Research on Tap

“I can’t believe I’m about to put the words ‘atheism’ and ‘belief’ in the same sentence,” laughs Dr. Joe Velaidum, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, and Director of the Centre for Christianity and Culture. “But the new atheists believe faith and reason are in opposition. They’re not.”

Velaidum will defend this argument and others at the first Research on Tap night this coming Tuesday evening at Mavor’s. (Click here for details) He’ll be leading a public discussion entitled “The same old arguments of the new atheism movement.”

“In order for this to be a discussion, I can’t go on and on and on about what I think,” says Velaidum. “I’ll start out by stating my case about what I see as the five or so main problems with the new atheism movement — this new batch of atheists inspired by writers such as Richard Dawkins. Then I want to hear what everyone else thinks.”

Velaidum says he’s not setting out to convert anyone to any set of beliefs. He just wants people to understand why it is they believe what they believe.

“We are a species that is hardwired to have faith. In order to be a scientist, you have some amount of faith. Scientists start off from the perspective that the universe is knowable by the human mind. There’s no reason why it has to be, and it’s not provable that it is. This is a type of faith that’s needed in order to have science in the first place.”

Velaidum says another beef science has with God is that it doesn’t conform to scientific description.

“If it can’t be described, the new atheists don’t need it. Christianity is not about description. It’s not a botched science experiment. The Big Bang Theory doesn’t replace the creation myth in Genesis. Genesis never set out to describe exactly how the universe came to be — it’s a deeply meaningful metaphor.”

Hear the rest of Velaidum’s presentation, and join in the discussion, on Tuesday, December 1, at 7 p.m. in Mavor’s at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. Come enjoy an evening of ideas, discussion, and good cheer.

Is your snow crab bitter?

“Snow crab is the second biggest fishery in Atlantic Canada,” explains Dr. Rick Cawthorn, Professor of Parasitology at UPEI’s AVC. “So if the crabs are infected with a disease that makes it taste as bitter as Aspirin, you’ve got a real problem.”

Cawthorn is leading an international team of researchers in a project to better understand Bitter Crab Disease, or BCD. He explains the disease is spread by a parasite called Hematodinium, which currently infects more than 40 species of crustaceans worldwide, several of which are commercially important. 

Hematodinium: parasite marked with "P"Hematodinium: parasite marked with “P”

“We’re not looking in this study at the source of the taste–why the disease creates a bitter taste,” says Cawthorn. “What we’re looking at are questions such as how common is this parasite in Atlantic Canada? How is the parasite transmitted from crab to crab? How does it cause the disease?” 

Cawthorn says the parasite and its associated disease were first described in the 1930s in Europe. It wasn’t discovered in Atlantic Canadian waters until the early 1990s. 

“It’s an extremely temperature-tolerant parasite,” says Cawthorn. “It’s found in cold water, cool water, and even warm water. That said, we believe climate change has an influence on the spread of this parasite and disease. Warmer waters in the snow crab’s habitat create stress in the animal, which makes it much more susceptible to infection.” 

Learn more about Dr. Cawthorn’s research at UPEI’s Research Breakfast, Wednesday, December 9th at the Rodd Charlottetown. He will give a presentation entitled, “Is Your Snow Crab Bitter? Implications for the Snow Crab Fishery in Atlantic Canada.” Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and costs $10. For more information, contact Jane McKay at (902) 566-0307 or jmckay@upei.ca.

Of silver bullets and jigsaw puzzles

“I don’t expect my research to uncover one answer to any given question,” explains Dr. Crawford Revie, Canada Research Chair in Population Health: Epi-informatics. “There is no silver bullet. But there are many pieces of answers that can be found, and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.”

 

Revie uses tools of informatics — hardware, software, databases, and other methods of storing large and complex sets of data — to help answer questions about how diseases spread through populations. He’s currently tackling a problem that affects salmon farms in Atlantic Canada: drug resistance among sea lice.

 

“The aquaculture industry has had some pretty effective tools to control sea lice," explains Revie. "One, an in-food treatment, has been the sole product used in Canada over much of the last decade. The problem is, parasites such as sea lice are adaptive little buggers. As of this year, sea lice in certain parts of Atlantic Canada have developed a significant tolerance to this once-powerful tool."

 

Revie compiles data from salmon farms around the world. The area he has the greatest amount of consistent information from is Scotland, a country with a large aquaculture industry.

 

"I have data going back more than twelve years, the last eight of which Scottish farmers used this same treatment to control sea lice,” says Revie. “What's clear is that the lice didn't just wake up one morning with resistance. As in the case of many other parasites and pathogens, tolerance builds up over a series of generations. Knowing what we know now, there was evidence of tolerance in Scotland as early as 2005."

 

Revie says the same tolerance would probably have been evident in sea lice control on farms in Atlantic Canada; it's just no one was looking for it.

 

"As a result, this area-wide resistance seemed to come out of nowhere," says Revie. "That's just not the case. If farmers and veterinarians had better access to both field and lab-based data, then appropriate analysis could have helped to guard against the problem. It may also have been easier to convince regulatory authorities to sanction the use of alternative treatment options."

 

An immediate application of Revie's research is to use a range of data-driven techniques to monitor for tolerance in other salmon-farming locations such as Newfoundland and British Columbia. That way, he might be able to predict the event before it happens.

 

Revie will continue to collect data from fish farms around the world, on a much broader range of disease parameters than simply sea lice. He says the more consistent the data over a long period of time, the more possible it is to use that information to answer a range of different questions.

 

"And that's what's interesting about epidemiology: oftentimes we don't know what question to ask until after we've collected the data. Sometimes, the questions don't become apparent until we see trends we didn't expect."

 

Learn more about Dr. Crawford Revie's research at a welcome reception for UPEI’s two newest Canada Research Chairs. It will be held Tuesday, November 24, at 3 p.m. in McDougall Hall’s Schurman Market Square. For more information, click here.

 

Photo credit

The art of clustering — the biotech way

“Biotech clusters are a strategic priority for almost every country, state, or region globally,” explains Dr. Juergen Krause, Associate Professor of Business at UPEI. “It will be very difficult to compete with large established clusters. The key to growth for a small cluster like PEI’s is to differentiate us through focus on biotech areas where we have natural strength or little competition.”

Krause is referring to biotech companies and organizations that seem to grow and thrive when grouped in geographic clusters. Krause and Dr. Steven Casper, UPEI’s 2009 Fulbright Chair in Biomedical Sciences, mapped the emerging cluster on Prince Edward Island this summer. The preliminary results are highlighted in Casper’s Fulbright Lecture.

“There’s much more that can be done after obtaining that data,” explains Krause. “We have a snapshot of the bioscience cluster and the networks within it. Now we can compare that data to different clusters around the world and ask some serious questions about the sustainability of the model.”

Krause explains these clusters grow in two ways:  forced, by way of a substantial billion-dollar investment of cash by government or other agencies; or organically.

“On the Island, we don’t have the resources for a forced cluster, so we need to grow organically. But in order to grow, a cluster needs to accomplish a critical mass. It is usually situated in an economically vibrant area and has several key ingredients: good location and easy networking and exchange among industry, educational institutions, government support, and venture capital.”

Krause points out that some clusters have initiated and grown without the complete list of ingredients —places such as Dundee, Scotland.

“Dundee didn’t start with much in the way of venture capital, but there was some government support, a teaching hospital, and a university that took an active role in commercialization of technology. In cases like these, there are soft factors to consider which contribute to success: things like shared ideology and a long-term strategy.”

In order to grow past what Krause calls the embryonic stage of clusterhood, Krause says Prince Edward Island needs to be clear about what it is it wants to be, and what will make it unique.

Hear more of Dr. Juergen Krause’s thoughts on this topic at the UPEI Research Breakfast, coming up on Wednesday, December 9, at the Rodd Charlottetown in downtown Charlottetown. Breakfast begins at 7:30 a.m. and costs $10. For more information, contact Jane McKay at (902) 566-0307 or jmckay@upei.ca.

"between two cultures and between two worlds"

Dr. Fiona Walton looks over a list of names of the Inuit women who are presenting at an education research symposium in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She recalls the life stories of the women, many of whom lived through hardships and trials southern Canadians couldn’t begin to imagine.

“But those experiences don’t define them,” says Walton. “What defines them is their new status of Master of Education graduates of the first master’s program ever offered in Nunavut.”

These 21 outstanding women graduated this past Canada Day at a ceremony in Iqaluit. Each was presented with her Master of Education from the University of Prince Edward Island.

“It was such a special day, made even more special by the fact that it was Canada Day,” remembers Walton.

It was a day, it would turn out, which would be shared by the rest of the country, as Canadians awoke that morning to find the story splashed on the front page of the Globe and Mail.

“That photo says it all,” laughs Walton. “The obvious joy on Saa and Maggie’s faces as they embrace each other, wearing their gowns. And to have them set on the background of the sea ice of Frobisher Bay.”

Both the subjects of that photo were among the presenters at last week’s symposium.

Saa PitsiulakSaa Pitsiulak

Saa Pitsiulak’s research explored the relocation of her family by the federal government to the present-day community of Kimmirut, Nunavut. Until the age of three, her family lived a traditional life in the area of Lake Harbour, moving with the seasons from summer to winter camps. The children began formal schooling in English, creating a chasm with the adults in the community. Pitsiulak writes of a new future that reconnects the generations of Elders and youth.

Maggie KuniliusieMaggie Kuniliusie

Maggie Kuniliusie explored her own family in an auto-ethnographic study that examined the erosion of traditional ways, but also celebrated the versatility and strength of the members of her family. As traditional ways mixed with the new modern reality, people were defined by more than one of their roles in the community. Her father was a mechanic by trade, but also a respected hunter. Her mother was a teacher, but could also “magically turn any ordinary animal skin into beautiful clothing with vibrant patterns and designs.” As for herself, Kuniliusie says, “As a result of my parents’ strong cultural identity and versatile personalities,” she writes, she has succeeded in living, “between two cultures and between two worlds.”

A knowledge exchange symposium, Sivuniksaliurjiit, made possible by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, took place last week in Iqaluit. Graduates shared their research with parent representatives from all the communities in Nunavut.

A new exhibition of photographs of the graduates, taken by Carlos-Reyes-Manzo, and a documentary video, Lighting the Qulliq: The First Master of Education Program in Nunavut, produced by Gemini award-winning filmmaker Mark Sandiford, will be launched December 4 in Schurman Market Square, McDougall Hall. The launch begins at 4 p.m. A reception will follow.