SFU PEOPLE IN THE NEWS - November 27, 2009

November 27, 2009

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: Nov. 20-27, 2009

There was solid media coverage this week of the role of SFU prof Julian Somers in a national research project to provide housing for homeless people with mental illness.
There was respectful coverage of the memorial service for Bernd Dittrich, the SFU Clan quarterback who died suddenly on Nov. 11.
But there was bizarre coverage in the latest stories on experiments by SFU scientist Neil Branda. According to one paper, he has developed a “Star Trek-like phaser, capable of causing paralysis with a beam of light”.


  • The Mental Health Commission of Canada formally kicked off a national research project in five cities to find the best way to provide housing and services to people who are living with mental illness and homelessness. The program in Vancouver is led by Julian Somers, associate prof in SFU Health Sciences.
    He appeared on the As it Happens show on CBC Radio (an estimated 1 million listeners around the world) and handled a number of calls from other media, including The Vancouver Sun, CKNW and The Province.
    The story shot around the world by internet, and we even spotted it on the website of
    As it Happens also pursued Somers’ personal attachment to the research: Somers’ father was an alcoholic who lived his final tragic years in a Downtown Eastside hotel with no support before dying from alcohol-related disease.
    SFU’s office of Public Affairs and Media Relations (PAMR) also spread word on how SFU is co-presenting a conference in Vancouver Nov. 29-Dec. 1 to discuss a new national treatment strategy for mental health. The conference chair is Elliot Goldner of SFU Health Sciences, a key adviser to the National Mental Health Commission.
  • Canwest News Service distributed across Canada a story on how the Royal Society of Canada has appointed 10 scientists—two of them from SFU—to an independent panel charged with studying the health of Canada’s oceans. The SFU experts are biology prof Isabelle Côté (an internationally known marine scientist) and Randall Peterman, Canada Research Chair in fisheries risk assessment and management. SFU also sent out a news release.
  • The New York Times (weekday circulation just over 1 million) ran a business column on Vancouver’s Woodward’s redevelopment. It noted the move to the project of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and added: “With five performance sites, Woodward's ‘will be a real meeting place for culture downtown,’ said Ann Cowan, executive director of the Simon Fraser University campus.”
  • The Australian newspaper reported that Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council will reconsider its guidelines for lead levels in blood.  The paper quoted Bruce Lanphear of SFU Health Sciences, a world expert on lead contamination and poisoning: “It's quite surprising and very comforting to hear that the NHMRC would be willing to review the guidelines so quickly after completing their formal review just last August.”
  • Criminologist Neil Boyd was in a Toronto Sun story about the federal government’s plans to make it tougher for Canadians imprisoned abroad to serve their sentences in Canada. He found the justice minister’s rationale “bizarre”, and added: “There’s a kind of short-sightedness and a kind of anger, punitive populism that he’s catering to.”
    Boyd was also in a story on about legal “party pills” that can give users “a buzz similar to the rush of Ecstasy.”  Said Boyd: “We will have a significant problem if young people think that these drugs don’t have any risks because they’re legal. With all drugs, the key is to make people aware of the risks and consequences of usage.”
  • The Financial Post section of National Post wondered if Canada isdoing enough to minimize the risk of future financial crises. It quoted Robert Adamson, executive director of the CIBC Centre for Corporate Governance and Risk Management in SFU Business:
    “We do have a relatively good regulatory governance framework but to say that the Canadian regulatory system is what protected Canadian banks puts a lot more faith in that system than it deserves.  . . . There is too much complacency at the company, board and state level. We think our regulatory framework and inherent conservatism is enough—and my view is that it isn't."
  • Marketing prof Lindsay Meredith hit a double on GlobalTV, first appearing on national TV in a story about Oprah Winfrey’s announcement that her syndicated TV show will end in 2011. “Crazy like a fox,” said Meredith of Winfrey’s business smarts.
    Meredith was then on GlobalBC news in a story about VANOC’s settlement of a legal fight with a Winnipeg travel company that sells luxury travel tours. The settlement gave the longtime unauthorized Olympic ticket seller approval to sell authorized tickets.
  • The Globe and Mail was among media to cover SFU student Milun Tesovic’s new world award:
    “A British Columbia student who runs MetroLyrics, the Internet's most popular song lyrics website, has won an international young entrepreneurs contest. Milun Tesovic, a 24-year-old who immigrated to Canada from Bosnia with his family at age nine, beat out 32 competitors at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Kansas City, Missouri.”
    Closer to home, The Vancouver Sun added: “Tesovic’s online site  . . . is billed as the web’s third largest music web site with 35 million unique visitors a month. Tesovic has accomplished all this while still an undergrad business student at Simon Fraser University where he is majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship.”
    SFU also sent out an SFU news release. Canwest News Service did a story that ran in several Canadian newspapers. The Province also ran an item.
  • The Globe and Mail mentioned a study in the online version of the Journal of Business Research. It examined the motivations that prompt people to forward online content to others, and found those who cite the need to be altruistic or individualistic tend to pass along the most content. Co-author of the study: Jason Ho, assistant prof in SFU Business.
  • Scott Lear’s appointment as the first Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in cardiovascular disease prevention research at St. Paul's Hospital was announced to media by Pfizer Canada Inc., the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation, the Providence Heart + Lung Institute at St. Paul's Hospital and SFU.
    SFU News told online visitors: “SFU’s Scott Lear researches heart disease—and has a To Do List that looks long enough to cause heart disease. The kinesiologist and cardiovascular researcher  . . . has a truly hefty workload, as he continues to investigate why people get heart disease and what they can do to prevent or manage it.”
  • The Fredericton Daily Gleaner featured Fredericton’sKouri Keenan, an SFU Criminology student who has been researching police use of the “Mr. Big” technique to trick people into making confessions. "It creates an atmosphere where there is pressure to claim credit for criminal activity. They think they're dealing with criminals. My concern is that targets of the Mr. Big will exaggerate or overestimate their participation and culpability in the crimes under investigation."
  • Herb Grubel, prof emeritus (economics) and senior fellow of the Fraser Institute, wrote a guest column for Canwest News Service saying “Canadians need a public debate on the merit of their government's existing immigration policies since a new set of studies has shown that under present conditions, immigrants no longer bring the (economic) benefits that had been brought by immigrants before the 1970s.”
  • The news-and-commentary website carried a report on the student advocacy group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. It seeks “increased access to essential medicines in developing countries through the power of advocacy and research taking place at universities across Canada and the world.” The author: SFU student Andreas Pilarinos.


  • Geographer and V-P Warren Gill and economics prof emeritus Jock Munro collaborated on a guest article for The Vancouver Sun, looking at Vancouver's loss of cruise ship traffic to Seattle:
    "Since our cruise home-port monopoly was partly the result of a protected market, gaining this trade back in a competitive market where we are clearly uncompetitive will be a challenge. . . . Without a coordinated public policy response it seems unlikely that there will be an improvement."
    Canwest News Service picked up the piece, and it quickly ran on
  • Public policy prof Kennedy Stewart wrote a blog item for The Vancouver Sun, saying Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff blew his "best and only shot to become prime minister" last May, when he balked at forcing an election. Now Liberal support is waning in the polls, and "by dithering and declining, Ignatieff is now doomed to slide off into oblivion."
    Reported Stewart: "Where I usually get about 500-700 views, this piece on Ignatieff received almost 10,000 and 42 comments from across Canada."
  • Stewart was also in a Vancouver Sun story on how all six councillors and the mayor in Summerland BC violated municipal election laws by accepting anonymous donations exceeding $50. “"I guess Summerland doesn't have a council any more," said Stewart.
    However, the Sun continued: “But the question is: Who is responsible for enforcing the law and firing the mayor and council? Stewart says nobody is. Municipal clerks act as chief electoral officers, but they have no powers to enforce the act's provisions.”
  • Criminologist Neil Boyd also wrote a guest column and blog for The Vancouver Sun, sniping at Ian Brodie, formerly Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff. Brodie had thumbed his nose at academic criticism of Tory measures to beef up crime laws.
    Said Brodie: “That was a good thing for us politically, in that sociologists, criminologists and defence lawyers were and are all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians by the voting public. Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types."
  • Jocelyne Leszczynski, a student in the SFU Semester in Dialogue program, wrote another column/blog for The Vancouver Sun, on gangs and gang warfare. “I just wonder whether the people of Vancouver will find innovative ways to voice their concerns and mobilize action or simply roll over and allow their city to be hijacked.”
  • The Georgia Straight looked at how video games can be serious as well as entertaining. Two SFU people were featured:
    • “Video games developed by Diane Gromala and her students have proven to be effective. A Canada Research Chair and associate professor, she runs the Transforming Pain project at SFU’s school of interactive arts and technology. An early experimenter with virtual reality, Gromala’s current research involves using games to help people with chronic pain manage their condition. ‘We’ve scientifically proven that immersive virtual reality is very effective as a nonpharmacological analgesic,’ Gromala told the Straight.”
    • Another game cited was Homeless: It’s No Game, developed by Terry Lavender, communications manager at the Surrey campus, puts players in the role of a homeless woman struggling to survive in Vancouver. “Lavender created it in order to explore the effectiveness of video games at persuading people to change their attitudes and beliefs. His research results suggested that, after playing the game, people tended to feel more sympathetic toward the homeless woman who had been their character in the game, but not necessarily toward homeless people in general.”
  • Meanwhile, Lavender blogged on about making money by having ads sent to your followers on Twitter. “For $20 a month, I decided it’s not worth it to sell my Twitter soul.”
    In the same vein, he quoted SFU Communication prof Richard Smith: “I only have 500 followers and I consider a good number of them friends, so I'd no more send them ads in my Twitter feed than I would send them email ads. I suppose it could be effective if it was genuine - like ‘I stayed in a great hotel, here's the link,’ but as an ongoing thing, no.”
  • Smith was also on CKNW, talking with show host Michael Smyth about the use of internet searches by employers to check out prospective employees and insurance companies to check out claimants.
  • The Vancouver edition of Metro and the Vancouver Courier covered a public forum on prostitution, and quoted an SFU sessional instructor as saying new research suggests buyers of sex are just as victimized as prostitutes. Chris Atchison said the study found that one to two per cent of johns assaulted sex workers.  “In contrast … 14 per cent had money or property stolen (and) five per cent had been attacked by a sex seller.”
  • Metro also covered the “mommy-and-me protest march” to fight cuts to UBC’s midwifery program. “Sarah Munro, a doctorate student in public health at Simon Fraser University and one of the organizers of the march, said: ‘We need to continue to meet the needs of birthing mothers.  . . . (Midwives) deliver 10 per cent of babies in the province and that number is steadily rising.’”
  • Public policy prof Doug McArthur was in the Georgia Straight, saying Prime Minister Harper’s apparent coolness toward the UN Climate-change conference in Copenhagen next month doesn’t mean Canada is turning its back on an international agreement on carbon emissions. “Harper knows he has to be in. If you’re not in, they’ll punish you.”
  • The Nelson Daily News carried a column on what it called the “growing epidemic” of mental health issues among children. “In fact, Dr. Charlotte Waddell, Director of Simon Fraser University's Children's Policy Centre, says ‘mental health problems are arguably the leading health problems children face after infancy.’"
  • SFU Communication student Teresa Quach wrote a “Community” piece in the Langley Times: “Sponsoring families through the Langley Christmas Bureau enables those in need to not only have a Christmas, but experience one that is full of love, joy and promise.”
  • The Indo-Canadian newspaper The Link cited an SFU “press release” on the election of math student Gursimran Kaur to the management committee at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple in Surrey. The so-called “press release” was, in fact, the online version of last week’s Media Matters report—which was quoting from Globe and Mail and Vancouver Sun stories on Kaur’s election.


  • More media coverage—some of it sensational and even off the wall—of the experiments by SFU scientist Neil Branda and team, who have been using light to switch on and off light-reactive molecules in tiny lab worms.
    Branda was on the As it Happens show on CBC Radio, carefully explaining that SFU’s goal is not to paralyze and unparalyze lab worms (which the experiment has done) but to explore and develop better ways of controlling medical photo-therapy processes, by using light to switch on and off targeted therapeutic molecules.
    MSNBC News got that point, and made it clear.
    But opened its story with a breezy science-fiction approach, as did many other media: “If Dr. Horrible really did have a ‘freeze ray’, he might stop the world by zapping it with ultraviolet light, new research suggests.”
    The Asian News International agency did a story and sent it to clients. We thus saw it in India’s Hindustan Times (circulation 1 million).  It, too, entirely missed Branda’s point, and actually told readers: “Scientists have developed a Star Trek-like phaser, capable of causing paralysis with a beam of light, whose effects have been proven on worms. A phaser traditionally emits a beam capable of stunning or killing an enemy."


  • The media contingent that came to the Burnaby campus for the memorial service for Bernd Dittrich, the Clan quarterback who died on Nov. 11, included CBC, CTV, GlobalTV, CKNW, the Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, The Province and 24Hours.
    Wrote The Vancouver Sun: “Bernd Dittrich was remembered Monday as a talented athlete and a sharing individual who gave back to Simon Fraser University much more than he ever took.”
    The Globe and Mail: “Hundreds turned out for a memorial service honouring the brief but inspiring life of Bernd "Bernie" Dittrich, an international student from Austria who became a star athlete, a selfless mathematics tutor and a popular student on the suburban Vancouver campus.
    The Province ran an online gallery of photos from the service.
    SFU Athletics, posted online a video tribute that was played during the memorial:
  • Athletics also fed media with info and statistics as:
    • Todd Lucyk’s "phenomenal" goal gave the SFU Clan a 1-0 win over Warner Pacific in NAIA men’s soccer. That put the Clan into the NAIA Sweet Sixteen playoffs, facing the Bethel (TN) Wildcats on Dec. 1 in Fresno CA. Bethel is the #1 seed; SFU #5.
    • Clan head coach Alan Koch and forward Colin Streckmann were named the NAIA’s Association of Independent Institutions 2009 Men’s Soccer Coach and Player of the Year. SFU also placed six student-athletes on the first A.I.I. team and one on the second.
    • Meanwhile, five members of the Clan women’s soccer team were named to either the first or second all-conference teams by the Association of Independent Institutions.
    • Clan cross-country runners Heather Mancell and Emily Palibroda were named NAIA Scholar-Athletes. “A student-athlete must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and have achieved junior academic status to qualify.”
    • The Clan women’s cross-country team—although minus star Jessica Smith—placed fourth in the NAIA national championships. The Clan men’s team finished sixth. SFU was second over-all combined.
    • The Clan men’s basketball team nailed a 73-58 win over the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades. Sean Burke racked up 23 points for SFU. Then the Clan did it again, beating UFV 71-62 and running SFU’s season record to 5-0. Burke, Greg Gillies and Kevin Pribilsky nailed 15 points each for the Clan.
    • The Clan women wrestlers won the over-all title at the 2009 Inland NW Collegiate Wrestling Tourney.
    • Seattle University beat the Clan men’s and women’s swimming teams at SFU’s Burnaby campus pool. The RedHawks men won 124-80, the women 107-98.
    • The Clan women’s volleyball team built up a 2-0 advantage, but then lost 3-2 to University of Saskatchewan Huskies. SFU thus fell to 0-7. But the Clan made up for it the next day, winning its first of the season by beating the Huskies 3-1 at SFU Burnaby.


  • The Financial Post section of National Post ran a feature on how MBA programs are recognizing the trend, in business, to consultative, team-oriented leadership styles. Among others, the Post quoted Carolyn Egri, professor of management and organization studies at SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business: "It's been proven that the more educated and economically developed a population, the less workers are willing to be bossed around. They just won't put up with it."
  • The Continuing Education page of the Vancouver edition of Metro featured SFU Opera Studies at the Vancouver campus. “SFU offers a variety of courses that are intended to educate novices and experts about great opera composers and their compositions.” It quoted coordinator Julian Benedict: “We have about 300-400 students registered for this year already and that is up about 30 per cent from last year.”
  • Metro also looked at the impact on continuing studies of the 2010 Winter Olympics here.  It quoted dean Tom Nesbit as saying no undergraduate or graduate courses will be offered during the Games. “Transit and travel in the downtown core will be seriously affected, and this will impact both students and staff. To prevent serious disruption, some continuing studies programs have made other arrangements.”
  • The Yonjap News Agency in Korea covered the visit there of “prestigious president” Michael Stevenson of SFU, to talk to alumni and to pursue exchange and research relationships with Korean universities.
    Closer to home, the Chinese-language World Journal interviewed Stevenson about his visit to Taiwan on the same foray. “He reminded Taiwanese education authorities to protect university autonomy. . . As with private companies, facing rapidly changing markets and global competition, excessive regulatory restrictions would only stifle vitality.”
    The World Journal also asked him about international students. “Stevenson noted that Canada's appeal for international students had fallen (compared to some other countries) and he called on the Canadian government to give the same importance as Australia to international education development projects.”
  • “One SFU study contradicts another on aboriginal education.” That was the headline on a Vancouver Sun blog item that cited a new study from Jane Friesen, director of SFU's Centre for Education Research and Policy. It took issue with a C.D. Howe Institute study by public policy prof John Richards. The question: Are aboriginal education outcomes poorer when a school's concentration of aboriginal students is higher? Richards found for yes. Friesen, though, concluded his findings should be “treated with great caution."
  • Canadian University Press fed to student newspapers a story on phishing scams that try to trick people into giving away university webmail usernames and passwords. The story quoted Steve Hillman, an SFU I.T. architect: “With universities in general, they’re just after your email account so that they can then use your email account to send out spam.  . . . It’s a booming market, it’s well organized and in many cases it’s several steps ahead of the security experts who are trying to crack down on it.”
  • The news-and-commentary website reported the appointment of Daniel Savas, former senior vice-president at Ipsos Reid, as an adjunct prof in SFU’s graduate public policy program, teaching quantitative methods and survey design.


  • The Canadian Press carried a national story on Southbrook Vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake ON, which is putting poems by Canadian writers on the labels of bottles of limited edition wines. “The labels on the 2007 vintage feature the poetry of Christopher Dewdney of Toronto and Stephen Elliott-Buckley of Vancouver. . . . Elliott-Buckley is founder of the High Altitude Poetry Club at Simon Fraser University.”


  • The Jack Webster Foundation announced to media the names of five BC journalists selected for Seeing the World through New Eyes fellowships. They will visit Uganda and Ethiopia in March 2010 to experience firsthand reporting from developing countries. One of the selection-panel members was public policy prof John Richards.
  • The Globe and Mail and other media reported how American author and broadcaster Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, said Canadian border officials questioned her about whether she would discuss the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games at a speaking engagement in Vancouver. The event was coordinated by CJSF, the student radio station at SFU.
  • Coquitlam Now caught up to the news that James MacNeil, a Grade 8 student, won the Juvenile 1 section of the World Solo Drumming Championships in Scotland. MacNeil plays in the Robert Malcolm Memorial Pipe Band, the junior band of the SFU Pipe Band.
  • The Halifax Chronicle-Herald covered the Olympic torch run there, in a wheelchair, of Charbel Rouhana, who once hoped to wrestle in the Olympic Games but had that dream killed by a car accident in 2005. The paper noted SFU Wrestling had once recruited him.
  • The newsletter of the BC Health Coalition (“fighting for a universal health care system that is publicly funded, publicly accountable and publicly controlled”) featured the coalition’s volunteer coordinator Roozbeh Ahmadi. “Roozbeh was a medical student in Iran before coming to Vancouver. He currently works as a genome researcher at SFU.”


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