Joe Schwarcz’s Greatest Hits

The Office for Science and Society celebrates its 25th anniversary
Schwarcz in his office. His collection of ducks reminds him to ‘beware of quackery.’

For over 25 years, the Office for Science and Society (OSS), led by director Joe Schwarcz, PhD, has been educating and engaging the public by unravelling the mysteries of everyday science.

Schwarcz’s audiences have included kindergarten classes and parliamentary committees, and he’s discussed topics ranging from the colour of M&Ms to the affects of pesticides in utero.

“It’s about promoting good science to the public,” says Schwarcz of the OSS. “We demystify science and separate sense from nonsense, which has become even more significant recently.”

In the post-truth era of ‘alternative facts,’ Schwarcz believes the work of the OSS is more important than ever – which means it’s excellent timing for their 25th anniversary celebration, taking place May 23.

The event promises to be both entertaining and informative, featuring Schwarcz’s classic demonstrations and signature magic tricks. “Magicians don’t reveal how they do it, but in science, we relish in revealing how things happen.”

Memorable moments

Schwarcz and the OSS produce articles, videos, lectures, and a radio show, as well as overseeing two chemistry courses that rank among McGill’s most popular electives. They reach over 100,000 people every week, answering questions and exposing myths.

Over the years, the public has never failed to surprise Schwarcz. Some of his most memorable moments include unsealing a cremation urn (a relative wanted to scatter the ashes but couldn’t get it open) and making a house call for a Cabbage Patch Kid (the doll was defaced with permanent marker but made a full recovery thanks to methylene chloride).

“Years ago, there were a lot of questions about, ‘How does lipstick work?’ ‘How does Aspirin work?’ Inquisitive things about the mechanisms of science. Today, a large number of questions start with ‘Is this true?’ or ‘Is this safe?’ We started dealing more and more with debunking, which has taken on epic proportions.”

In the past he battled with psychics; today it’s more likely to be anti-vaxxers. “Covid was a turning point. The anti-vaxx people are unfortunately very good at fear mongering.”

For those who wish to stay informed, the OSS will continue promoting solid research, critical thinking, and good science.

“I learn a lot researching these topics,” says Schwarcz. “It’s fun to make them memorable and entertaining, and that’s what I aim to do.”

Joe Schwarcz’s 19th book, Superfoods, Silkworms and Spandex, is now available for pre-order.

Notify of

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, comments appear with first and last names (no pseudonyms) and may be published in whole or in part, at the discretion of the Reporter. Please be constructive and respectful; all comments are moderated according to the Reporter’s guidelines. We reserve the right to close comments on individual stories. Please note that the University does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments