I am very pleased to report that I have attained the goals of my bursary application, which were to complete the editing of a book about genetics for the public and to collaborate with certain Canadian university groups. Also, I am glad to say that I have personally undergone an extremely enriching experience. It’s a pity that time has gone by so fast.
When I applied in February I998, I said that the bursary would enable me to strengthen my work with some university researchers and to complete a book that I had already started working on about the social impact of genetics.
I explained then that as a scientific journalist, I had observed for the past 15 years the progress in the genetic field. In addition to the news reports from the television show, Découverte, broadcast by Radio-Canada television, I have had the opportunity to write a number of articles which have appeared in the magazine Quebec Science, as well as host a one hour news report on Radio-Canada in November I993.
These experiences have made me realize that it was important to inform the public about the scientific developments that will bring about profound social and ethical consequences during the next century. Hence, I wanted to write a book, intended for the public at large, regarding the social and ethical stakes of human genetics in Canada.
I specified that the fundamental part of the research for the book had already been done, that a few chapters have been written and that no agreement has been signed yet with a publisher. I said that “With the help of the bursary, I would like to finish my research with some Canadian university groups, and to devote myself entirely to the final writing of the book.”
With the consent of my employer, I took a leave of absence from October I998 to January I999. I extended by two months my leave of absence without pay and resumed work on March 29 at Radio-Canada.
At first, while I enthusiastically started editing, I completed my research with a few university groups outside Quebec that I was less familiar with. I specifically communicated, by E-mail and telephone, with the University of Toronto joint Centre for Bioethics and the Canadian Diseases Genetic Network located in Vancouver.
At the beginning of December, I was invited to give a speech at a communications conference for Environment Canada’s scientists in Toronto; a two-day seminar. During that stay in Toronto, I was able to come into direct contact with the researchers. In particular, I had a long interview with Professor Lap-Chee Tsui, who is the Chief Geneticist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the pivotal character in the human genome project which is the main theme in my book.
I was then progressing steadily with the writing. But it is a great challenge to write a book on genetics for the public. Everything has to be popularized for a public that has no formation in biology, stories have to be told in a journalistic and credible way, the public interest has to be gauged, ability to understand the social and ethical discussions, etc.
By the end of January, I had written 180 pages, but when I got to the last chapters I was stuck and I had no money left from my bursary! Time had passed more quickly than I thought.
Fortunately, I had an additional two months leave which allowed me to finish my writing. I went back to the Centre de Bioethique of the Institute of clinical research of Montreal which had previously allowed me to take advantage of its small but valuable documentation centre – in my opinion, this is a unique place in Canada. In February, I had several meetings with Mr. Jean Philippe Lavoie, who is an assistant researcher, and with Dr. David Roy, who is the director of the Centre. These stimulating discussions gave me the energy to finish my book.
Since then, I have sent my book to several publishing firms and I have received several publication offers from Quebec publishers. I am presently negotiating my copyright, and as such, I am unable to affirm which publishing firm will publish my book, although I am now confident it is going to be published, most probably in the fall. A promising connection with a French editor might bring about a co-edition for the French market.
Finally, an indirect result of this work, Quebec Science magazine has offered me a column entitled “Planète ADN” in which I would freely comment on recent developments in genetics. It should start appearing in June.
Overall, the Michener-Deacon award has allowed me to spend an exceptional moment in a journalist career: four months without the daily press of reporting, and an opportunity to state things in a publicly useful way, because it meant writing a book for the public. Moreover, I got the opportunity to learn more about one of the fastest progressing areas in science, that of human genetics, which will have profound social and ethical repercussions upon our society. I would not have been able to write this book without this award. I now have a more profound concept of science and a renewed interest towards journalism.
My only regret is that time has passed too quickly, and that the four months forced me to make strict time-table choices. For example, I had to decline an offer to give a seminar on genetics at the “Ecole supérieure de journalisme” of Lille, in France. I could have also shown an interest in other issues in the scientific field in Canada, which would have been beneficial for me and my employer, Radio-Canada, and also for the reputation of the Michener Award Foundation. I have not had the freedom to think about these projects since resuming work. I would like for that reason to make a suggestion, which is to increase the time limit of the bursary to six months instead of four. This would be a valuable investment for the Foundation. The impact and renown of the Michener Award would be greater.
Thank you again for the opportunity you have given me and the trust you have bestowed on me.
Television show Découverte
April 14, 1999