A social network for pig vets

 “Veterinarians who work with hogs across the country could use a place to come together to track and discuss cases of new, emerging diseases,” says Dr. Daniel Hurnik, Industry Chair in Swine Research at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College. “What we really need is a social network where we can identify trends and discuss how to best respond.”

Dr. Hurnik is also Chair of the Long-Term Disease Risk Management Advisory Committee of the Canadian Swine Health Board. As Chair, Dr. Hurnik is guiding a project with practitioners across the country to develop something called the Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network (CSHIN).

“The first step is creating a common space where disease and health data are being gathered by practitioners across Canada,” says Dr. Hurnik. “But we don’t want this to be a burden on veterinarians who are already pressed for time. We’d like this to be a logical step in their everyday workflow.”

Dr. Daniel Hurnik is UPEI's Industry Chair in Swine ResearchDr. Daniel Hurnik is UPEI's Industry Chair in Swine Research

Dr. Hurnik explains that nearly every veterinary practice uses some sort of practice-management system to track patient and other information. One possibility is to get all practitioners to use common software so that anonymous information can be shared and analyzed.

“Practitioners in Manitoba and Alberta have developed a software package called Swine Database Services,” says Dr. Hurnik. “We’re rolling this software out with veterinarians across the country. It uses a central server so that information about trends and diseases can be examined at a macro level without identifying specific farms.”

Without a national veterinary network, sharing information between regions requires organizing meetings and pulling people away from their day-to-day work.

“And that can be expensive and not very convenient,” says Dr. Hurnik. “Especially when you consider how big of a country we’re dealing with.”

CSHIN is examining a few methods of holding discussions, from an email group to a closed social network that shares information electronically.

“When you’re talking about disease, the longer you wait to take action, the worse the problem can become,” says Dr. Hurnik. “Our goal is to detect new disease events early so that we can plan our response early.”

Learning outside of the book

This is the second post in a series on the Student as Scholar initiative at UPEI.

“Dr. Giberson didn’t teach the course from a book, the way some professors do,” says Travis James, an honours biology student at UPEI. He’s referring to the unique learning experience offered by Dr. Donna Giberson, Professor of Biology, in her fourth-year Watershed Ecology course. “She put a much higher emphasis on her students knowing what is important to think about when working in the aquatic sciences, and how to conduct proper research.”

Dr. Giberson emphasizes learning through research in Watershed Ecology (Biology 462). As much of this research involves assessing the health and ecology of watershed areas, she saw an opportunity for service.

“Watershed groups on Prince Edward Island are desperate for staff and don’t have the resources to hire them,” says Dr. Giberson. “At the same time, our students have skills that are very useful to these groups. By working together, we provide a valuable service, but the students also gain experience.”

Many of the student groups in Biology 462 are assigned to create riparian assessment reports—an evaluation of the vegetation, soil type, diversity, and amount of erosion of the area immediately beside a river or stream.

“Many watershed groups know what the problem areas of their rivers and streams are, and many have made efforts to repair these areas,” explains Dr. Giberson. “These riparian assessments provide invaluable data about how well their strategy is working.”

Travis James’ team was called upon by a group in Tracadie Bay to measure the amount of sediment from farm runoff that lies at the bottom of Hardy’s Pond.

“The watershed group’s plan was to draw down the water of the pond and remove the sediment by truck,” says Dr. Giberson, “but they needed to first know how much sediment they were dealing with—especially to know how many truckloads they’d be removing.”

Travis James’ team was able to make soundings and measurements using GPS technology to provide a report back to the watershed association.

“That particular project taught me one of the most important lessons anyone can learn in research,” says James. “No matter how much you plan, or how simple something seems, something will always go wrong and everything will take longer than originally thought. To this note, I learned to always plan ahead and leave plenty of time for a project to be completed.”

Now graduated, James has returned to Biology 462, this time as a student assistant.

“I would describe this course as one of the best field-style biology courses offered at UPEI,” says James. “It lets you get a taste for research on your own. It involves a good amount of group work and offers lots of opportunity to get outside. I would say that any student interested in aquatic science, ecology, or just getting outside for class, should take this course.”

Watch: Research on Tap—the winter 2013 weather forecast edition

Dr. Adam Fenech doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict the weather. All he needs is a supercomputer, a stack of farmers almanacs, a groundhog, and a nest of wasps. At the next Research on Tap, he’ll take all these into account as he predicts the weather for winter 2013 on PEI. Watch the video below where he lays out his central arguments.


The discussion begins at 7 pm, Tuesday, November 6 at The Pourhouse (above Charlottetown’s Old Triangle).

Research on Tap is a series of public discussions with by UPEI researchers. For more information, contact Dave Atkinson at (902)620-5117, or datkinson@upei.ca

Dislike the politics, not the tax

“I think the HST is a good thing for PEI, in terms of the Island economy and the direction that public finances are going,” says Dr. Jim Sentance. Stacks of papers and tomes on economic theory fill his office in UPEI’s Main Building.

“I think the negative reaction we’re hearing is more in response to how it has been rolled out. It’s politically unpalatable, and could lead to a backlash such as we saw in British Columbia. Which is a shame.”

Dr. Sentance is a Professor of Economics at UPEI and chair of his department. He is generally in favour of the proposed Harmonized Sales Tax, but is concerned about its unpopularity among Islanders.

“What many Islanders believe is that the governing Liberals always said they would not adopt the HST and that they have since flip-flopped on the idea,” says Dr. Sentence. “And, really, some Liberal candidates in the last election did say no to it.”

Dr. Sentance says that senior Liberals, such as the premier and senior cabinet members, were much more careful with their language.

“You would have heard them say things such as ‘the HST is not currently on the table’ or that they wouldn’t consider adopting the HST unless they could get conditions built in from Ottawa that would ensure that low-income Islanders weren’t negatively affected.”

Still, he believes that, ideally, it should have been more openly discussed in the last election or at least presented to Islanders in a more open and consultative fashion once the government decided to go that direction.

Dr. Sentance predicts transfer payments from the federal government are going to decrease in the coming years. PEI and the rest of the provinces need to be more self-reliant and need to raise more revenue at home, which means not just higher tax rates but improving the tax base.

“The PEI economy has problems,” says Dr. Sentance, “and one problem we can actually do something about is the way we collect tax. The current PST imposes significant taxes on investment, which makes it very difficult to expand existing or attract new businesses. Especially when you consider that provinces with HST provide a tax rebate on investment.”

The biggest difference consumers will see under the HST will be the increased amount of tax on items such as electricity, clothes, and footwear. Dr. Sentance explains there is a longer list of items that will be taxed at a lower rate, but only by a percent or so. He says Islanders overall will be paying more taxes, but feels that amount has been exaggerated by HST critics.

“What people don’t understand is that we’re already paying most of the increase in tax that we’re going to see. Businesses are burying it in the price of their goods. Under HST, they won’t have to do that, and prices will generally reflect that by going down, as we’ve seen in other provinces.”

Looking to the future, as MLAs return for a fall sitting of the legislature, Dr. Sentance expects a renewed call for a referendum on HST.

“I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” he says. “I’m not confident a large enough portion of the population really understands what adopting the HST means. While I have a lot of sympathy with the anger about how it’s been brought in, at the end of the day I think policy should be judged on its merits. I’m concerned it would be voted down because of the way that it’s being implemented.”