Office for Science and Society

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Office for Science and Society
PurposeScience education
  • Academic courses
  • public outreach
Joseph Schwarcz
Parent organization
McGill University Edit this at Wikidata
Formerly called
Office for Chemistry and Society

The Office for Science and Society (OSS) is an organization dedicated to science education, operating from Montreal's McGill University. Its staff and contributors use courses, mass media, special events and books to debunk pseudo-scientific myths and improve scientific literacy.


The organization was founded in 1999 as the Office for Chemistry and Society by chemistry professors Joseph Schwarcz, David Harpp, and Ariel Fenster, with Schwarcz heading the office. The name was changed to indicate its wider focus.[1][2] Both its public education role and the wide range of covered topics were explicit from the beginning:

This unique office will be dedicated to disseminating up-to-date information in the areas of food, food issues, medications, cosmetics and health topics in general. Information from the Office will be directed towards the public, educators and students. Extensive use will be made of radio, television, the press, private consultations, public lectures, the classroom and the Internet.[3]

The office pioneered the COursesOnline (COOL McGill) system, an initiative that started in 2000 with three professors and two programmers and now provides online versions of 350 courses.[4]

The office is funded by McGill University. In 2011, the office received a $5.5-million grant from the Lorne Trottier Family Foundation.[1]

Current status[edit]

The OSS conducts public education activities:[5][6][7] via Educational presentations on scientific topics, Radio and television appearances, Youtube videos, Newspaper columns, and its Annual Trottier Public Science Symposium.

The OSS was the recipient of the 2015 Science Promotion Prize by the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs.[5]

Jonathan Jarry is a science writer and speaker for OSS.[8]

With the proliferation of misleading or fraudulent health information online, the organization added the production of internet videos to its public communication activities. One video gained international attention in July 2018, when it got promoted by skeptics with a large online presence such as David Gorski, Susan Gerbic and Kavin Senapathy, as well as comedian Scott Rogowsky, and quickly reached 10 million hits. Imitating the format of others that promote false cures for cancer, the OSS video tells of a medical discovery by one Johan R. Tarjany (an anagram of Jonathan Jarry) before inviting the watcher to be skeptical and to ask questions.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

In 2019, Jarry and the OSS released a survey of 150 Montreal pharmacies, finding that 2/3 carried a pseudoscientific and ineffective homeopathic flu remedy called Oscillococcinum.[17][18]

Public interventions by the OSS have attracted criticism from practitioners of alternative medicine, especially homeopaths, accusing the OSS of ignoring supposed evidence that these treatments would produce results exceeding the placebo effect.[19][20]


  1. ^ a b Seidman, Karen (16 November 2011), "Dr. Joe serves notice to quacks: $5.5-million gift for Office for Science", The Montreal Gazette, archived from the original on 19 January 2012, retrieved 9 June 2018
  2. ^ "Chimie et société – La grande équation". La grande équation (in French). 20 October 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  3. ^ "McGill Office for Chemistry and Society". McGill UNiversity. 15 September 1999. Archived from the original on 9 June 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  4. ^ Saadeh, Omar (14 March 2013). "McGill's online movement, circa 2000". The McGill Daily. Archived from the original on 25 June 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs: Awards". Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs.
  6. ^ "Who we are: Profiles list". McGill University. Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  7. ^ Latimer, Joanne (22 March 2012). "Quackbuster Joe Schwarcz takes on charlatans". Maclean's. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  8. ^ "Little-Known Acts of Skepticism and How to Join the Home Front for Science". Center for Inquiry. 19 December 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  9. ^ Barrett, Brian (10 July 2018). "How a 'cancer cure' video skewered bad science – and went viral itself". Wired. Archived from the original on 10 July 2018. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  10. ^ Gerbic, Susan (11 July 2018). "Dr. Tarjany and the Moss Cancer Cure: A Conversation with Jonathan Jarry". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 11 July 2018. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  11. ^ "This "cancer cure" video is fake. That's the point". Futurism. 13 July 2018. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  12. ^ Mehta, Hemant. "This Video About a Moss-Based Cancer Cure from 1816 Teaches Us a Valuable Lesson". Friendly Atheist. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  13. ^ D'Souza, Steven (15 July 2018). "How a Canadian viral science video is teaching a lesson about online health hoaxes". CBC News. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Scientist debunks health hoaxes with viral parody video". BBC News. 17 July 2018. Archived from the original on 20 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  15. ^ How to spot fake news and bogus claims (Video). 14 August 2018.
  16. ^ Desjardins, Lynn (host) (12 June 2018). Health myths debunked in new book (Web radio). Event occurs at 9:28. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  17. ^ "McGill science group takes aim at pharmacies for selling 'quack' flu remedy - Montreal". Global News. The Canadian Press. 17 January 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  18. ^ Jarry, Jonathan (10 January 2019). "Two-Thirds of Montreal Pharmacies Sell This Quack Flu Buster". Office for Science and Society. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
  19. ^ Schwarcz, Joe (20 March 2017). "A Cranky Homeopath". McGill University. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  20. ^ Gorski, David (12 June 2012). "A homeopathic counterattack". Respectful Insolence. Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.

External links[edit]