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Annals of science writing and journalism: The digital archives of science forum

This blog, as well as the science policy resources described before, were contributed by Paul Dufour.
Annals of science writing and journalism

When I was working at the Science Council of Canada1, I came across the ongoing science policy debates published in a journal called Science Forum: A Canadian journal of science and technology. The magazine was the brainchild of a gifted science journalist, David Spurgeon,2 who among other things was the science writer for the Globe and Mail, and became one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Science Writers in the early seventies.

Launched in 1968, the bimonthly magazine, printed and distributed by the UToronto Press, published articles (in English and in French) on recent developments in all branches of science and technology and on political-policy developments impinging on the future of S&T in the country. Its editorial advisory board was made of some of the major players in the science and policy world, including JJ Deutsch, John Porter, Louis Siminovich, Doug Wright, Howard Clark, Maurice l ‘ Abbé, John Polanyi, and Ray Jackson.

As Spurgeon opined in his inaugural February issue, In ancient Rome, the town forum was the place of assembly for public business. In 20th Century Canada, in science and technology, the Board hopes that Science Forum will serve a similar function.

Indeed, the magazine lived up to this promise taking in various topics from scientists, academic experts, to professional science writers. In the June 1969 issue, JE Till (one of the pioneers in stem cells), wrote about antibodies and disease, and in the same number John Polanyi (before he won the Nobel Prize) assessed the utility of basic science. In a February 1974 issue, George Laurence of the Atomic Energy Control Board wrote about Canada’s energy supplies and their prospects for the years ahead. Lydia Dotto of the Globe and Mail covered the Pioneer 10 Mission to Jupiter. In April 73, the geophysicist and Royal Society President J Tuzo Wilson held forth on the future of scientific societies in Canada and Moira Dunbar (with the Defence Research Board) made the case for more women in science. In the June 1975 issue, Joan Hollobon (medical writer for the Globe) argued the pros and cons of how much –and what- should the media tell the public about cancer; and David Spurgeon discussed how to solve the communication problem between scientists and politicians.

The magazine was also comprehensive in its coverage of major government reports such as those of the Lamontagne Senate Committee on Science Policy, OECD’s science reviews, the NRC and the Science Council of Canada.

Each issue also encouraged letters to the editor, news from around the globe as well as a comment section and book reviews. For example, the February 1975 issues had Jean Baroux (a founder of the CSWA) cover the nomination of Roger Gaudry (then rector of the Université de Montréal and Science Council Chair) as first president of the council of the United Nations University. Virginia Douglas of McGill offered her views on the progress of SCITEC (Association of the Scientific, Engineering and Technological Community of Canada) in its first four years. In one of its last issues (January-February 1979), Science Forum covered the award of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for science communication to Fernand Sequin, Québec’s science popularizer on radio and television. The same issue made note of a new segment on the CBC-TV series Science Magazine called ‘Suzuki Speaks Out’ where the UBC zoology professor offered his views on a current science-based public topic (Suzuki wrote regularly for SF).

There were many issues tackled by the magazine– and not just by science writers

Here are some selected titles:

Why Scientists should try to demystify science- Denis Schroeder (1976)
Hazards of a public profile- David Suzuki (1976)
Why we should worry about climatic change -Lydia Dotto (1976)
Les implications médicales d’une science nouvelle- la neuro-endocrinologie- Paul Brazeau (1974)
Student power and research in universities (1969)
The scientist as diplomat: a new role -JW Greenwood (1971)
How ACFAS was born and how it grew -Jean Louis Meunier (1970)
Archaeology in Canada’s Arctic: past and future- Bill Taylor (1969)
Why bacterial resistance to antibiotics is increasing -Margaret Finlayson (1973)
Why Canada’s Arctic claims are justified-L.C.Bliss (1970)
Science and humanities- an essential reunification-Ernest Sirluck (1970)
More on jobs for university graduates-Kushner and Masse (1971)
Une politique scientifique pour le Québec-Louis Berlinguet (1972)
Will British science gain from entry into the Common Market- Arthur Smith (1972)
Reflections of a science advisor – Robert Uffen (1972)
The polio vaccine dispute- Ben Rose (1978)
Science Minister Falkner writes on the granting councils (1976)
Whither the new federal environment department-Peter Calamai (1971)

Science Forum (1968-1979) was an incredibly rich trove of information and commentary on public policy science debates and to this day its coverage of issues still resonates.

When the Science Council was terminated by the then Progressive Conservative administration in 1992, as one of the last employees out the door, I inherited much of the Science Forum collection from the library. It was a useful resource in my future career and research in science policy. Six years ago, when I started my science policy course for undergraduates at the University of Ottawa, I would ask the students to pick one of the articles or commentaries from any of the Science Forum magazines and ask them to write a policy brief on the science policy issues then and assess how it has been transformed today. It was immensely popular for these students who were often gobsmacked that we were still talking and writing about Canada’s Northern knowledge assets or how to deal with death in dignity, or why industrial innovation remains a weak link in Canada’s knowledge ecosystem.

It occurred to me that digitizing the magazine might be warranted and the team at Evidence for Democracy approached me to see if they could take on the task of making the journals available on-line. The result is this new digital platform of Science Forum with virtually all issues digitized. I thank Katie Gibbs, Emma Bugg and the volunteers who made this happen.

Do enjoy.


1For a history of the Science Council of Canada, see Kinder, Jeff and Dufour, Paul, eds., A Lantern on the Bow: A History of the Science Council of Canada and its Contributions to the Science and Innovation Policy Debate, Invenire, 2019

The collection of Science Forum journals can be found here. Included is also a folder of additional resources for those interested in other archival resources on Science Policy in Canada.


Paul Dufour Senior Fellow, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa and Principal, Paulicyworks

Paul Dufor

Paul Dufour has been senior adviser in science policy with several Canadian agencies and organizations over the course of the past 40 years. Among these: senior program specialist with the International Development Research Centre, and interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor to the Canadian Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D policy directions for the country.

Born in Montréal, Mr. Dufour was educated at McGill, the Université de Montréal and Concordia University in the history of science and science policy, and has had practical S&T policy experience. He is on the board of several organizations, including that of the student-based Science and Policy Exchange. In 2019, Mr Dufour received the first ever Canadian Science Policy Centre award for Exceptional Achievement in Science Policy.

Mr. Dufour lectures regularly on science policy, has authored numerous articles on international S&T relations and Canadian innovation policy. He was series co-editor of the Cartermill Guides to World Science, and in 2019 co-edited two books on the history of the Science Council of Canada, as well as the collected speeches of Nobelist Gerhard Herzberg on the value of science and society in culture. He is the author of the Canada chapter for the forthcoming UNESCO 2020 Science Report.

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