Feds are clueless about bias, says York statistician

Dan Gardner’s column beautifully captures the inanity of the Harper government’s move to trash the census, wrote Michael Friendly, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health and coordinator of the Quantitative Methods specialization within the Graduate Program in Psychology, in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen July 22.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an undergraduate in my quantitative methods course at York University being as clueless about survey methods and bias as Industry Minister Tony Clement or MP Dean Del Mastro, wrote Friendly. I’d be inclined to offer Clement and Del Mastro a seat in my statistics course this fall but of course smashing the national census is about much more than mere ignorance about research methods, isn’t it?

Invasive plants threat overstated, says Glendon biologist

As a biologist interested in non-native species, I want to point out that the recent letter to the editor about the threat to biodiversity posed by invasive plants was rather simplistic and misleading, wrote Professor Radu Guiasu, coordinator of York’s Environmental & Health Studies Program at Glendon College, in a letter to the Toronto Star July 22.

The letter writer mentions that invasive species are second only to habitat loss on the global list of threats to biodiversity. This is an often repeated statement, apparently based on a [US] study published in 1998. A recent study conducted in Canada, which is more relevant to the Greater Toronto Area, found that introduced species were the least important threat to biodiversity, among the categories analyzed.

The plant diversity in the GTA has increased in the last two centuries, due to the addition of exotic species. Introduced species can bring useful contributions to our ecosystems, and trying to eradicate such species is often a misguided exercise, based on outdated understanding of ecological processes.

I am not advocating deliberate species introductions, but I believe that the propaganda and control programs against introduced species should be carefully scrutinized based on scientific facts, wrote Guiasu.

Madness brought to life in the city

Geoffrey Reaume, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, is another longtime Mad Pride organizer, wrote Metro (Toronto) July 19. He was put in a psychiatric ward when he tried to kill himself at 14, and again at 16. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, he wasn’t thrilled about meeting other patients. But to his surprise a girl labelled “retarded” became his good friend. He would later focus his PhD [research] on sifting through patient records, researching the people who lived and died in the Toronto Hospital for the Insane.

Physiologist casts doubt on garment’s calorie-burning power

Designed by Canadian chiropractor Denise Perron and launched in June, the knee-length ShaToBu (as in SHApe, TOne, BUrn) offers added resistance around the legs. The claim is this: By wearing one, women can not only achieve a sleeker silhouette but also expend more energy going about their day, wrote The Globe and Mail July 22.

Veronica Jamnik, a professor and exercise physiologist in York University’s Faculty of Health, says it’s hard to assess the company’s calorie-busting claims, which are based on independent oxygen output tests, because there are so many variables that may not have been factored into the final results.

She notes that women would probably benefit as much, if not more, by incorporating more non-exercise physical activity – whether standing up while on the phone or gardening – into their day.

She reserves her greatest concern for wearing such a restrictive garment for any extended period of time. “What is the health impact of wearing it all day,” she wonders. “Am I guarded about it? Absolutely.”

She also points out that the perceived caloric expenditure may translate into people thinking they have licence to eat more.

Writing seminars added to Lake Country festival

The Mariposa Writers’ Group is adding an exciting twist to this year’s lineup, with poetry and short-story writing seminars being held Aug. 20, as part of the Lake Country Literary Lapses Festival, wrote the Orillia Packet & Times July 22.

Through financial support from the National Bank and with the cooperation of the League of Canadian Poets, the writers’ group has been able to secure Canadian teacher-writers Desi Di Nardo and York grad Martin Avery (BA Hons. ’79) to conduct seminars at the Stephen Leacock property this summer.

Born in Bracebridge, Avery has taught creative writing at York University, Georgian College, Centauri Arts Retreat and Bridgewater Arts Retreat, among other venues. For two decades, he was a full-time secondary school teacher focusing on writer’s craft, English and drama. Avery will host a seminar on character shaping and plot development, which is being held in Swanmore Hall at a cost of $20 per person.

Theatre grad performs battle of wits in classic Coward comedy

Two women who dreamed of becoming professional actors in childhood are currently engaged in an onstage conflict as the former and current wives of novelist Charles Condomine in Noel Coward’s classic comedy Blithe Spirit, playing until Aug. 1 at the Studio Theatre in Perth, wrote Perth EMC July 22.

A now-familiar face to Perth residents is York grad Emily Bartlett (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05), who plays Paula Costain’s onstage rival, the ghostly Elvira, who has returned from “the other side” to haunt the Condomine residence. Currently featured in a national commercial for Manulife Insurance, Bartlett hails from Saint John, NB, where, as the daughter of a journalist and a librarian who encouraged their daughter to watch classic performances on BBC, she started taking drama classes at an early age.

“I was very much inspired by a professional director who worked at the local high school, and it was a light bulb moment for me when she encouraged me to take the idea of becoming an actor seriously,” Bartlett explains.

Following work at York University’s Acting Conservatory and the Canada’s National Voice Intensive, she immediately jumped into the role of Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. She says such training helped her prepare for her role in Noel Coward’s work this summer.

On air

  • Gail Fraser, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about concerns over an oil spill response plan for Canada’s deepest offshore well, on CBC TV’s “The National” and other news broadcasts across the country July 21.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of astronomy & physics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about a newly discovered star, 136 A 1, on CTV News July 21.
  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about Conrad Black’s court appeals, on CP24-TV July 21.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, took part in a panel discussion about the reinvention of China’s economy, on TVO’s “The Agenda” July 21.
  • Norman Gledhill, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, spoke about efforts to establish fitness standards for Canadian firefighters, on CBC Radio in Kelowna, BC, July 21.