Greeks’ accuracy was phenomenal, says Delaney

Greek skywatchers in the second century BC built a mechanical calculator that could compute eclipses and motions of the planets, modern scholars have found – technology more complex than anything the world would see for another millennium, reported The Ottawa Citizen Nov. 30 in a story about the artifact which lay on the bottom of the Aegean Sea in the wreckage of a Roman ship for 2,000 years. Salvaged in 1901, the Antikythera Mechanism’s 82 surviving fragments have been mystifying scholars ever since.

“The mechanism predicted lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles,” they report in the British science journal Nature. It showed when eclipses of the sun and moon would take place, and where the planets would go. “Astronomy was a highly developed science back 2,000 years ago. The astronomical records of civilizations back 2,000 (or) 3,000 years ago were just amazing,” says astronomer Paul Delaney of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

“Their accuracy was phenomenal. No television, no computers – everybody watched the sky with great interest and with amazing accuracy. So figuring out planetary (and) stellar motions was truly bread and butter” to ancient observers…. I’m surprised there was something that intricate that was technically accurate that long ago,” Delaney says.

The knowledge that designed the Antikythera Mechanism was lost under Roman rule. “Things came to a crashing halt in many senses about 2,000 years ago,” Delaney notes. “And some of those wonderful advances in science literally just disappeared for over 1,000 years until folks – most often in the Middle East – began to resurface with it and put it back in plain sight.”

 The Canada Health Act’s sixth principle

There is normally no shortage of controversy surrounding Supreme Court of Canada Charter decisions, wrote Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an Issues & Ideas column for the National Post Nov. 30. Nevertheless, the widespread condemnation by legal and health-policy commentators of the Court’s June 2005 decision in the case of Chaoulli v. Quebec was striking.

Largely overlooked in the academic debate was whether anyone had an answer to the fundamental question that had moved the Court to intervene: whether it was legally and morally justifiable for the state, on the one hand, to require individuals to access health-care services only through a universal, single-payer system; and then, on the other, to deny them access to needed service when they were sick or dying. Could the sick be compelled to wait indefinitely, even if it resulted in deterioration of their health or death?

Law reform commission to be revived

Ontario is reviving its law reform commission a decade after the body, which took an independent look at ways to improve the justice system, was scrapped by the Mike Harris government, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 30. The time is right to move now that the Conservative government in Ottawa has recently dumped the federal law reform commission, provincial Attorney General Michael Bryant said yesterday.

The new commission, with an annual budget of $1.2 million, will be a partnership between York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, the deans of Ontario’s other law schools, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Law Foundation of Ontario and Bryant’s ministry.

Don’t delay RRSP contributions

If you want to maximize your RRSP earnings, don’t wait until the March 1 deadline to invest, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 30. Financial experts are urging Canadians to contribute now instead of letting their money lie dormant in chequing or savings accounts. Even though the numbers are increasing, a majority still don’t take advantage of RRSPs. Next comes deciding what to do with your RRSP, says Moshe Milevsky, professor of finance at York’s Schulich School of Business. “A lot of people tell me, ‘I contributed to my RRSP,’ and when I say, ‘What did you do with it?’ they say, ‘It’s at the bank somewhere,'” he says. “No, no, no. Find out exactly where it’s invested. Pick the right asset class. Make sure it has the right (time) horizon for you.”

Math prodigy not much older than many of those he teaches

At 24 years of age, Gábor Lukács (PhD ‘03) has a lot in common with students at the University of Manitoba, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press Nov. 30. But Lukács isn’t a student – he’s their mathematics professor. However, because of his age, maybe they should call him Kid Prof. Lukács, a math prodigy who began his PhD in math at 16 when most teens are more concerned about getting their driver’s licences, said it doesn’t faze him that most of his students aren’t much younger than he is, while a few are older.

“Having older students is old news for me – I began teaching at 16 as a teaching assistant,” he said on Wednesday after teaching a class. “Having younger students is new to me. I really love it. With research work there are bad days, but I come here and teach and I leave here with a big smile.” Lukács became York University’s youngest PhD student when he enrolled in mathematics at age 16 in 1999 and taught as a teaching assistant.

York study shows few incontinent women report problem to their doctor

There is ample evidence to show that many thousands of women in Canada have SUI – Stress urinary incontinence, a leakage of urine brought on by exertion, reported Canadian Press Nov. 29 in a story about a new treatment for the condition. A study by the Women’s Health Council and York University found that 40 per cent of 1,365 women surveyed had some form of SUI, but less than one third of those women consulted a physician.

Zimmerman to speak at Oakville prayer breakfast

The 23rd Annual Oakville Prayer Breakfast will be held Dec. 6 at the Oakville Convention Centre with guest speaker Brenda Zimmerman recent recipient of the 2006 ATHENA Award, reported The Oakville Beaver Nov. 29. Zimmerman is a professor in York’s Schulich School of Business where she is director of the Health Industry Management Program and HIV/AIDS Strategy Studies for MBA students. She has written many articles and books and has spoken at conferences across North America and Europe.

Doctors feel the heat as patients’ expectations fall short

Are Canadians receiving quality health care? According to doctors who participated in the 2006 Health Care in Canada Survey, the answer is overwhelmingly yes (78%), reported Medical Post Online Nov. 28. But the general public is less enthused. Their optimism is overshadowed by frustration with access. Just over half of them (55%) say the country’s population is receiving good care. The difference is in the time lag between wanting care and getting it.

Pat Armstrong, a sociology and women’s studies professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, studies women’s interactions in the health-care system. There are numerous reasons why women are less optimistic in a system where service is slow, she said.

First, they have more encounters in the health-care system than men; this is partly because they live longer, partly because they are the ones who have the babies and partly because they tend to take others to care.

Second, women are most likely to take elderly patients to a caregiver, and the elderly are least likely to have their care needs met.

Third, said Armstrong, “Women are more likely to experience chronic diseases and the system is better at dealing with aspects of health that require acute intervention.” Somewhat disturbingly, “women are much more likely than men to have their problems defined as being a result of mental health issues rather than physical ones,” she added.

On air

  • Judith Hellman, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, took part in a panel discussion about the politics of Latin America on TVOntario’s “The Agenda” Nov. 29.