History of Science Journalism

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1945-1970

Treatment of Science by the Media

The pioneers of science journalism in daily newspapers

Until then in the press, scientists had been responsible for, or had encouraged, the presentation of science in non-technical language. Now 'regular' journalists were covering science.

During the 1950s, several leading daily newspapers employed journalists solely for the coverage of science and technology. David Spurgeon (Globe and Mail), Herbert Lampert (The Gazette), Leonard Bertin (The Toronto Star), Fred Poland (The Montreal Star), Roland Prévost (La Presse) and Marc-Henri Côté (Le Devoir) were among the pioneers.

David Supurgeon to Jordanie

David Spurgeon (1925-), first science journalist at the Globe and Mail

At an early age, David Spurgeon was fascinated by shortwave radio. He built his own equipment even before obtaining his amateur radio license. His career as a science journalist began in 1946 at the University of Western Ontario, where he collaborated with the campus student newspaper by writing articles on scientific research at the university.

After obtaining a diploma in General Arts from UWO and a Master's Degree in Journalism at Columbia University in New York, he worked as a journalist with the London Free Press. In 1953, he joined the great daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail. The editor-in-chief recognized Spurgeon's great interest in science and increasingly entrusted him with articles on science. It was thus that Spurgeon came to cover all issues medical in origin for the Globe and Mail, and in 1960, he became the first journalist to be assigned fulltime to scientific matters. He would occupy this function until 1970.

In 1960, David Spurgeon was the first Canadian to receive a one-year scholarship for the Journalism Faculty's Advanced Science Writing Program at Columbia University. In 1961, he co-founded the Canadian section of the American National Association of Science Writers (NASW) organization. In 1967, an editorial highlighting the importance of fundamental research for society earned him honours from the science journalism contest hosted by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory. In 1970, the University of Guelph (Ontario) awarded him an honorary degree. During the ceremony, the president of the university drew attention to the specialized knowledge acquired by David Spurgeon in science, his rigour in the presentation of facts and his communication skills.

In addition to writing for the Globe and Mail, he was the Canadian correspondent for the British Medical Journal. Spurgeon also published articles in various magazines and newspapers of renown, including The Times, The Observer, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Medical World News, Scientific American, New Scientist and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist.

Roland Prévost

Roland Prévost (1906-1981), first science journalist at La Presse

Roland Prévost left the Québec region around 1932 to work in Montréal. For some 14 years, Prévost wrote for different cultural and popular magazines of the era such as the Le Passe-Temps, La Revue populaire and La Revue moderne.

In La Revue populaire, Prévost authored numerous portraits of scientists. These articles mirrored both his interest in science and his commitment to the development of French Canadians in Quebec. His attitude was reminiscent of the crusades of Brother Marie-Victorin and Louis Dupire of the Devoir in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1948, Roland Prévost was hired by La Presse. Less than two years later, he covered scientific and medical affairs exclusively. His colleagues in the news room viewed him as a maverick because, in their opinion, journalism should focus on politics first and foremost.

In 1962, Roland Prévost was awarded a prize from the Union canadienne des journalistes de langue française (UCJLF) for his four articles on the first spaceflight that took place on April 12, 1961 by the Russian Youri Gagarine. In 1968, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste awarded him the Olivar-Asselin prize for his work in general.

Commitment to the popularization of science

Roland Prévost devoted time and energy to the development of science journalism in Canada. In 1957, he became a member of the American organization entitled National Association of Science Writers (NASW). He also joined the Association des écrivains scientifiques de France. In 1962, he became a member of the Canadian branch of the NASW. He maintained close ties with the Association canadienne-française pour l'avancement des sciences (ACFAS). He also participated in the development of different projects on communication and recreational science.

A cultural and nationalist viewpoint

Texts written by Roland Prévost in the 1950s and 1960s bore witness to his concern for the cultural and social evolution of French Canadians in Quebec. In his opinion, the modernization of the province was rooted in the development of its scientific institutions. This is why he made it his mission to showcase players and highlight scientific achievements.

Roland Prévost left La Presse on February 1, 1970.

Author unknown. ''Roland Prévost receives the Olivar-Asselin award,'' La Presse, February 27, 1968

  • [The jury highlighted] ''His positive and concrete contribution to the development of science in French Canada and the promotion of the skill, outreach and prestige of our men of science in their respective disciplines.'' (translation)
  • In his response to President Groulx, the new award winner indicated that his daily work provided an excellent opportunity to note progress made. ''Progress that does not make any noise,'' he stated, ''but is nonetheless sensational if one considers the almost non-existence of science less than 25 years ago; if one considers that our provincial governments never supported our modest efforts and curiously, that there was never a place in Quebec for major federal laboratories.'' ''Despite all this,'' added Mr. Prévost, ''we now have researchers and internationally acclaimed laboratories.'' (translation)