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    Thursday
    Aug022012

    My Introduction of Sara Shettleworth at CSBBCS 2012

    Back in June I had the pleasure of introducing the Hebb Award winner, Sara Shettleworth.  The Hebb award is given by the Canadian Cociety for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science for distinguished contributions to experimental psychology.   It is basically a lifetime acheivement award.  Well, this years' winner was Sara.  I did my PhD (and MA) with Sara at U of T.  So, I was asked to introduce her.  I rarely write such things in advance, but hell, I did not want to screw this up.  Sara will be publishing a paper based on her talk, but my intro won't be part of it.  Wait, I have my own publishing outlet, right here, so umm yeah here it is.....

    I am really happy to be up here today to introduce Sara Shettleworth.

    I imagine that most of us here take for granted the idea that evolution and cognition go together.  Indeed, it would seem almost to be a given that our (meaning all animals’) cognitive systems are the products of natural selection.  It would probably surprise many of you to know this way of thinking was not always the case.  Oh sure, we all knew it, but nobody really paid attention to it.  

    I would think it would surprise you even more to know that this was the case in people studying animal cognition.  Again, we all knew about the importance of natural selection, we just didn’t put that knowledge into practice.

    This all changed in the past few decades, and one of the reasons was the work done by Sara, among others.  Her 1972 paper ‘Constraints on Learning’ was, to use a cliché, a game changer.  I once asked her about this paper, as I figured she wrote in while a grad student.  Her characteristic reply was ‘Oh I was just in the right place at the right time’.  (Sara has never been much on ego, indeed, when John Krebs was visiting our lab and we showed him my MA data he said ‘Brilliant’.  Sara said ‘well yes, his birds are…..’)

    The idea of integrating ecology and psychology has been a running theme in Sara’s career.  I think many people who study only boring humans think that those of us who study animals just study a single species (rats, or, more exotically, pigeons).  I remember Sara telling Rob Hampton and I that she was at some ornithology conference somewhere and a person asked her what species she studied.  Her reply was ‘I study problems, not species’. 

    The idea of constraints on learning and cognition (due to evolution) and the study of adaptive specializations lead to a number of theoretical works such exemplified by my favourites, 1993’s ‘Where is the Comparison in Comparative Cognition”.

    I was in Sara’s lab from 1988 – 1993, and near the end of my time there Sara started talking about her book.  This book, which came out in 1998 (the second edition came out in 2010), Cognition, Evolution and Behavior, is probably the most important book in the field of comparative cognition.  It integrates ecology and cognition in an almost seamless fashion.  Indeed, one might say in a Hebbian fashion…

    Sara always gave credit to her students, and was always telling us (or maybe just me) ‘you need to end that paper with more PR, you did some really great work there’.  I use that phrase with my students today.  She took us to conferences, even as MA1 students, and sent us to others.  In 1991 or 92 we were at psychonomics together.  Of course I, as a grad student, could not present, but she could, and she presented some of my data.  (I was listed as first author of course).  Now, on this trip the airline had lost my luggage.  Being the early 1990s, I was dressed in big black boots with chains hanging off of them, jeans with holes in the knees, a black beret and a t shirt with some band’s name on it (for that was the style at the time…)  I had not changed in 24 hr, and, umm, I may have been drinking the night before.  So, Sara is presenting my stuff, and someone asked a question, I think it was Ron Wiseman.  I looked at Sara up there and though ‘well, she knows this stuff as well as I do, I am sure the answer will be good’ and she says ‘this really is Dave Brodbeck’s work, you should ask him, stand up Dave’.  I stood up, answered the question, semi-coherently, and sat down.  It was only later that I realized, getting over my shock and fear….  that most of the presenters did not do that, they just answered the questions.  She was giving me credit, and promoting me, and that was pretty cool, if unnerving as hell. 

    She always treated our opinions as important.  Did she guide us along the way, of course, that was her job, but she did take our input seriously.  I remember being at U of T for a week, and Sara giving me her NSERC grant and asking my opinion.  I read it thinking ‘umm, what the hell does she want my thoughts for?’  I think I ended up saying the font was nice…..

    I could stand up here for hours and tell you all stories about Sara, but I already did that with Rob Hampton in 2008 when Sara was honoured by the Comparative Cognition Society.  Plus, I want to hear what Sara has to say.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great privilege, and honour, to introduce the 2012 Hebb award winner, Sara Shettleworth.

    Saturday
    Jul072012

    Futures in Biotech 95 - So Long and Thanks For All The FiBs

    With a cast of thousands and no subject matter, oh and a large number of skype crashes, it's FiB 95.  FiB is leaving the TWiT network, and off to hopefully bigger and better things.  Anyway, I was on this one, though they did not use video of me....

     

    Saturday
    Feb112012

    Changing Your Facebook Status Will Change The World (In Case You Can't Tell, I Am Being Sarcastic....)

    Red, Black, White, Plaid

    Remember that from a few years back?  Or was it just yesterday, the damned internet somehow distorts time or something….  Anyway, you remember though right?   It turned out to be some  sort of ‘meme’ (fuck I hate the misuse of a term invented by Richard Dawkins, but I digress) that was supposed to ‘raise awareness’ of breast cancer.  Raise awareness.  I can think of at least two friends off of the top of my head who have had breast cancer.  One of them is dealing with it right now.  I imagine most of us know about the existence of breast cancer.  But no, we need to ‘raise awareness’.  No, I am sorry, we do not.  This sort of bullshit slacktivism makes me want to set fire to every little ribbon worn for every cause ever. (On a side note, the first time I saw this run of colours on a status I thought it was a reference to Babylon 5, man I am a geek....)

    Oh but Dave it does no harm.  Bullshit.  This sort of crap makes people think they are doing something when they are doing fuck all.  So, they then, I would argue, think they have contributed somehow.  So, instead of actually contributing to charities, or volunteering their time, they just change their facebook status.

    Now, there are legitimate cases where ‘raising awareness’ is actually sensible.  Like putting up a poster for something with actual information.   If you know me you know I wear a cause bracelet.  It is for the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada.  I lost my Dad to brain cancer a few years ago.  I give money to the brain tumor foundation.  When people ask me what the bracelet is for I tell them about brain cancer, about my Dad, and about how to donate.  It is also a way for me to honour the memory of my father.

    Don’t even get me started on ‘for every share of this picture, facebook will donate a dollar to cause x y or z’.  Are you people morons?  Do the math.  (I never said there would be no math).  There are 800 000 000 people on facebook.  Let’s say something actually was shared by 1 percent of fb users.  That would put whoever is supposedly donating, on the hook for 8 million dollars.   Snopes is your friend, use it.

    Get out there, give money or time to charities.  The aforementioned Brain Tumor Foundation, the Red Cross and Amnesty International are my three favourites, and they get money from me every year.  But don’t change your facebook status and think you have made a difference.  All you have done is clutter up everyone’s timeline.

    Tuesday
    Jan172012

    Muhammad Ali Did Not Put Quran Verses On His Boxing Trunks

    Well, I have not ranted in quite a while, (don’t worry, I am still pretty pissed off…) but nothing has really struck me that much.  Not until a radical right wing nut (you might check out his work with Focus on the Family...) became the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos.

    As those that know me know, I am an atheist.  I am comfortable in that, and that has little or nothing to do with my ideas about Mr. Tebow.  What I don’t like is him shoving his religion at me.  Praying before games, fine.  Hell, pray during games (assuming your deity has money on the game, perhaps it will help…)  What I don’t like is the necessity to look at everything from the perspective of religion.  Yes, I know, if one is religious it is a pervasive thing.  Fine.  I DO NOT WANT YOU TO PREACH TO ME.  Don’t put bible verse references on your eyeblack.  Don’t mention god in every interview you do.  You are a damned football player.  Perhaps someday you will be as good a quarterback as say Anthony Calvillo.  AC is a religious guy.  I have heard him thank god a couple of times, notably after the Alouettes won a Grey Cup and he was about to get treated for a potentially life threatening thyroid condition.  However, when after a game AC is asked about the game he talks about, wait for it, THE GAME. 

    Bono is a religious guy.  I have seen U2 maybe 6 times.  I have not once heard him mention his religion.  Now there are religious themed songs on the October album for sure.  (Great songs BTW).  But, when he is on Letterman, he does not mention god.

    Remember this, Muhammad Ali never put Quran verses on his boxing trunks.  He is a Muslim (the name should have been a dead giveaway…) but what did he do?  Oh yeah he was just the greatest boxer of all time and perhaps the greatest sports personality of the 20th century.  We all know what Ali talked about when he was asked about boxing.

    I will leave you with this.  I wonder how the world would react if a not ready for prime time athlete was an atheist, or a Muslim and went around talking about that, instead of his sport

    Monday
    Jan162012

    Algoma University Interdisciplinary Colloquium Series: Michelle Atkin "Examining the Limits of Free Expression through Canadian Case Law: Reflections on the Canadian Library Association’s Code of Ethics and its supporting Statement on Intellectual Freedom"

    Every month or so one of my university colleagues presents a talk to the public.  These are pretty casual affairs, with a bar, indeed people get up and get drinks during the talks.  OK, maybe that is just me, but there is a cash bar, really!  I contacted Ken Hernden, who runs the series (along with Warren Johnston) and asked if we should not start recording and posting these.  Ken, of course thought this was a great idea. So, here is the first in what will become an intermittent series.  By the way, you Tangential Convergence listeniners will recognize Ken and Robin introducing their librarian colleague.  Oh yeah, and everything below this was stolen used with permission from an email Ken sent about the talk...  (Oh yeah, and the music is called "Beer Rights" by Battery Life).

    Abstract

    Various library associations around the world have developed codes of ethics to help guide librarians in their conduct as information professionals.  The structures of these codes and their enforceability have been the subject of much debate, particularly in the Canadian context.  This paper will examine the Canadian Library Association’s Code of Ethics and its Statement on Intellectual Freedom as applied to the practice of librarianship and its efforts to protect and promote intellectual freedom in Canada.  It will begin with a discussion of the ‘right’ to intellectual freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will then look at the legal limitations to that right as demonstrated by Canadian case law.  Specific attention will be paid to challenges to the legal limits of intellectual freedom in the areas of pornography, obscenity, defamation, hate speech and the application of public morals on book selection for schools.  Taking recent case law into account, the paper will then reflect back on the CLA’s Code of Ethics and its Statement on Intellectual Freedom. It will discuss the legal limits of intellectual freedom and the potential impact that those limits have upon professional codes of ethics and statements of values.  Finally the paper will provide suggestions for potential amendments to these important CLA documents so as to better reflect the constitutional guarantees afforded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

    About the Author

    Michelle Louise Atkin received her BA in Political Science from Carleton University in 1999, MLIS from McGill University in 2003, and her PhD in Information Studies from McGill in 2011.  Dr. Atkin's research work concerns information ethics, law and policy.  Her first book, Balancing Liberty & Security:  An Ethical Study of U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (2001-2009), is due out in early 2012.  Dr. Atkin is currently working on a second book on intellectual freedom and will be presenting her paper, "Examining the Limits of Free Expression through Canadian Case Law:  Reflections on the Canadian Library Association’s Code of Ethics and its supporting Statement on Intellectual Freedom" at the national conference of the Association for Information Science Education in Dallas Jan. 19, 2012.

    Dr. Atkin is an award winning librarian and teacher, having received a Professional Achievement Award from Carleton University in 2007 and a Capital Educator's Award from the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation in recognition of her accomplishments as a Law Professor in 2009 for her undergraduate "Legal Research Methods" and "Law and the Information Society" courses.  Dr. Atkin was the Law Reference Librarian at the Carleton University Library for 8 years (2003-2011) before joining Algoma University as an Associate Librarian and part-time professor (Department of Law & Politics). 

    You can directly download the talk here if you would like.

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