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Hormone could slow Alzheimer’s progression

Queen’s University researcher discovers potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Queen’s University researcher Fernanda De Felice (Psychiatry), along with co-authors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, have identified an exercise-linked hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This research was recently published in the high-profile publication, Nature Medicine.

Fernanda De Felice has identified a hormone that could slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. (Supplied photo)

The findings show that irisin, a hormone that is boosted by exercise, plays an important role in the brain and that Alzheimer patients carry less of the hormone. This discovery moves scientists one step closer to developing a medication that reproduces the effects of exercise-induced irisin production in the brain.

“In the past few years, researchers from many places around the world have shown that exercise is an effective tool to prevent different forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s” says Dr. De Felice, a researcher in the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s. “This has led to an intense search for specific molecules that are responsible for the protective actions of exercise in the brain. Because irisin seems to be powerful in rescuing disrupted synapses that allow communication between brain cells and memory formation, it may become a medication to fight memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The new research is important, explains Dr. De Felice, because curing dementia is one of the greatest current and future health care challenges. Unfortunately, despite 30 years searching for treatment drugs, there is no effective medication for Alzheimer’s disease. She adds it is also important to remember that the vast majority of patients with dementia can be disabled due to other age-related illness (e.g. arthritis, heart disease, obesity, visual problems, and depression). Furthermore, it can be challenging to engage a patient in regular physical activity.

A drug that increases irisin in the brain could be the key.

“It is important to keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is a very complex disease and it is truly hard to treat Alzheimer’s patients before irreversible damage occurs in their brains. This is because when a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their brain has already been damaged," Dr De Felice says. "Finding new protective routes, such as the identification of an exercise-linked component, may be an optimal strategy to heal the brain before brain cells die and dementia becomes irreversible.”

The next step in Dr. De Felice’s research is investigating the most effective way of delivering irisin to the brain.

Read the full paper here.

The Conversation: The group dynamics that make terrorist teams work

[Twin Towers memorial]
The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in the deaths of close to 3,000 people and injured 6,000. (Photo by James McCann/Unsplash)

Acts of terrorism are harrowing and can cause extensive damage and tragic deaths, and they have been occurring with alarming frequency over the last decade.

[The Conversation]On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida executed a series of co-ordinated attacks against the United States, killing close to 3,000 people and injuring over 6,000. On March 11, 2004, an extremist Islamist group bombed four commuter trains in Madrid during morning rush hour, killing 191 people and injuring another 2,000. On July 7, 2005, Islamist suicide bombers attacked London’s public transport system, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700 others. The list goes on.

From 2000-2016, global deaths from terrorism increased eight-fold. Seventy-seven countries experienced at least one death due to terrorism in 2016, more than any year since 2000.

Scholars, governments and analysts have spent a lot of time exploring individual motivations of terrorists. However, terrorist activities are typically performed by groups, not isolated individuals. Examining the role of team dynamics in terrorist activities can elucidate how terrorist teams radicalize, organize and make decisions.

There is a common misconception in the West that leaders of al-Qaida and, more recently, Daesh (ISIS) are recruiting and brainwashing people into giving up their lives to establish a new political order. This is an incorrect model that has been vastly exaggerated in the media, based on a western understanding of leadership.

My recent research with Guihyun Park of Singapore Management University seeks to provide a better understanding of what motivates terrorist teams and how they make their decisions. How do terrorist teams combine their local identity with a global mission? How do they organize themselves and co-ordinate attacks in the presence of this fluidity, yet maintain a high level of cohesiveness?

Islamist terrorist teams

Conceptualizing terrorist teams as loosely coupled structures can help us answer these questions. The term loosely coupled systems refers to structures in which the entire system represents a holistic unit, while still preserving the unique identity of the components that make up the entire system.

In other words, team members enjoy a great deal of autonomy, without losing sight of the objectives of the team as a whole. Terrorist teams as systems demonstrate both loose vertical coupling — self-management — and loose horizontal coupling — little interdependence between team members.

Loosely coupled systems bear a number of advantages: they allow individuals to retain their own identity and self-determination; they are highly effective at sensing and responding to changes or opportunities in the environment; and they are better able to respond to breakdowns in the subcomponents of the system.

Our research focused on extremist Islamist terrorist attacks from the last 15 years and built on previous work conducted with researcher John R. Hollenbeck. Drawing on the theories of American organizational scholar Karl Weick, we looked at the literature on group behaviour and team decision-making and leveraged the theories of “loose coupling” in terrorist teams.

Random leadership

An emergent rather than top-down leadership structure is a defining structural feature of extremist Islamist terrorist teams. Scott Atran and Marc Sageman’s analysis of the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people and injured another 2,000 shows how random the leadership structure was among the affiliated terrorist network.

The individuals that gravitated toward a leadership role in the network simply emerged as being the most effective in facilitating the logistics and communication demands of the group. The social system determines the objectives and missions, not the individual leaders.

The strength of terrorist teams does not reside in their leaders, but rather in their complexity. Despite a high degree of familiarity among some team members, connections among the larger network are typically quite loose.

In the case of the terror attacks on four commuter trains in Madrid, a diverse group of individuals was ultimately involved, from the Islamist terrorist team that carried out the attacks and its wider social support network, to petty criminals, Spanish miners and two police informants.

[Soldiers in Budapest]
A pair of armed soldiers patrol the streets of a tourist area in downtown Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash)

Implications for counterterrorism efforts

The fluid nature of terrorists teams, together with their lack of a traditional leader, make their activities hard to combat. Loosely coupled terrorist teams have a tremendous ability to adapt to local circumstances.

For example, prior to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spanish authorities knew the terrorist group involved had been discussing and praising extremist operations worldwide. They also knew the same group had voiced their intent to conduct their own attack on Spanish soil. However, because no ties to al-Qaida could be established, none of the team members were brought in and detained. This suggests that counterterrorism efforts should focus less on external ties to terrorist organizations and more on the actual operations of the terrorist teams.

Leveraging the advantages of loose coupling

The ways in which terrorist teams organized themselves represent one of the best examples we’ve seen of loose coupling. Many of these same principles can be applied to organizations seeking to be more agile and innovative.

An organization, for instance, could assemble a team that has no formal leader. Team members would step up, but then also step back when they may not be the best individual to lead the group in a particular initiative. Establishing fluid boundaries, which let in resources and information from outside the group, could also prove effective, as well as bringing together people from different parts of the organization.

Thankfully, the majority of terrorist teams fail. They either disband before they launch an attack, are discovered during preparations, or the attack itself is not successful. That said, violent group actions have had a profound effect on our world over the last 15 years. Thus, their impact cannot be evaluated by looking at the successes or failures of individual teams, but rather the potential success of the combined attacks.The Conversation


Matthias Spitzmuller is an associate professor at the Smith School of Business and Toller Family Fellow of Organizational Behaviour

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

Bell Mental Health Research Chair appointed to Order of Canada

Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) is recognized for her commitment to advancing the mental health conversation.

[Heather Stuart]
Heather Stuart, Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada. (University Communications)

Queen’s professor and researcher Heather Stuart has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her “commitment to advancing the mental health conversation in Canada.”

Governor General Julie Payette announced 103 new appointments – two Companions, 15 Officers, and 86 Members – to the Order of Canada on Thursday, Dec. 27.

A professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, Dr. Stuart was appointed the inaugural Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, the world’s first anti-stigma research chair, in 2012. She was reappointed in January 2017.

“It is a surprise and a deep honour to be acknowledged for my work in stigma research and advocacy,” Dr. Stuart says. “I hope this acknowledgement provides reinforcement for all of those working in the mental health field, in particular, the people who have worked so closely with me to develop and implement evidence informed practice in this area.”

All recipients will receive their insignia at a ceremony in Rideau Hall at a later date.

“The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement and dedication to the community and to Canada,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Dr. Stuart is a leader in her field and has contributed greatly to the reduction of stigma around mental illness in Canada and around the world. On behalf of Queen’s, I congratulate Dr. Stuart on this well-deserved recognition.”

Created in 1967, the Order of Canada, is one of the country’s highest civilian honours, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Among those appointed Members of the Order of Canada are six alumni and honorary degree recipients, along with several others with Queen’s connections:

  • Brent Belzberg (Com’72), Senior Managing Partner, Torquest Holdings Inc. Management Services
  • Lyse Doucet (Artsci’80, LLD’15), Presenter and Chief International Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • Ross D. Feldman (Artsci’73), Medical Director, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
  • Gordon Gray (Com’50) former president and chairman of Royal LePage – Established Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics,
  • Barbara Jackman, President, University of Ottawa, former adjunct lecturer at Queen’s Faculty of Law
  • Alexandra F. Johnston (LLD'84), former lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Marshall Pynkoski, Advisory board member for the Dan School of Drama and Music
  • Pekka Sinervo, former chair of the SNOLAB Institute Board of Management
  • Gregory Zeschuk (MBA’04), Co-founder of video game developer BioWare 

YEAR IN REVIEW: Research at Queen’s in 2018

[Research at Queen's 2018]
Researchers at Queen's, and their work, continue to garner attention locally, nationally, and around the world.

Research prominence at the national and international level is a key strategic priority for Queen’s. As we near the end of 2018, the Gazette takes a look back at some of the major announcements and events that captured our attention during the year.


There were a number of notable developments from the research portfolio in 2018. In April, the 2018-2023 Strategic Research Plan was approved by Senate. The five-year roadmap outlines areas of research strength and priority for the university, and sets the tone for a positive and productive environment through its emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Also in April, it was announced that Kimberly Woodhouse would begin a two-year appointment as Interim Vice-Principal (Research), succeeding John Fisher. A professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Woodhouse also recently served as dean of that faculty for two five-year terms from 2007 to 2017.


Queen’s Research fared well in two significant rankings released this year.  According RE$EARCH Infosource, a research and development intelligence company, Queen’s placed first nationally in research income growth within the medical category.

In the annual university rankings by Maclean’s, Queen’s maintained its second-place ranking for awards per faculty member.


The university celebrated the opening of the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute in May. Named in honour of the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, the institute is a partnership of eight universities and five affiliated research organizations. Headquartered at Queen’s, the institute came to fruition as a result of the $63.7 million investment the university received through the Government of Canada’s Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

In April, a group of Queen’s researchers and administrators made the trip to Ottawa for Queen’s on Parliament Hill Day. The aim of this event, one of several held in Ottawa in 2018, was to highlight the university’s areas of strength in research and innovation while also demonstrating support for the federal government’s continuing investments in fundamental research.

Queen’s faculty members and researchers continued leverage the university’s partnership with The Conversation Canada, with a total of 63 articles being published through the online platform this year, with over 1 million views. Many pieces have been republished by local, national, and international news outlets, including Maclean’s, CNN, Time, Scientific American, The National Post, and The Washington Post.

In an ongoing effort to highlight and share the work of researchers with the Queen’s and broader communities, an integrated campaign demonstrating beauty of research highlighted winning photos from the annual Art of Research contest. Throughout much of the year, the mobile Art of Research pop-up exhibit could be seen at various locations on campus and at events across Ontario. At the same time, banners along University Avenue and building skins on a number of prominent buildings helped keep research front of mind on campus.


Queen’s continued to attract leading researchers and competitive funding and awards through a number of national and international programs.

In March, the university welcomed Sari van Anders who arrived on campus as a Canada 150 Research Chair, one of only 28 such positions awarded across the nation as part of a federal government initiative designed to recruit top-tier academic talent from around the world. Dr. van Anders’ work is in social neuroendocrinology, sexuality, and gender/sex.

In May, Ahmed Hassan received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). A leader in software engineering, Dr. Hassan (School of Computing) is only the 10th Queen’s faculty member to receive the honour since the award’s creation in 1965.

Queen’s researchers continued to be recognized by the Royal Society of Canada with Stephen Archer (Medicine), Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences) and Rena Upitis (Faculty of Education) being elected as fellows. Ahmed Hassan added to his banner year by being named a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Across the Atlantic, John Smol was elected a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society (UK and Commonwealth) – just the third Queen’s researcher to join their ranks.

In terms of research funding, scholars across disciplines garnered financial support from the tri-agencies, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Ontario Research Fund, among others. Highlights from 2018 included receiving $15.5 million through NSERC’s Discovery Grants program, and more than $3 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)’s Insight and Partnership Grants program.

The research work of graduate students was also recognized as four Queen’s doctoral students also secured Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships in areas of study including Indigenous public protest, kidney function, low-income populations, and assisted dying.

To learn more about research at Queen’s, visit the Queen’s Research website.

Physicist receives Humboldt Research Award

Queen’s professor garners competitive international research honour.

Queen’s University physicist Stephen Hughes has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award, also known as the Humboldt Prize, which is granted to a maximum of 100 recipients worldwide, across all disciplines, each year.

The award recognizes Hughes’ significant contributions to optics and nanophotonics research, including quantum nanophotonics, research that is on the cutting edge of new quantum information technologies that work by manipulating light particles called photons.

The award, and a cash prize of 60,000 euros, is given to those whose research discoveries have had a significant impact on their own discipline, and winners are invited to spend up to one year in Germany cooperating on long-term research projects with specialist colleagues at research institutions in the country.

Dr. Hughes joins several Queen’s Humboldt Research Award laureates, including 2017 winner Tucker Carrington (Chemistry).

“A competitive international honour, the Humboldt Research Award recognizes researchers at the peak of their careers.” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “My sincere congratulations to Dr. Hughes and his team.”

During his time in Germany, Dr. Hughes will be working with nominator Andreas Knorr, and his group, at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Technical University of Berlin. Dr. Knorr’s research team is one of the leading groups in the world in nonlinear optics and quantum electronics of nanostructured solids. Along with several planned trips to Germany over the next few years, Dr. Hughes will welcome Dr. Knorr to Queen’s for a six-week research stay in 2019.

“In my field of research, collaboration is essential, and the level of research going on in Germany is really world class,” says Dr. Hughes. “We will be able tackle several projects together that are particularly exciting and timely, mainly in the field of quantum nanophotonics and extreme quantum optics – which hold much promise for fundamental discoveries as well as emerging technologies. I am very grateful to Dr. Knorr and other colleagues in Germany for the nomination.”

One of the open questions for theoretical physicists in this field is how to quantize light in such extreme nanoscale geometries, and Dr. Hughes and Dr. Knorr have already initiated such a project together that could have a telling impact on fundamental quantum optics and emerging applications in quantum technologies. Just as electronic computers had world-changing effects in the last century, Dr. Hughes says he is confident that fundamental photonics research and emerging quantum technologies will have the same effect in the coming century.

The award will help to showcase Queen’s international research portfolio in optics and nanophotonics and will also advance the university’s goal of increased international collaboration in research. For instance, in addition to partnership with the Technical University of Berlin, Dr. Hughes will also collaborate with researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and the Technical University of Munich. The Humboldt Research Award will also play a key role in boosting the profile of the recent Canada Foundation for Innovation-funded Queen’s Nanophotonics Research Centre.

For more information on the award, visit the website.

The Conversation: Have we reached Peak Car?

[Cars lined up on a street]
Cars clogging downtown streets is a common sight in any North American city. (Photo by Nabeel Syed/Unsplash)

General Motors has announced it’s shuttering five production facilities and killing six vehicle platforms by the end of 2019 as it reallocates resources towards self-driving technologies and electric vehicles.

The announcements should come as a surprise to no one, as they echo a similar announcement made by Ford earlier this year that it will exit all car production other than Mustang within two years.

[The Conversation]Why the sudden attitude adjustment toward cars? Well, both firms cite a focus on trucks, SUVs and crossovers. OK, sure — that’s what more people are buying when they buy a vehicle today. But there is a broader and more long-term element to this discussion.

Have we reached Peak Car?

Many may remember the dialogue associated with Peak Oil, or the idea that we had reached or would soon reach the peak production levels of oil around the globe.

Such forecasts and predictions were likely related to price run-ups on commodity and investment strategies in the oil industry. However, new exploration discoveries and extraction technologies ultimately mean we are a long way from running out of oil. While we may still hit peak production in the near future, it is more likely due to a decreasing need as society moves to alternative energy sources.

But what about cars? North American car production hit 17.5 million vehicles in 2016, and dropped marginally to 17.2 million in 2017. Interesting, but perhaps not significant.

More telling are changes in driver behaviour. In North America, for example, fewer teens are getting driver’s licences. In 1983, 92 per cent of teens were licensed, while by 2014, that number had dropped to 77 per cent. In Germany, the number of new licences issued to drivers aged 17 to 25 has dropped by 300,000 over the last 10 years.

[Cars in a parking lot]
Cars fill a parking lot. Has North America reached Peak Car? (Photo by Ryan Searle/Unsplash)

The future is driverless

Factor in ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, the comprehensive cost of vehicle ownership and more effective public transportation (everywhere but Canada) and we get a sense of some of the reasons for these evolving automotive strategies.

Most significant, however, is the evolution of self-driving technology. Picture this scenario:

Julie is an ER doctor at the local hospital, on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. She jumps in the family car at 6:30 a.m. and is at the hospital by 6:50 a.m.

After dropping Julie off, the car then heads home, arriving in time to take Julie’s two children to their high school; one of them tosses their hockey equipment in the back of the car. The car then returns home to take Julie’s husband to the law office where he starts work at 9 a.m.

The car then swings by the school to take Julie’s daughter to hockey practice at 2:30 p.m., and then returns to the hospital to pick Julie up. And so on.The technology to support the scenario above exists now, and will result in reduced car ownership through a more economical and efficient approach to managing cars, whether accessed through independent household ownership or fleet membership.

As it is today, a family like Julie’s would need two or possibly three vehicles, and those vehicles would largely sit still most of the day. Tomorrow, the family could be down to one vehicle, possibly an SUV for the hockey gear. What happens when families or groups of people further pool their assets for more ride-sharing or increased capacity?

Fewer cars on the road within a decade

We are moving from a do-it-yourself (DIY) transportation economy to a sharing or do-it-for-me (DIFM) economy. Many of us won’t like it — I honestly like to drive — but the numbers and the technology are there.

As safety technologies improve and societal paradigms shift, this evolution will gather momentum. Based on the young driver statistics above, it seems reasonable to anticipate a reduction in cars per capita of 20 to 30 per cent in the next decade.

Unions at GM and Ford are justifiably unhappy, but they shouldn’t be surprised. It is quite possible that we have reached Peak Car in North America and Europe.

Companies that want to succeed in this new environment will need to be different, and especially better in some way. If car volumes drop by 30 per cent over the next 10 years, there better be something special about the car company that hopes to survive, let alone prosper — like better technology, better comfort or better service.

If current trends continue, we can anticipate more shutdown announcements — like GM’s — from car companies and parts suppliers, as there won’t be room for all of them.The Conversation


Barry Cross is an assistant professor in the Smith School of Business at Queen's University He is an expert and thought leader in innovation, execution and operations strategy. 

The Conversation provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen’s researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. 

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

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

Revitalizing Policy Studies

Principal Daniel Woolf announces plans to elevate the School of Policy Studies by drawing on expertise across many faculties.

The School of Policy Studies is about to begin a new chapter in its long and impressive history. Principal Daniel Woolf has announced a new associate dean and director (Policy Studies) for the school, as well as a new model that will allow the school to leverage faculty expertise from many more areas of the university.

[Warren Mabee]
Warren Mabee

Warren Mabee will become the school’s associate dean and director (Policy Studies), starting on July 1, 2019, succeeding Dr. David Walker who has been in the role of interim executive director since July 2016. A respected researcher, Dr. Mabee is currently a professor and head of the Department of Geography and Planning, a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Renewable Energy Development and Implementation, and director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

Dr. Mabee’s appointment is the latest in a series of important announcements about the School of Policy Studies this year. In February, the Principal’s Commission on the Future of Public Policy at Queen’s University delivered its final report, An Ambitious Vision for Public Policy at Queen’s. Shortly after, an implementation and transition working group was appointed to identify next steps for the report’s top recommendations.

“For generations, Queen’s University has been an important driver of public policy in this country, both through our research and through our talented graduates taking up leadership positions in the public service, as well as in the private and not-for-profit sectors,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “The changes we are announcing will set the school up for future success by elevating public policy to a pan-university priority that incorporates a multi-disciplinary approach to public policy research.”

To help facilitate this new approach, the School of Policy Studies will now become part of the Faculty of Arts and Science. From this new base, it will be able to regularly draw on a wider range of faculty expertise. Queen’s has international research and academic leadership spread throughout its faculties of Arts and Science, Business, Engineering and Applied Science, Health Sciences, and Education. This new initiative will set the school up to become a national leader by enabling it to leverage this deep expertise across multiple fields of endeavor.

The school will also be setting up an internal and an external advisory board to help identify priorities and future opportunities.

Principal Woolf also announced the university will be providing funding to cover operating costs to support the school during this transition period and to support the development and advancement of new programs over the coming years.

“Public policy is arguably more important now than it has ever been, with governments in Canada and around the world facing challenges that are dynamic, incredibly complex, and often global in scope,” says Dr. Mabee. “With the support and guidance of the new advisory boards, the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s will be aiming to develop a new model that will allow us to begin consistently leveraging the world-class expertise available across Queen’s, including such areas as economics, business, engineering, biology, and health sciences.”

This new focus on cross-faculty collaboration will set the school up to carry out leading research in such important and pressing areas as indigenous reconciliation, climate change, the impact of technological change, refugee movements, and shifting demographics, to name just a few.

Currently, the School of Policy Studies offers two programs – a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Professional Master of Public Administration (PMPA). Each are staffed by leading faculty and distinguished public policy practitioners.

To learn more about the school visit the Queen’s School of Policy Studies website.

The Conversation: The impact of climate change on language loss

Approximately 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today, but only about half are expected to survive this century.

[Sulawesi village]
The coastline of Sulawesi, Indonesia, where languages and cultures are threatened by climate change. (Photo by Anastasia Riehl) 

Images of extreme weather and alarming headlines about climate change have become common. Last month, dire predictions about our warming planet from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were reported as distressing scenes from a devastating tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia were still in the news.

[The Conversation]As residents of Sulawesi villages mourn their losses and rebuild their neighbourhoods, scientists and policy makers seek to better understand and prepare for the effects of climate change. Often overlooked are the effects on the world’s languages.

Global loss of languages

While approximately 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today, only about half are expected to survive this century. A number of factors contribute to this loss: increasing globalization, which pushes countries and individuals to shift to national or international languages for economic reasons; lack of support for regional languages in educational systems and mass media; persecution of minority linguistic groups by governments and disruption of communities during war and emigration.

It is difficult to predict the future for any particular language. While some minority languages will thrive for generations to come, many of the world’s languages are moving towards extinction within a generation.

One stressor that may be the tipping point for some communities is climate change. Many small linguistic communities are located on islands and coastlines vulnerable to hurricanes and a rise in sea levels. Other communities are settled on lands where increases in temperature and fluctuations in precipitation can threaten traditional farming and fishing practices.

These changes will force communities to relocate, creating climate change refugees. The resultant dispersal of people will lead to the splintering of linguistic communities and increased contact with other languages. These changes will place additional pressures on languages that are already struggling to survive.

[Harbour Market in Manado, North Sulawesi. Anastasia Riehl]
Harbour Market in Manado, North Sulawesi. (Photo by Anastasia Riehl)

Sulawesi’s languages are disappearing

I spent many months in Sulawesi in the early 2000s, recording languages of the northern and central regions. The island, shaped like a giant starfish with massive limbs unfurling in the Pacific Ocean, is home to dozens of distinct languages, many of these spoken by only a few thousand people in a handful of villages each.

Moving from one bay or valley to another often means entering a different linguistic community. The people living at the mouth of the long, narrow bay, where the tsunami’s waves first began to gather force, speak a different language than the people living at the base of the bay, where those 20 foot waves stormed inland.

When people learned that I was in Sulawesi to study the languages, they would excitedly engage me in discussions of the languages of their region. This frequently happened when I was out for a walk in a village and had attracted a small group of residents curious about my presence. Inevitably someone would hold out their hands and use their fingers to list off the names of languages in the area. As I became better acquainted with an area’s languages, I would join others and call out the names along with them, a sing-song game that ended in laughter.

These conversations never took place in one of the local languages, however, but rather in the country’s national language, Indonesian. Despite the great pride in linguistic diversity that I witnessed, many of those eager to discuss the regional languages with me knew only a handful of words in their own community’s traditional language. Sulawesi’s languages, increasingly relegated to the oldest generations and most isolated communities, are disappearing.

Sulawesi’s story, both of linguistic diversity and of language endangerment, is the story of Indonesia more broadly, a country of over 600 languages, many of which are vulnerable. Indonesia’s story is, in turn, a global story.

[A flooded market in Sulawesi. Anastasia Riehl]
A flooded market in Sulawesi. (Photo by Anastasia Riehl)

Loss of language, loss of data, identity

When a language is lost, the result can be a loss of identity, one that may impact the health and vitality of a community for generations to come. The importance of the connection between language and identity can be seen here in Canada.

Indigenous communities are struggling to overcome decades of persecution and discrimination, the traumatic legacies of residential schooling and, increasingly, environmental challenges. Alongside efforts to secure equal access to education, health care and infrastructure, communities are making substantial investments in the revitalization of their languages, viewed as a critical part of healing the past and securing the future.

The loss of a language is also a loss of data needed to better understand human cognition, as happens when a language disappears before its structures and patterns have been documented. It is a loss of knowledge about the world as well, as when descriptive names for plants or practices — still unknown outside a local area — are forgotten.

Some of climate change’s effects are easy to see and to fear: homes destroyed by a wildfire, people swept away in flooded streets, crops withering in a drought. Other effects, like language loss, are less tangible and more complicated but also devastating.

As I read the harrowing forecasts of the consequences of rising temperatures, and as I fear for the fate of friends in villages overtaken by the tsunami’s mudflows, I also worry about the future of Sulawesi’s languages — and of the world’s languages more generally.

The IPCC report warns us that if the world does not come together to prevent a projected global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees, the future will be one of loss: loss of land, of food and water supplies, of lives and livelihoods.

It will also be a loss of languages, of the knowledge and cultures they embody, and of the diversity and richness of human experience that they represent.The Conversation


Anastasia Riehl, is the director of the Strathy Language Unit at Queen's University. In this role she pursues and supports projects that explore variation in Canadian English and the role of English in a multilingual society. Her other areas of research and teaching include the phonology-phonetics interface and endangered language documentation. 

The Conversation provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen’s researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. 

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

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

Smith expert sees positives for Canadian economy in 2019

The Canadian economy will remain upbeat in 2019, despite falling oil prices and rising interest rates.

That’s the prediction Evan Dudley, Associate Professor of Finance at Smith School of Business, made Thursday at the school’s annual Business Forecast Luncheon.

[Evan Dudley, Business Forecast Luncheon]
Evan Dudley, Associate Professor of Finance at Smith School of Business, makes a presentation during Thursday's Business Forecast Luncheon. (Supplied Photo)

“The economy is pretty much at full capacity right now,” he says. “But it’s still going to grow.”

Real gross domestic product will rise two per cent nationwide in 2019 — the same as this year he says. Record-low unemployment of 5.8 per cent in October will fall to 5.75 per cent by October next year.

Deficit spending remains an important economic stimulator.

“Neither Canada nor the U.S. seem interested in lowering their deficits,” Dr. Dudley says. “That’s why I still see room to grow, even though the economy is already doing really well.”

Ongoing worldwide demand for Canadian fuel, minerals and other resources will also contribute to growth.

After raising interest rates three times in the last year, the Bank of Canada will hike rates just twice next year (by 25 basis points each time), he predicts.

“It’s going to err on the side of caution as long as oil prices remain low,” Dr. Dudley says.

The central bank won’t be as aggressive on rates as the U.S. Federal Reserve. As a result, the Canadian dollar will slide to 70 cents against its American counterpart by next December. (It’s 75 cents now.)

Inflation, which stood at 2.4 per cent in October, will slow to two per cent next year. The prime interest rate will reach 4.45 per cent by next December, up from 3.95 per cent now.

Rising wages, falling home prices and Canadians’ recent tendency to spend with debt signal an end to the current growth cycle. But Dr. Dudley anticipates a gradual slowdown rather than a sharp fall into recession.

He also doesn’t believe the recent fall in oil prices will trigger a nationwide downturn. When oil fell in the past, so did the Canadian dollar. But that isn’t happening now, Dudley says.

“It tells me the Canadian economy has diversified away from the oilsands,” which makes up around 1.9 per cent of GDP, he explains.

Smith’s Business Forecast Luncheon at the Four Points by Sheraton in downtown Kingston drew more than 200 local business and government leaders. Speakers included Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson and Smith professors Kathryn Brohman and Ken Wong.

Dr. Brohman discussed her research into organizational “cost of execution,” the subject of her upcoming book, Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution.

Only 40 per cent of organizations successfully deliver on strategy, according to a 2012 survey. Why so low? Dr. Brohman determined to find out, studied hundreds of firms and uncovered 12 common barriers. They include poor prioritization, technology gaps, complacency and a silo mentality among employees.

One interesting observation that she noted: “People are extremely resourceful at finding ways to overcome execution barriers to achieve aggressive short-term goals.”

But sometimes long-term goals are sacrificed in the process.

Her book contains a tool used by more than 750 companies to identify execution barriers. It can also determine how much poor execution costs individual firms.

“A high cost of execution can result in a decrease in long-term performance,” she says.

The subject of strategy also came up when Mayor Paterson took to the stage for a fireside chat led by Professor Wong.

Paterson discussed his “smart growth” vision to tackle issues such as employment, transit, economic development, and, perhaps most important, housing. As of October, the city’s rental vacancy rate was just 0.6 per cent, the lowest in Ontario and well below the city’s 10-year average of 1.6 per cent.

Smart growth will allow Kingston to “achieve a number of goals all at the same time,” the mayor said.

Paterson said he believes that smaller cities like Kingston can have an advantage over major cities as they can more easily “co-ordinate strategy and bring everyone around the table” to get things done. As an example, he cited the popular Kingston Penitentiary tours, which required co-ordinated effort by the city, Corrections Canada and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission to get off the ground.

Wong asked the mayor about potential cuts to municipal funding as the Ontario government looks to cut its deficit.

Paterson said he would like to see Ontario loosen certain regulations that, “restrict the creativity the city can have.”

As an example, he cited development that, even after municipal approval, is sometimes held up for years by provincial authority.

“If the government can let us be more flexible we can do a lot more with the dollars that we have,” he says.

Kingston’s economy will have grown 1.9 per cent in 2018, with unemployment at 5.5 per cent, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

“Kingston is becoming more attractive for students, retirees and also increasingly for professionals as new companies establish themselves here,” Dr. Dudley says. 

Canada Foundation for Innovation seeking input

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) helps Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research organizations to increase their capability to carry out high-quality research through investment in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, retention of top talent, and training of the next generation of researchers. 

With new federal investment from the Government of Canada from Budget 2018, the CFI has proposed a conversation with the Canadian research community and key stakeholders on the future of research and research infrastructure in Canada and the CFI’s role in supporting institutions to sustain and enhance their research capacity.

More information can be found in the discussion paper, Conversation on the future of research and research infrastructure in Canada: role of the Canada Foundation for Innovation

CFI staff will meet with as many stakeholders as possible through a series of meetings across the country and a few webinars. In addition, they invite institutions to submit written comments by Friday, Dec. 14, to conversation@innovation.ca. Queen’s encourages its faculty, staff and students to engage in the discussion.  Comments at Queen’s will be accepted by the Associate Vice-Principal (Research) Kent Novakowski until Monday, Dec. 10. Please direct emails to Kelly Blair-Matuk, Associate Director, Office of the Vice-Principal (Research).


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