Bilingual Debut in Canada

OTTAWA—The new year also brought Canadians a new science magazine, the only English-language one of its kind for the general public. Science and Technology Dimensions is a "privatized"

By | February 9, 1987

OTTAWA—The new year also brought Canadians a new science magazine, the only English-language one of its kind for the general public.

Science and Technology Dimensions is a "privatized" version of Science Dimensions, a 17-year-old publication of the National Re search Council of Canada. The Council also published a French language version called Dimension Science.

A Montreal firm, Science & Technologie Mondex Inc., which published the French-Canadian magazine Science et Technologie, last year won a competition for what NRC called a risk-sharing venture that made available to the firm up to $500,000 ($375,000 in U.S. dollars) in interest-free loans over three years. Only two other bids were submitted. The decision to seek a bidder for the magazine from private industry fits into the policies of the present Progressive Conservation government.

Under the agreement, the Montreal firm will put up a similar amount of its own money and copublish both English and French-language publications with NRC, which consists of the principal federal laboratories for the physical and biological sciences and engineering. If the publications make money, Bernard Levy, the publisher and editor-in-chief, will have to repay the federal loan. If they fail, Levy's debt will be forgiven and the public money written off.

The government said last fall the magazine was sold "to ensure the long-term viability of high-quality Canadian science publications." But Jean-Pierre Rogel, editor of Quebec Science, another French-language magazine, and Barry Estabrook, editor of the English-language magazine Equinox, called the sale a waste of taxpayers' money.

"It's a purely commercial venture," said Estabrook, whose magazine receives no government funding. "With what's happened to science magazines in the United States recently, and the cutbacks in NRC funding [NRC lost 400 positions and $120 million in budgets cuts in the past two years], it strikes me as being unconscionable [to support it so heavily with NRC funds]."

Rogel said he is not opposed to the idea of government support (his magazine receives some public money). But NRC acknowledged that Quebec Science was a good French-language publication, he said, and by backing a new one it is creating unfair competition and working against its stated purpose.

A Vision of Science

The two NRC magazines began in 1969 as one bilingual publication concerned solely with NRC affairs. In 1983 separate publications with similar content appeared in English and French. The government broadened the magazine's scope to appeal to a larger audience, and circulation (subscriptions were free) rose from 30,000 to 120,000. The government was losing $400,000 a year when it sold the magazine.

The new magazine is designed to "show that science concerns everyone in their daily lives," Levy said. The front cover of the first issue features a pretty French-Canadian model putting on (or taking off) a pair of spectacles with one shattered lens. The accompanying heading declares: "A Cure for Myopia? Ortho-K May Solve Your Vision Problems." Other articles in the first issue discuss "Desktop Publishing: The New Wave of Print," "The Smart House: Programmed for Comfort and Safety," along with the role of lawyers in bringing technology from the laboratory to the marketplace and a profile of John Polanyi, Canada's newest Nobel Prize winner.

The magazine is available by subscription and on newsstands (the cover price is $2.95, and 11 issues cost $24). Levy said the initial circulation of about 70,000 in English and 8,000 in French was derived from NRC's list.

Spurgeon is a science writer and communications consultant in Ottawa.

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