History of Science Journalism

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1920-1945

Treatment of Science by the Media

Scientists esteemed by the press

From 1920 to 1945, the press praised the merits of scientists, and science was a source of wonderment for the public. In several daily newspapers, in particular La Presse, physicians and scientists were often presented as individuals of superior intelligence and infinite goodness committed to the wellbeing of humanity, etc.

Newspapers also praised the technical professions. For example, among society and the media as well, aeronautics was viewed as glamorous and airplane pilots described as heroes and flying aces.

In illustrated magazines, scientists basked in glory and prestige. La Revue populaire and La Revue moderne traced revealing portraits of the esteem with which they were regarded.

Portrait of Marie-Victorin by Robert Rumilly

Interview with Brother Marie-Victorin

The triumph of natural history

'Brother Marie-Victorin is a lucky man. There are scientists who are old, hoary, grouchy (sic), sport a goatee, wizened, dried up like their plants, deprived of good health and devoid of vigour. Even if science is poetry to their souls and warmth for the heart, they are incapable of sparking popular enthusiasm. The antithesis of this portrait is Brother Marie-Victorin. He is tall, actually filling the room, clean-shaven and larger than life. In each of his strong hands so aptly capable of delicately handling stems and petals, he might imprison the hands of a smaller man. Not only does he have a faction of enthusiastic followers, but he has also captured the attention of an avid generation of young people' (translation).

La Revue populaire, Montréal: Vol. 27, no 6 (June 1934), p. 5.

Two excerpts of articles by Roland Prévost

Roland Prévost

Émile Miller: A Canadian Geographer

'The first convention of the Association canadienne-française pour l'Avancement des sciences held November 2 to 4 last revealed to the general public that scientific questions are not of interest only to the initiated few. A taste for speculative research and even documentary research did not emerge spontaneously, either here or elsewhere in the country. Our nation is young and people dismissed the study of nature, driven for a long time by life's urgent necessities. But now some initiators, as learned as they are modest, are battling this apathy. And the results are starting to show: botany and entomology now have followers in the hundreds. And their numbers are growing rapidly. Among the most meritorious of the apostles of science, one finds Emile Miller, whose work on geography will remain a classic' (translation). La Revue populaire, Montréal Vol. 27, no 1 (January 1934), p. 10, 44.

Émile Miller

Our interviews: Claude Melançon, Naturalist

'Claude Melançon, who has travelled the forests of the valley of the St. Lawrence, is certainly one of our best naturalists. The almost incredible success of Nos animaux chez eux highlights the popularity of natural sciences among French Canadians (sic) as witnessed by the multiplication of Cercles des jeunes naturalistes, the rapid sale of the great Flore laurentienne by Brother Marie-Victorin,  ACFAS conventions and exhibits on natural history. It is becoming increasingly evident that talent is not lacking here: it suffices that we encourage and channel it' (translation).

La Revue populaire, Montréal: Vol. 28, no 11 (November 1935), p. 13.

During the 1930s, science even found a niche in the humoristic magazine, Le Samedi. Between short stories, poems, the women's page and articles for young people, there was a biology column and another on anthropology.

This enthusiasm for science and researchers was sometimes pushed to extremes in science fiction columns drafted by writers with very fertile imaginations...

Plausible or not ?...

On pèse moins quand on marche vers l'est que vers l'ouest

One weighs less when one moves from east to west (translation), author unknown, La Revue populaire, Montréal: Vol. 18, no 11 (November 1920), p.129-130.

Bientôt l'on déjeunera à Montréal et l'on soupera à Winnipeg

Soon we will be eating breakfast in Montréal and supper in Winnipeg (translation), author unknown, La Revue populaire, Montréal: Vol. 18, no 11 (November 1920), p. 151-151. (Nota: caricature on the next page of the magazine)

Un monoplan futuriste

Futuristic monoplane (translation), author unknown, La Revue populaire, Montréal: Vol. 18, no 11 (November 1920), p. 129-130.

(Nota: journalistic style, based on a novel approach (wing thickness and magnesium) and the interpretation of a principle of physics).

One correspondent with an empathic style was Fernand de Verneuil. Some texts in his scientific chronicle published in La Revue populaire bordered on the ridiculous, for example, his revelation regarding some great scientist's discovery of 'nutritious air.'

Fernand de Verneuil

The Case of Fernand de Verneuil (1880- ?)

Little is known about Fernand de Verneuil. From 1911 to 1944, he wrote for the humoristic magazine, Le Samedi (1889-1963). In 1930, 1940 and 1950, his articles were published in La Revue populaire (1907-1963), where he was managing editor. His scientific chronicles were drafted in non-technical language and explained recent events. He broached subjects as varied as engineering, transportation, chemistry and the ethics of scientific research. He sometimes referred to himself as the President of the Institut Astronomique et Philosophique du Canada, and also published science fiction chronicles based on more or less plausible, but very entertaining, stories.

Some 'scientific' subjects dealt with by Fernand de Verneuil in La Revue populaire

« Pourra-t-on aller un jour dans la lune ? », Will man someday reach the moon? 1932

« L'inutile barbarie de la vivisection », The useless barbarism of vivisection, May 1932 (Vol. 25, no 5, p. 13)

« La planète Mars nous parle : Quand répondrons-nous ? », Mars is talking to us. When will we answer? 1933

« Le Moloch moderne : Le machinisme, monstre insatiable, dévore avec un appétit sans cesse croissant », The modern juggernaut: mechanization, an insatiable monster with an insatiable appetite, 1933

« De Montréal jusqu'à Paris sous la terre », From Montréal to Paris underground, 1934

« Le Sommeil qui tue », Sleep that kills, March 1935

« L'air nutritif », Nutritional air, October 1935 (Vol. no 10, p.10)

« Les sept mille produits du charbon », Seven thousand coal products, 1936