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William Raillant-Clark (Canada)

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  • 30.11.2015: COP21: Trudeau can’t count on support at home, Montreal professor says

    Political science Professor Erick Lachapelle suggests Trudeau will need to provide leadership in climate change fight

    While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Paris hammering out the details of the global fight against climate change, a new study out of the University of Montreal and the Trottier Energy Institute shows that Canadian attitudes are somewhat ambivalent. The report, entitled, “Feeling the Heat? The Paradox of Public Opinion and Climate Change Policy in Canada: Toward a New Research Agenda” examines public perceptions of this complex policy problem. 

    “Though a majority see evidence of a global warming trend, few feel personally at risk from a changing climate,” explained Erick Lachapelle, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor at the university’s Department of Political Science. “Moreover, Canadians are generally unprepared to personally assume some of the costs associated with a transition towards decarbonised energy.” 

    The findings result from a telephone survey of 1,014 Canadians. The margin of error for this size sample is 3.1% 19 times out of 20.

    As reflected in the relative lack of attention to climate in the course of the 2015 federal election campaign, the climate change issue lacks public salience going into the climate change talks in Paris. This is reflected in the low level of self-assessed knowledge of global warming: only 27% say they are well informed on the issue. “People who are really passionate about climate change, to the point where they take it upon themselves to become informed and stay up to date, are a relative minority in Canada. About a quarter of the population would fall into the well-informed category,” said Professor Lachapelle.

    Although most Canadians are aware that the climate is changing, substantially fewer attribute this warming primarily to human activity. While 82% of Canadians perceive evidence of warming, 49% attribute this warming primarily to human activity, and 18% to a combination of human and natural factors (12% attribute warming to natural forces and 3% are not sure.) In other words, while a majority (67%) attribute at least some human responsibility to rising temperatures, only about half subscribe to the scientific consensus that rising temperatures are primarily human caused. “The question of cause is an important nuance,” said Professor Lachapelle. “People aren’t going to alter their behaviour or support greenhouse gas reduction policies if they question humanity’s role in a warming planet” he said.

    Few perceive themselves as personally at risk from climate change, with 24% feeling they are likely to face no harm at all. Only 14% feel they are likely to be harmed a great deal by the phenomenon; 31% believe they will be harmed a moderate amount, and 31% feel they will be harmed only a little. “This perception of individual invulnerability is not due to confidence in our ability to adapt, since Canadians are much more likely to believe future generations will bear the brunt of climate change,” Lachapelle explained. Indeed, nearly half (49%) of Canadians believe the country’s future generations will be harmed a great deal. The belief that climate change would cause no harm, a little harm, or a moderate amount of harm to future generations accounted for 7%, 13% and 30% of public opinion respectively. Professor Lachapelle says this “discrepancy in risk perceptions suggests Canadians perceive climate change to be less of an individual than a collective problem.”

    Even provincial action on climate has done little to raise awareness of the issue. Despite the adoption of cap and trade programs in Quebec and Ontario, 44% admit hearing nothing at all about this policy and 37% say they have heard a little. Only 19% believe they have heard a lot about the concept. “Though federal government inaction is partially responsible for this general lack of awareness among Canadians, it is not the whole story” said Professor Lachapelle.  “In fact, many Canadians have never heard of cap and trade, despite the two largest provinces adopting this measure.”

    Moreover, Canadians are generally unprepared to pay more to support increased production of decarbonized energy – a quarter of Canadians aren’t willing to pay anything at all. Forty-four percent would be willing to pay somewhere between $1 and $100 per annum for the production of renewable energy. Only a third would be prepared to pay more than that. Erick Lachapelle finds this unsurprising. “Canadians are unwilling to pay more for services they already obtain relatively cheaply,” he said. “It is up to governments to educate the public on the co-benefits of a transition to a decarbonised economy. These include opportunities for economic innovation and growth, jobs, better air quality and public health. All are outcomes that resonate with various values found in the Canadian public.”

    Nevertheless, change is in the air. “After all these years of expecting the public to push government into action, we are beginning to see the emergence of real political leadership on this issue,” Lachapelle said. “Canadians elect politicians to lead. These findings challenge the new Trudeau government to engage the public on the issue of climate change after years of federal government inaction. Canada’s new federal government, the blocking of the Keystone pipeline by Washington and the occasion of the Paris conference are creating a golden opportunity for a renewed federal role. If the policy changes, the public won’t be that far behind. The challenge now lies with the government to better communicate the benefits of transitioning toward a decarbonised economy.”

    Image:  jean-pierre chambard, CC BY NC ND 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/AQxLSf

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

  • 10.11.2015: More info...

    More info here: http://www.nouvelles.umontreal.ca/udem-news/news/20151109-why-would-a-criminologist-support-the-legalization-of-marijuana.html

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

  • 28.10.2015: Singing calms baby longer than talkingNew study shows that...

    Singing calms baby longer than talking

    New study shows that babies become distressed twice as fast when listening to speech compared to song

    In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

    Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.”

    The researchers took a variety of measures to ensure the children’s reaction to the music was not influenced by other factors, such as sensitivity to their mother’s voice. Firstly, both the speech (“baby talk” and adult-directed) and the music presented to infants were produced in Turkish, so that the song and language were unfamiliar. “The performer sang Turkish play songs, not Western ones. This is an important point as studies have shown that the songs we sing to infants have a specific range of tones and rhythms,” explained first author Mariève Corbeil, also of the University of Montreal. “Every parent knows it’s not much use singing Rihanna to their baby!” Secondly, the babies were not exposed to any other stimuli. “Although their parents were in the room, they sat behind the babies, so their facial expressions could not influence the child’s,” Corbeil added. “Infants were also exposed to recordings, rather than a live performance, to ensure comparable performances for all children and no social interactions between performer and child.”

    When the infants were calm, parents took a seat behind the infant and the experiment began. The researchers played the recordings until the infants displayed the “cry face” – lowered brows, lip corners pulled to the side, mouth opening and raised cheeks. This is infants’ most common facial expression of distress. “When listening to the Turkish song, babies remained calm for an average duration of approximately nine minutes. For speech, it was roughly only half as long, regardless of whether it was baby-talk or not,” Corbeil said. Baby-talk kept them calm for just over four minutes, on average; for adult-directed speech, it was just under four minutes. “The lack of significant distinction between the two types of speech came as a surprise to us,” she added.

    The researchers then tested their findings by exposing a different set of infants to recordings of mothers singing songs in a familiar language (French), and found the same effect. “Our findings leave little doubt about the efficacy of singing nursery rhymes for maintaining infants’ composure for extended periods,” Peretz said. “Even in the relatively sterile environment of the testing room–black walls, dim illumination, no toys, and no human visual or tactile stimulation—the sound of a woman singing prolonged infants’ positive or neutral states and inhibited distress.” “While infants listened to the Turkish play song for roughly nine minutes before meeting the cry-face criterion, it was six minutes for the play song in French, a language with which they were very familiar,” Corbeil added. “These findings speak to the intrinsic importance of music, and of nursery rhymes in particular, which appeal to our desire for simplicity, and repetition.”

    The findings are important because mothers, and Western mothers in particular, speak much more often than they sing to their children, missing out on the emotion-regulatory properties of singing. The researchers believe that singing could be particularly useful for the parents who are challenged by adverse socio-economic or emotional circumstances. “Although infant distress signals typically prompt parental comforting interventions, they induce frustration and anger in some at-risk parents, leading to insensitive responding and, in the worst cases, to infant neglect or abuse,” Peretz said. “At-risk parents within the purview of social service agencies could be encouraged to play vocal music to infants and, better still, to sing to them.”

    About this study
    Mariève Corbeil, Sandra E. Trehub, and Isabelle Peretz published “Singing Delays the Onset of Infant Distress,” in Infancy on September 22, 2015 (DOI: 10.1111/infa.12114.) Corbeil, Peretz and Trehub are affiliated with the University of Montreal’s International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS) and Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language (CRBML). Peretz is also a professor at the university’s Department of Psychology and holds the Canada Research Chair in Neurocognition of Music. Trehub is affiliated with the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of Psychology.

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

  • 26.10.2015: 20% of kids don't respond to standard cancer treatment. Now there is new hope.

    World first clinical study with patients facing a therapeutic dead end launched at CHU Sainte-Justine

    A new drug combination being trialled in a groundbreaking CHU Sainte-Justine/University of Montreal study at is giving hope for survival, healing and improved quality of life to the 20% of children who do not respond to standard cancer treatments. Known as DEC-GEN, it’s the world’s first study involving children with solid tumors or recurrent or refractory leukemia. It was designed at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre by principal investigators Dr. Noël Raynal and Dr. Henrique Bittencourt, both professors at the University of Montreal, and aims to evaluate the effectiveness in children of a combination of two drugs which are already used individually in the treatment of cancers. This drug combination therapy developed at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS).

    Funded by Gateway for Cancer Research and the in-kind contribution of Pharmascience and DSM Nutritional Products, who will be providing decitabine and genistein respectively at no charge for the duration of the study, the DEC-GEN study is being carried out in collaboration with the INRS. It’s innovative approach lies in the epigenetic action created by combining two drugs, namely decitabine, used to treat acute leukemias, and genistein, a natural isoflavone found in soybeans. The two molecules act synergistically to reprogram cancer cells and stop their progression, specifically targeting epigenetic alterations such as DNA hypermethylation, responsible for repressing tumor suppressor genes.

    “The DEC-GEN combination is significantly less toxic than conventional therapies, because the effective dose is minimized through the synergetic action of the two molecules,” says Noël Raynal, drawing upon the preliminary results of a clinical trial that was conducted with patients with solid tumors at the Notre-Dame Hospital of the CHUM. This trial was undertaken on behalf of the INRS and with the close collaboration of Pharmascience and DSM Nutritional Products.

    Phase I of the study will be conducted in the first year at CHU Sainte Justine with 12 patients aged 2 to 20 years who are facing a therapeutic dead end. The objective is to assess the impact of a dose-escalated treatment on biological factors, such as DNA methylation, and on pharmacokinetic and pharmacogenetic parameters. Once the optimal dose is identified, phase II of the study will be extended to other pediatric oncology centers in Canada. In total, the researchers aim to treat 24 patients in the course of this study.

    In addition to achieving the obvious sought and expected clinical benefits for patients, the researchers are confident that their work will broaden the horizon of scientists in their quest for other combinations of epigenetic drugs to fight cancers.

    Image: Martin LaBar, CC BY NC 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9k8FzP

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

  • 09.09.2015: Tinder-tinkering artificial intelligence could lessen...

    Tinder-tinkering artificial intelligence could lessen left-swiping

    An artificial intelligence programme to improve Tinder suggestions has been developed by Harm de Vries, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Montreal who was sick of swiping left. Signing up for an account was one of the first things he did upon arriving in the city in August 2014, but he was disappointed with the results. “Tinder kept offering me photos of women with lots of tattoos and piercings, even though I’d never chosen a single one. I don’t want to offend anyone, they’re simply not my type,” he explained. Noting that the app failed to take note of his user history in order to better target the women he might like, he developed new software, the details of which he published on Arxiv. His work is supervised by professors Aaron Courville and Roland Memisevic who are with Yoshua Bengio’s lab in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research.

    For those of us who are unfamiliar with Tinder, it’s a mobile application that works by looking at the user’s location: it finds users close to where you are and displays their photos. You can then either swipe right with your finger to indicate that you are interested, or to the left if you aren’t. If someone swipes right on your photo, you’re a match and are able to communicate directly with each other.

    Developing his programme depended on teaching it how to recognize the type of women that he likes. To do this, he extracted almost 10,000 images from the Tinder and app and processed them using algorithms. “Ten thousand images might seem like a lot, but in reality, it was too few for the programme to be able to precisely predict which image might interest me, as physical attraction does not depend uniquely on objective characteristics such as hair colour,” de Vries said.

    In order to establish his programme’s success rate, de Vries’ first step was actually to figure out what his own preferences actually were.  “I realized that I was interested in 53% of the women’s portraits, which meant that my tastes are actually wider than I thought!” he said. The first version of his programme, which allowed the user to label images to train the machine, had a mixed result: 55%. “I labeled all 10,000 images from Tinder. 8000 were used to train the program, and the rest were used to evaluate the performance of the program. The results of the first version were hardly better than chance, because it seems that a sample of 10,000 photos was too little, and because predicting attraction is more complex than a computer determining whether or not there’s a person in the image,” he added.

    Refining the analysis required applying “deep learning” – a type of computer learning that works in a similar way to the brain’s neuron networks. It depends on successively filtering information. From the pictures and the labels, the successive filters enable the machine to learn concepts such as hair colour and gender. This involved programming the computer so that it could distinguish men from women amongst 500,000 photos that he had retrieved from OkCupid, an American dating site. After a few weeks of learning, the computer managed this task with 93% accuracy. In comparison,  de Vries himself only achieved 95% when he undertook the task personally.

    Next, he built the data from this learning analysis into his original programme in order to test it once again on its ability to find Tinder photos he’d like. This led to a success rate of 68%. “A success rate 68% is a very good start, in one of my good friends who knows my tastes well  looked a random sample and only achieved 76%!” de Vries said.

    His result leads him to believe that artificial intelligence could improve computer analysis of Tinder users’ preferences. As for de Vries, his next steps will be to further improve his computer’s deep learning abilities, advancing artificial intelligence to help people to find their soulmate.

    Reference: de Vries, Harm; Yosinski, Jason, “Can deep learning help you find the perfect match?”, eprint arXiv:1505.00359, May 2015.

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

  • 04.08.2015: Drugs: It’s not (just) what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it

    In many societies, drug use is the norm, not the exception, especially by youth. So what keeps the majority of users from becoming addicted?

    Abstinence is the best way to avoid drug addiction, but amongst drug users, how the substances are taken can influence the likelihood of the development of addiction, according to a new study by pharmacology researchers at the University of Montreal.

    “Why do some drug users become addicts? The amount of drugs they take over time is one factor, but the speed with which the substance enters and exits the brain can be just as important. Pharmacokinetics is about what happens to a drug once it is inside the body and brain. For example, when you smoke a joint, the level of cannabis in the brain increases and decreases much more quickly than when you eat a magic brownie. And this variation depends on how you are taking the drug” - lead researcher Professor Anne-Noël Samaha.

    What emerges from this research is that in addition to the social context and the predispositions of the individual, the risk of becoming addicted is influenced both by how fast a drug gets to the brain and by whether the amount of drug in the brain fluctuates or remains constant during intoxication. In other words, people using drugs must be aware that specific ways of using and routes of administration influence their risk of addiction.

    Samaha and study co-authors Florence Allain, Ellie-Anna Minogianis and David C. Roberts came to their conclusions by undertaking an analysis of the available literature on the subject. This included findings from Dr. Samaha and Dr. Roberts’ laboratories. Firstly, they dissected the results of clinical studies demonstrating that how a drug is taken can predict the risk of addiction. For example, a drug that can be addictive when smoked can in fact be therapeutic when it is swallowed (e.g. methadone) or administered by a skin patch (nicotine). They then looked at the findings of preclinical rodent trials measuring the effects of pharmacokinetic variables on the development of behaviours and changes in the brain linked to addiction. The studies show that how fast a drug reaches the brain and how often brain levels rise and fall are critical to the development of drug addiction.

    When a person smokes or injects a drug intravenously, the amount of drug in the brain increases and decreases very quickly in comparison to when the drug is snorted or swallowed. Injection and smoking are the two means of administration most likely to lead to addiction.

    “Intravenous and smoked doses provoke a high and rapid peak of the concentration of the drug in the brain, followed by a rapid decline,” Samaha explained. “We don’t yet know how, but such spikes in brain levels of drug increase the desire to take more drug and to consume compulsively.”

    Various studies show that the maximum intoxication felt by intravenous cocaine users occurs within one to five minutes, compared to 15 to 20 minutes for those who snort it. This is because when a drug is snorted or even swallowed, this leads to a slower and smaller peak, which then declines progressively.

    “The brain is a sensing organ that responds to changes,” Samaha said. “The faster the change, the stronger the brain responds, meaning that the more the levels of drugs in the brain increase and decrease abruptly, the more the brain modifies itself to adapt.”

     Some of these modifications make drugs more and more irresistible, leading to addiction. A great example is nicotine. “When you smoke a cigarette, the levels of nicotine increase and decrease very quickly in your brain. But when you use nicotine patches, the levels increase slowly and remain stable. Smoking cigarettes can be addictive, using patches is not,” Samaha explained.

    Pharmacokinetic principles are already used to control certain addictions – continuous nicotine patches that help smokers quit are a case in point. Likewise, orally-taken methadone acts slower and can help a heroin addict get off the drug. These principles could one day guide the development of new treatments to reduce cocaine addiction, for which there is currently no approved medication.

    In the meantime, Samaha and her colleagues believe that efforts must be invested to better prevent the development of addiction amongst users of both legal and illicit drugs.

    In our society, drug use is the norm, not the exception,” Samaha said. “ Amongst recreational users, 15 to 30% will become addicted, depending on the type of drug they use. Drug pharmacokinetics contribute to this distinction. We are obviously not suggesting that people start using drugs, as virtually all forms of drug use can lead to addiction, but it is important to be aware that if you smoke or inject drugs you are exponentially increasing this risk.”

    This article was based on an Université de Montréal news release.

    Image:  Rémi Noyon CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bX6pK1

    Source: Rutherford Mansfield

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