When myth trumps science

The body of research on belief formation is relatively sparse, wrote Newsweek in a story about a study dispelling old medical myths in its online edition May 27. One expert in the field, York University Professor James Alcock, of Glendon’s Psychology Department, admits that it’s difficult to trace where beliefs start. “Even as individuals we usually can’t explain where beliefs come from,” says Alcock, who is currently at work on a book about the psychology of belief. “Why should you drink eight glasses of water? People will say they heard it somewhere. Sometimes it’s impossible to trace the source but it just gets repeated over and over.”

Once we believe something, whether it’s truth or myth, we begin to see confirmation in the world around us. In psychology, Alcock explains, this is known as an illusory correlation: making connections between particular events that line up with our beliefs about the world. “We can become attached to beliefs that seem to serve a function for us,” Alcock explains, “and we don’t like to give them up even if they’re false because they seem too true to be false.”

This is especially true when we get information from a trusted source. Since medical myths usually come from parents, doctors and media, it’s no surprise they’re particularly robust. A while back, Alcock did an experiment with his students in illusory correlations. He told them all that redheads were particularly erratic drivers and to watch out on the road for them. Sure enough, his students came back reporting all sorts of stories of redheads gone wild on the road.

Even Victorian girls just wanted to have fun

Just as the desperate housewives of Wisteria Lane endure life under the watchful eyes of gossipy neighbours, the “carousing” women of late-19th-century Oxford County in Ontario were likewise fodder for the rumour mill, closely surveilled by their moral superiors who feared the township’s retreat from Victorian standards of purity, wrote the National Post May 29 in a report on the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa.

Despite widespread research on crime and delinquency in Canada’s urban centres at the turn of the 19th century, little attention has been paid to the so-called “girl problem” in rural communities such as Oxford County, where panic erupted over women’s “engagement in ‘disreputable pleasures’ such as unchaperoned socializing, drinking, and pre- and extramarital sex,” according to new research by York graduate student Rebecca Beausaert.

She said this hysteria, primarily aimed at women, was likely characteristic of Canadian counties with a similar demographic: “Politicians and many in the community generally feared industrialization and immigration; they feared that Canada was going down the wrong path.”

Beausaert’s research, presented at a weeklong academic gathering in a paper called “Bad Girls in the Country”, was drawn from census data, court documents, jail records and newspaper articles. “Females in rural areas were acting out but they weren’t doing it in dance halls,” she said. “They would act out in the berry patches or by buggy-riding.”

The Woodstock Sentinel, the county’s chief newspaper, frequently reported and sensationalized crimes involving women, which often "damned a woman whether she was guilty or not," said Beausaert, a doctoral candidate.

Reporter puts his fitness level to the test at York

"What have I gotten myself into?” wrote Michael Traikos in a story about fitness testing of NHL athletes at York in the National Post May 29

I am at York University where I am about to undergo the dreaded VO2 max test as part of the standardized fitness evaluation that all NHL draftees are subjected to at the league’s draft combine today and tomorrow. It was about 20 years ago that Frank Bonello, the former director of NHL Central Scouting, asked York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, to develop a standardized fitness test for all draft-eligible players. When York developed its first test, it was basic.

Over the years, the test has evolved to the point where teams can now measure a goaltender’s reaction time, quantify who is a smoother stickhandler and conclude exactly when a player’s leg muscles will give out over the course of a 60-minute hockey game. “We’re creating a picture of a player,” said Roni Jamnik, a kinesiology professor at York. “Where he is now physically and what his potential growth might be.”

Seniors face more barriers to enrolling in cardiac rehab, study finds

Heart patients over 65 are much less likely than younger patients to enrol in cardiac rehabilitation, often because they aren’t informed about the programs or encouraged to take part, a study led by Professor Sherry Grace of York’s Faculty of Health has found, wrote Waterloo’s Exchange Morning Post May 29.

“We knew this was happening, but we didn’t know why, so we asked them,” said Grace, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science at York, a scientist at Toronto General Research Institute and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

The study, “Barriers to Cardiac Rehabilitation: Does Age Make a Difference?”, is in the May/June 2009 issue of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, published online.

Dunlop joins BC artist to publish a book

What do a Fort Langley artist and a Toronto poet have in common? asked the Langley Advance May 29 in a story about a collaboration between painter Suzanne Northcott and Professor Rishma Dunlop of York’s Faculty of Arts.

Dunlop is an award-winning Canadian poet, playwright, essayist and fiction writer who lives between the Okanagan and Toronto. She is a professor of English and creative writing at York.

Their new book, titled White Album, is a poetic memoir that resonates with the sounds of global music, including the Beatles, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, gospel, ghazals, and zydeco. The 80-page book was released last year, and has attracted a lot of attention, Northcott said. It’s been called a unique and essential work of 21-st century poetry and visual art.

York grad returns to his Wild West roots

After completing a history degree from York University, Tom Bishop Jr. (BA ’92) returned to his Pelham roots, becoming an integral member of the family’s Wild West business, wrote the St. Catharines Standard May 29. The horses have also been extensively used by the television and film industry. “I lived in Toronto and found it bleak to not have a horse in the backyard,” he said.

Memorial tourney helps charities

The third annual Memorial Charity Golf Classic takes place Thursday, June 4, at the Maples of Ballantrae Golf Club, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun May 28. It is organized by the Raponi family in memory of Dino Valentino Raponi (BA ’00), who died in a vehicle crash in 2006 on his way home from a get-together for a friend in Brooklin. He was 29. Proceeds will be donated to the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada, Covenant House Toronto, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Muslim comedian/actor studied at York

Moving to the Great White North opened up a world of comedic opportunity for former York student Enis Esmer, wrote The Globe and Mail May 29.

The affable actor-comedian, who plays paramedic Osman “Oz” Bey on the new Canadian drama “The Listener” was only 3 when his family relocated from Ankara, Turkey to Toronto nearly 30 years ago. Our unique Canuck comedy perspective clearly registered with young Enis, who went on to study theatre at York University and hone his comedy skills at Second City and every comedy club in the city.

On air

  • A paper delivered by Peter Cumming, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and director of York’s Children’s Studies Program, was discussed on CBC TV in Ottawa and several radio talk shows, including News Talk 1290 (London) and AM640 Radio (Toronto).
  • Broadcast media continued reporting on the search for York student Shane Fair May 28, including CBC TV, CP24-TV, Citytv, Global TV, 680 News.
  • The York Sport Hall of Fame induction of former York basketball player Paul Jones was mentioned on 680News May 28.
  • Brendan Quine, director of York’s Space Engineering Program, and Professor Emeritus  Wayne Cannon, both members of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about their work on the massive Rue Telescope on Discovery Television’s “Daily Planet” May 28.