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Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

Arts and Science

Science Rendezvous Kingston – At home

Science Rendezvous Kingston has gone virtual this year, inspiring STEM curiosity and discovery from the nature around us to the far-reaches of outer space.

[Promotion graphic - Science Rendezvous Kingston May 1 - 16, 2021 - Virtual Expo @STEMYGK]

Science Rendezvous Kingston is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year and marking it with the largest event to date.

For nine years, Science Rendezvous Kingston has been an exceedingly popular community event, drawing about 17,000 people from across the region to engage with local STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) experts and Queen’s researchers. While the 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID-19, organizers set their sights on developing the first virtual Science Rendezvous Kingston to mark its return. The enthusiastic response from the STEM community and Queen’s researchers has turned the 10th anniversary event into the largest program offering yet, with live virtual activities from May 1-16, 2021.

“We are very proud of the Science Rendezvous Kingston virtual venue and are excited to know that our activities will have a wider reach than ever because there are no geographical limitations to participation,” says co-coordinator Lynda Colgan (Education). “We expect to have visitors from around the city, province, country, and world joining us — learning and loving it!”

Inspired by the theme of “STEAM Green,” integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, and math with stewardship for the flora, fauna and water systems of our planet, this family-friendly event will combine online experiences with outdoor and “kitchen-table” activities for at-home learning. All programs will be housed on the Science Rendezvous Kingston website where visitors will find both a huge selection of content and special events rolled out during the two-week period. Some of the programs available will be a virtual tour through the Museum of Nature’s Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibit, demonstrations from Queen’s researchers, STEM@Home learning activities, and the Exploratorium, an online STEM gaming environment designed to take users out of this world. Some additional activities added throughout the event will be videos featuring women STEM innovators and influencers, and STEM challenges, such as the Canada-wide Science Chase scavenger hunt and the Million Tree Project.

Organizers have also planned virtual live Q&A sessions meant to further Science Rendezvous Kingston’s mission to inspire curiosity in STEM among students and provide opportunities for them to engage with researchers as role models. Queen’s researchers participating in the live sessions include John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, and Connor Stone, PhD candidate in astrophysics and co-coordinator of the Queen’s Observatory. Keynotes will also be delivered by James Raffan, famous Canadian explorer, Jasveen Brar, conservationist and STEM literacy advocate, and Lindsey Carmichael, award-winning author and Faculty of Education’s Science Literacy Week Author-in-Residence.

Science Rendezvous Kingston is part of NSERC’s Science Odyssey’s national program, supporting free science outreach events across the country. Kingston’s last event in 2019 was honoured with the national STEAM Big! Award and co-coordinator Dr. Colgan was awarded the 2020 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Science Promotion Award, in part, for Science Rendezvous Kingston’s success in promoting STEM among the community.

To learn more about the schedule of events and how to participate, visit the Science Rendezvous Kingston website.

Challenging students to make change

The Faculty of Arts and Science's inaugural Dean’s Changemaker Challenge awards $10,000 in seed money to student-created children’s book series.

Emily Talas sits on the deck of her home.
Third-year Con-Ed student Emily Talas is the winner of the first-ever Dean’s Changemaker Challenge, created by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Barbara Crow. (Submitted Photo)

A children’s book series that focuses on mental health topics and provides a resource for teachers to facilitate discussions surrounding mental health within their classrooms is the winner of the Faculty of Arts and Science's first-ever Dean’s Changemaker Challenge final pitch competition, hosted by Dean Barbara Crow.

Letsbloom, created by Emily Talas, a third-year Con-Ed student majoring in Health Studies and completing a certificate in Commerce, claimed the top prize of $10,000 in seed money after being selected by a panel of expert judges during the final pitch competition. The mission of Letsbloom is to equip children with the proper tools and resources necessary to navigate their mental health in a post-COVID world.

Talas, the founder and executive director of the Queen’s Bloom Club, says she has wanted to be an “inventor” from an early age, adding she never thought it was a realistic dream, nor did she think it was an attainable profession until she discovered the ASCX 200/300 courses that comprise the challenge. The two ASCX courses were offered for the first time in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms. Students learned to identify real-world challenges and opportunities, worked collaboratively to develop solutions, and used startup business strategies to establish ventures to make the change they want to see happen.

“I am extremely excited and grateful to have been selected as the winner of the Dean’s Changemaker Challenge,” she says. “This course has truly opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship and has allowed me to create solutions for issues that I am extremely passionate about. I am forever grateful that Dean Crow has offered this opportunity to me and many other students as it has allowed me to further my passion for social entrepreneurship while acquiring the skills needed to continue my entrepreneurial journey.”

New initiative

The Dean’s Changemaker Challenge is a new initiative this year for undergraduate students across the Faculty of Arts and Science, designed to help them create meaningful change by learning to start and launch an entrepreneurial venture.

To support student success in the challenge, as well as career development, the teams were mentored by Arts and Science alumni who are successful entrepreneurs in fields such as fashion, entertainment, journalism, social enterprises, global telecommunications, finance, employment relations, human resources, law and legal support, technology, software, sales, distribution, operations and more. These experts supported the student teams as they prepared to showcase their ventures and compete for investment at the Dean’s Changemaker Challenge pitch competition.

To conclude the pilot, the Dean’s Changemaker Challenge final pitch competition for ASCX 300 was held virtually and showcased the three ventures that were developed throughout the academic year.

“The first-ever Dean’s Changemaker Challenge brought out the best in our undergraduate students and I am incredibly proud of them, as well as our faculty, staff, and alumni mentors who supported them in taking it,” says Dean Crow. “A major pillar of our faculty’s strategic plan is enhancing the student experience and the challenge was one of the 50 initiatives listed in it. It was designed to support the success of our undergraduates in becoming changemakers, as well as to provide skills and experience that helps them stand out after graduation. The skills learned through the challenge go beyond the university – students gain in-demand proficiencies including leadership, project management, and entrepreneurship.”

Learn more about the Dean’s Changemaker Challenge.

Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit people need support when leaving prison

To release anyone, particularly Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit individuals without a plan is irresponsible and dangerous and does not demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation.

A teepee outside the women’s unit of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask., January 2001. (CP PHOTO/Thomas Porter)

We’re all aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our health and wellness — but why isn’t more attention being paid to the relationship between COVID-19 and the criminal justice system, specifically how it’s impacting Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit people.

The ConversationThe start of the pandemic came with the release of more than 2,300 people from jails across Ontario. Since then, numerous front-line workers and community organizations have called upon the Ontario government to ensure that the people being released have co-ordinated plans and supports in place.

Unfortunately, the government continues to neglect those calls, inadvertently placing all released inmates at risk of COVID-19 infection, exploitation and even death.

Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, said it’s like the provincial government just “gave up” when it comes to protecting the health of inmates and the broader population.

A failure to follow through

We have witnessed how the Ontario government has failed to follow through on their promises to end violence against Indigenous people.

As a doctoral student who has volunteered with women and youth in and out of prisons, and an Anishinaabe midwife and assistant professor, we have heard first-hand how dire this crisis is. Staff at Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society have told us that they’ve waited more than eight hours for women scheduled to be released from the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ont., and that some were released as late as 10:30 p.m. with no access to transportation or accommodation.

The 2019 National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) highlighted how Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people leaving prison can become entrapped in a cycle of incarceration. They are often victimized by traffickers who use the prison system to target, lure and exploit those who don’t have access to housing or transportation.

Despite the province’s 2020 commitment to respond to the national inquiry’s Calls for Justice, it continues to release Indigenous women into precarious situations without resources for a safe passage to their families or communities.

To release anyone, particularly Indigenous women, transgender, and Two-Spirit individuals this way is irresponsible, dangerous and does not demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation.

Doing nothing has consequences

One tragic example of the consequences of these systemic failures is the death of Kimberly Squirrel. On Jan. 23, 2021, Squirrel was found frozen to death in Saskatoon just three days after being released from a provincial correctional facility; no one in her family was notified of her release and her death was entirely preventable.

Indigenous transgender and Two-Spirit people have long experienced sexist, transphobic and racist discrimination at the hands of the Canadian prison system. The disproportionate social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on transgender and Two-Spirit communities further highlights the importance of providing supports upon release.

It is only a matter of time before someone else is harmed — or even killed — as a direct result of the provincial government’s inefficiency and disregard for implementing appropriate measures for the safe release of Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit people.

Enough is enough

The urgency of these issues is further underscored by COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities. Without re-entry plans, adequate safety measures and communication in place, individuals are released into precarious circumstances. Without access to accommodation or transportation, they may be unable to safely self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.

In an open letter to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, we — as part of a collective of community members, Elders, Healers, front-line workers, researchers, educators and students who advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system — have called upon the Ontario government to:

  1. Develop and release re-entry plans for all inmates, including provisions for adequate financial and transitional supports.
  2. Publicly release current policies and measures in place for the safe release of all — including Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit people.
  3. Publicly release COVID-19 safety measures for individuals prior to and upon release from correctional institutions.

Against the advice of public health experts and advocates, Ontario continues to incarcerate people at an alarming rate. Provincial and federal governments must be held accountable for the harms that their inaction and blatant maleficence has caused.

Indigenous women, transgender and Two-Spirit people deserve to be treated with respect — both inside and outside of prison.

We offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Kimberly Squirrel.The Conversation


Tenzin Butsang, PhD Student, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto and Karen Lawford, Assistant Professor, Department of Gender 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.

Queen’s remembers Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith

Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith
Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith

The Queen’s community is remembering Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Smith, a long-time faculty member of the Department of History and the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, who died on Thursday, April 1 at the age of 80.

Dr. Smith arrived at Queen’s from Macalester College in Minnesota in 1969 to teach U.S. history. He would also later join the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. He retired in 2006 and was appointed professor emeritus.

A lecturer of boundless energy and character, Dr. Smith was endlessly creative in his strategies to engage his students over his 37-year career at Queen’s. He was nominated for teaching awards several times and in 2004 he received the Frank Knox Award, the highest honour given to instructors by Queen’s students.

Dr. Smith grew up in California and completed a BA at University of California - Santa Barbara (UCSB), an MA at Berkeley, and a PhD at UCSB. 

“The irrepressible energy and spirit of my friend and fellow-historian Geoff Smith came along with a self-reflective thoughtfulness,” says Sandra Den Otter, Professor of History and Vice-Provost (International). “He was a gifted writer (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) and astute commentator on public affairs, and he brought to both his research and teaching an over-arching commitment to the public good.  A champion of the unexpected, he was an inspiring lecturer, and engaged students to tackle big questions. Students remember his courses and office-hour conversations long after their time at Queen’s, carrying with them his disposition to question and to challenge, and also his many acts of kindness. His generosity of spirit to others who might think differently than him co-existed with his own very deeply-held commitments. His wide circle of friends will miss his ability to make us see in more vivid colours the world around us.”

His research interests involved work in international relations, security issues, and interrelated cultural questions focusing on sport and issues of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, health and disease, economics, media, and politics. His thesis, later published as a book, To Save a Nation: American “Extremism”, the New Deal and the Coming of World War II (1973, 2nd rev. ed 1992), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in History.

His flagship course, Conspiracy and Dissent in 20th Century America, drew throngs of students of history and other fields. On Sept. 12, 2001, he gave what a colleague describes as the “iconic Geoff Smith moment”. Before several hundred students, he delivered a “brilliant lecture” on the history of U.S.-Middle East relations, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the history of the CIA in Afghanistan, the concept of blowback, and the paradoxes of capitalist globalization. He then followed with an open mic discussion with students from all backgrounds and persuasions.

Outside of the lecture halls and classrooms, Dr. Smith also excelled at basketball, first as a player at UC - Santa Barbara and then in the coaching ranks with the Queen’s Gaels, serving as an assistant coach for five seasons. After stepping away he continued to be an avid supporter of the team, attending many home games, and leading the support when needed.

For many years his fervent belief in peaceful resolutions of political conflict found a congenial home in the Peace History Society, where he served as president. In 2015 the society presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also a member of the Society for Historians of America Foreign Relations, and a regular presenter of academic papers.

An online celebration of life will be held on April 14 at 4 p.m. through Robert Reid Funeral Home

Showcasing undergraduate research

Inquiry@Queen’s, Canada’s longest-running multidisciplinary undergraduate conference, offers students the chance to present, discuss, and analyze their research projects.

[I@Q Inquiry@Queen's - Make an Impact]

For undergraduate students, research can be an exciting opportunity to explore a new area of interest and expand their resume for post-graduate studies or employment. Recently, students had the chance to showcase their research skills and projects at Inquiry@Queen’s, the longest-running multidisciplinary undergraduate conference in Canada. For 15 years, Inquiry@Queen's has encouraged undergraduates across disciplines to present and share their research with the wider community. It has also been an opportunity to foster interdisciplinary discussions, build presentation skills, and bring students together from not only Queen’s but other universities for an enriching co-curricular initiative.

Conference co-chairs, Vicki Remenda, Professor of Geological Sciences & Geological Engineering and Cory Laverty, Research Librarian, see the motivation behind a conference for undergraduates as a natural extension of Queen’s research mission.

The main goal of the conference is to give students a chance to share their interests and passions in a public forum and bring their learning to an audience of peers and supporters, Dr. Remenda says. It’s a natural extension of a university that prides itself on the quality of undergraduate education and its scholarship and research.

The co-chairs believe that a focus on curiosity based-learning and research at all levels is key to addressing global issues and societal challenges.

Inquiry can be viewed as an inclusive approach to learning when it opens the door to individual interests, experiences, and backgrounds, Dr. Laverty says. Students are interrogating issues that are currently under scrutiny in Canada and around the world, including a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion that crosses all disciplines.

CFRC's The Scoop

Participant Hailey Scott, presenter of Psychological Trauma’s in Participatory Theatre, joined CFRC radio station on March 29 to discuss her experience at the conference and her research project. Listen here.

This year’s conference featured 10 interdisciplinary sessions covering topics from health to community and reducing inequality. Held virtually for the first time due to COVID-19, the conference spanned two days in March and featured both paper and poster presentations via Zoom to an audience of 220 attendees. A new feature of this year’s conference was the opportunity for top-scored presenters to be featured as part of a podcast series, The Scoop, hosted by CFRC Queen’s campus radio station.

Other Queen’s collaborations came from staff and faculty across the university through facilitation, session moderation, and research sponsorship. Jennifer Kennedy, Professor of Art History & Art Conservation, delivered the keynote presentation titled Past Pedagogies and the Post-Pandemic Future: What Can We Learn from Learning this Year?, and Principal Patrick Deane offered closing remarks that reflected on how inquiry sparks our inner passions and can lead to a lifetime of learning.

With the success of this year’s online format, in addition to in-person presentations, a virtual component may be incorporated in future conferences to expand reach and participation and to be more inclusive of international viewers, students from other universities, and family members watching from afar.

Dr. Remenda and Dr. Laverty believe that Inquiry@Queen’s remains one of the most important undergraduate conferences because of the spotlight it places on research within the community.

Profiling undergraduate research is crucial for a 21st-century education where knowledge is constantly changing, and critical thinking skills are needed to assess currency, relevance, authority, and purpose, she says.

To learn more about this year’s conference and other Inquiry initiatives, visit the Inquiry@Queen’s website.

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


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


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


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.

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


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.


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