July 9, 2010

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: July 2-9, 2010

The New York Times began a story about new SFU research with this: “It takes an elephant much longer to notice a fly and flick it away than it takes a shrew, and the reason is not that the elephant's great brain is too busy with philosophy, or that it simply does not concern itself with flies.”
There’s more below on this story on nervous-system research led by SFU’s Max Donelan. There’s also more below on a stack of science stories in the media, the U.S-Russia spy-swap, the naming of Rogers Arena, student Richard Loat’s cross-country tour to raise funds for food banks, and a teach-yourself-Greek computer application from SFU.


  • Historian André Gerolymatos, wearing his security-expert’s hat, was on GlobalTV’s national news, discussing the spy-swap between the U.S. and Russia.
    “The Americans do not want the spies to go on trial. If they go on trial, they (the Americans) would have to reveal how they caught them, and that’s the whole process of tradecraft, and that’s what nobody wants anybody to know. . . .
    “The Russians still want to know the same information that they wanted to know when they were the Soviet Union, and the Americans want to know the same things as well. They may be on much friendlier terms, but they’re still spying on each other for military, industrial and political intelligence.”
    Anchor Kevin Newman asked: “Do we spy on anyone?” Gerolymatos: “Of course we do. Everybody’s spying on everybody in the international community, because covert information is very important, especially if it’s timely; and, you know, in a weird sort of way, it might actually help international relations because world leaders may know things faster secretly, and not have to deal with the media.”

  • William G. Lindsay, director of SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples, was in a Toronto Star story, expressing regret that Canada did not choose an aboriginal as the new governor-general. “As an aboriginal person, it would have been a very progressive move to have done that. Today I’m sitting here feeling Canada missed a great opportunity and went with a safe, usual choice.”
    The Star added: “Lindsay said he’s heard very positive things about David Johnston but had hoped Inuit leader Mary Simon, a former ambassador to Denmark, or Phil Fontaine, former head of the Assembly of First Nations, would be chosen.”

  • Marketing guru Lindsay Meredith of SFU Business was in a national Canadian Press story on the renaming of GM Place in Vancouver as Rogers Arena. He was also on the Early Edition show on CBC Radio and the Bill Good show on CKNW, saying it’s a savvy marketing move that will better position eastern-based Rogers in the Vancouver market.
    The Canadian Press story added:
    “Selling a building's naming rights helps a team's bottom line, but can erase some history, said Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.  ‘When a favourite landmark gets renamed, is something lost by that? Sure it is,’ said Meredith. ‘No question about it. That is a genuine identity that sport fans have associated with for many years. There is brand equity there as well. Suddenly, you wiped it out in one stroke.’''
    Steven Kates, another marketing expert from SFU Business, was also on CKNW talking about the name-change, and how people will slowly get used to it.

  • Hugh Johnston, prof emeritus, SFU History, was in a Canwest News Service report that the Punjab state government in India is contemplating asking Canada for close to $150 million. This for turning back a shipload of South Asians, mostly Sikhs, who arrived in Vancouver aboard the vessel Komagata Maru in 1914. The state seeks repayment of a $15,000 "entry tax" that the passengers reportedly shelled out, plus interest and other compensation.
    But Johnston said there was no such ‘entry tax’. "‘It's mistaken information,’ he said, noting that the passengers were required to pay for the chartered vessel in $15,000 installments, and one payment came due when the ship arrived in Vancouver. ‘There was a shipping agent here in Vancouver acting on behalf of the Japanese (ship) owners who had the job of collecting that money. I suspect that is the source of the mistake, as there was no tax on entry.’"
    We saw the story in The Vancouver Sun, The Province, Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, and the Sherbrooke (PQ) Record.

  • The Canadian Press looked at the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) by insurgents in Afghanistan. IEDs or suicide bombers have killed 100 Canadian soldiers (and two civilians) there since 2003. “‘You can't defeat an army with (IEDs), but you can cause a collapse of morale,'’ said Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project on the Vancouver campus at Simon Fraser University. ‘That collapse of morale is ultimately the thing that is going to cause (the international soldiers) to pull out.’''
    We saw this one first in the Winnipeg Free Press.

  • ABC News made an SFU connection in a story on the parole hopes of Leslie Van Houten, one-time Charles Manson disciple and convicted murderer, who has been in prison since 1969.
    "‘They were brainwashed in a cult," Simon Fraser University professor Karlene Faith said. Faith has been friends with Van Houten for years after getting to know her as a student at the prison in the 1970s and made Van Houten the subject of her 2001 book, The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten: Life Beyond the Cult.” Faith is prof emerita, SFU Criminology.

  • Tony Wilson, an adjunct prof in SFU Criminology, franchise lawyer and trademark consultant, writes a regular column in the Globe and Mail’s business pages. The latest: How more American franchise outlets may seek to open up in Canada after being hit by the recession in the U.S.


  • The Vancouver Sun began a front-page story with this: ”About 250,000 sandhill cranes that migrate through B.C. are at risk from the continuing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a wildlife expert at Simon Fraser University said Tuesday.” And it continued:
    Ron Ydenberg, director of the Centre for Wildlife Ecology, said the sandhill cranes that travel through British Columbia mostly breed in Alaska, but also in the province's Interior. The southern migration of sandhill cranes will take them to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, including states such as Texas and Louisiana, putting them directly in harm's way from the oil spill, Ydenberg warned.  The cranes will ‘really be impacted’ because they feed in the shallow marshes that line the gulf, he said.”
    Ydenberg’s warning generated an editorial in the Kamloops Daily News:  “The (BC) Liberals are eager to create an oil and gas industry in the province. . . . As we watch the impact on the sea and bird life from the BP spill, it's difficult to argue that the financial benefits of expanding the oil and gas industry are worth the risk of an oil spill in our own coastal waters.”

  • André Gerolymatos, historian, chair of SFU Hellenic Studies and an international security expert, wrote a guest column in The Vancouver Sun on the re-emergence as a political issue of the presence of foreign intelligence agents in Canada. Among other things, he pointed to deficiencies in Canada’s CSIS-RCMP setup.
    “The British maintain MI6 to conduct espionage and MI5 for counter-intelligence while the Special Branch of Scotland Yard is in charge of police-type operations and counterterrorism. Equally important, information from all these services is forwarded to the Joint Intelligence Committee for objective analysis and interpretation.
    “Unfortunately, Canada does not have such an organization and this is also another factor that led to the Air India tragedy. The Trudeau government, which created CSIS, had little interest in intelligence and dealt with the problem of security only because of the scandals that had compromised the RCMP's work against Quebec's extreme separatists. As such, CSIS's formation as an organization and its mandate were a poor compromise.”

  • Meanwhile, two SFU profs were in the Ming Pao newspaper on the same issue:
    • Political scientist Stuart Farson was quoted as saying CSIS chief Richard Fadden, who started the media stories, might have been trying to divert attention from CIS failures in the air India bombing case. Farson was also quoted as saying that while there have been reports of Chinese agents conducting industrial espionage in Canada, there have been no arrests.
    • Jeremy Brown, assistant prof in SFU History, was quoted as saying Canada and China don’t need to be on guard against each other but can help each other wield international influence.

  • A massof media did stories on a cross-Canada tour in which SFU Communication student Richard Loat organized road-hockey games to raise funds for local food banks. Loat was featured by, among others, GlobalTV, CKNW, Team1040 Radio, CBC Radio, Burnaby Now, and The Province.  And he was a big hit on social media.
    Said The Province: “His goal was to raise one ton of food, and with the stops in Victoria and Vancouver left, he's close, with already 1,959 pounds collected. . . . In Calgary, he collected the most donations from one person so far—640 pounds of food. ‘We're hoping Vancouver doesn't just beat that, but that they smash it,’ he said.”
    The final game is tonight (Friday July 9) at 5:30 in the 800-block of downtown Granville Street. Road-hockey players are invited.

  • Speaking of SFU students: Omni-TV, the multicultural channel, came to the Burnaby campus to film and interview students Chantelle Chand and Nidhi Nayyar, who are using a $500 Changemakers award to draw attention to the high incidence of cervical cancer in the Lower Mainland’s South Asian community. They are urging more Indo-Canadian women to get pap tests. Other media featured the duo last week.
    Meanwhile, the BC Cancer Agency reported getting inquiries as a result of the stories, which all began with a June 28 news release from SFU.

  • Physician-prof Tim Takaro of SFU Health Sciences was on the On the Coast show on CBC Radio, and on CKNW and CBC News, talking about the health risks of summer heatwaves.

  • Gloria Gutman, prof emerita, SFU Gerontology, was on CFAX Radio, Victoria, talking about the discovery of a genetic signature to longevity. This from U.S. scientists who have been analyzing the DNA of the world’s oldest people.

  • Criminologist Neil Boyd wrote a guest piece for The Vancouver Sun that said in part: “As one contemplates the lack of science in virtually every crime bill dutifully trotted out in Parliament by the Harper Conservatives, one is tempted to either laugh or cry. . . .
    “Consider the recent legislative initiative regarding mandatory minimum sentences for any person who grows more than six marijuana plants.  Does it make sense to spend billions of our tax dollars putting the producers of a relatively benign mind-active drug in jail, at the same time that the executives of tobacco and alcohol companies are regarded as contributing corporate citizens?”

  • Energy economist Mark Jaccard was in a Georgia Straight story in which he said it could take more than a decade to truly see the effect B.C.’s carbon tax has on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
    “In jurisdictions where it’s been around for over a decade it has been very effective. It is too early to tell in British Columbia but all the anecdotal evidence suggests that in B.C. also, like everywhere else, it will be very effective.”
    The carbon tax on fossil fuels rose on July 1 to 4.5 cents per litre of gasoline from 3.3 cents.

  • The Georgia Straight also told readers that, according to a new study, Canadian-born members of visible-minority groups get a better deal in Metro Vancouver in terms of income, compared to their counterparts in Toronto and Montreal. The report, Colour By Numbers: Minority Earnings in Canada 1996–2006 was co-authored by brothers Krishna Pendakur, SFU Economics prof, and Ravi Pendakur, University of Ottawa.

  • And the Georgia Straight reported how Vancouver protesters burned a Canadian flag and disrupted traffic July 4 to protest the mass arrests at the G20 summit in Toronto. The Straight said SFU Alicia Tallack and Brennen Smith were there to show their support for the G20 protesters—but didn’t realize the Vancouver demonstration was also in support of Black Bloc anarchists. “‘I actually wouldn’t be here if I knew that, because that, I think, was not the right way to get messages across,’ Tallack said. ‘I don’t agree with destruction of property’, Smith remarked.”


  • The New York Times ran a story on an SFU study on the speed of transmission of signals in the nervous systems of animals, and quoted research leader Max Donelan of SFU Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology.
    The Times (weekday circulation 950,000 copies) wrote: “The nervous system acts like an information superhighway, sending messages back and forth from the brain throughout the body. The bigger the animal, the greater the distance traveled. Nerves have a maximum speed limit of about 180 feet per second, said Maxwell Donelan, the study's lead author.
    "‘It makes sense that in a large animal, like an elephant, messages have a longer way to travel,’ he said. Dr. Donelan believes that large animals may have to compensate for this handicap by thinking ahead, and avoiding risky situations.
    “‘That's what we want to study next,’ he said. ‘It could be that the nervous systems of large animals have evolved to become excellent predictive machines.’"

  • Medicinal chemist Robert Young was in the Globe and Mail, decrying the decision of Merck & Co. Inc. to close its research-and-development facility in Montreal and move the operations to the U.S.
    “It is indeed a black day for research in pharmaceuticals in Canada, and research in general. [It] was one of the most, if not the most, successful and productive sites within Merck, and on that basis it really baffles me."
    Young worked at Merck until 2006, and at SFU is the Merck Frosst BC  Discovery Chair in Pharmaceutical Genomics, Bioinformatics and Drug Discovery.

  • The Detroit Free Press quoted Bruce Lanphear of SFU Health Sciences in a story that looked at revisions to the city’s anti-lead program, and at how some children with high levels of lead in their blood were left untreated under the earlier rules.
    “Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a leading expert on lead poisoning . . . said officials ‘are missing a tremendous opportunity to help kids’ when they don't start more intensive treatment at lower levels. Now at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Lanphear said  . . . treating lower levels is cost effective. Every $1 spent on affected kids at an early age saves $17 to $220 over a lifetime in educational and medical costs.”
    The McClatchy-Tribune Regional News Service then sent the story to other U.S. newspapers.

  • Ralph Pantophlet of SFU Health Sciences was quoted in reports on how U.S. scientists have discovered three previously unknown human antibodies that neutralize HIV, two of which target a broad range of HIV strains.
    “The discoveries may jump-start AIDS vaccine research,” said the initial story by Science News. But, it added:
    “HIV poses challenges for vaccine design because it mutates frequently. This changing appearance limits immune detection, says Ralph Pantophlet, a vaccine immunologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada. The virus is also camouflaged from the immune system by sugar molecules, he says.”
    U.S. News & World Report picked up that story. Then Business Week did its own story: “With HIV, the antibodies are in a continual race to adjust to the virus, which evolves to escape detection. ‘The reason the antibodies generally do not work so well is because they're always playing catch up,’ said Pantophlet, who is familiar with the findings of the new studies.”

  • Gary Goodyear, federal minister of state for science and technology, came to the Burnaby campus to announce that Ottawa will spend more than $3 million on programs that promote science and engineering education for young people. SFU's popular Science Alive youth program is one of 51 groups across Canada that will benefit. (Last year, Science Alive delivered science-focused workshops and summer camps to more than 7,000 school-aged children in communities across BC.)

  • The Globe and Mail looked at the federal government’s promise of $20-million for science education in Africa, which includes help for African Institute for Mathematical Science in Capetown, which has graduated 252 scholars from 30 African countries.
    Eric Takam is one of those students. A native of Cameroon, he spent nine months at the Cape Town centre after graduating from a Cameroon university with a physics degree and is now a PhD student at Simon Fraser University.
    "‘It was definitely a bridge,’ he said of the program. ‘Without it, I might have gone on to teaching, but now I am doing research.’ He hopes to return home to continue his work in seismic exploration.”

  • Hospital News online featured a heart-disease study that is testing a home-based Internet alternative to cardiac rehab programs that are commonly offered at urban hospitals, but are not available to rural patients. The research leader: Scott Lear of SFU Health Sciences, the inaugural holder of the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation chair in cardiovascular prevention research at St. Paul’s Hospital.

  • A science column in the Yukon News looked at the role of diatoms, microscopic, single-cell drifting plants that live in the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world. One scientist featured was Daniel Selbie, the head of the lakes research program at Fisheries & Oceans Canada in BC and an adjunct prof at SFU.
    "I've seen estimates of more than 10,000 (different types of diatom) and more than 100,000. We just don't know. And he said:  "Climate change will probably bring about changes in the kinds of algae, which—among other environmental changes—could potentially affect the kind of fish found (in any given ecosystem). It's a ripple effect. And the effects likely depend upon how complex and resilient the ecosystem is."

  • And the CBC News Network gave two more runs this week to SFU forensic experts Gail Anderson, Rolf Mathewes, Mark Skinner and Lynne Bell in the show Bugs, Bones & Botany: The Science of Crime. The show first aired on The Nature of Things on CBC-TV in January, and has been repeated several times since.


  • The Burnaby NewsLeader told readers: “For those times when it's all Greek to you, Simon Fraser University offers a free Greek language iPhone application with an iPad version coming this fall.”  It quoted from an SFU News story: “SFU's Hellenic studies department's free Odysseas Greek language iPhone app—a light version of its Odysseas Greek Language Tutor—has been downloaded some 40 times a day since its release last March, with users giving it a four- out-of-five-star rating.
    The Odysseas Greek Language Tutor is an interactive learning program designed to teach Greek language and culture on the Internet, the result of five years of research and development led by Hellenic studies technology manager, Costa Dedegikas. It's used at educational institutions throughout the world including a dozen U.S. and 19 Chinese universities.  You can check out the app at:
    SFU’s office of Public Affairs and Media Relations sent out a news release. And the NewsLeader story was sent to Black Press papers across BC.

  • The Globe and Mail also carried the final piece in a series on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. It noted: “This fall, some 800 university students will descend on the fine arts campus that Simon Fraser University has installed at Woodward's.’


  • The SFU Pipe Band’s concert in Vernon tonight (Friday July 9) led to an advance feature in the Vernon Morning Star. Piper John Sutherland told the Star about the band’s hopes for a third straight world championship (and No. 7 in all) in Glasgow, Scotland, on Aug. 14:
    "We will be doing the same thing we have been doing these past years, but our medley has evolved and we have made a few changes. This is not completely new material—some of it was played at last year's concert—but it's definitely different than the medley we played in 2008 and 2009. We're really excited about it."
    GlobalTV, the Kamloops Daily News and Kamloops This Week noted that the band will also play at the Kamloops Highland Games tomorrow (Saturday, July 10).

  • The Burnaby NewsLeader promoted the 2010 SFU staff and faculty art exhibition, on until July 30 at the SFU Gallery. “This year's theme is the State of the University, which had participants crafting pieces that either celebrated the school's achievements or commented on its shortcomings. Works range from painting to photography to sculpture work. The gallery is at the school's Burnaby campus, and is open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”


  • The Pasadena (CA) Star-News reported that California’s Azusa Pacific University barely held off SFU to win its sixth consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Directors' Cup championship. “The Cougars' 820 points were enough to edge out Canada's Simon Fraser University by three points, completing a sixth consecutive Director's Cup victory and breaking (SFU’s) previous mark of five consecutive from 1997 to 2001.”
    (The Director's Cup is based on points awarded for NAIA-sponsored postseason championships.)

  • The Vancouver Sun and others covered the bad-luck story of former Clan track star Ruky Abdulai at the Harry Jerome track classic event in Vancouver. Abdulai’s effort to top Jessica Zelinka in a special triathlon event fizzled when Abdulai tripped over the final hurdle in the 100-metre hurdles.  Abdulai went on to win the long jump, her specialty, but couldn’t catch up to Zelinka in triathlon points.

  • The Penticton Western News reported that head coach Bruce Langford of the Clan women’s basketball team will be a leader at a four-day camp for kids there in August. Said Langford: "Most kids in the Interior play multiple sports and have pretty good athleticism and haven't totally committed their focus to basketball. One of the things about the Penticton camp is the kids are always extremely enthusiastic. Some kids get better every day because they play every day."

  • The Winnipeg Free Press reported that SFU-bound athlete Ben Allen was named by the Manitoba High School Athletic Association as the Jostens 2010 Male High School Athlete of the Year. Allen, a football, track and soccer star at Kelvin High School,  has football and track in his plans at SFU.

  • The Nelson Daily News noted that local golferJordan Melanson took on some of the best young golfers in the West last weekend “and came away with an impressive ninth-place finish (in) the Maple Leaf Junior Golf Tour.”  The paper added: “Melanson is heading to Simon Fraser University in the fall where he will be a member of the golf team.”

  • Media across Canada reported on Canada’s first women’s world softball medal in 32 years: a bronze, the best we could do after a 12-3 loss to Japan. Canada faced Japan after beating Australia 3-2 and China 1-0. In the Australian game, former SFU Clan catcher Erin Cumpstone singled, and scored on an infield blast by another former Clan star, Melanie Matthews.
    The Vancouver Sun went on in a later story to note the Canadian team hopes to strike gold at the 2012 women's worlds event in the Yukon. The Sun raised—but didn’t answer—the question of whether Matthews and Cumpstone will still be playing and available then.

ALSO in the NEWS

  • The Globe and Mail featured MBA alumni Ben Sparrow and Joshua Zoshi, founders of Saltworks Technologies, a Vancouver company developing technology to make fresh water from seawater. This as the Globe looked at the new book The New Entrepreneurs: Building a Green Economy for the Future, by Andrew Heintzman. Heintzman wrote: “If they succeed, the name Saltworks will be a lot better known in the future, and Ben Sparrow and Joshua Zoshi will have found a solution to one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today.”

  • The Minerva Foundation announced to media the launch of a new leadership project for women from around the province, "Women Leading the Way". The Vancouver Sun story noted that Nancy McKinstry, former chair of the SFU board of governors, started the Minerva Foundation.


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