Should You Go to University?

Ken Coates and Bill Morrison have a new book out called, What to Consider if You’re Considering University: New Rules for Education and Employment.

The main argument of this book is that university isn’t for everyone. Instead, students need to think more carefully about what is the best post-secondary option given their interests, goals, and aptitudes.

To help students make their decision, at least with respect to university, they suggest considering the following questions (which I’ve taken from a Waterloo Record article): Continue reading

  • Do you read high quality fiction, other than what you had to read in English class? (Books with zombies in them don’t count as “high quality.”)
  • Do you read newspapers (online is fine), magazines like The EconomistMaclean’s and The Walrus, and high quality non-fiction books like those written by Malcolm Gladwell?
  • Do you watch foreign films, art films, public television and documentaries?
  • Do you get excited or troubled about world affairs? Do you seek out information about climate change, conflict in the Middle East, the economic rise of China or developments in stem cell technology?
  • Do you like learning? Do you enjoy museums, art galleries, lectures and discussions that embrace the world of ideas? Are you interested in outer space, the evolution of species, and other scientific topics?

Coates, who was in town on Thursday, calls this a “curiosity test.” Your responses “tell us almost everything we need to know about you,” the book says. If you answered yes to most of these questions, you’re curious and enjoy reading. You will likely enjoy university, do well, and find your way.”

So how would I score right now on this test?

1) I don’t really read high quality fiction, whatever that is.  I do read science fiction though.

2) I do read newspapers and high quality non-fiction, but much of that is for work.

3) I have, but don’t really watch any of those things. At least not very often.

4) Yes. Definitely. Not excited, but more like curious about why they happen or what they mean.

5) Yes, I do like learning.

So I guess university is for me!

But what would my answers have been when I was in high school? I’m not 100% sure, but I think:

1) Again, no.  But I did read lots of science fiction.

2) Yes, but I mainly read the comics and the sports section.  I did skim the front page and I did read Maclean’s religiously for a while . However, that was because my dad used to work for Maclean’s and he would bring home copies for me.

3) Definitely not.

4) Not really. I did pay attention to Canadian politics but did I seek out information? Not really.

5) I’m pretty sure I would have said no at the time. I guess I did have some interest in museums in that I liked the “old civilizations” stuff (mainly as a result of historical board games and computer games).

How about you?

I have a soft spot for Duff the reporter

Published July 21, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Let me begin with a confession. I have a soft spot for Mike Duffy. Not for the Conservative hack he chose to become, nor for the self-important senator (Old Duff) that he morphed into as he shilled for the party at fundraising events.

As a journalist, I cannot excuse the hatchet job he orchestrated on Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, an honourable man who struggled in English, near the end of the 2008 election campaign. A nasty, partisan job, it helped tip that election to Stephen Harper and secured Duffy’s appointment to the Senate.

The soft spot dates to an earlier time, when Duffy was a simple reporter in the Parliamentary Press Gallery who climbed the ladder by virtue of hard work, shrewd instincts and raw ambition. He was good. He got to know more key players on Parliament Hill than other reporters and, as a result, he broke more stories. He was the go-to reporter for many MPs.
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I watched him move from private radio to CBC radio to lead parliamentary reporter for CBC television, then on to stardom at CTV and celebrity status as host of his own shows. He earned his success, but it went to his head. He adored the spotlight. He left the press seats for the playing field in the political game that fascinated him. And he chose the Tories because they offered the best route to what he really wanted: that seat in the Senate.

Now the RCMP has charged him with no fewer than 31 criminal charges related to his Senate expense claims. The 31 charges amount to prosecutorial overreaching. The police undoubtedly hope to intimidate Duffy into pleading guilty to two or three of them, meanwhile demonstrating to their political masters and to the public at large that they have left no stone unturned in their investigation.

This is going to be a difficult prosecution for the police and government lawyers. Some of the charges are clearly redundant. Some are based on the quicksand of Senate expense rules, which tend to be vague and ill-enforced and which, over the years, have depended on an honour system among senators.

Duffy is accused of using his Senate expense account for personal travel and travel to political events on behalf of his party. Senators are not supposed to do that, but, if Duffy did, he wouldn’t be the first. These relatively small expense items account for 18 of the 31 changes.

The crux of the case is the residency issue. The Constitution and enabling legislation stipulate that senators be resident in the province they represent. That means they must own at least $4,000 worth of property in that province. The requirement is woefully outdated. These days, a parking space might satisfy the legal requirement.

Everyone, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, knew when he appointed Duffy that he had lived in Ottawa for decades. But he owned a cottage in Prince Edward Island and that seemed to satisfy the residency requirement. Members from beyond the National Capital Region are permitted to claim accommodation expenses when in Ottawa on Senate business. Usually, that means a hotel room.

In Duffy’s case, he unwisely claimed expenses for his house in Ottawa. That claim passed inspection by the Senate for a few years, until an outside auditor raised a red flag. Duffy was ordered to repay $90,000. He didn’t have the money. To cut a complicated story short, that’s why Duffy arranged to accept the $90,000 from Nigel Wright, the PM’s chief of staff, who tried to protect Harper from further embarrassment by writing a personal cheque for Duffy.

Harper got angry. Wright lost his job. Duffy got suspended from the Senate. Now, among the 31 charges, he is accused of corruptly accepting a $90,000 bribe from Wright. But Wright is not accused of offering a bribe. Go figure.

Clearly, Mike Duffy is the author of his own misfortune. It’s a misfortune that makes him as much a victim as a villain.

Cities, Subsidiarity, and Federalism

Author: Loren King

Published June 2014 in Federalism and Subsidiarity.

Abstract: My aim here is to use the city as an analytic category, a lens through which to examine the principle of subsidiarity and the justification of federalism. I will argue that two powerful justifications for subsidiarity seem as if they should be mutually supporting, but in fact pull us in different directions with respect to the justification of particular institutional strategies for realizing autonomy for distinct groups. I conclude by drawing out some implications of my analysis for the justification of federalism. I begin by explaining the ideas of subsidiarity and federalism, and explaining my chief aims more fully, before turning to cities to advance my analysis.

Rationality in short supply in Israeli-Hamas conflict

Published July 17, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

There perhaps has been no more fitting a metaphor over the years for the Palestinian resistance movement in general, and Hamas in particular, than the shahid, the suicide bomber.

While the tactics of suicide belts and bombing buses have been stymied by Israeli intelligence, and particularly the barrier separating West Bank Arabs from Israelis, the Hamas strategy has deviated little. Motivated by people who think the path to eternal paradise is dying in the pursuit of killing Israelis, they continue to follow the increasingly futile approach of placing Palestinians at risk in order to accomplish jihadist goals. Unable to achieve their goals by killing Israelis, they are now threatening to kill themselves.

Westerners who have difficulty fathoming this thinking are rightly appalled by the absurdly disproportionate casualties in Gaza and Israel from the seemingly endless barrage of rockets and missiles launched by the two sides. However, this is a part of the world where xenophobia and an obsession with lost honour prevail, and where compromise is derided.

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Random Stuff: Co-authorship and Compulsory Voting

There’s a new book from Cambridge University Press written by two political theorists who argue with each other about the merits of Compulsory Voting.  Looks like a great book for teaching!

There’s also a new study (hat tip kids prefer cheese) that looks at how people perceive art that is produced collaboratively or by one artist. Info below:

Rosanna Smith & George Newman
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, forthcoming

Abstract: The present studies investigate whether people perceive the same work of art to be of lower quality if they learn that it was a collaborative work (resulting from the efforts of multiple artists) versus the work of a single artist. Study 1 finds that indeed, as the number of authors increases, the perceived quality of an artwork decreases. Study 2 finds that this effect occurs because people tend to assess quality in terms of the effort put forth by each author, rather than the total amount of effort required to create the work. Study 3 further demonstrates that this bias toward single authors appears to be driven by people’s beliefs, rather than by any inherent differences between individual versus collaborative work. These results broaden our understanding of how perceptions of effort drive evaluative judgments, and are consistent with a more general notion that art is not evaluated as a static entity, but rather as an endpoint in a “creative performance.

I think the study (well, at least based on the abstract!) is interesting but also relevant for academia.  Typically, co-authorship is discounted.  People seem to think that somehow, co-authorship automatically involves less work than single-authored publications.  I can say definitely that it’s not true! I also think that co-authorship has one powerful advantage that single-authorship does not.  You are stuck with some heavily invested in the project, and who will therefore spend lots of time thinking about and discussing the project with you! In single authored work, colleagues will help as much as they can, but won’t do as much as a co-author would and so single-authored studies have to rely heavier on solitary thinking, and peer review/conferences

 

Barriers to Calling 9-1-1 during Overdose Emergencies in a Canadian Context

AuthorsKayla M. Follett, Anthony Piscitelli, Michael Parkinson, and Felix Munger

Published July 2014 in Critical Social Work.

Abstract: Research has shown there are notable barriers to calling 9-1-1 during accidental overdose emergencies. Overdose is a significant health and social justice concern, yet Canadian researchers have not explored the existence or prevalence of these systemic obstacles. The current case study examines the barriers to calling 9-1-1 that people face in Southern Ontario when confronted with accidental overdose incidents. The locality of this study is particularly suitable as Wellington County, that is, Waterloo Region and Guelph are socio-demographically similar to Ontario and Canada. Barriers were assessed by surveying individuals that have or currently use drugs (n=291) and are clients of local methadone clinics or outreach services. Data were explored using frequency tables and then compared using crosstabulations. The findings of this case study suggest there are multiple barriers to calling 9-1-1 during accidental drug overdoses. Similar to previous studies, the most common barriers cited were fear of being arrested (53%), breaching probation or parole (30%), and fear of losing custody of children (24%). Lowering the barriers to calling 9-1-1 may help to forge the path necessary to improved health care and access to resources. Ultimately, and most importantly, lives may be saved.

How will historians judge Harper’s reign?

Published July 14, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Stephen Harper has been prime minister since February 2006. They have been eventful years, but some day — if not next month or next year or a year or two after that — the Harper era will come to a close.

The prime minister may decide enough is enough and choose to retire while the cheers of his grateful party still resonate on Parliament Hill. Or he may lose an election (the next one is due in October 2015) and leave before he is pushed. Or he may stay too long and be pushed.

He may opt for a soft landing in boardroom Canada. Or he may do what other former leaders have done: lend their name to the letterhead of a big law firm to open doors for corporate clients — in other words, become a pricey lobbyist. Or he may hire a scribe to help him write his memoirs (and settle scores), as Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney have done and as Dalton McGuinty is doing now. Or Harper could hold his nose and appoint himself to the Senate of Canada, an institution that he may hold in low esteem, but which still pays a living wage with benefits and expenses.
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However it happens, the Harper years will end. When that happens, the Harper legacy file will be passed from the pundits, pollsters and political scientists to the historians. What will their verdict be?

Will they place him in the upper tier of prime ministers, with John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie King and, perhaps, Robert Borden and Pierre Trudeau? Will they put him in the mid-range along with Mulroney (Airbus scandal aside) and Chrétien? Or will he find himself sharing the bottom shelf with the likes of John Diefenbaker?

His advocates will draw attention to his handling of the Canadian economy since the market meltdown of 2008. True, Canada weathered the storm better than most, and no Canadian banks collapsed, but how much of that survival was due to the wise stewardship of the Harper government and how much was due to laws and regulations put in place by previous administrations? That’s a question for the historians to ponder. They may note that the Canadian economy has not rebounded as quickly as the Americans’, that the country is still bleeding manufacturing jobs, and that the national unemployment rate remains unacceptably high. They may or may not be impressed by the various iterations of Harper’s “economic action plan.”

Their verdict of the Harper government’s performance on the world stage is likely to be more definitive. Canada lost more than a seat on the UN Security Council; on Harper’s watch, it has lost influence everywhere, most notably in the Middle East where, since the days of Lester Pearson, Canada had played a significant role. Foreign Minister John Baird’s hectoring tone is more irritating than effective. Harper’s little punch-up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin may be good politics domestically (although I doubt that), but it is silly and irrelevant internationally.

At home, historians may observe that the political atmosphere has changed for the worse on Harper’s watch. Confrontation has replaced co-operation on many fronts. This is a government that picks fights with the courts, the opposition and even the Senate. It no longer holds first ministers’ meetings with the provinces; Harper either doesn’t respect the premiers or want to share a national stage with them, or he doesn’t think he needs their support for most things he wants to do.

He tried to get away with disenfranchising thousands of voters with his ill-named Fair Elections Act. His administration thinks it can somehow make prostitution go away, no matter what the courts and the Charter may say. Sometimes his ministers seem more incompetent than arrogant. They can’t figure out how to bring competition to the wireless sector. They can’t organize a proper, open procedure for the purchase of new aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Historians may be less than impressed.

Did byelection results send PM a message?

Published July 7, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Federal byelections can be quite dramatic, harbingers of political upheaval to come. We saw that back in 1978 when the tired Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, backed into a constitutional corner, was forced to call no fewer than 15 byelections, all held on Oct. 16 that year. The Liberals’ worst fears were realized as they took a beating everywhere, winning just two of the byelections, both in Quebec. Seven months later, the Grits were out of office and the Tories, under Joe Clark, were in (briefly).

In March 1989, Deborah Grey won a byelection in the Alberta riding of Beaver River. Her victory, by a wide margin over a Progressive Conservative, signalled the arrival of the Reform party and the beginning of the disintegration of the Tory base on the Prairies. Seventeen months later, in August 1990, a Quebec union organizer, Gilles Duceppe, captured Laurier-Sainte Marie in a byelection. He ran as an independent because he did not yet have a party to belong. But that party, the Bloc Québécois, was soon created by defectors from the Liberals and Tories; in 1997, it became the official opposition in Ottawa.
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There were four federal byelections last week, two in Ontario and two in Alberta. They did not offer the drama of the contests mentioned above. The Conservatives retained their two Alberta seats and the Liberals held theirs in Scarborough-Agincourt. The only change came in the inner city Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, Olivia Chow’s old seat. It has been an NDP-Liberal swing seat, and this time it swung back to the Liberals, with city councillor Adam Vaughan as their high-profile candidate.

But more happened last week than met the casual eye. The exceptionally low turnout masked some revealing movement. The Liberals gained strength everywhere while the Conservatives lost vote share, even in the two Alberta seats that they won. The Liberals took an aggregate average of 21 per cent of the vote in the four ridings in the 2011 general election. In last week’s byelections, they averaged 41 per cent. The Tories, meanwhile, collected an average of 38 per cent in the byelections, down from 50 per cent in 2011.

The NDP’s share dropped from 24 per cent to 15, while the Green party held steady at 4 per cent.

It would be foolish to read too much significance into the byelections. The results, however, do reflect the same trends as the national polls. The Liberals retain the momentum that has kept them in first place in the polls since Justin Trudeau became leader 14 months ago. Conservative support is stagnant, at best. Some cracks are appearing in their base, even Fortress Alberta.

Their negative attacks on Trudeau’s maturity and ability have done the Tories no good and may have hurt their cause.

For the New Democrats, the 103 seats and official opposition status they won under the late Jack Layton, is as good as it will probably get. Despite the stellar parliamentary leadership of Thomas Mulcair, they seem destined to slip back to their accustomed third place, as the 60-odd per cent of Canadians who reject Stephen Harper’s Conservatives mostly choose the Liberals over the New Democrats as their default government. For Elizabeth May and her Greens, the numbers suggest more of the same — a fringe party clinging to one or two seats in Parliament.

There is nothing at this stage to indicate that any party has enough support, or momentum, to elect a majority government. Anything can happen between now and October 2015 when the next election is scheduled, but as matters stand, a minority government is a real possibility.

For Justin Trudeau, a minority Liberal government would be a huge breakthrough and a personal vindication. A minority Conservative government would be, for Trudeau, a smaller breakthrough, but a victory nonetheless — and an opportunity to continue to build. For Harper, reduction to a minority would signal the end of the road after nine years as prime minister.

Do “Audience Response Systems” (e.g. clickers) Produce Better Learning Outcomes?

The answer, according to a new study, is basically no.

Main findings are:

  • Students like clickers. They feel that it helps them pay greater attention in class.
  • Student attendance is also facilitated by clickers.
  • But does it impact learning outcomes? On the metric of “test scores” the answer is no.

All of these findings confirm what I’ve found anecdotally from my classes.  High attendance? Check. Students like them because it helps them pay attention during a three hour night class? Check.

But does it have an effect on test score? I don’t know.  I’ve never really compared.

UPDATE:

So, I did a quick and extremely rough comparison between the 2011 and 2013 final grades (not test scores) for my second year intro to Canadian politics course.  It’s nowhere near a perfect comparison, I realize, because some of the content and assignments/final exams are different.  Also, I can’t control for variations in my tone and delivery, the classrooms, timeslots etc. In other words, there’s a lot noise in this comparison. And so I know I should stop here and abandon any hopes of comparison and analysis, but what the heck?! This is a blog so:

2011 had no audience response system. 2013 did. Roughly, what do we see?

In 2011, I had 104 students.  Class average was a C (65.86%). Standard deviation was 15.34%. Median was C+ (68.85%).

In 2013, I had 105 students. Class average was a C+ (68.5%). Standard deviation was 12.1%. Median was B- (70%).

Overall, not much of a difference. (Anyone want to run a t-test for me?!)

But, if we value class attendance and student satisfaction, then maybe test scores shouldn’t be the only factor in deciding whether we should use audience response systems. Or maybe, we might see results differ on other evaluation tools beyond test score.

We need more research on teaching methods and technologies and their effects on learning outcomes.

My Thoughts on the Aboriginal Title SCC Decision: Part 2

The National Post today (Wednesday July 2) printed my op ed on the impact of the recent SCC decision on Aboriginal title.  They haven’t posted a copy on the website yet and I’m not sure they will (the Canada Day holiday has played some havoc with the publishing schedule!).

So, just in case they don’t publish it online at some point, below is the raw, un-copyedited version of the op ed.  I hope my much more legally-informed and inclined colleagues (I’m looking at you guys, Macfarlane and Baker!) will tell me whether I’m right or wrong?
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Headline: A recipe for Indigenous Paralysis?

Of all of the dispute resolution mechanisms available to Indigenous peoples and the Crown in Canada, the judicial system is probably the worst of the lot.  Rarely do judicial decisions create harmony and compromise between two parties.  Instead, they frequently produce winners and losers and all of the negative feelings that come with being labeled as such.

Canadian judges have long been aware of this fact, which partly explains why it took them so long to clarify the exact nature of Aboriginal title in this country.  Previous to this decision, Canadian courts had urged Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders to negotiate their disputes rather than litigate them.  This recent decision, however, dramatically changes this long-standing message from the bench, with potentially dire and unintended consequences.

One of the key mechanisms for addressing the Aboriginal land question in Canada has been the treaty process.  Although far from perfect, Aboriginal groups have been working with the Crown to negotiate comprehensive land claims agreements to facilitate economic development and empower their communities to exercise their autonomy within the broad legal framework of Canada.  Remember that the Supreme Court had previously refused to clearly spell out the nature of Aboriginal title, and so it made sense for Aboriginal groups to negotiate with the Crown.

This new decision, however, radically changes the incentives facing Indigenous people.  Now, we are likely to see Indigenous groups across Canada abandon negotiations in favour of simply asserting their title and sovereignty to all their lands.  Why bother negotiating a modern treaty, which involves giving up Aboriginal title in exchange for a mixed bag of ownership rights to a much smaller portion of Aboriginal lands, when you can exercise something akin to fee simple ownership over all of your traditional lands right away and without the time and expense of negotiating a treaty?

If Aboriginal groups choose this path, then the Crown will have to decide how to react.  Will it radically reform the treaty process to bring Aboriginal groups back to the table? Or will it seek confrontation by pushing the “compelling and substantial public purpose” angle to push development forward despite Aboriginal opposition?  Given the track record of this federal government, I think the latter strategy is more likely and Canadians should brace themselves for years of protests and confrontations.

A second unintended consequence of this decision, and one that I think is just as important as the others, is that it potentially empowers individual Indigenous citizens to hold not only the government of Canada accountable for its actions, but their Aboriginal leaders as well.  Aboriginal title now means something akin to fee simple rights, and which is collectively held by the Aboriginal community.  This also means, among other things, that Aboriginal groups may also face potentially powerful restrictions on how they can use their lands now and in the future.  According to the Supreme Court, lands held under Aboriginal title cannot be used in such a way as to threaten their future use by future generations.

What this means in practice is that even if an Aboriginal government grants its consent to a major economic development project, an individual band member could successfully sue to prevent that development from occurring on the basis that the project threatened the future use of the community’s lands.

It is also possible that band members might use this new definition of Aboriginal title to thwart other land use projects besides resource extraction, such as building casinos and even housing subdivisions. A band member might successfully argue that building a multimillion dollar casino will prevent future band members from using that particular plot of land for traditional cultural practices, like hunting and fishing.

There’s no question that this decision is a “game changer.” What’s unclear is exactly how the game has been changed and for whom.

Christopher Alcantara is an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His latest book, Negotiating the Deal: Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in Canada, was published last year by University of Toronto Press and was a finalist for this year’s Donald Smiley Prize.

 

Double Blind Peer Review: Some Thoughts for the First Timers

Double blind peer review is supposed to be the gold standard of academic research.

According to this model, authors submit manuscripts to journal or book editors who in turn send the papers to experts in the field.  These experts are supposed to evaluate the manuscripts anonymously; neither the reviewer nor the author is supposed to know the identity of each other until after publication when at the least the author is revealed.

Given how important peer review is to academic success, it’s astounding that we are rarely trained in how to actually do it!
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The results of this lack of training, quite frankly, can be very frustrating and sometimes insulting for authors, who frequently, though not always, have to find a way to satisfy a reviewer who:

  • didn’t carefully read the paper but instead briefly skimmed it and the list of references (for their name!);
  • provided little to zero comments on how to improve the paper;
  • is fundamentally opposed to your theoretical or methodological choices; and/or
  • is just plain rude and insulting of your intellectual abilities and writing capabilities (apparently, I write like a first year undergraduate, which may be true if you talk to some of my co-authors!).

Of course, there are also many reviewers out there who provide very helpful comments and thoughtful reviews/rejections. But occasionally, one of the reviewers will commit one or more of the above sins, plus be four months overdue in submitting their review!

Having received and done many peer reviews over the last decade, I’ve started to develop a number of guidelines in writing my referee reports.  I try to review these guidelines before and after I complete a review.  For those who are just starting the peer review game as a referee, here are some tips or helpful advice to consider.

  1. Accountability and transparency is important!  If you know who the author is, or have a pretty good idea, let the editor know immediately before doing the review.  Discuss your ability to write a fair and relatively unbiased referee report and then leave it to the editor to decide whether you should complete the review.
  2. Read the manuscript at least twice! The first time through should be to simply understand and make sense of the argument, rather than to evaluate it.  Try to figure out exactly what the author is saying and how s/he says it.  Reserve judgment on the author’s theoretical, methodological, and analytical choices until the second read through.  During your second read through, carefully analyze the appropriateness of these choices, including the logic behind them and the integration of these choices given the research question.  Don’t “dump and run” or “snipe from the bushes” as one of my old UofT profs use to say.
  3. During this second reading, check your theoretical and methodological biases at the door!  If you hate political economy, don’t immediately reject a paper for using this framework (indeed, my paper on territorial devolution and my book on treaties both had to deal with reviewers who were extremely hostile mainly on the basis of my chosen theoretical framework, rather than how it was applied or whether alternatives were more appropriate).  Instead, consider how far the author’s framework or methodology takes them in terms of answering the question.  Consider whether there are plausible theoretical alternatives, given the evidence presented. Consider the nature of the evidence presented, given what currently exists out there in literature or elsewhere.  But don’t reject out of hand because you hate constructivism or whatever. Evaluate from within or take a pass on reviewing the paper.  Or, state your biases upfront to the editor and to the author (see Tip #1 above!)
  4. Provide a thorough list of suggestions, both major and minor.  Rejections should be accompanied by thoughtful and helpful comments about how to improve the paper for resubmission elsewhere. Accepts should say why the paper should be published.  Frequently editors have to deal with split decisions (e.g. one review says accept; the other says reject) and so giving a strong set of reasons for why the paper should be published could push the editor towards acceptance.  Sometimes, during revise and resubmits, I will actually comment on some of the other reviews if I think the author should not take some suggestions very seriously, which again can help editors make more informed decisions.
  5. Provide caveats to your review! I try to preface different sets of comments by saying which ones are really crucial and which ones the authors should consider but do not have to address.  I also try to tell authors that I don’t think they have to address all of my comments, but I think they should address some and tell me why the others do not need to be addressed. As reviewers, we sometimes forget that these aren’t our papers and so we end up trying to co-author them. Instead, I think our role is to provide advice, recognize that authors will disagree with us, and provide space for that give and take, as long as a certain scholarly bar is met.
  6. Provide even more caveats to your review! Sometimes I’ll be asked to review something that isn’t quite in my wheelhouse.  Given the frequency in which journal editors complain about reviewer fatigue, I almost always accept reviewer invitations even on papers that I really don’t have any really expertise in. In those situations, I always inform the editors and authors about the nature and extent of my expertise (sometimes none!) and that my comments should be read in that light.  Again, accountability and transparency are important!
  7. Be Nice! I remember once writing a really nasty review of a paper that was terrible on all fronts, and really shouldn’t have been sent out for review.  I’m talking grammatical errors, typos, spelling mistakes, referencing errors, and bad scholarship.  The paper got me in a really bad mood and the tone of the review reflected that fact.  The minute after I hit “submit”, I immediately regretted the tone of the review.  Having been on the receiving end of those reviews from time to time, I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to be, well, nice!  There’s nothing wrong with being critical; it’s part of the job.  However, the delivery is just as important as the content.  Indeed, authors are more likely to incorporate constructive criticism and reject nasty slagging.
  8. Finally, my biggest pet peeve is how long the review process takes.  There’s no one else to blame but ourselves! I’ve waited anywhere between 6 to 18 months at times for referee reports, which is outrageous.  I think four weeks is a reasonable expectation to find 5 or 6 hours to properly review a journal article.  Six weeks is also reasonable for book manuscripts.  Try to prioritize writing reviews please!  Authors appreciate quick turnaround times, especially because actual publication can take a long time, but so can finding a home for the paper.  So let’s help each other out and let’s all get to that “review pile” today!

Any other tips/observations? Provide them in the comment section!

Does Canada really need fighter jets?

Published June 30, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

“Canada does not need fighter aircraft! Buying them would waste upward of $45-billion.” – C.R. (Buzz) Nixon, former deputy minister of national defence, letter to the Globe and Mail, June 27, 2014.

Someone in the addled world of Ottawa should pay heed to Buzz Nixon. He knows whereof he speaks, having been the deputy defence minister the last time the government went shopping for fighter aircraft. It was on Nixon’s watch that the government of the day (Trudeau Liberal) decided in 1977 that it had to replace Canada’s aging war planes — the single-engine CF-104 Starfighter, based in Europe with NATO (and known among pilots, unfondly, as “The Widowmaker”) and the twin-engine CF-101 Voodoo, based in Canada and assigned to continental defence under the NORAD umbrella.

The policy-makers of Nixon’s day wanted several things. They wanted one aircraft to replace both the Starfighter and the Voodoo; that would help to keep the price and operating costs down. They wanted an off-the-shelf model with proven capability. They wanted an aircraft with two engines for the sake of reliability and pilot safety on long-distance patrols across the North and over the oceans off our coasts.
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With a budget of roughly $2.4 billion, Nixon’s people went shopping for 130 to 150 new fighters. They organized a competition. Six aircraft makers from the United States and Europe made pitches, offering a total of seven models. By 1978 (things moved more quickly in those days), the government had a short list of three aircraft from which it selected the McDonnell Douglas Hornet, which became the CF-18. It ended up buying 138 of them for $4 billion (prices in the military sector have a quicksilver quality); that works out to about $9 billion in today’s dollars.

Fast forward a generation. The CF-18, which proved to be an excellent choice, is nearing the end of its service life. Since it came to office in 2006, the Harper government has been stewing over a replacement.

It doesn’t know what it wants. Not having a thought-out defence policy, it doesn’t know what sort of military aircraft Canada may need for the future. It doesn’t even know, as Buzz Nixon suggests, whether Canada needs fighter aircraft at all.

Common sense suggests that the policy come first, then a determination of the need — if any — for fighter aircraft, then a competition be held to select the aircraft that would best serve the policy objectives. Not knowing their own mind, the Harper Conservatives listened to all the vested interests who whispered (or shouted) into their ear that Canada not only needed new fighter aircraft, but it needed the most sophisticated and expensive warplane in history.

That would be the F-35 Lightning, a single-engine stealth fighter by Lockheed Martin in the United States. It was the choice of the U.S. administration and of what former president Dwight Eisenhower once denounced as the powerful “military-industrial complex” in that in country, which also operates as a potent lobby in Canada.

The Harper government listened and agreed to buy 65 F-35s for a price that it told Canadians would be $16 billion. There were two problems. At the time, the F-35 did not yet exist; the evolution from artist’s concept to fighting machine would be fraught with delays, production problems, performance issues — and wild price inflation (to $45 billion in Buzz Nixon’s informed estimate).

Two years ago, the Tories ordered a review of its F-35 commitment. That review apparently led right back to the F-35, without any competition to confirm the wisdom of the choice. It was reported last week, however, that the prime minister has removed the fighter aircraft decision from the cabinet agenda in order to give ministers more time to digest information and to think about it.

Theirs could be a watershed decision for the country, especially if they address two fundamental questions. First, does Canada really need fighter aircraft? Second, aren’t there much better uses for $45 billion?

The Supreme Court of Canada’s Recent Decision on Aboriginal Title: A Victory for Aboriginal Citizens?

The Supreme Court of Canada released a new ruling on Aboriginal title today.  I am not a legal scholar and so I will leave it to my more learned colleagues to talk about the legal implications and to correct my legal interpretations, but here are some thoughts!

Overall, the decision is important and significant because it advances a number of important legal principles relating to Aboriginal title (the SCC ruling gives a nice summary of the jurisprudence beginning with the Calder decision).

One contribution of this legal decision is that it clarifies and greatly expands how Aboriginal title is to be established and recognized in Canadian law.  Rather than “small, individual settlements” or “fishing rocks”, the SCC’s decision actually allows for the recognition of broad swaths of connected lands as belonging to Aboriginal people! This is a major victory for groups without treaties and gives them significantly more leverage in comprehensive land claims negotiations.  That in of itself, will be interesting to see especially in terms of how that will play out in B.C. (sounds like a topic for a future academic paper! Who’s game?!)
Continue reading

It also clarifies the nature of ownership that Aboriginal title entails. Briefly, according to this new SCC ruling, Aboriginal title confers upon its owner something akin to fee simple ownership. The main difference, however, is that Aboriginal title is a collective right, not an individual one. As well, due to its collective nature, Aboriginal title means that those lands cannot be used in a manner that renders such lands as unusable by future generations.

This is a significant legal clarification, I think, because it somewhat restricts the ability of Aboriginal governments to provide their consent to massive economic development projects that could do serious harm to community lands.  Basically, this legal decision empowers Aboriginal citizens to check their Aboriginal governments should those governments give their consent to projects that could potentially and significantly harm their lands for future generations.  A significant legal development indeed!

Other than that, the decision also provides stricter guidelines regarding the duty to consult and accommodate, specifying two paths for doing so: acquire Aboriginal consent (subject to the constraints I mention above) or ignore Aboriginal consent if the Crown can show that it has a compelling and substantial political purpose that does not violate its fiduciary duty to Indigenous people.

Anyway, a very interesting decision from the SCC.  For me, the most surprising and unexpected implication of this ruling is the potential empowerment of Indigenous individuals and citizens to hold Aboriginal AND Canadian governments accountable for their decisions involving lands held under Aboriginal title.

Iraq could be headed toward a three-way partition

Published June 26, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Probably the only positive implication of the rapid expansion of Sunni Jihadist territorial gains in western Iraq is that it provides an opportunity for everyone to be correct in casting responsibility for the mess on somebody else.

In truth, everyone is to blame, from the English and French governments that drafted the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916; to the tyrannical Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein; to the George W. Bush administration that overthrew him; to the Barack Obama administration that removed U.S. troops; to the current government of Nouri al-Maliki that has cut out non-Shia involvement; to the Iranians, Saudis and Qataris who have poured in resources to support their co-religionists at the expense of others; to the Europeans who happily ignored the problem and blamed others.

Just as there is nobody free of blame, there is no correct policy to pursue. Whatever strategy is followed is fraught with peril, will likely be unsuccessful, and will undoubtedly further antagonize various of the combatants.

Read More.

“I studied so hard for your exam and I still only got a (insert low grade here). What should I do?”

I’m sure many of us teaching at the university level have had this conversation at least once per semester!

Below are some helpful tips on what to say, based on existing research on study habits. I’ve directly quoted an excerpt of the article below (none of the advice is mine!). Continue reading

I also ordered a new book called “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” which draws more on cognitive psychology to reveal successful strategies for teaching and learning.  Some good summer reading, hopefully!  Here’s a Chronicle of Higher Ed article on this new book.  It looks promising!

Teaching Tips

1. Find Out How the Student Has Been Studying. Possible questions include:

Did you read the assigned chapters before the test? Did you read them before you came to class, after, or just before the exam? How much time did you devote to studying for the test? Did you read these chapters once, or more than once? (This question provides a chance to review the old Law of Frequency, and to describe how repetition influences memory formation and recall.)

2. Check Attendance and Note Taking Practices. Assuming that the student attends class regularly, you might ask the following: Do you take good notes? Do you review your notes after class to correct obvious errors? Do you compare your notes with those of other students? Where do you sit in the classroom? You may also want to look at the quality of the student’s notes and suggest changes (e.g., leaving more space, use of topic headings, writing down of examples used by the instructor).

3. Suggest Healthy Behaviors. Ask how much sleep the student gets, how much they got the night before the exam, and if they are getting any exercise and eating properly. (This might provide an opportunity to review the effects of sleep on memory formation.)

4. Recommend Tutoring. If tutors are available, encourage their use. If not, ask if the student has tried studying with other students.

5. Discuss Recognition Versus Knowing. Describe the difference between going over material enough that one can “recognize” the material as very familiar and prematurely conclude that it is known and understood, and really knowing and understanding it. (You might even mention Ebbinghaus and the benefits of overlearning, or work on the “curse of knowledge” showing that students often think they know the material if the material is right there in front of them.)

6. Urge Self-Assessment. One easy strategy is to give your students access to an established and free study behavior measure (e.g., ASSIST) and have them use it to get a sense of what they are not doing (Entwistle, 2009). The ASSIST provides a profile of scores on strategies and alerts students to possible problems in their existing ways of studying (available at http://www.etl.tla.ed.ac.uk/publications.html).

7. Discuss Winning Strategies. Hattie (2009) synthesized research from over 800 meta-analyses relating to educational achievement. He then derived the effect sizes for different interventions. Intervening to improve study behaviors was a significant factor with an effect size of .59. This meta-analysis and other works on study techniques (Gurung, 2004, 2005) show that the following specific strategies are empirically proven to work and hence useful to pass on to students:

  • Schedule daily studying and homework time
  • Make lists of things to accomplish during studying
  • Put off pleasurable events until work is completed
  • Read the textbook (!!)
  • Review the class textbook/assignments before going to class
  • Create mnemonics and vivid mental images to aid learning
  • Memorize the material through repetition
  • Generate examples to apply the material
  • Record information relating to study tasks (e.g., keeping a study log)
  • Self-verbalize the steps to complete a given task
  • Use chapter review questions to self test
  • Use a study partner
  • Review the items missed on the exam, including items guessed at
  • Make an outline before writing a paper
  • Check work before handing in an assignment

8. Advise Students on what NOT to do. Previous research suggests that students take some “dangerous detours”: study techniques that may not be beneficial involving more study time at the expense of other techniques (Gurung, 2004, p. 164). Sadly, such detours could represent behaviors used by academically weaker students. Whereas the academically stronger students may not take time on behaviors such as going over chapters right after a lecture in lieu of doing so right before an exam, the weaker students may go over the chapters at both times. In support of this point, Landrum, Turrisi, and Brandel (2006) found that A and B students tended to increase their frequency of studying as the semester progressed, but they decreased the actual time spent studying per study event (p. 681). (Another testimony to the benefits of distributed vs. massed practice.) Students who are doing poorly may try to improve by doing more of the unsuccessful types of studying they have been doing, rather than trying other techniques. Key behaviors students should avoid are:

  • Spending too much time on key terms or summaries to the extent of paying less attention to other pedagogical aids (e.g., review questions)
  • Highlighting too much text (i.e., not knowing what the important information really is), thus increasing study load
  • Using chapter review questions (and their answers) as more content to study versus using them to test their own knowledge
  • “Studying with a friend” where this does not involve testing each other, taking review questions, creating examples, or reviewing notes
  • Listening to music, watching television, text messaging, or surfing the Internet while studying

9. Assess Your Own Students’ Study Behaviors. Correlate the behaviors with exam scores and identify what behaviors are associated with better scores. Share this with the students to help them modify their study behavior. For example the first author created a 35-item Study Behavior Checklist based on previous research and student interviews (Gurung et al., in press). The items assessed students’ organizational behaviors (e.g., writing down when exams, assignments, and quizzes are due, setting up a study schedule), applicationbehaviors (e.g., creating questions about the material), elaboration behaviors (e.g., paraphrasing the material, explaining it to another person), metacognitive behaviors (e.g., using the book and/or Web site for quizzes), andresource use behaviors (e.g., asking a fellow classmate to explain the material) on a scale ranging from 1 (Not at all like me) to 5 (Exactly like me). Higher exam scores were associated with:

  • Attending class, r(114) = .23, p < .05
  • Answering all questions on the study guide, r(114) = .23, p < .05.
  • Using practice exams to study, r(114) = .24, p < .05.
  • Ability to explain problems using the material, r(114) = .28, p < .01.

10. Do not expect a silver bullet. It is important to bear in mind that there are no strategies that work all of the time, for all students, in all classes. Different exams call for different strategies. It is possible that introductory psychology multiple choice exams require only basic study behaviors, whereas an upper-level essay exam will need different behaviors.

In general, instructors need to be cognizant of how much of the advice they give to students is empirically proven to work in an actual classroom rather than a controlled cognitive psychology laboratory study. Asking students to complete a study skill inventory after the first exam may provide instructors with a starting point to discussing study behaviors with students. Taking some class time to discuss the variety of study techniques,and then detailing what exactly is involved in each method, may be critical to helping students do better. We hope these suggestions prove helpful when the next student asks you how to study for your exams and that their performance improves as a result of your advice.