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April 01, 2004

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Pink Salmon, blue vision
New York Times, March 23

For the Pacific pink salmon, life literally has its ups and downs. As a small fry, it lives near the surface, eating plankton, but as it gets larger it descends to deeper waters, becoming a fish eater SFU biologists have determined that to cope with this lifestyle change, salmon alter their color vision as they get older to see as well in the depths as on the surface. The scientists studied the conical photoreceptors in the salmon's retina. When salmon are newly hatched, some of the cones contain an opsin with maximum absorbency in the ultraviolet range. But as the fish grows, these cones stop producing that opsin and start producing another type, with maximum sensitivity in the blue range. The transition is gradual. The findings were reported in the March 18 issue of the journal Nature.

Inside the mind of a whistleblower
Ottawa Citizen, March 23

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau seems surprised by the question. Why blow the whistle on the department of National Defence and risk the sad fate of a whistleblower? Another whistleblower would understand: Disclosure is not a choice, it is a moral imperative - even if it means being called a snitch and being harassed, blackballed or fired. Whistleblowers are sometimes described as late bloomers in understanding the ways of the world. The normal process of socialization that begins in kindergarten, where people quickly learn the cost of not fitting in, hasn't reached them. Being raised in a home where unconditional love abounds can also have an impact, says SFU business ethicist Mark Wexler, noting that some people can switch off their work self when they step on the train to go home, but others take their worries and misgivings home.

Break the teenage code of silence
Canadian Press, March 22

The teenage code of silence appears to be willingly breaking down at a Victoria high school where snitches are offered money to squeal on their lawbreaking classmates. Students at Esquimalt high school rarely think twice about turning in a classmate who's trashed a locker or stolen somebody's skateboarding sneakers since the school's pizza and vending machine revenue started funding a Crime Stoppers program last fall. Within minutes of a school-wide announcement about the latest unsolved crime, there's usually a lineup of students outside of the office with solid information. SFU criminologist Neil Boyd says he supports the program's community-building efforts within the school, but is concerned about the reward aspect. “It's inappropriate to offer a financial reward. It may motivate people to act like Big Brother.”

How we use our brains
Scientific American, March 8

Do we really only use 10 per cent of our brains? SFU psychologist Barry Beyerstein says that's the question most likely asked at the end of his public lectures about the brain. “The look of disappointment that usually follows when I say it isn't so strongly suggests that the 10-per cent myth is one of those hopeful shibboleths that refuses to die simply because it would be so darn nice if it were true,” says Beyerstein. “I'm sure none of us would turn down a mighty hike in brainpower if it were attainable, and a seemingly never-ending stream of crackpot schemes and devices continues to be advanced by hucksters who trade on the myth.” Beyerstein notes that, always on the lookout for a feel-good story, the media have also played their part in keeping the myth alive.

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