Forestry professor emeritus inducted to Royal Society of Canada

Bruce Dancik
Bruce Dancik, an authority on woody plants, publication ethics and peer review, joins Canada’s most distinguished group of scholars this week as a Specially Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
A professor emeritus in the Department of Renewable Resources, Dancik will be inducted Friday into the peer-elected society that was established in 1882 to honour learned people who have made remarkable contributions in the arts, the humanities, the sciences and Canadian public life.

The society is welcoming him because of his 35 years of unpaid service as an expert editor of scientific papers for the National Research Council Research Press/Canadian Science Publishing. The independent publisher produces the foremost suite of peer-reviewed Canadian research journals.

Dancik’s stellar contributions include 26 years as editor-in-chief of the press—an enterprise that demanded his daily attention—and his help in saving it from oblivion when the Conservative government decided to stop funding it seven years ago.

He and two others not only oversaw its rebirth as a private, not-for-profit corporation, but also convinced many staffers to abandon their government pensions in order to continue working for it.

Dancik’s volunteer commitment to the press, which produces 21 internationally respected science journals that publish papers from researchers worldwide, was part of credo instilled by a mentor who believed that if scientists expect to be published in journals to further their careers, they had a duty to support them.

Dancik believes he also had a responsibility to his scientific community.

I wanted to help scientists communicate well so they could be understood by readers, and get on with fixing things that had deficiencies so they could improve or change the design of an experiment, and in turn, get on with their work,” he said.

In the decade before he took the top job, Dancik was also editor of one of its publications, The Canadian Journal of Forest Research, building it from a small quarterly into one of the world’s top-ranked forestry journals.

“He has an incredible eye for detail,” said Lee Foote, who took over as director of the Devonian Botanic Garden from Dancik in 2011 and was his colleague in the Department of Renewable Resources.

“He has the biologist’s eye. It looks for pattern, coherence and anomaly, and that makes him an exceptionally good editor, someone who looks for inconsistencies.”

In its citation announcing his induction, the Royal Society noted that the journals are available in 175 countries and that Dancik “has played a major role in the success of the enterprise, which has greatly benefited the Canadian and international scientific community.”

Describing Dancik as a renaissance man, with deep interest in fly fishing, wines, sports cars and antiquarian books, Foote said that his combination of curiosity and academic acumen have made him an ideal gatekeeper of peer-reviewed publications.

“It’s a special gift to critically read in science about topics out of your area of expertise and separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said. “That’s what we call scientific wisdom—an amalgam of many different things that very few people have.”

In addition to shepherding the press, Dancik has contributed a massive degree of other guidance to the University of Alberta and to his field.

An expert on population genetics and evolution of woody plants, he was director of the Devonian Botanic Garden from 2001 to 2011 and continues to sit on its board of directors. As part of the university’s administration, he was associate vice-president (academic) from 1995 to 2000. He’s also a former chair of the then-Department of Forest Science and its successor, the Department of Renewable Resources.

Dancik came to the University of Alberta in 1973 as a professor and researcher. Among his notable work was the naming and confirmation of new birch species in 1985, the first proof of maternal inheritance of cpDNA in a conifer in 1987 and first isolation of a tree gene in 1988.

Dancik is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Canadian Forestry Achievement Award, the Tree of Life Award, a Scientific Achievement Award from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, the Council of Science Editors Award for Meritorious Achievement, and a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

The Royal Society of Canada has approximately 3,700 members (more than 2,000 of them Canadian) who are elected by fellow members to recognize the best in their field. Specially elected fellows are inducted for contributions other than those from scholarship or research. Among the society’s first fellows were Sir Sandford Fleming, originator of the world system of Standard Time, and Sir William Osler, one of the greatest physicians of his day.