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SFU PEOPLE IN THE NEWS - April 24, 2009

April 24, 2009

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: April 17-24, 2009

News in the health field earned SFU solid media coverage during the week.
The Vancouver Sun told readers how three SFU researchers discovered exactly how extracts from a South Asian plant work to lower blood glucose levels in type-2 diabetics.
From SFU Health Sciences, we saw elsewhere the names of Benedikt Fischer, Robert Hogg, Bruce Lanphear, Steven Lewis, Joti Samra and Martin Shain.
And scientist Fiona Brinkman won headlines as part of an international team that has mapped the genetic code of cattle.

HEALTH & HEALTH SCIENCES
  • The Vancouver Sun gave big play (with a Page 1 intro; and photos) to a story about how researchers Mario Pinto, Sankar Mohan and Jayakanthan Kumarasamy have discovered how extracts from the Salacia reticulata plant work to lower blood glucose levels in type-2 diabetics.
    The plant is used in centuries-old Ayurvedic medicine. As Pinto quipped in the Sun: “Yes, you can say I am going back to my roots, literally."
    The trio's work was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, paving the way for such compounds to be synthesized and used as drug candidates for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
  • “Don't be insulted if someone says you have a lot in common with a cow.”
    Thus the Globe and Mail began a story on how, after six years of work, 300 scientists from 25 countries have just finished mapping the genetic code of cattle.  One of the scientists: Fiona Brinkman, associate prof in SFU Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.
    “Mice have been used as a model for many medical studies, and now we have convincing evidence that cattle genes are actually more similar to human genes than mice. There are over 300 types of genes that are shared between humans and cattle that are not found in mice. It is a huge benefit having [decoded] this genome."
    The research was published April 24 in Science.
  • A growing number of Canadians are becoming addicted to prescription painkillers such as Tylenol 3 and OxyContin, CBC News reported, citing a study co-authored by Benedikt Fischer of SFU Health Sciences in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.
    Fischer said 30-40% of the 1,000-2,000 drug overdose deaths in Canada each year may be related to prescription opioids. "It is a rather new and surprising phenomenon that it's actually prescribed substances, medical substances that are contributing to a lot of these deaths.”
    Among other things, the paper recommends expanding prescription drug monitoring programs, reducing improper prescribing practices, eliminating internet drug pharmacies and developing non-opioid treatments for chronic pain.
  • Health Sciences prof Robert Hogg took part in an international study that found that the risk of death from HIV-AIDS could drop by as much as 94% if antiretroviral treatment was started earlier than under current guidelines. Those guidelines were based on older medications that had more side effects than those currently administered.
    The study is in the online version of the New England Journal of Medicine and will be in the print version April 30. Hogg is also director of the Drug Treatment Program at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
  • Bruce Lanphear of Health Sciences, an expert on lead contamination and poisoning, was in a story on KIRO-TV, Seattle. The station found lead in 18 children’s books it tested from the Seattle Library. Said Lanphear: “Toddlers are constantly sucking on these things at the same time they are reading or having it read to them. For those kinds of books, I worry quite a bit.”
  • The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace announced to media the launch of Guarding Minds @ Work—a tool to help Canadian employers assess and deal with the psychological safety and health of workplaces. It was developed by the Consortium for Organizational Mental Healthcare (COMH), a national research centre in SFU Health Sciences.
    The news release quoted two adjunct profs with COMH, Joti Samra and Martin Shain.
  • The Harvard Crimson covered an informal talk at Harvard in which public policy prof Olena Hankivsky said health research needs an all-encompassing approach that weaves together factors such as gender, class, race, and other determinants of health. This to help scholars better understand public health problems and better craft long-term solutions.
  • Adjunct prof Steven Lewis of SFU Health Sciences wrote a guest column in The Australian (a national paper with more than 400,000 readers) looking at healthcare reforms in Canada and Australia. “Our ambitions are virtually identical and their realization equally elusive.”

BC NEWS

  • Biologist Elizabeth Elle was on the Where We Live show on CTV, in an item headlined “Bees' disappearance has biologists buzzing”. Elle said a combination of diseases and habitat loss has resulted in serious losses of bees—and about a third of the food we eat relies on pollinators for its production.
    She also spoke on the Early Edition show on CBC Radio and on CFAX Radio in Victoria, and delivered a lecture to a packed hall at SFU Vancouver.
  • Economist David Andolfatto was in a Vancouver Sun story on the state of the economy. He said of BC’s growth: “It seems likely it's not going to be as bad as the average just because so much of that average is driven by what's happening in central Canada. . . . But we're not going to be spared." Still, he concluded: "If history is any guide, we're going to recover." (Andolfatto also won some media coverage in Australia; see ‘National & International News’ below.)
  • Swiss-based Insciences.org picked up an SFU news release on how SFU’S 4-D LABS nanotechnology laboratory will be a model of environmental responsibility when it is fully operational later this year. Closer to home, the Tri-City News and the Epoch Times also carried a story.
  • Gordon Price, director of SFU’s City Program, wrote in his monthly column in Business in Vancouver that the new convention centre is “very, very good”. He added: “The spinoff effects should be substantial, and from the point of view of urbanism, it maintains Vancouver’s reputation as a place that produces, if not great architecture, then great urban design.”
  • The Surrey-North Delta Leader ran this week a March 5 news release from SFU on how a Surrey-based First Nations culinary school has a new recipe for success, thanks to a creative group of students from SFU SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) Consulting. It provides voluntary consulting to help local businesses grow.
  • The Metro newspapers alsoused an SFU news release to do a story about SFU’s next honorary degree recipients. The Vancouver edition used photos of three of them: Rafe Mair, former BC cabinet minister and broadcaster; Louise Arbour, former Supreme Court of Canada judge; and conservationist Mark Angelo.

BC ELECTION

  • Energy and resources prof Mark Jaccard wrote a guest article in The Vancouver Sun challenging the NDP’s election proposal that its cap-and-trade policy to limit greenhouse gases will reduce pollution to the same extent as Liberal’s carbon tax, and not increase the price of gasoline, but will somehow do this while covering only 35% of emissions, compared to the 75% covered by the carbon tax.
    Jaccard also slammed the NDP for labeling him as Premier Gordon Campbell's "top adviser" on B.C.'s carbon tax. “I have never met or communicated with Premier Campbell . . . My only recent advisory role in B.C. was for the climate action team, a committee of citizens and experts proposing climate policy for B.C. in the period 2012 to 2020. . . . Ironically, my role advising a citizen's committee (rather than politicians) was identical to the function I performed in 1998 for the greenhouse gas forum, a citizen advisory committee created by B.C.'s NDP government.”
  • Province columnist Michael Smyth, though, called Jaccard “Campbell's personal global-warming guru”, and wrote: “Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard, has said the carbon tax should rise to 24 cents per litre of gas to be effective. Imagine what that would do to our economic competitiveness with other jurisdictions.”
    (Smyth argued, instead, for a national cap-and-trade program, meshed with that of the U.S., as recommended by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. He didn’t mention that Jaccard is a member of the Round Table.)
  • A Province column by Ethan Baron shredded the NDP for its version ofcap-and-trade. Baron wrote in part: “Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard pinpointed the communities that would suffer most from the industrial devastation. Tellingly, many of these are traditional bases of NDP support and fall in ridings where close election battles are expected.”
  • The Canadian Press carried a national newsfeature on BC-STV, the proposed new voting system for BC that will be put to voters in a referendum, with the provincial election May 12. Among those quoted was public policy prof Doug McArthur.  "There is not a big groundswell for this type of system but I think it will pass this time." (In a referendum in 2005 it was approved by 57.6 per cent of voters but needed 60 per cent to pass.) We saw the story in the Globe and Mail, among others.
  • Meanwhile, the Victoria News promoted a public panel discussion on BC-STV, which will include SFU political scientist Lynda Erickson.
  • Political scientist (and polling expert) Mark Pickup, while in England, responded to a call from CBC Radio in Prince George to comment on the apparent use of “push-polling” there. (In push-polling, information or disinformation about a candidate or issue is planted in the minds of those supposedly being 'surveyed'.)
    Pickup was also in a Globe and Mail story about how BC’s chief electoral officer predicts record voter turnout. Pickup noted that academics have not found any pattern in Canadian elections that correlates voter turnout and election results.
  • The New Westminster NewsLeader ran a feature about the use of “plain language” in public communications—and in a brochure about BC-STV. English prof Sean Zwagerman was quoted: “Language is so dependent for its clarity on context and audience. . . . (BC-STV is) a complicated notion and I have a feeling that's part of their difficulty. We might be able to have a better handle on what the heck we're voting in favour of or against if it were expressed in plainer language."
  • Communication prof Richard Smith did a string of media interviews on the use of social media in campaigning.  A national story by The Canadian Press included this:
    “Richard Smith, who teaches about new media and communication at Simon Fraser University, says politicians are finally realizing that Internet campaigning is less about talking to voters, but rather getting supporters to do the work. . . . ‘It doesn't really matter that only existing supporters are following you (on social-networking websites). It's actually good.’''
  • The North Shore News wrote that the provincial election will be decided on the economy. Among those quoted was marketing prof Lindsay Meredith: “Whenever elections run (during) major economic downturns, guess what? Issues of economics and money are high on the agenda. It has a lot to do with everybody's dinner time budget and what they're going to have on the table."
  • TheTyee.ca looked at the latest Liberal TV ad, in which Premier Campbell says the Liberal party is "working with" small business owners. Kathleen Cross, a lecturer in SFU Communication, said: “It doesn't play well in terms of making Campbell appear committed to small business. He talks too fast, uses too many qualifying words and offers nothing new in terms of actual policies."
  • Economist Krishna Pendakur was in the Vancouver Westender, on a story about election calls for an increase in BC’s minimum wage. "The downside of minimum wages is that, by pushing up the price of low-wage labour, they may induce firms to want to hire less low-wage labour. However . . . increasing minimum wages when they are as low as they are does not have much effect on the demand for labour. . . .”
  • Political scientist Kennedy Stewart was also in the Westender saying the Green Party could benefit from voter cynicism in BC. “They attract people who wouldn't ordinarily vote, so that's where they're collecting most of their support. It's people who are usually disaffected."
  • Milt McClaren, education prof emeritus, was in The Vancouver Sun, saying he doubts education or health care will get much from either major party during the campaign and that's short-sighted. "Education is a central asset of an effective society—as is a good health care system. They're often played against each other but they really shouldn't be. . . . They are very, very tightly linked."
  • The Globe and Mail looked at the development of BC party ideology over the decades. “A historian at Simon Fraser University, Mark Leier, pegs 1932-33 as a crucial turning point. That year, the scattered socialist and labour parties in B.C. coalesced, either being absorbed into the newborn CCF, or smothered by it. The result was a unified socialist left . . . .”

 The ENVIRONMENT

  • Canwest News Service interviewed Rob Woodbury, a prof in SFU Surrey’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, on progress toward designing and constructing the ideal "green" building.
    "It's early days . . .  but 20 years from now, we'll be looking at [building designs today] as quaint. Buildings will continue to have improved but hopefully, they will improve faster." The story noted Woodbury co-wrote a November 2008, white paper for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions on sustainable building design.
    We saw the story in National Post, the Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun and The Province.
  • Mark Jaccard was in the Toronto Star, on the purchase of “carbon offsets” by people compensating for their own carbon footprint. "The research suggests a lot of what we're calling reductions are not real. . . . Offsets don't work.”
  • Jaccard was praised in an Ottawa Citizen review of a book to which he and economist Jeff Rubin (CIBC World Markets) contributed an essay on oil pricing. “These chapters may be your best chance in a long time to see someone explain why fuel prices go where they do.” (The book is Carbon Shift: How the Twin Crises of Oil Depletion and Climate Change will Define the Future, Random House Canada.)
  • The website of the Woods Institute of the Environment at Stanford picked up from the Stanford Report a story about a symposium on managing ocean ecosystems in this era of climate change. Among speakers was SFU’s John Reynolds. “’Nearly half of the species of fish we studied in Europe moved northward at a rate of 1.4 miles [2.2 kilometers] per year,’ said John Reynolds, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University. ‘That's a lot faster than most terrestrial counterparts.’"
  • The Victoria Times Colonist noted in an Earth Day story: “The average office worker generates one tonne of paper waste a year, or the equivalent of 19 trees, according to Simon Fraser University.”
  • The Prince Rupert Daily News covered a public forum that featured SFU’s John Calvert, author of Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia, on the issue of private power-generation in BC. "BC Hydro has given us a legacy of very affordable power. . . . We need to remain owners rather than renters of power. This is an artificial market because the only customer is B.C.”
    Houston Today did a later story on Calvert, quoting him as saying: “The new policy will mean that we get no ownership down the road, we get no long-term price protection, and we get no energy security."  It also appeared in the Smithers Interior News.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Peter Tingling, assistant prof in SFU Business, wrote a guest column in National Post on management decision-making. “Do people really gather facts before making a decision, or, as Francis Bacon described nearly 400 years ago, do we ‘adopt an opinion [and] draw all things else to support and agree with it’? Despite mountains of evidence that analytic decision making results in better outcomes, research seems to suggest that Bacon's observation was correct.”
  • MoneyManagement.com magazine in Australia carried a story featuring SFU economist David Andolfatto.
    “A visiting Canadian economics professor has questioned calls for increased transparency in banking services. ‘What is needed is the ‘right kind’ of transparency, not the ‘wrong kind’,’ he told a macroeconomics workshop at Deakin University in Melbourne. ‘Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema is an example of the ‘wrong information’ to make public, as it would cause a stampede and half of the people would be killed. But telling the public there is an incident and allowing them to file out in an orderly fashion may kill the last two, but that is the ‘right information’.”
  • Gerontologist Gloria Gutman was in a Canwest News Service story on a report that said "senior care is now the new daycare”. Gutman, co-leader of the B.C. Network for Aging Research, said: "I think there is a greater understanding than there used to be, particularly as we see more and more people living to be very old and also with the removal of mandatory retirement so that the people staying in the workforce will be older, and they will have older parents."

EDUCATION

  • The Toronto Star featured “Mr. Math”—Arvind Gupta of SFU-based MITACS (Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems). The Star called him as a “math academic and proselytizer”, and added: “Through MITACS, Gupta now has a network of more than 1,000 graduate students able to supply small- and medium-sized Canadian firms with math and science know-how.”
    The story also ran in some Metro newspapers. And, meanwhile, some Canwest newspapers continued to run stories from a six-part series that Gupta wrote for The Vancouver Sun and Canwest News Service on the importance and beauty of mathematics.
  • The Georgia Straight looked at whether BC high schools are adequately preparing students for university. It quoted several educators as saying they aren't, but education prof Dan Laitsch said preparing students for PSE is only a small part of what high schools should be doing. "I don’t think everyone is ready or mature enough to succeed right out of high school. So my question is, has the model for postsecondary begun to change, in terms of how inclusive it is and the times at which we take students?”

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

  • The Canadian Tourism Commission spread the word on how Quebecois director Robert Lepage will bring The Blue Dragon to launch SFU Contemporary Arts at Woodward’s next February.
    The commission’s news release (sent in English and French to a big international audience) called it “a coup for Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, which is producing the much-anticipated show in English [and in French, with the cooperation of Théâtre la Seizième] to launch the school’s new home . . . ”
    The story is also on the Destination2010.ca website, the tourism media website for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It also got a mention in the Montreal Gazette.
  • The Georgia Straight also carried a story on the show and other launch events. As well, the Straight ran a big story on the move to Woodward’s. Contemporary Arts director Martin Gotfrit spoke of collaboration with the community: “We’re developing projects with W2 [Community Media Arts Centre], a collective of Downtown Eastside arts organizations that will occupy 12,000 square feet of space at Woodward’s.”
    The Epoch Times also wrote about the move to the Woodward’s redevelopment.
  • SFU Film prof Colin Browne and SFU Film student Jessica Moorhouse were on GlobalTV's Morning News, promoting this year's grad film fest.  (Screenings are on April 29-30 at 7 pm at the Granville 7 Cinemas.)
  • The Toronto Star featured Ndidi Onukwulu, jazz-pop-blues-roots singer and Juno nominee, who recently made her movie-acting debut. The Star noted Onukwulu studied theatre, music and linguistics at SFU.

ATHLETICS

  • SFU Athletics announced to media the return of the Clan men’s and women’s golf programs to varsity status for the 2009-10 season. Former SFU golf coach John Buchanan will run the program. The last season for golf as a varsity sport at SFU was in 2005-06.
    The Vancouver Sun quickly wrote: “John Buchanan is certainly the right choice to lead the Clan back onto the links three years after the golf program was unceremoniously dropped as a varsity sport. Buchanan, whose involvement with the Simon Fraser golf program goes back to the mid-1980s, credits some angry alumni and new athletic director David Murphy with bringing back what for so many years was a highly successful program at the Burnaby Mountain campus.”
  • SFU Athletics also let media know that:
    • The Clan’s Helen Crofts won the 800m title at the 2009 Long Beach Invitational track and field meet. She did it in a personal best time of 2:08.94. Crofts is the reigning 2009 NAIA Indoor Champion in the 800m.
      The Clan host the 2009 Achilles Cup dual meet against UBC Sunday April 26on the SFU Burnaby campus, beginning at 1:05 pm.
    • The Clan softball team split an away doubleheader with the Seattle University RedHawks, losing 11-0 and then winning 7-2 in the nightcap. Then a doubleheader scheduled for April 23 between the Clan and the Saints from Saint Martin’s University of Lacey WA was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict by the Saints.
  • The Vancouver Sun named Crofts as an athlete of the week. “The Simon Fraser University track star won two events—and set a meet record in the process—at the 2009 Ralph Vernacchia Invitational Track and Field Meet at Western Washington University last weekend."
  • The New Westminster Record followed up with: “Brit Townsend is building a track and field juggernaut on Burnaby Mountain after her squad came back from Washington State with six titles. The Clan visited Bellingham on April 10 for the Ralph Vernacchia Invitational Track and Field Meet, and, despite a four-hour border wait, the squad won a lot of hardware.”
  • The Province carried a feature on Randee Hermus, named as player/assistant coach for the Whitecaps women’s soccer team—where she will work with coach Alan Koch, who also is head coach of the SFU men’s soccer team. The Province noted Hermus had “a standout career” at SFU.
  • The Province also featured Emmy Unaegbu, a former player with the Clan men’s basketball team and now a semi-pro player with the new Vancouver Titans of the International Basketball League. "I will be the first to admit that my game is not the prettiest, but it was my hope that there would be room for a guy that wants to work hard and hustle.”

POLICE BEAT

  • Criminologist Paul Brantingham was in a Canwest News Service story reporting overall crime in Canada is less severe than it was a decade ago, but violent crime has dropped only slightly and Vancouver is recording higher rates than Montreal or Toronto.
    Brantingham said the results aren't surprising: "In a rough ranking, that's what you would expect because it's all based on police data. We've had a spike in gang violence. In a severity index, if you have a spike in things rated more severely, then it would rise."
  • Rob Gordon, director of SFU Criminology, was in a national Canadian Press story on the arrests of three men on charges they were trying to eliminate the leaders of a rival drug gang. Gordon said the rounding up of key people does matter, but he's not sure it will have any impact on the recent shootings.
    “We've sat on our haunches before as a result of these kinds of busts and the problem has returned. So my dismal prediction is that the problem will return and I say that because no one is doing anything about the larger issues.'' (I.e., the illegal drug trade.)
    He had the same message on GlobalTV in the wake of the later arrests of six men from another gang.
  • Canwest News Service suggested U.S. President Barack Obama's push to crack down on weapons smuggling could help BC’s war on drugs. But Gary Mauser, prof emeritus and often quoted as an expert on gun-control, said:
    “It won't change anything on the ground. There's a large number of rules and regulations regarding firearms, but criminals have no interest in following those rules and there are people who will violate those laws to sell them to (criminals) because it's big business.''
    The story also ran in the Victoria Times Colonist, Calgary Herald, Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Montreal Gazette.
  • Speaking of guns, Gordon was in a Globe and Mail story on the closure by Port Coquitlam council of a gun store whose owner is charged with smuggling and importing illegal ammunition. “’What the police are trying to do is to get the more sophisticated military weaponry off the streets,’ Prof. Gordon said.”
  • Columnist Jon Ferry in The Province echoed calls for a provincial police force, and for a single regional force in the Lower Mainland.  On the latter, he cited “a new report by Simon Fraser University criminology Prof. Robert Gordon and ex-Vancouver police chief Bob Stewart strongly making the case for a Metro Vancouver police service.  . . . ‘The police-related problems of the Metro Vancouver area are largely regional problems, not purely local, municipal problems and are best dealt with by a police service that works across the whole area in a co-ordinated way.’”
  • And on top of all this, Gordon was quoted in a Canadian Press story about the possibility of a fourth trial for Kelly Ellard in the 1997 murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk in Victoria. “I think in the eyes of many and the hearts of many we're looking at the limits of the ability of our criminal justice system to properly process offenders."

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Richard Lung

Re the English prof who wanted to know "what the heck" is the BC-STV

option, British Columbians may vote for, in the 12 May referendum.

STV, single transferable vote finishes the job that First Past The Post began.

FPTP only takes a round of votes to elect the candidate who has more votes than any other single candidate. The more candidates, there are, the more split the votes, and the less votes and smaller minorities it takes for one candidate to be "elected."

The time is long over-due for the job to be done properly.

To respect democratic majority, a candidate should win at least half

the votes in a single member constituency. This can be done by

excluding the candidates with least votes, until some candidate gets

over half the votes. The excluded candidates' votes are re-distributed

to their voters' second preferences. This is Instant Run-off Voting or

the Alternative Vote with a ranked choice 1, 2, 3,,,etc.

There are two outstanding problems with IRV, that STV over-comes.

Firstly, IRV still allows up to half the voters to go unrepresented in

any constituency. BC-STV proposes multi-member constituencies,

averaging about 4 or 5 seats. The range is from 2 to 7 seats, depending on how sparsely or densely populated the constituency. There would only be one 2-member and one 7-member constituency in British Columbia.

A 2-member constituency elects two candidates, each on reaching one third of the votes each, thus guaranteeing a proportional representation of two-thirds the voters. (By the same reasoning a 3-member constituency would give a PR of three-quarters its constituency voters. And so on.)

So, STV gives more equal or proportional representation with far less wasted votes than FPTP or IRV.

The second problem STV overcomes is strategic voting, with FPTP's single X-vote for the least disliked front-runner. IRV does not so much waste votes but it still wastes a high proportion of first preferences, as only one candidate can win in a single-member constituency.

But with STV

Richard Lung

Apologies for incomplete former posting. It continues:

But with STV in the 2007 Scottish local elections, 74% of first preferences went to electing the representatives.

The vote being transferable owes to the transfer of votes from most prefered candidates giving up more than the elective proportion of votes they need, to second preferences. This is where the famous fractioning of the vote comes in. If your first preference is elected with more votes than she needs, then all of your one vote is not needed to elect her, and a fraction of it, determined by the size of her surplus, is transfered to your second preference.

Some of the least prefered candidates may have to be excluded, so their second preferences can go to candidates still in contention.

Some claim that party proportional systems using an X-vote for a list of candidates (abolishing representative democracy in the process), are more proportional than STV. This is actually not the case. You can add or subtract parties at will, just as you can individual candidates, and it will split the party vote different ways giving different proportions of support for them.

The point is that a preference vote is just as essential as a proportional count. In short, STV is essential for representative democracy.

The BC Citizens Assembly report on electoral reform knows what it's talking about and is put in an accessible style by the people for the people.

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