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It was the best of semesters, it was the worst of semesters. During the fall term, McGill researchers garnered worldwide attention for their efforts - Tom Hudson's contributions to the International Haplotype Project is one notable example. National and international publications were singling McGill out as a stellar institution. And then, sigh, there was the football team.
Last fall, the McGill Redmen made the sort of headlines we hope to never see again.
"Hazing... has no place at McGill," declared Provost Tony Masi in the wake of an internal report that determined that some Redmen players had behaved badly. "It will not be tolerated in any form. No excuses. No exceptions."
There were plenty of abundantly sunny days last autumn too, as McGill enjoyed a remarkable string of successes.
Two faculties, business and music, received new names in recognition of two gifts that totalled an eye-popping $42 million, courtesy of Marcel Desautels and Seymour Schulich.
Research Infosource named McGill as its "Research University of the Year." The Times Higher Education Supplement cited McGill as one of the world's best universities. Maclean's gave us top marks (along with the University of Toronto) as Canada's finest medical/doctoral university. Playboy named McGill as one of North America's top party schools.
Guess which one of those achievements won't be making its way into the student handbook?
A small troupe of Hugh Hefner's finest took up temporary quarters in a Montreal hotel suite, where female undergraduates were invited to drop by and have a wardrobe malfunction.
McGill women did a whole lot more than get in touch with their inner Janet Jacksons this year.
Syed Paduka Sharifah Mazlina Syed Abdul Kadir, MEd'97, for instance, became the first woman in the world to journey across the Antarctic by ski-sailing. Shauna Burke, BA'01, became the second Canadian woman in history to scale Mount Everest.
Just about anything noteworthy that happened last year, no matter how unscholarly, seemed to have some sort of McGill connection.
The Academy Awards? McGill was there, in the form of Oscar nominee Hubert Davis, BA'00, whose film Hardwood was a finalist for best short subject documentary.
The Miss Universe pageant? McGill was there too, thanks to Brooke Johnston, BA'01, who donned a sash and bikini to fight the good fight as Miss United Kingdom.
The British Royal Family? Princess Anne's son, Peter Philips, dated McGill alumna Autumn Kelly, BA'02.
People magazine's "sexiest man alive" issue? Yep, there was McGill content there as well, courtesy of University of California at Berkeley geophysicist Michael Manga, BSc'90, one of the few non-Hollywood hunks selected (albeit reluctantly - the sheepish professor says he only agreed in order to sneak some science into the celebrity-obsessed publication).
Macdonald Campus had its moment of TV glory last year as millions of Amazing Race fans tuned in to see the show's contestants visit McGill's West Island campus where they were invited by host Phil Keoghan to compete in one of "two sports that are popular in Canada" - log rolling and curling. Log rolling? Popular sport?
The failure to include igloo-building or moose-wrestling was an oversight, no doubt.
As always, McGill's professorial corps made plenty of headlines last year. And, as always, we kept track, checking for references to McGill people in everything from the Aberdeen American News to Zurichsee Zeitung.
McGill professors turned up everywhere from Sports Illustrated (educational psychologist Jeffrey Derevensky explained why so many young people are becoming poker addicts) to Time (neurologist Karen Johnson's expertise in treating NHL stars for their concussions was spotlighted) to Rolling Stone (science education specialist Brian Alters discussed his testimony as an expert witness in the celebrated Pennsylvania intelligent design trial - Alters believes the concept is decidedly unscientific and has no place in a science classroom. The court agreed).
Using media databases offering access to articles from several hundred different publications (and dozens of TV and radio shows), we've put together a top 10 list of the McGill professors who attracted attention from the greatest number of media.
To qualify for the list, the stories that mentioned the professors had to also note their connection to McGill. Brian Alters, for instance, appeared quite often in news stories, but many of them only noted his appointment at Harvard, not his connection to McGill.
Our list offers a sense of how many media deemed our professors newsworthy, not how often the professors appeared in the press in total. For instance, Margaret Somerville, one of our newsmakers, turned up in the pages of the National Post several times last year - we only count the Post once for our purposes.
1. Respiratory epidemiologist Sandra Dial was McGill's number-one newsmaker in 2005, attracting the attention of 108 different media, thanks to a study she led that examined the link between drugs used to treat heartburn and reflux woes and Clostridium difficile, a sometimes dangerous infection that causes diarrhea. Dial's team examined 1,672 cases of C. difficile infection that occurred in Britain within a 10-year period. They noticed that the use of the drugs was linked to a marked increase in the onset of C. difficile. The drugs decrease the production of stomach acid, but, as Dial points out, "Stomach acid is one of your protections against infections from ingested organisms."
2. In second place is McGill hematologist Jean-Pierre Routy, thanks, in large part, to an editorial he wrote in the Lancet in support of a research paper outlining a promising new approach to combatting AIDS. The study, by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, demonstrated how valporic acid, best known for treating epilepsy, had properties that could coax the elusive HIV virus out of its cellular hiding places, opening it up to attack from anti-HIV medications. Routy is leading a follow-up study. He attracted the attention of 92 different media.
3. Third spot goes to cardiologist James Brophy, who, like Routy, penned an editorial in a prestigious journal touting the importance of a research study published in the same issue. The study in question indicated that an experimental diabetes pill, Pargluva, doubles the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Brophy's editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, raised questions about whether the drug's developers had supplied comprehensive enough data about Pargluva to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Company-provided data might have fostered an 'illusion of safety.'" Brophy also made the news for a study he co-authored about Vioxx, a pain medication, and its alarming connection to an increased risk of heart attacks among elderly patients who had never suffered heart attacks before. Brophy was mentioned in 91 media.
4. Political scientist Antonia Maioni, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and an expert on how health care policies develop over time, is a popular go-to-gal for journalists in search of a pithy perspective. The articulate and bilingual Maioni, equally at home on CBC's The National or SRC's Le Point, offered reporters her views on everything from the impact of private clinics on medicare to the Tories' prospects in the current federal election. She turned up in 72 media.
5. For Tom Hudson, director of the McGill University/Genome Quebec Innovation Centre, 2005 was a year to remember. He was profiled in Newsweek, appeared on the cover of the Globe and Mail, and had Maclean's readers credit him with the "Achievement of the Year in Healthcare" in a national poll. Hudson was one of the driving forces behind the International Haplotype (HapMap) Project, the first comprehensive catalogue of human genetic variation. The results, released in 2005, are expected to offer crucial insights into the genetics behind such common diseases as asthma, cancer and diabetes. Hudson led Canada's HapMap efforts. He was featured in 67 different media.
6. We've been publishing this annual feature on McGill's newsmakers since 1999 and only one professor has appeared on each and every list - Margaret Somerville from the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law. There is no shortage of journalists who are grateful to have someone like Somerville willing to return their phone calls - an internationally respected bioethicist with wide-ranging interests, a quick wit and a talent for offering up good quotes. Last year, Somerville weighed in on everything from freezing human eggs to the Terri Schiavo case. She appeared in 57 media.
7. Blondes might have more fun, but redheads helped put psychologist Jeffrey Mogil on Good Morning America. An expert on the genetic roots behind how people process pain, Mogil's research indicated that many redheaded women are wired in a unique way - they process pain (and certain medications tailored to alleviate pain) differently than other women. Differently than redheaded men too. The work supplies some hard evidence to bolster one of Mogil's theories - that men and women aren't the same when it comes to pain and that, one day, treatments for pain will likely reflect this.
8. Another familiar name when it comes to this annual listing is that of management professor Karl Moore, an expert on business strategy and the ways in which major corporations are managed (or mismanaged). Moore's insights turned up in 51 media, most often in stories about Air Canada's phoenix-like rise from the ashes of bankruptcy protection.
9. Ninth spot is a tie. Respiratory epidemiologist Margaret Becklake appeared in 50 media. Becklake led a study that offered some disquieting new information about the dangers of second-hand smoke. According to her research, kids who grow up in a household with a smoker appear to be much more susceptible to becoming addicted to cigarettes themselves when they become adolescents.
Also in ninth place with mentions in 50 media is oncologist Joseph Ragaz. Much of the press attention was the result of a study Ragaz led on breast cancer. According to Ragaz and his team - who analyzed 20 years worth of followups dealing with breast cancer patients - women who are at a high risk of recurrence should receive both radiation and chemotherapy following surgery. Women who received both treatments had more positive outcomes.
10. Finally, in tenth place, is historian John Zucchi, an expert on Roman Catholicism. Zucchi was well equipped to offer journalists some perspectives on two of the biggest stories of 2005 - the death of Pope John Paul II and the selection of Benedict XVI as his successor. Zucchi was quoted in 44 media.
McGill professors who also appeared in several media last year include pathologist Bruce Case (43), historian Gil Troy (42), marine biologist Anthony Ricciardi (41), pharmacology and therapeutics professor Moshe Szyf (41), Evolution Education Research Centre director Brian Alters (37), physical and occupational therapy professor Patricia McKinley (35), architecture professor Avi Friedman (34), psychiatry professor Michael Meaney (34) and management professor Henry Mintzberg (33).
The most prominent McGill graduate in the news last year was undoubtedly John Gomery, BA'53, BCL' 56, the Quebec Superior Court justice who headed the Gomery Inquiry probing the advertising scandal involving alleged shenanigans among ad executives and Liberal Party organizers. Gomery was named Quebecer of the year by l'Actualité and Canada's newsmaker of the year by Time. Gomery's ties to McGill were mentioned often in the press - by both l'Actualité and Time, for instance.
Other graduates who appeared often in the news in 2004, in stories that noted their McGill connections, include the Arcade Fire's Win Butler, BA'04, children's book editor Susan Rich, BA'91, (she played a pivotal role in nurturing the Lemony Snicket series), Ahmed Nazif, PhD'83, Egyptian prime minister, Harmeet Sooden' BEng'97, the peace activist taken hostage in Iraq whose fate is still unknown, and architect Moshe Safdie, BArch'61, whose work on Israel's new Holocaust History Museum earned international acclaim.