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Reviewed by:
  • Browsing, Science Research at the Federal Level in Canada: History, Research Activities and Publications
  • James Hull
Browsing, Science Research at the Federal Level in Canada: History, Research Activities and Publications. Brian Wilks. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 638, $110.00

The subtitle notwithstanding, this is not a work of history. It is rather a reference guide to federal science publications, written by a librarian for librarians. Wilks, librarian emeritus at York University's Steacie Science Library, sets himself the ambitious task of surveying both research and 'politics' (he means policy), as the two have been 'irretrievably entwined.' [End Page 569] Something in the nature of an annotated bibliography, the work covers a number of major areas of federal science, including agriculture, wildlife, fisheries, forestry, earth sciences, climate, and water, as well as major institutions including the National Research Council, Ministry of State for Science and Technology, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the now defunct Science Council of Canada. For reasons internal to library organization, the health sciences are omitted, as are defence, which the author 'believe[s] is classified' and Atomic Energy Canada Limited. The first two are given full treatment, however, in a supplement available at the UTP website, where one can eventually find it under the tab 'Downloads,' but a full URL would have been helpful.

The author gives each section a short historical introduction. They have no citations, even when quoted material is used, though it is not difficult to guess the sources. Most are about what one would expect from historical introductions written by a non-historian, but at their worst they are very bad indeed. Thus we are told that in '1608 Champlain created the first European settlement in Canada with his One Hundred Associates' (314). That statement contains at least two, and perhaps three, basic errors of fact. Elsewhere, New France is presented as an intermediate stage between 'Indian groups' and 'North European settlements' (137). That is simply egregious.

While the work does not claim to be a comprehensive bibliography, some omissions do seem curious. I could not, for example, find references to a number of Economic Council of Canada publications on science, education, and research. The author begins the story of fisheries-oriented research with the Marine Biology Station in the 1890s, when in fact research, particularly on the effects of pollution on fisheries, goes back to pre-Confederation times and was continued by the Depart- ment of Marine and Fisheries with the cooperation of the Department of Public Works and the Department of Inland Revenue. Similarly, the Agriculture section misses weed legislation going back to the eighteenth century, and in explaining the Experimental Farm system misses the so-called illustration farms, which operated under a contractual arrangement between farmers and the government.

Attempting to find information on forest products research, this reviewer's own area of interest, proved frustrating. The only mentions of forest products research are annual reports on that topic for a few years in the early 1960s, a statement and background study by the Science Council, and environmental studies by Fisheries and the NRC. The organizational history of federal Forestry given begins in 1960, when it first attained departmental status. Only later, with a list of annual reports, do we see that forestry had a decades-older history in the federal [End Page 570] government. FORTINEK is identified as 'Canada's Wood Products Research Institute' (365), which is how it self-identifies, but with no mention of its origins as the Forest Products Laboratories of Canada.

Although this intends to be an introduction for researchers, it is also a handbook for experts, the two aspects fitting at times awkwardly. Why, for instance, do the listings given for several NRC science journals begin with volume 29 in 1951? The answer, though it is not given, is that previously they were all part of the Canadian Journal of Research. This is a point that an experienced Canadian science librarian would just know. But presumably reference guides such as this are published for people who do not just know.

The author identifies his target audience as librarians and science students, but also thinks that his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 569-571
Launched on MUSE
2005-09-15
Open Access
No
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