication in the Digital Age, June 5 – 8, 2010 in Ottawa at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. I’ve excerpted part of the opening day’s programme (the group’s official name is the Canadian Science Writers’ Association [CSWA]),

1:15 pm – 2:15 pm

Conference welcoming remarks from CSWA President Kathryn O’Hara

Workshop: Using Canada’s new Science Media Centre

Penny Park, director Canada Science Media Centre

2:20 pm – 3:20 pm

Plenary panel: Social media, privacy issues and other public institution challenges in the digital age

Representatives from government new media teams discuss the perils, roadblocks and opportunities of promoting their science agendas online

– Christian Riel, new media, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

– Michael White, Senior Research Analyst, New Media, Parks Canada

– Dariusz Burzynski, Manager, Science and Technology Cluster, Strategic Science-Technology

3:25 pm – 4:25 pm

Kick-off event: “Outbreak!” interactive news simulation

A fictional emergency hits the capital, and its up to YOU and a panel of experts to assess and responsibly get the word out via digital media

This session will be followed by a moderated post-mortem discussion

The rest of the programme ranges from using a Twitter account to rouse more interest in your work to communicating with tomorrow’s science writers (teenagers) to reporting climate change to covering art/science projects.