Men’s basketball bounces into the holidays

Playing their last two games before the December break, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team went out on a winning note with a 92-79 victory over the Windsor Lancers. Toronto will head into the break with a record of 6-2, placing third in the OUA East, just behind the Ottawa Gee-Gees (7-1) and the Carleton Ravens (8-0). The Blues began the weekend with a disappointing 86-77 loss to the Western Mustangs. Toronto had a 47-35 lead after the first two quarters, but a disastrous second-half collapse led to the team’s second loss of the season.

The Blues offence was beset by poor shooting and fouls throughout Friday’s contest, as Toronto shot a miserable 43.2 per cent from the field. In comparison, the Mustangs made the most of their scoring opportunities, shooting an efficient 54.4 from the field, sent to the free-throw line 30 times compared to the home side’s ten. While Bluesman Rob Paris had 25 points and made five three-pointers on six attempts, it wasn’t nearly enough in this game.

Toronto fared much better against the Windsor Lancers, who came into the game with a 5-2 record. It was a harder battle than the 92-79 final score indicated, especially against the sixth-ranked team in the country. Windsor got off to a good start, jumping to an early four-point lead in the first quarter. The Blues finally netted their first basket at the 7:40 mark of the first quarter as Paul Seragutis drained a couple of free throws. Later in the first quarter, a Paris threepointer would give U of T its first lead. The game stayed tight throughout the first quarter, with neither team taking control early on. The Blues were hampered by back-to-back fouls, trying to get rebounds in the offensive end, which kept them from fi nishing the fi rst quarter with the lead.

When the second quarter rolled around, Lancers forward Greg Surmacz began to hurt the Blues’ chances with his strong play in the paint. The big forward, dominant at times against the Blues interior defence, would contribute 26 points and six rebounds to the Windsor cause. Ryan Steer was also a handful, as he had a game high 27 points and eight rebounds.

Sensing a shift in momentum, Blues head coach Mike Katz threw in big man Andrew Wasik to give the team a spark. The strategy led to positive results, as Wasik scored a basket right before the shot clock expired, and followed up with a couple of offensive rebounds to give Toronto a 27-21 lead. The Lancers battled back with a fl urry of baskets to close out the half, with forward Greg Allin hitting a diffi cult shot despite Blues defenders all over him—Toronto would enter the half trailing by a single point.

In the third quarter, the Blues discovered their shooting touch, which had been inconsistent through the fi rst two frames. Starting forward Ahmed Nazmi, who registered 22 points in the game, showed both range and consistency with his shots, an effi cient 75 per cent from behind the three-point line. Nazmi would go on to capture player of the game honours.

Buoyed by an enthusiastic home crowd at the Athletic Centre, Toronto would fi nally take control of the game in the second half. Fifth-year point guard Michael Degiorgio fi nished the game with 13 points, 12 assists, and was one rebound shy of the rare triple double. Forward Nick Snow and thirdyear guard Nick Magalas also contributed to the victory with 14 and 13 points respectively. Overall, Windsor held a slight edge in rebounds, 32-28. Toronto’s superior perimeter shooting, however, put the game out of Windsor’s reach. In the fi nal two quarters the Blues shot 67 per cent (10-15) from three-point range to the Lancers 25 per cent (3-12).

Head coach Mike Katz was ecstatic at the way his team played, and was quick to point out that beating the defending OUA champions was a reason to celebrate.

But is it art?

You’ve probably already heard of Thorarinn Jonsson. The 24-year-old Icelandic OCAD student attracted international media attention last Wednesday when he planted a fake bomb outside the ROM. Police called in a bomb squad to secure the area and defuse the bomb, only to discover that it was a “sculpture.” The scare disrupted traffic for hours, and forced the cancellation of a major charity gala for CANFAR, an AIDS research foundation.

The object, made to resemble a pipe bomb, was part of a project for one of Jonsson’s art classes, though OCAD claims it had no prior knowledge of the stunt. A note attached to the suspicious package read “This is not a bomb.”

After leaving it at the entrance to the ROM, Jonsson called the museum and dialed a random extension. He informed the woman who answered that there was no bomb outside. He uploaded an accompanying video on YouTube, entitled “The Fake Bombing at the ROM.” These actions, he hoped, would keep him safe from legal action.

Today, the incident is at the centre of a debate about what is and isn’t art, and what the ethical limits of art should be. Though many see Jonsson’s project as a publicity stunt or a terrorist threat, others view it as the artist had intended it: a piece of art.

Ariel Shepherd, a close friend of Jonsson’s, called the bomb an example of “the dichotomy between art imitating life and life imitating art.” She went on to say that regardless of whether people agree that Jonsson’s piece was “good art,” they still admit that his project attracted a lot of attention and raised interesting discussions. If people found his art worth talking about, said Shepherd, Jonsson must have done something right.

Jonsson’s roommate, Peter Mohideen, said he does not automatically assume Jonsson innocent of any wrongdoing, and commended the justice system for their handling of the situation. “Saying that something is art does not mean that it is not also a crime,” Mohideen added.

He went on to say the “morbid outrage” in the public reaction to the incident was highly objectionable. “Everyone says it was irresponsible to do it in our post-9/11 world,” he said. “It’s because of this post-9/11 world that we have come to accept, for instance, casual taser use, and we only even bother to look up when an innocent man dies.”

A post on Facebook expressed similar sentiments: “As much as I disagree with his motives and actions[…]I can’t help but to feel reminded of the climate of fear we have come to live in.”

Following the initial media coverage of the event, Thorarinn Jonsson turned himself in to police on Thursday night. He was charged, at a Friday morning bail hearing, with mischief and public nuisance, and could serve up to years behind bars. Jonsson’s $33,000 bail was posted by prominent members of Toronto’ Icelandic community. Under the conditions of his bail, Jonsson must surrender his passport, may not possess any explosives, and must stay away from the ROM. About 20 of his friends attended the bail hearing to show support. One attendee commented that Jonsson looked visibly relieved at the sight of his allies. Jonsson’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13.

News outlets and blogs around the world have taken up the incident, analyzing Jonsson’s actions from countless directions. U.S. conservative pundit Michelle Malkin nominated him for “Jerk of the Year” on her website. In the Facebook group “Thorarinn Jonsson Owes CANFAR A Proper Apology,” members offered a variety of perspectives on Jonsson’s project. Some decried him as a terrorist who should be immediately deported, while one characterized him as naive, lost in a “little art world.” Still others blamed OCAD, demanding the school reimburse CANFAR for the cancellation of Wednesday night’s benefit. Aside from a press release last week condemning Jonsson’s actions and announcing an internal investigation, OCAD administration has given no comment.

Jonsson’s friends have contended that the media’s focus on the money CANFAR lost is being used to vilify him. In a CityTV interview last week, Jonsson said he was unaware of the fundraiser, and that he regretted disrupting it. One of Jonsson’s friends claimed that the wealthy patrons who had paid for the gala were unlikely to demand a refund, and that public sympathy for the foundation could earn them even more donations.

‘In God we trust. All others bring data.’

Richard Smith has spent 25 years working for the British Medical Journal and is now the chief executive of the United Health Group’s operations in Europe. At a benefit event on November 21 for the newly launched Open Medicine Journal, an open access peer-reviewed medical journal, Smith sat down with John Hoey, former editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, to offer an insider’s view on medical journals.

A qualified medical practitioner in Edinburgh, Smith became editor of the BMJ publishing group in 1991. He decided to investigate the topic of medical error after reading several compelling studies on American healthcare and identifying many similarities with the United Kingdom’s publicly-funded National Health Service. Smith then wrote an editorial, voicing concerns about patients mishandled by the British medical system and calling for action. The swift reply from the president of the Royal College of Physicians in London brusquely rejected the notion: “How dare you suggest people in the NHS are being damaged by medical care?” According to Smith, this issue illustrates one of the most fundamental roles of medical journals—to point out to uncomfortable truths the public would prefer to ignore.

In 1997, BMJ was the first major journal to put its entire catalogue on the Internet. The incentive of attaining a much wider audience outweighed the concern of less revenue from lost subscriptions. This move led to a reader shift.

“It would take three to four weeks for the journal to be received in Australia. Now we would have it all embargoed until midnight London time, which of course was morning in Sydney. They were now the first to engage with the journal. So now we suddenly had a huge number of electronic letters coming in from all around the globe,” said Smith.

The journal had roughly 115,000 copies circling the globe, with 100,000 going to the British Medical Association.

“Absolutely none of their money that they paid in subscriptions came to us. Instead all that money went on big dinners, lobbying, robes, and all that stuff,” said Smith.

The traditional model of publishing had scientists submitting their research for free while journals charged fees for access to the information. This newer model is markedly different: the institution pays for the peer-review process—which can be compromised by personal vendettas and is mostly useless, according to Smith—and the costs of putting it all up on the web. Since research is being funded, Smith said, to add on a comparatively small amount of money for all-access use is only logical. Potentially, this could become a self-sustaining business model in the future.

“You’ve written it, commissioned it, shaped it. There is an argument to be made that it is not unreasonable to charge for that because the better you do it, the more income you’ll get and you can reinvest it,” said Smith.

Since 90 per cent of the articles submitted to journals are ultimately rejected, it seems reasonable to charge a submission fee. This would lessen the economic burden on the research that is published and would be an incentive to submit high quality articles.

So what is the single most important factor for comparing the productivity of different journals and research groups? In the world of publishing, it is the impact factor, the number of times a journal is cited for each article published based on a three-year period.

“People crave the impact factor. We had an example in London of someone who had a 3-star rating in his restaurant and lost one and jumped out of the window. I think that is what is going to happen with impact factors, some editor is going to kill himself or herself if it goes down by 0.02 or something,” said Smith.

But it’s difficult to differentiate a high-quality journal from one whose impact factor is bolstered by a large number of papers. This also discriminates against subjects with a slower publication pattern, such as archaeology, as opposed to quick-moving fields like molecular biology.

With the ongoing technological revolution, perhaps journals as we know them will soon cease to exist.

“I met a young doctor in London last week, and he is in the last stages of producing a sort of Facebook for doctors. To try and think what is going to be the role of the CMAJ or Open Medicine in the age of Facebook is quite challenging. And just maybe this whole community thing will happen through this technology rather than sending out what some perceive to be the holy words of medicine in these journals,” said Smith.

But for the present: can we trust medical journals? The answer seems to be a definite “no.” The take home message from Dr. Smith was clear:

“More transparency will create more trust. But transparency won’t substitute for trust. There will always come a point when you will have to trust. I think you have to be very canny- not take everything at face value. Science is about provisional truths. It’s quite likely that we know that there is evidence pointing in one direction, but quite soon it will be pointing in another. In God we trust. All others bring data.”

Ontario teaches grads a hard lesson

Can’t decide what do with your degree? Thinking of teacher’s college? Maybe you should think again. Once a fall-back career choice of undecided undergrads (and, yes, a noble profession), teaching has become a frustrated job market. Only 41 per cent of recent graduates land a teaching position and only a small portion of those get hired full-time, according to “Transition to Teaching,” a study by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Less than a decade ago there was a healthy demand for qualified teachers in Ontario, when an aging population and a record high of retirements made ample positions for new grads to fill. Postsecondary institutions responded, upping enrolment in teachers college classrooms all over the province.

Today, it’s rare for a recent grad to landing a stable, full-time job. Instead, newly-minted teachers bide their time in occasional teaching positions, waiting many months and sometimes years for a permanent job. Location and grade level matter when considering the availability of these teaching positions, with the lowest demand being elementary school teaching, and the GTA being one of the better areas in Ontario to seek a teaching job.

Aspiring teachers in the GTA have a 45 per cent success rate in hunts for regular positions, compared with just 21 per cent outside of the region. But there’s a sobering statistic to go with it: the Toronto District School Board had 10,000 applicants for fewer than 1,000 jobs last year. Those who fare the worst are graduates of border colleges that offer teaching certificates fitted for Ontario’s standards. Only about 10 per cent of these will start in a regular teaching job within a year of graduating.

There is good news, however, if you parlez francais or enjoy binomials. Positions at French-speaking schools are still in high demand, as are teaching positions for math, science, and technology, subjects that are harder to staff due to the more lucrative career choices open to those best qualified.

So, what do you do if teaching is your passion? First, make sure it is your passion. With job prospects so poor, expect plenty of competition from your fellow would-be teachers, and plan on working hard to land that plum full-time classroom gig.

From bench top to clinic

Charities often try to solicit your philanthropic dollars by promising, in return for your contribution, a cure for cancer. Or heart disease. Or spinal cord injury. But are the research institutions that receive these dollars set up in the best way to find these cures? Some scientists may be too focused on doing science for its own sake and forget why they are working in the first place. In the words of Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate and president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, researchers need to be reminded of the goal: “to improve the health of our citizens and citizens elsewhere.”

Varmus spoke on Nov. 26 at the Sick Kids Research Institute annual retreat, a gathering of scientists, trainees, technicians, and postdoctoral fellows currently conducting research at Sick Kids Hospital. In his keynote speech, Varmus identified 10 key factors that allow research institutions to return to their primary goals. These factors included increasing funding and lab space, motivating the faculty, and extending recruitment and training programs. His own institution has undergone substantial changes since his leadership began in 2000, with department rearrangements, expanded core lab facilities, and the creation of a new graduate student program.

“[We should] ensure that the research that we’re doing in the laboratory is well-coordinated with what is happening in our hospital,” said Varmus.

The new PhD program at MSK highlights the connection between basic research and clinical treatment by pairing each student with a clinical mentor. Students connect with clinics at the hospital, learning to approach cancer as a disease—not just a research interest.

Varmus pointed out many treatments that have evolved because of advances in basic research. By pinpointing the cancerous mutations of the tyrosine kinase enzyme found in chronic myeloid leukemia, researchers were able to develop treatments that work by specifically inhibiting those cancer cells.

Many medications are suited only to patients with a specific mutation. In order to identify which recipients will respond best, basic research has come to the rescue again. Genetic tests now help doctors choose medications based on the mutations that need to be targeted, increasing the chance that a patient will respond favourably to a chosen treatment.

Varmus also touched on another of his champion causes: open access to scientific publications.

“We need access to everything that’s known and been published,” Varmus said.

He explained that since most research is publicly funded—either philanthropically or through government—the people who fund the research should be able to access the results. This includes teachers, journalists, patients, and, of course, scientists.

“There are over 6,000 journals in biology and medicine, and no one, not even the biggest institutions, can afford them all,” said Varmus.

Although clearly motivated by this topic, he was unfortunately unable to elaborate further on how to accomplish this greater dissemination of scientific discovery, pointing out that an in-depth discussion on the topic could fill its own session at a conference.

We can expect that scientists are conducting research with noble intentions. It is, however, important that all aspects of research, including the structure and attitudes of the institutions, promote the translation of basic science into practical treatments for patients around the world. It is in this critical step—the application of pure knowledge—that life-saving treatments are made.

Ferocious Finkelstein stirs OISE crowd

Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and author specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sparked controversy on Friday, Nov. 29, with a lecture at OISE commemorating the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Finkelstein was invited to speak to the crowd of 450 on behalf of the Canadian Palestinian Educational Exchange, an NGO that runs summer volunteer programs in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon.

Prior to the night’s lecture, U of T alum Faisal Bhabha described Finkelstein as “an intellectual with moral courage.” Addressing the charges of academic dishonesty levelled against Finkelstein by other academics, most notably the vocal Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, Bhabha said: “You just have to read his books to see that the accusations against him are unfounded and unfair.”

The majority of those at the event supported Finkelstein’s views, but a small faction of ardent detractors made their presence known.

Orna Hollander, executive director of the pro-Israel organization Betar Canada, pointed to what she called a “growing current of radicalism” among some anti-Israel advocates.

“This is the third time in two weeks that I had heard an audience member assert that she would ‘strap a suicide belt’ to her body if she were Palestinian,” Orna said.

She and members of the campus group Zionists @ U of T handed out flyers to attendees outside the OISE auditorium where Finkelstein spoke.

Later, an audience member interrupted the lecture to condemn Finkelstein, who asked the audience, “Who thinks this person has exceeded his right to free speech?” The heckler was expelled from the auditorium.

But the shock of the night came when Finkelstein referred to Michael Ignatieff, the former candidate for Liberal Party leadership, as a Zionistsympathizing politician, and “another pig.”

He moved on to argue that four issues block the path to peace between Israel and Palestine: “Borders, settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees.” Borders, he said, should be redrawn to pre-1967 lines, all settlements in the West Bank dismantled, and territory in Jerusalem given back to the Palestinians. Palestinian refugees, he added, should be granted the right to return to their former territory.

Finkelstein insisted that if Israel acquiesced on the four points, there could be a just and lasting peace in the area. “People say this is a difficult and complex problem, when in fact there is no difficulty whatsoever,” he said.

He also discussed the historical relationship of American Jews to Israel. According to Finkelstein, Jews in America were politically and personally distant from Israel until America intervened in the Six Day War. “After the Six Day War, Israel became the religion of American Jews,” he said. He also claimed that, of all the wars Israel has fought, only the 1948 war of independence was a necessary conflict.

At the beginning of the question period following his talk, Finkelstein asked his detractors to air their grievances first. Some members of the audience called this an act of chivalry, while others said it was immature.

Yasmine Ishak, a McGill student, said that she enjoyed the lecture, “If you don’t have a position on either side of the debate it’s good to hear professor Finkelstein speak. It’s interesting to know that not all Jews think the same thing.”

Finding ways to get that elusive A

It’s tough to get good grades when so many bright students are in competition. While high school might have been a breeze, the development of bad studying habits has affected many GPAs. Upper-years probably know this by experience, but for all the first-years out there, remember that all night cram-a-thons are not the way to succeed.

Keeping this in mind, I asked two U of T psychology professors, Dr. Taverna and Dr. Goldstein, the best study strategies.

First, a little background. The way we learn stems from changes in behaviour in our experiences or environment. Such habits (what you do and how you respond) are determined by nature (genes) and nurture (current stimulation and past experiences, also called learning).

Some people may be able to change their ways more easily than others, but that does not mean others can’t reach for the top.

Many of our good and bad habits, such as procrastination, are learned. In order to overcome this, Taverna says we should understand how to modify our behaviour for the better.

“Experts are not born experts. It takes about four hours of practice every day for ten years for someone to become an expert,” said Goldstein.

Mozart may have had good genes, but it was also the work of his father, a musician, who provided a stimulating environment. Mozart went through intense training from an early age.

There are two major principles of learning: classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning accounts for many reflexive behaviours. A famous example is Pavlov’s dogs. Conditioning his animals by ringing a bell everytime he fed them, eventually, the dogs salivated when there was no food. The sound of the bell, a neutral stimulus, elicited a salivation response.

Humans do not only respond to enforced stimuli. Our actions have purposes that are based on past experiences. They are based on goal-directed learning and operant conditioning: we learn between behaviours and consequences and apply it to our environment.

There are two main types of consequences. Punishment leads to a lower frequency of negative behaviour in the future, while reinforcement leads to an increased frequency. They can be divided into positive reinforcement (adding a stimulus) and negative (removing a stimulus), regardless of their desirability. Also, behaviour is affected by something called discriminative stimuli, which indicate whether reinforcment or punishment will occur.

“The main reasons why it is so hard to study are delayed reinforcement and the fact that often, you are studying topics that are required,” said Taverna. Studying is often perceived as joyless, necessary work decreasing its efficiency. We are less focused when the rewards we receive for our actions are not immediate.

“You should change your way of thinking. In Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Tom was obliged to paint a fence and he made his friends do it, and even got paid. He set up a table outside fence, saying ‘I will allow you to paint if you pay me a dollar.’ Tom convinced his friends that painting the fence is something fun, and they were glad to do it,” said Taverna.

Still, we shouldn’t pay others to crack the books. Instead, try to turn studying into something fun and rewarding in itself—take satisfaction in acquiring knowledge.

“Immediate reinforcement is much stronger because contingency is established and correct behaviour is reinforced,” said Taverna. “Perceived value of a reinforcer decreases exponentially when the reinforcer is delayed. At a certain point, the value of short-term reward is higher.”

The main reward for studying is obviously good grades. However, our marks appear a few weeks after school starts, whereas we need to start studying ahead of time. Without the stimulus of grades at the beginning of the year, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation of a night out with friends. But, there are a few solutions to help you build study habits against the problem of delayed reinforcement.

First, devise a system with short-term rewards for studying.

“Quizzes are fairly immediate,” said Taverna. “They test on recently learned materials and provide grades quickly.” If you get a good grade, it acts as a reinforcer. You’ll feel good about it and you’d be more likely to keep on studying. If you do badly, it acts as a punishment, perhaps encouraging you to work harder.

“Raise the perceived value of long term reward, have a goal in mind. Visualizing what it will be like can help. When I was student, I had a picture of a Porsche on the wall and associated it with good grades. Motivational signs, pictures of luxuries, and pretend MD degrees can help you bridge the gap between reinforcement,” said Taverna.

One last strategy is to provide a nurturing environment to reduce distracting stimulus. The famous behaviourist B. F. Skinner had few ways to do it.

“One of B. F. Skinner’s methods is physical restraint,” said Taverna. “Throw out the TV. Set rules for yourself: have the TV in a certain room, and study in a different room without distractions.”

Dr. Taverna is a lecturer in the psychology department and a specialist in the areas of perception, cognition, and cognitive neuroscience. He researches in John Roder’s Lab at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Dr. Goldstein is also a lecturer in the psychology department and teaches several courses including developmental psychology. He is a research associate at the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. He won U of T’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 2006.

Ryerson prez says school is big enough

Universities across the GTA are preparing themselves for an expected enrolment increase over the next 10 years—all except Ryerson, that is.

Last week, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy told Ryerson’s student newspaper, the Eyeopener, that despite the anticipated boom the university will not make room for more undergraduates.

“We haven’t got the operating budget to do it. We haven’t got the faculty hired to do it,” Levy said.

A report released earlier this summer by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada predicts national university enrolment will grow by 70,000 to 150,000 full-time students over the next decade. The AUCC report mainly attributes the increase to a growing proportion of youth wanting to pursue post-secondary education.

According to Levy, Ryerson would need to add between 6,000 and 11,000 spaces to help accommodate the surplus.

The former polytechnic institute is already coping with a flood of applications. In 2006 it saw a 20 per cent spike in first year applicants, despite creating no additional spots.

“The good news is we’re high in demand. The bad news is we’re going to have to say no to a lot of people that deserve the opportunity,” Levy said.

However, a Statistics Canada study released in November shows that Ryerson’s stance may not be that problematic.

The study examined Canada’s changing demographics while maintaining the same rate of post-secondary participation and found that enrolment would only grow until 2013 before reversing. By 2026 enrolment rates would be nine per cent below those of 2013, due to Canada���s shirking youth population.

To help institutions and policy makers counteract this decline the study offered some hypothetical solutions.

According to StatsCan, one possible way to hike enrolment rates isto attract more students to post-secondary institutions, which would result in participation numbers closer to those of the AUCC report.

Whichever report proves to be true, Toronto- area universities will make sure that there is enough room, even if this means building a fourth university in the GTA.

Although Levy said that Ryerson will not expand at the cost of quality, the university does support the notion of a new institution