History of Science Journalism

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1870-1920

Treatment of Science by the Media

Science is introduced into the press

The development of newspaper plants and the creation of local, modern science establishments combined with escalating industrialism led to important changes in the mediatisation of science. No longer was scientific information the exclusive realm of scientific societies and cultural magazines intended for a learned public. Science was making its way into daily newspapers and periodicals as well as the business press. In short, the press in general was granting greater prominence to scientific discoveries and their applications.

Knowledge was popularized for the benefit of the general public to gain support for industrial expansion and pave the way for the great march of progress. For example, in Le Moniteur du commerce (1881-?), a weekly whose motto was 'Everything for progress' (translation), one might read countless texts exhorting readers to follow this movement towards a promising future.

Science was also making headway in agriculture. The Journal d'agriculture, also published in English as the Journal of Agriculture and Horticulture (1877-1936), embraced the motto: 'Science in a few words; the most profitable practice' (translation). By publishing the most recent knowledge and techniques in agriculture, this Journal sought to contribute to improving farming practices and crop production. This publication financed by the government was a success: before 1900, circulation reached 50,000 copies.

La Science populaire illustrée (1886-1887) magazine launched by Octave Cuisset, an industrial chemist, targeted the general public. It used non-technical language to explain knowledge and bolster scientific and industrial progress of the country.

'Alongside great scientific and industrial magazines, there are more modest, yet just as useful, publications containing the same information aimed at those who have neither the time nor the necessary knowledge to broach questions of higher learning.' (translation)

Octave Cuisset, « Notre programme », La Science populaire illustrée, vol. 1, no 1 (August 1, 1886), p. 1.

This magazine discussed chemistry, mechanics, hygiene, mineralogy and natural sciences. Subjects were of local interest: geology of the Laurentians, natural gas in Canada, weather tables of the McGill University Observatory, etc.

In 1894, Trefflé Berthiaume, owner of the newspaper La Presse, launched the weekly L'Album industriel : organe de l'atelier, de l'usine, de la boutique, de la ferme, du ménage et des inventions. This 16-page magazine was dedicated to science and technology. Main sections discussed the following issues: latest industrial developments, science in simple terms, shoemaking, farms and animals, information, recipes and procedures. Clément-Arthur Dansereau, Editor-in-chief at La Presse, justified the mission of the Album industriel in his inaugural text.

'It goes without saying that not only must the worker of today be able to read and write, but he must also be able to draw, calculate and combine the effects of motive force or chemistry. He must understand the laws of nature, meaning the laws of matter and the causes that will lead to transformations as yet unknown' (translation). Clément-Arthur Dansereau, Album industriel prospectus.

December 8, 1894, vol 1, no 1.

The Saturday edition of La Presse also regularly contained features in colour on scientific and technical subjects. However, it was the articles by editorial writer Clément-Arthur Dansereau that encouraged open minds on scientific subjects during the era.

The editorial writer turned scientific columnist

Clément-Arthur Dansereau (1844-1918) was not himself a scientist, but was greatly interested in scientific breakthroughs. An influential reporter, then editorial writer for La Presse, he began writing a scientific column in this daily newspaper in 1894. He documented himself on a range of subjects: medicine, Darwinism, aeronautics, the automobile, submarines, the telephone, telegraph, etc. He did not collect information from scientists, turning instead to periodicals published with the general public in mind: Cosmos, Médecine internationale, Gazette hebdomadaire de médecine et de chirurgie, Le correspondant médical, La revue universelle. C.-A. Dansereau also consulted English-language publications such as Scientific American, Popular Science Monthly and Contemporary Review.

Influential polemist reporter, Clément-Arthur Dansereau, was best known for his commitment to political life in his era. Born in Contrecoeur July 5, 1844, he completed his classical education at the Collège de l'Assomption and studied law at McGill University. He was admitted to the Bar in 1865. Interested early on in political journalism, Dansereau never practised law. He began his career as a reporter with the newspaper La Minerve. From 1863, he successively held the positions of translator, reporter, managing editor and co-owner (1871). In 1884, he joined La Presse, becoming editor-in-chief. Clément-Arthur Dansereau was one of the first reporters to cover science in Canadian mass media on a regular basis. He died in Montréal on March 27, 1918.

Clément-Arthur Dansereau

In the pages of La Presse, his interest for science was combined with a social and political mission. A number of his editorials concerned medicine and nutrition. For example, in an article in 1916, he stated that margarine was an economical food that should be accessible to families in wartime. In 1917, he advocated the benefits of brown bread versus white bread and warned the population about fashion and trends in nutrition.

When Dansereau discussed scientific and technical innovations, he did more than just report and explain the facts; he presented the positive and negative impacts. He developed a position and sought to convince the public of the validity of his arguments. For Clément-Arthur Dansereau, the newspaper was a public educational and training tool as well as an opinion developer.