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Research Prominence

Designing Canada’s neurotech future

Join Queen’s researchers and representatives from industry, government, and NGOs as they collaborate to solve the technological, ethical, legal, and policy issues of the latest tech focused on our brains, neurotechnology.

[Photo of a MRI of a brain by Donald Brien]
Art of Research 2020 Winner: "The Wiring of the Brain" by Donald Brien (Centre for Neuroscience Studies)

As new technologies develop, designing them for human benefit can be a complex challenge. Neurotechnology, considered any tool used to measure, intervene on, or artificially stimulate brain function, is an emerging technology with extensive potential societal impact. It has already demonstrated advanced applications to help those with neurological disorders, while also attracting the eyes of Silicon Valley and those with interests in its surveillance and personal augmentation potential. However, getting the human benefit right requires collaboration between different disciplines, beyond computing and AI, to fully grasp the social, ethical, and legal impact this technology can have on our lives.

Researchers across faculties at Queen’s are bringing this conversation to the forefront with A Neurotech Future: Ethical, Legal and Policy Issues, an open online workshop on Thursday, April 22. It is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to explore the Future Challenge area “Humanity+,” “balancing risks and benefits in the emerging surveillance society.” Queen's experts from the Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Surveillance Studies Centre, and Faculties of Law and Engineering and Applied Science with representatives from government, industry, and NGOs and co-sponsorship from the Ontario Brain Institute and the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, will mobilize their thought leadership with tech innovators and policymakers building and defining this new industry in Canada. Collaborations and learnings from the workshop will lead to a policy report on neurotech and surveillance and outcomes will be presented to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics.

Susan Boehnke (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Centre for Neuroscience Studies) is the Lead Organizer of the event. Working with David Lyon (Surveillance Studies Centre) and Martha Bailey (Law), she explains why this was the right time for Queen’s researchers to facilitate this discussion.

“As neurotechnology becomes increasingly applied to novel use scenarios, it is imperative that we develop laws and policies to protect privacy, to guard against misuse of technologies for surveillance, and ensure that the benefits of a neurotech future are distributed in an equitable and democratic way,” says Dr. Boehnke. “Queen’s University is uniquely positioned to engage in cross-disciplinary research and to develop the innovative training programs that will support the growth of this industry and position Canada as a leader. Researchers at Queen’s are already exploring the scientific, technical, legal, ethical, and policy issues related to the use of neurotechnologies. Our hope is that this conference will act as a catalyst to facilitate more cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

In working through the now and future societal implications of neurotechnology, students have an important role in this workshop and its outcomes. Graduate students from the Centre for Neuroscience Studies and the Surveillance Studies Centre will collaborate with students from Merlin Neurotech (a chapter of NeuroTechX) and the Neuroscience and Policy Society in a working group to support interdisciplinary collaboration. Their contributions will help inform a new curriculum for a graduate-level course in Neuroethics open to students across the university. Insights from the workshop may also inform the development of a unique certificate or post-graduate diploma in neurotech, guided by neuroethics, and geared to business, computer science, and engineering students without a neuroscience background eager to enter the industry.

Highlights from the public workshop will include a morning keynote on the Canadian Brain Research Strategy from Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia and Director of Neuroethics Canada. An afternoon keynote will be delivered by John Weigelt, National Technology Officer at Microsoft, on lessons from responsible AI informing successful collaborations in policy and regulation. Panels will focus on current and future innovations in neurotech, surveillance and data privacy, and implications for the legal system, as well as perspectives from industry and government.

The Thursday, April 22 event is free and open to the public with registration and full schedule available on Eventbrite. Those interested in the working group sessions on Friday, April 23 are encouraged to contact the organizers.

Google’s AI advertising revolution: More privacy, but problems remain

Google labeled technology
Google’s new advertising claims to preserve user privacy, but it still gathers and processes the details of our online activities. (Shutterstock)

In March 2021, Google announced that it was ending support for third-party cookies, and moving to “a more privacy first web.” Even though the move was expected within the industry and by academics, there is still confusion about the new model, and cynicism about whether it truly constitutes the kind of revolution in online privacy that Google claims.

To assess this, we need to understand this new model and what is changing. The current advertising technology (adtech) approach is one in which platform corporations give us a “free” service in exchange for our data. The data is collected via third-party cookies downloaded to our devices, that allow a browser to record our internet activity. This is used to create profiles and predict our susceptibility to specific ad campaigns.

Recent advances have allowed digital advertisers to use deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI) wherein humans do not set the parameters. Although more powerful, this is still consistent with the old model, relying on collecting and storing our data to train models and make predictions. Google’s plans go further still.

Patents and plans

All corporations have their secret sauce, and Google is more secretive than most. However, patents can reveal some of what they’re up to. After an exploration of Google patents, we found U.S. patent US10885549B1, “Targeted advertising using temporal analysis of user-specific data”: a patent for a system that predicts the effectiveness of ads based on a user’s “temporal data,” snapshots of what a user is doing at a specific point instead of indiscriminate mass data collection over a longer time period.

We can also make inferences by examining work from other organizations. Research funded by adtech company Bidtellect demonstrated that long-term historical user data is not necessary to generate accurate predictions. They used deep learning to model users’ interests from temporal data.

Alongside contextual advertising — which displays ads based on the content of the website on which they appear — this could lead to more privacy-conscious advertising. And without storing personally identifiable information, this approach would be compliant with progressive laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Google has also released some information through the Google Privacy Sandbox (GPS), a set of public proposals to restructure adtech. At its core are Federated Learning Cohorts (FLoCs), a decentralized AI system deployed by the latest browsers. As the Google AI blog explains, federated learning differs from traditional machine learning techniques that collect and process data centrally. Instead, a deep learning model is downloaded temporarily onto a device, where it trains on our data, before returning to the server as an updated model to be combined with others.

With FLoCs, the deep learning model will be downloaded to Google Chrome browsers, and analyze local browser data. It then sorts the user into a “cohort,” a group of a few thousand users sharing a set of traits identified by the model. It makes an encrypted copy of itself, deletes the original and sends the encrypted copy back to Google, leaving behind only a cohort number. Since each cohort contains thousands of users, Google maintains that the individual becomes virtually unidentifiable.

Person holding phone while working on laptop
Highly detailed local browser data is collected and then aggregated with the data from thousands of other people. (Shutterstock)

Cohorts and concerns

In this new model, advertisers don’t select individual characteristics to target, but instead advertise to a given cohort, as Google’s Github page explains. Although FLoCs may sound less effective than collecting our individual data, Google claims they realize “95 per cent of the conversions per dollar spent when compared with cookie-based advertising.”

The bidding process for ads will also take place on the browser, using another system codenamed “Turtledove.” Soon, Google adtech will all work this way, contained on a web browser, making constant ad predictions based on our most recent actions, without collecting or storing personally identifiable information.

We see three key concerns. First, this is only part of a much larger AI picture Google is building across the internet. Through Google Analytics, for example, Google continues to use data gained from individual website-based first-person cookies to train machine learning models and potentially build individual profiles.

Secondly, does it matter how an organization comes to “know” us? Or is it the fact that it knows? Google is giving us back legally acceptable individual data privacy, however it is intensifying its ability to know us and commodify our online activity. Is privacy the right to control our individual data, or for the essence of ourselves to remain unknown without consent?

The final issue concerns AI. The limitations, biases and injustice around AI are now a matter of widespread debate. We need to understand how deep learning tools in FLoCs group us into cohorts, attribute qualities to cohorts and what those qualities represent. Otherwise, like every previous marketing system, FLoCs could further entrench socio-economic inequalities and divisions.The Conversation

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David Murakami Wood, Associate Professor in Sociology, Queen's University and David Eliot, Masters student, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Is it adult ADHD? COVID-19 has people feeling restless, lacking focus and seeking diagnosis

After a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, lack of focus, irritability and restlessness don't necessarily point to an ADHD diagnosis. Consider some of these common causes of these symptoms, and ways to cope.

Bald guy holds his head
Symptoms related to ADHD have increased during the pandemic, but they don’t necessary point to ADHD. Cabin fever has many similar symptoms, and social isolation also has negative effects on brain functioning. (Shutterstock)

Over the past year, many people have found it difficult to focus, pay attention and get tasks done. They notice, too, that they are more irritable and restless.

Certainly, our psychology clinic has received a large increase in referrals to evaluate previously asymptomatic people who are now wondering if they might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Before self-diagnosing or consulting your doctor, consider these other common causes of ADHD symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD are non-specific

Just as fever is a medical symptom, problems with attention, focus and concentration — alone or in combination with irritability and restlessness — are symptoms common to a wide variety of disorders. Self-reporting of ADHD symptoms on questionnaires has up to 78 per cent false positive rate for ADHD diagnosis. Symptoms alone are not enough to diagnose this disorder.

Even recall of childhood behaviours is not an accurate way to make this diagnosis. Comprehensive long-term followup studies show that many adults whose records show they did not meet criteria for ADHD in childhood nevertheless inaccurately recall childhood behaviours similar to ADHD when questioned as adults.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 9.4 per cent of school-aged children and about 4.4 per cent of adults in North America.

Diagnostic criteria include more than just having symptoms. To be diagnosed with ADHD as a teen or young adult requires all of the following:

  • a number of these symptoms must have been present and impairing in two or more major life areas (such as home and school) prior to age 12;

  • the symptoms must have been chronic; and

  • the symptoms cannot be due to other conditions that can mimic ADHD, such as depression, anxiety, stress, sleep problems, drugs/alcohol abuse, perfectionism, thyroid problems, trauma or personality disorder.

The first five of those “ADHD mimics” are conditions that have increased due to the pandemic and lockdown rules. Past traumas or certain personality traits have also made coping with lockdown much more stressful.

Silhouette of head with coloured scribbles for brain
Other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, stress, sleep problems and substance use, can mimic the effects of ADHD. (Pixabay)

How common are ADHD symptoms in adults?

Even before the pandemic, symptoms of ADHD in the general population were very common. Studies of post-secondary students with and without ADHD show that a high number of non-disabled students experience these non-specific symptoms on a daily basis.

Life during the pandemic has been very stressful for many people. Research from our lab shows that the more anxious, depressed or stressed you are, the more symptoms of ADHD you’ll experience, even if you have never previously been suspected of having ADHD. We know that cabin fever has many symptoms similar to ADHD, and social isolation also has many negative effects on brain functioning.

Couldn’t it be undiagnosed ADHD?

While it is possible that a diagnosis of ADHD was missed or overlooked in childhood, research shows this is rare. For the past 12 years our centre has run an ADHD screening clinic, evaluating young adults who think they may have ADHD.

Overall, we’ve only diagnosed about five per cent of these people with ADHD. This finding is consistent with other studies showing that most of the time, later-onset symptoms of ADHD are due to something else.

Okay, so what do I do about these symptoms?

Regardless of the cause, there are a number of things you can do to reduce or eliminate ADHD symptoms.

1. Get into a groove. People function best when they have a consistent routine; COVID-19 and working from home have eliminated a lot of the structure we used to enjoy. Focusing when your children are home, the dog barks or your partner is on a loud meeting in the next room is extremely difficult.

Try to find a quiet location to do your work, put up a sign that alerts others when you need to focus, and prioritize doing your most difficult work in the time of day that is best for you. If that is late at night or first thing in the morning, then adjust your expectations for the rest of the day.

Poor sleep quality results in significant problems with attention, focus and memory. (Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)

2. Say goodnight to sleep problems. Poor sleep quality and sleep disturbance result in significant problems with attention, focus and memory. Additionally, waking up and going to bed at inconsistent times can cause significant problems, similar to being constantly jet lagged.

To improve sleep quality, practise what is called good sleep hygiene, such as keeping a regular sleep schedule, having a bedtime routine and maintaining a comfortable, quiet sleeping area. And, get your phone out of your bedroom because it’s disrupting your sleep!

3. Read all about it. Strategies that work for those with ADHD work for anyone having these symptoms. Many excellent books describe ways to improve focus and get more done. There are also great websites that describe proven ways to improve your attention.

4. Cut down on use of electronic devices. With COVID-19 lockdown and working from home, most people are spending more time online, but electronic devices are highly addictive and extremely distracting. In fact, a review of the research shows that overuse of electronic devices leads to brain overload, increases distraction and lowers overall performance. Studies have also shown a strong link between mental health symptoms and excessive use of electronic devices.

One of the biggest challenges we hear about from the post-secondary students we see at our centre is limiting the use of electronics. There are some great apps that limit the amount of time you’re online, and websites that offer strategies to help you take control of your smartphone use.

5. Worry list/worry time. Pandemic stress has many people worrying constantly, so much so that their mind is always distracted and they can never focus. Further, their brains have become accustomed to hijacking thinking any time a worry surfaces, so you need some cognitive behavioural techniques to manage the worrying and encapsulate it to happen only at certain times of day.

You want to retrain your brain to understand that worry is allowed only at certain times. A worry list works like a meeting agenda, making sure you address all the worries, but only at a defined “worry” time.

6. Exercise. Sitting in a chair all day staring at your computer screen is not doing wonders for either your cognitive or physical health. We know that exercise helps people cope better with stress and anxiety, but it also helps your brain work better.

Even going outside for a 20-30 minute walk each day helps your mood and improves attention and focus. At the very least, make sure you stand up and move around for at least five minutes every hour.

If all these things fail to make a difference, it might then be time to consult an expert. Remember, however, that medication won’t make you want to do your work or chores, and won’t help you become more organized or more attentive during endless Zoom meetings.The Conversation

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Allyson G. Harrison, Associate Professor of Psychology and Clinical Director, Regional Assessment & Resource Centre, Queen's University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

How Cuba is getting so much right on COVID-19

Cuba's access to internationally-produced vaccines was nearly impossible due to the U.S. blockade. Its decision to make its own vaccines stands to pay off handsomely.

A technician works with the Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine
A technician works with the Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine at the packaging processing plant of the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, Cuba, in January 2021. (Yamil Lage)

As the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately harms underprivileged people globally, Cuba’s “people over profit” approach has been saving many lives — both on the island and abroad. From the onset, Cuba’s approach has been holistic and integrated.

Its response is among the most respected in the world. Widespread confidence in the Cuban government’s science-based policies, public service media messaging and volunteerism are key reasons as to why Cuba has been able to control the viral reproduction rate until mass vaccination begins.

The cash-strapped Caribbean island risked opening to holiday visitors at the end of 2020 and is currently managing higher COVID-19 caseloads than ever before. Its health experts are combining international clinical trials of its vaccine candidates with mass production. Cuba is the only Latin American country with the capacity to manufacture a vaccine domestically other than Brazil, which is not doing so. Cuba aims to protect its populace, then give away or sell its vaccines abroad.

Before the virus’s arrival in Cuba, the country prepared for mitigation based on best practices from Asia and its own expertise with contagious disease.

Beyond Cuba’s borders, its medical diplomacy took over. Cuba’s Henry Reeve Medical Brigade has been fighting the pandemic in at least 37 countries and has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. When COVID-19 stranded the cruise ship MS Braemar, only Cuba allowed it to dock.

In contrast, many countries’ pandemic responses have been haphazard, with well-funded lobby groups representing restaurants and pharmaceutical companies, to name just two sectors, wielding excessive influence. Oscillating virus reproduction rates have required disruptive and costly mitigation measures and resulted in illness and death. The media, academics who include Helen Yaffe, Emily Morris and John Kirk and non-governmental organizations like Havana and Oakland-based Medicc have long documented Cuba’s emulation-worthy health system.

A group of people wearing masks wave the Cuban flag in downtown Havana (Ricardo IV Tamayo / Unsplash)

Hard work, hard science

Care in Cuba is universal, research and training is robust and disease and disaster mitigation is well-organized. The public health-care system is co-ordinated across research institutes and centres of disease control, through to dispersed local neighbourhood clinics. Cuba also has a near 100 per cent literacy rate, with much attention paid to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Cuba’s achievements are the result of hard work and hard science in a not-for-profit system. The populace’s confidence has been earned through science-based campaigns against the likes of HIV, Ebola, dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Nations that have responded well to the pandemic have communicated clearly and factually with their people. Cuba has a tradition of multi-pronged public-service messaging.

The country’s epidemiology director has become a trusted household expert through his daily news reports. Every day at 9 a.m., a seated and masked Dr. Francisco Durán speaks directly to the public, noting and lamenting every fatality, detailing disease spread and treatments, answering viewer questions and sternly advising continued adherence to preventative measures.

The well-known psychologist Manuel Calviño discusses topics such as self-discipline and positive thinking. Cheerier spots feature famous actors urging fortitude and depict groups of people following health protocols.

In cartoons, angry “red meanie” viruses are drowned by hand-washing and blocked by face masks, animation heroes celebrate International Workers’ Day from their balconies, youngsters stay home to protect their grandparents and families play inside together. The socially distanced 42nd International Festival of New Latin American Cinema featured animated doctor’s orders in its promotional video. Ubiquitously stated, sung and danced slogans include “Cuba for life, with a new (masked) smile.”

Mask-wearing is popular

I surveyed residents of Havana online and later in-person while in Cuba in December and January. Most reported wearing masks to “protect others and myself.”

While masking has been broadly politicized elsewhere, Cuba mandated masks in March 2020, immediately sharing instructions on how to make them at home.

While in many countries volunteers struggled to find ways to help, in Cuba, existing organizations such as neighbourhood watches and universities quickly moved into action.

Medical students have gone door-to-door checking for symptoms. Computer science students have developed helpful apps and supported medical staff in their dorms-turned-quarantine centres. Necessary work got done while public buy-in solidified the mitigation efforts. The initial growth curve was inverted early on.

Banking on individual responsibility among its well-educated citizens, Cuba shifted to a “new normal” at the year-end holiday season. Tourists headed to isolated beach resorts and expats to their relatives’ homes. The hotels follow health protocols meticulously — speedy PCR testing, masking, sanitation and social distancing.

But family visits led to outbreaks, as they have globally. Some visitors, many of them arriving from areas with high rates of infection and science denial such as Miami, breached the requisite protocols: one PCR test with a negative result upon arrival, a five-day home quarantine and another negative PCR test before mingling.

Pandemic has been costly

All indicators show Cuba has put its limited resources to efficient use for the public good. But especially coupled with former U.S. president Donald Trump’s tightening of the American blockade against Cuba, the pandemic and the resulting plunge in tourism are costly. Scarcity of affordable food and consumer goods, along with an increased cost of living accelerated by a long-overdue monetary unification, have increased stress levels.

Sensing an opportunity, foreign interest groups are supporting small, lively social media and in-person protests, most characterized by vociferous yet vague demands for artistic freedom.

Daily cases are also now hovering around 850 compared to 42 on Nov. 15, 2020 — just before Havana’s airport reopened. Although the curve is again flat — exponential growth has been halted for the second time — medical personnel and supplies are strained. Against this backdrop, however, there are Cuba’s advances on the vaccination front.

In this breakneck race, Cuba is simultaneously running Phase 3 international clinical trials of Soberana (Sovereignty) 2 and, planned for late March, Abdala, with robust production of these vaccine candidates. Work is also continuing on Soberana 1 and Mambisa.

Looking ahead to COVID-19 variants and reinfections, a booster Soberana Plus is now being developed.

If Cuba’s vaccination program is successful, the country will have once again provided for its people against enormous odds as it produces and distributes a vaccine domestically, then shares it with the world.

Many market-driven, rich nations of the Global North, including Canada, are not so well-positioned. Cuba’s access to internationally produced vaccines was highly improbable due to the U.S. blockade. Its ensuing decision to make its own vaccines stands to pay off handsomely.The Conversation

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Jennifer Ruth Hosek, Associate Professor, Transnational Studies, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Release of Queen’s Research Report 2020

[Research Report 2020 Front Cover - Essential Catalyst]

The Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio has released its annual report outlining its performance and the achievements of Queen’s researchers during 2020. The theme of the report speaks to the portfolio’s vision to be an essential catalyst supporting the advancement of research, knowledge mobilization, and local, national, and global impact of Queen’s research.  

Highlights in the report include recognition of the research community’s pivot to confront COVID-19, the portfolio’s efforts to advance equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII), the continued development of partnerships for research mobilization, and a celebration of national and international awards won by Queen’s researchers last year. 

Visit the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio website to read the report and learn more about the portfolio’s vision.

Research community town hall set for Thursday, April 1

Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse will host a Zoom town hall meeting on Thursday, April 1 at 10 am for members of the Queen’s research community.

This forum will allow researchers to ask questions, and importantly, stay connected to the wider research community. While there will be an opportunity to ask questions during the town hall, for efficiency researchers are encouraged to send questions and concerns in advance to research@queensu.ca with the subject line Town Hall Question.

Please register in advance using your Queen’s or KHSC email address. Registration closes on Thursday, April 1 at 9 am. Following your registration, you will receive a confirmation email containing a link to the town hall.

Please note that the event will be recorded to confirm that appropriate follow-up can be made with participants, if necessary.

COVID-19 has decimated water systems globally, but privatization is not the answer

Water privatization is often seen as a solution to municipal budget shortfalls and aging water systems.

A drawing of houses in a city with water pipes and sewers underground
Millions of households and businesses have not been able to pay their water bills due to lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

The financial impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for public water operators around the world. Millions of households and businesses have not been able to pay their water bills due to lost income, while operating expenses have risen sharply.

Data collected in June 2020 found that revenues had fallen by up to 40 per cent for some water operators. In the United States alone the financial impact on water utilities is expected to exceed $27 billion as a result of COVID-19.

This temporary financial crisis is made worse by long-term budget deficits, with at least $150 billion a year required to meet global backlogs for water and sanitation. As much as one might like to think that COVID-19 will be the contagion that finally wakes the world up to the need for adequate funding for these basic public services, there is no indication that the required public money will be forthcoming.

COVID-19 and privatization

Alarmingly, one possible consequence of COVID-19 may be an increase in privatization in the water sector. Our recent book, co-edited with Daniel Chavez, a fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, demonstrates how many governments are using the crisis to promote private sector participation in water and sanitation.

This pressure to privatize is particularly notable in places where there was already a push to do so, such as Brazil. In other cases, fiscal strains are pushing authorities to consider privatization, such as in Philadelphia. In Jakarta, COVID-19 has emboldened the state to retract its promise to reverse water privatization.

Some multilateral organizations are also using COVID-19 to promote water privatization. The World Bank has created a “blended financing” program that requires private sector participation before public water operators can receive financial support. UN-Habitat and UNICEF are promoting public-private-partnerships to “engage and empower” small private water vendors.

Ironically, these calls for privatization contradict the warnings of a large group of UN Special Rapporteurs who recently published an op-ed outlining how “COVID-19 has exposed the catastrophic impact of privatizing vital services” like water and sanitation, with private water companies putting profit ahead of basic needs and public health.

Nevertheless, private water companies are also on the offensive. As the CEO of one private equity water company noted in May 2020: “We believe water utilities are amongst the most resilient sectors to an epidemic.… Water consumption is rigid by nature and we think the sector will actually become even more attractive to investors.”

COVID-19 appears to be contributing to a rash of mergers and acquisitions in the sector, further concentrating the power of big multinational water firms. Some analysts are predicting a “complete restructuring of the water industry,” exemplified by one of the most dramatic potential takeovers of the past 50 years: a hostile takeover bid by French water multinational Veolia for rival company Suez.

Another concern is that COVID-19 will deepen the trend towards commercializing public water services, with budget cuts and neoliberal doctrine (such as small government, low corporate tax and deregulation) forcing public water agencies to act like private companies, charging market prices even when households cannot afford to pay. Many public water operators have relaxed these policies during COVID-19, but some have made it clear that market-based pricing will return once the health crisis is over.

In Colombia Empresas Públicas de Medellín introduced emergency measures to make water affordable for the poor during COVID-19, but these are temporary reprieves from market-oriented policies. In Uruguay, reforms introduced during the pandemic have intensified the trend towards the commercialization of their national water utility.

Reclaiming public water

Is this disaster capitalism at work with private business and their state backers pushing aggressively to normalize neoliberal relations and expand profitability in the wake of a crisis? There are certainly signs of it, but it is not a foregone conclusion. With progressive governments, unions, NGOs and community organizations continuing to fight against privatization while at the same time advocating for more progressive forms of public water services.

Our book provides a critical but optimistic overview of these “pro-public” forces, illustrating how public water operators have responded effectively to COVID-19 in the short-term while working towards improved democratic engagement and accountability in the long run.

Examples include free water services for marginalized communities, moratoria on cutoffs, emergency services for vulnerable groups, remote technical support for households, finding ways for low-income communities to participate in decision-making, public education campaigns to assure residents their water and sanitation systems are secure, and child care for front-line workers.

To make this happen, hundreds of thousands of public water employees around the world have worked long hours to keep their systems running, with little in the way of public recognition. Many also engaged in peer-to-peer learning and knowledge sharing, deepening their sense of public purpose and expanding their networks of solidarity.

Hopefully, these examples of positive performance by public water operators will curtail pressures for privatization. They may even contribute to an acceleration of demands for remunicipalization, as cholera outbreaks did during the initial waves of making water services public in the 19th century.

Despite the challenges they continue to face, many public water operators around the world have demonstrated not just the significance of public ownership in times of crisis but the value of public services that are transparent, democratic and oriented towards equity and sustainability. It is essential that we use this opportunity to reclaim and remake public water in the post-pandemic period.The Conversation

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David McDonald, Professor, Global Development, Queen's University and Susan Spronk, Associate Professor of International Development and Global Studies, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Indigenous community research partnerships can help address health inequities

Many researchers may lack resources to guide them in conducting research that is equitable, inclusive and respectful of diverse Indigenous knowledge, ethics, practice and research sovereignty.

By Janet Jull, Queen's University; Alexandra King; Angela Mashford-Pringle, University of Toronto; Cheyanne Desnomie, University of Regina; Darrel Manitowabi, Laurentian University; Jennifer Walker, Laurentian University; Lindsay Brant, Queen's University; Malcolm King, Simon Fraser University; Melody E. Morton Ninomiya, Wilfrid Laurier University; Moses Gordon, University of Regina, and Priscilla Ferrazzi, University of Alberta

Gathering on the land: Indigenous ways of knowing can ensure that communities reclaim and promote health and healing. (Melody Morton-Ninomiya), Author provided

Building equitable research partnerships is a strong starting point for self-determination of Indigenous communities. Research is critical to inform policies that advance reconciliation and support Indigenous sovereignty.

The Conversation LogoSociety relies on research to develop and contribute knowledge that can be translated into improved health and wellness. Research can also help identify, understand and address health inequities, that is, differences in health that are unnecessary, avoidable and unjust. When it is done appropriately, research contributes to more effective and sustainable health services and care products, resulting in a more equitable and strengthened health system.

We are an interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers. Our goal is to promote community-centred research approaches that privilege Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being through all aspects of the research lifecycle. To assist with this, we have developed an open-access online training resource called Indigenous Community Research Partnerships.

The training resource provides guidance to researchers and others embarking on partnered research with urban, rural or remote Indigenous communities.

Whether you have lots of experience in community-based research or are a newcomer to the field, we believe our training resource has a lot to offer on your journey of learning about community-centred research. Our aim is to assist the research community to develop equitable partnerships that prioritize Indigenous ways of knowing and ensure that Indigenous communities are the primary benefactors.

Failure of western-oriented research approaches

In our society, the bias of colonial, or western-oriented and western-constructed knowledge dominates the conduct of research. The evidence derived from this standpoint reflects the structural racism that privileges knowledge derived from western methodologies. This knowledge is then used to inform the development of the policies and processes that organize our health and social systems.

Consequently, western-oriented academic approaches fail to promote Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing in policies that affect these communities. For example, biomedical health-care models reflect values, knowledge systems, research and care practices that do not meet the needs of Indigenous people. Western-oriented academic research is often focused on disparities and deficit-based approaches identified by researchers. The approach, driven by the outside looking in, fails to consider and prioritize community needs. As well, many researchers are trained within a system that is dominated by (western-oriented) perspectives that do not allow for, or even recognize, alternate ways of thinking or worldviews.

Indigenous people demonstrate tremendous cultural resilience and capacity to innovate, and Indigenous ways of knowing can be a way forward to improve health and wellness.

Indigenous people are more likely than the general population to experience ongoing marginalization and poor health. Ineffective policies perpetuate these health and social inequities.

Principled partnerships

Research conducted with authentic partnerships and full community engagement with Indigenous people is urgently needed to address health inequities. Many researchers may not understand how to work with Indigenous communities and lack resources to guide them in conducting research that is equitable, inclusive and respectful of diverse Indigenous knowledge, ethics, practice and research sovereignty.

A principled approach to research engages different parties who may use or be recipients of research outcomes or be impacted by them. A principled approach promotes active reflection upon principles that all parties agree are important and prioritizes relationships in research partnerships. The purpose of a principled approach is to promote community relevance, participation, ownership and reciprocal capacity building, and to ensure that research will benefit Indigenous communities, centre on partnerships with Indigenous people and prioritize Indigenous ways of knowing.

A principled approach begins with following the key principle of Reconciliation of Ethical Spaces:

“Protecting Indigenous ethical space involves a series of stages of dialogue starting with conversations prior to the design of research through to the dissemination of results and perhaps even afterwards. Fundamental to this process is an ongoing respect for both parties’ ethical spaces and a continual questioning of ‘is this ethical?’”

Research that benefits Indigenous communities

Effective research requires a deeply engaged and relationally accountable approach to partnerships with Indigenous communities. In academic and learning institutions, researchers must learn to cultivate and invest in genuine relationships to generate useful and relevant evidence.

The Indigenous Community Research Partnerships training resource was developed to educate researchers and researchers-in-training in the development of respectful research partnerships with Indigenous communities that can lead to the conduct of research that advances societal change. The intent is to prepare researchers to work in ways that are important to Indigenous communities and individuals, who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of research.

The Indigenous Community Research Partnerships training resource complements other important initiatives to advance health equity and societal change. There are also important policy level initiatives in academic institutions.

Academic research can be conducted to better benefit Indigenous communities. Research partnerships are central to building the research evidence that meets Indigenous community-level needs. Researchers can support work that leads to societal change and opportunities for everyone to achieve optimal health and wellness.

A principled approach to research will contribute to what should be the ultimate goal, namely, health for all.

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We thank the following people for their support and contributions to the article: Melissa Ireland, director and interim senior advisor, Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier University; Penny Moody-Corbett, retired associate dean research, Northern Ontario School of Medicine; doctoral student Andrew Forbes at the University of Ottawa; professor Ian Graham at the University of Ottawa and lead of the Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network; Rebecca Sweetman and Julian Enright who are members of the Arts and Science Online Multimedia Team at Queen’s University.The Conversation

Janet Jull, Assistant Professor, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen's University; Alexandra King, Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health and Wellness, College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan; Angela Mashford-Pringle, Assistant Professor/Associate Director, Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, University of Toronto; Cheyanne Desnomie, Associate Director, Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre and Sessional Instructor, Department of Anthropology, University of Regina; Darrel Manitowabi, Associate professor, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Laurentian University; Jennifer Walker, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Health, Laurentian University; Lindsay Brant, Educational Developer, Indigenous Pedagogies and Ways of Knowing, Queen's University; Malcolm King, Professor, University of Saskatchewan Community Health and Epidemiology, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University; Melody E. Morton Ninomiya, Assistant Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University; Affiliate Scientist, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Wilfrid Laurier University; Moses Gordon, Acting director, Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre, University of Regina, and Priscilla Ferrazzi, Lawyer, Research Contracts Unit, Queen's University; Researcher (Adjunct Status), University of Alberta

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

 

How to build support for ambitious climate action in four steps

Governments must expand the number of people who see themselves as ‘winners’ in the transition to a low-carbon society.

 

Wildfire in Portugal threatens a town
A wildfire in Portugal nears a number of homes. (Photo by Michael Held / Unsplash.com) 

Canada and the United States are suddenly steeped in policy proposals to aggressively cut carbon emissions. In the face of a climate emergency and on the heels of numerous climate disasters, this is welcome news indeed.

In the U.S., the newly minted Biden administration has unleashed a series of executive orders to tackle the climate crisis. Canada recently pledged to transition its economy to net-zero by 2050 and released an updated national climate plan. Announcements are easy — now comes the hard work.

The recipe for making headway on this new climate agenda has two key ingredients. Defuse political opposition. Build political support. But it’s not so simple.

The Conversation CanadaUnfortunately, some still believe they can gain politically by opposing climate action with misinformation. Take Texas, for example. The recent climate-related winter storm left millions without power and killed dozens.

Right-wing politicians falsely blamed renewable energy and the Green New Deal. Here’s a fact-check: The Green New Deal hasn’t been passed and freezing natural gas lines contributed most to the collapse of the electricity system.

As politics researchers, we are deeply concerned with the scale of action required to avoid climate collapse. A vital piece of a just transition to a low-carbon society will be to expand the number of people and sectors that see themselves as “winners” in this transition.

A just and socially accepted transition must protect society’s most vulnerable from climate change impacts while simultaneously shielding those whose livelihoods will be disrupted by transformation. A just transition must also diffuse rather than consolidate economic power in the midst of climate action.

Four guiding principles can help build the political support needed to meet North America’s new-found climate ambition.

1. Policy integration

Political opposition to climate action often pits economics against the environment. This false dichotomy ignores how our economic future fundamentally depends on the health of our environment.

But proponents of climate action too often feed into this narrative, engaging in what Jennie C. Stephens, a sustainability science and policy researcher at Northeastern University, calls climate isolationism. They rely on overly narrow, technology-centric solutions.

These approaches often fail to resonate. They don’t connect climate action with the issues that matter the most in peoples’ day-to-day lives: socio-economic well-being, equitable employment opportunities, racial justice, access to safe and secure shelter, child care, improved health, food systems, and transportation.

Enduring, transformative climate action requires integrating social, economic and environmental policies holistically, so that institutions can better serve their citizens. Copenhagen, Denmark, is a model city with a climate plan that integrates climate action, urban investment and job growth to create a liveable sustainable city. This model views climate transformation as a necessary opportunity to improve the lives of Copenhagen residents in multiple ways.

2. Institutional integration

Policy integration means thinking differently about how governments are structured. The Biden administration is starting to orient the U.S. federal government cohesively around climate action. The U.S. now has both domestic and international climate “czars” and is integrating climate change across departments.

Given the scale of transformation necessary to meet the Paris agreement’s goals and commitments, climate action is inherently implicated across government files. It may be better to mainstream climate action throughout the government.

Canada’s recent ministerial mandate letters are an improvement. But furthering comprehensive action means orienting more, if not all, ministries to a just transition. Crucially, the ministries of Indigenous Services, Middle Class and Prosperity and Diversity and Inclusion and Youth lack clear mandates around climate action. Provincial and municipal governments must also adapt to this new policy-making environment.

All policy is climate policy in our climate-constrained world.

3. Beyond technology

Technology and technological innovation will certainly play a sizeable role in the unfolding transformation. But technologies, like carbon capture, biofuels, renewable energy, electric vehicles and smart neighbourhoods are not silver bullets.

Technological innovation must be pursued in ways that engage communities and are geared towards social goals. This can enhance the support necessary for sustaining climate action beyond the introduction of a technology.

One only has to look as far as the Sidewalk Labs debacle in Toronto to see the pitfalls of a strategy that put technology ahead of community needs. This project failed to prioritize community well-being and civic engagement. Instead, Sidewalk Labs proposed corporate control over 190 acres of Toronto’s waterfront and did not plan to adequately protect personal data.

Effectively implementing the new aggressive climate agendas in North America means integrating technological innovation with democratic, inclusive social engagement.

4. Centre justice and equity

Durable climate action fosters comprehensive security and equity for citizens. It allows people to embrace changing and sometimes unpredictable conditions.

COVID-19 has exacerbated socio-economic disparities according to income, gender, race and geography. Canada has joined a number of countries in pledging to “build back better” and support marginalized and underrepresented groups in the context of COVID-19.

This pledge needs to go beyond rhetoric. Policy-makers should acknowledge and address anxieties towards change transparently. The communities that will be most severely affected by climate impacts or from climate action must be supported with concrete resources.

This includes stimulus for low-income families, anti-racism measures, investment in public projects and decent work for those whose livelihoods are most threatened by climate change or transition policies.

Climate ambition in North America is long overdue and welcome. Now, let’s turn that ambition into transformative action. These guidelines can help build the broad-based political support necessary in a climate emergency. That support will flow from individuals and communities imagining and experiencing improved lives through this transition to a low-carbon world.The Conversation

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Sarah Sharma is a Vanier Scholar and PhD Candidate in International Relations at the Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, and Matthew Hoffmann is Professor of Political Science and Co-Director Environmental Governance Lab, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Health researchers awarded over $11.5M in funding

Queen’s researchers receive funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for projects addressing human health issues from cancer to pain and healthy aging.

Queen’s researchers have been successful in garnering over $11.5 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant competition, a program designed to capture and support ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related knowledge in Canada. As CIHR’s largest funding program, the Project Grant competitions support multi-year grants for researchers at various stages in their career.

The funding is divided among 13 Queen’s research projects (10 fully funded and three $100,000 priority announcement grants) that contributed to a success rate of 26.3 per cent compared to 15 per cent nationally. Of the funded projects, half are led by early-career researchers and two applications ranked first in their panels.

“I am continually impressed by the success our researchers see in increasingly competitive funding environments such as the CIHR Project Grants,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). “This funding will help our researchers advance innovation in research designed to better understand human health and to benefit Canadians.”

The funded projects include:

Principal Investigator Project Title Funding Awarded

Sheela Abraham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences; Queen’s Cancer Research Institute)

Elucidating the Role Extracellular Vesicles play in leukaemogenesis $1,071,000
Tricia Cottrell (Pathology and Molecular Medicine; Canadian Cancer Trials Group) Immunophenotyping Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma: Identifying Predictive and Prognostic Biomarkers for Combinatorial Immunotherapy

$872,865

Kerstin de Wit (Emergency Medicine) PEITHO-3. Reduced-dose Thrombolytic Treatment for Patients with Higher-intermediate Risk Acute Pulmonary Embolism $478,125
Vincent DePaul and Catherine Donnelly (Rehabilitation Therapy; Health Services and Policy Research Institute) Fostering Healthy Aging in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities: A Mixed Methods Explanatory Case Study $1,583,288 
Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences; Centre for Neuroscience Studies) Investigating the Role of Cognitive Brain Networks in Human Motor Learning

$734,400

Ian Gilron (Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine) The PRECISE trial – Pain Relief Combination Intervention StratEgies $100,000
Michael Green (Family Medicine) and Ian Gilron (Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine) Development of a Validated Method to Identify Patients with Chronic Pain in Electronic Medical Records and Administrative Health Data to Advance Clinical Research and Patient Care $673,200 
Annette Hay (Medicine; Canadian Cancer Trials Group) Randomized Phase 3 Evaluation of Lower Dose (3-2-1 Strategy) vs. Full Dose of Ibrutinib for the Treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia $100,000
Amer Johri (Medicine; Translational Institute of Medicine) Intraplaque Composition Combined with Stress Echo for Cardiac Risk Stratification $918,000
Lucie Lévesque (Kinesiology and Health Studies) It takes an island: local and sustainable child health and well-being promotion in Antigua and Barbuda $100,000
Wendy Parulekar (Oncology; Canadian Cancer Trials Group) SPECT-CT Guided ELEctive Contralateral Neck Treatment (SELECT) for Patients with Lateralized Oropharyngeal Cancer: A Phase III Randomized Controlled Trial

$3,203,435

Michael Rauh (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) Dysregulation of TET2 and DNMT3A Promotes Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) through Inflammation: A New Mechanism of PAH $891,225
Chandrakant Tayade (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) Investigating the Role of Endocannabinoids in Endometriosis Pathophysiology and Determine Efficacy of Cannabinoids as a Novel Therapeutic Modality $868,275

For more details, including project summaries, visit the Government of Canada’s Funding Decisions Database.

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