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McGill Reporter
February 10, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 10
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On campus

Let them do the driving

Anne Topolski

First there was Walksafe, the student-run program in which volunteer students accompany other students home at night.

Now, there is DriveSafe, the first service of its kind at a Canadian university.

Biochemistry and philosophy student Anne Topolski was a volunteer walker for three years with WalkSafe who came to the realization that the program wasn't enough.

"During the busiest times of the year, such as Frosh Week, we couldn't handle the numbers."

She came up with the idea for a motorized version of Walksafe. At campus events where there were lots of people and drink, she reasoned, it would make sense to have vans that could take people home — especially those who had imbibed too much and who shouldn't be driving.

Furthermore, a service that drove students home would allow students living off campus to participate more fully in campus events. Being an out-of-towner herself, Topolski had appreciated how participating in campus events made her feel "part of the University.

"Now students come [to events] from all over," says Topolski, one of DriveSafe's four coordinators.

After a successful trial last semester during Frosh Week, Topolski arranged to have the service available on a regular basis. She secured the sponsorship of Molson, clearNET PCS and MADD (Mothers Against Driving and Drinking) and negotiated a cheap rental rate from Discount. Then she publicized the service to the faculties, fraternity houses, clubs and services and, of course, Gert's.

She and the coordinators keep an eye out for publicity for any large parties and offer the DriveSafe service to the events' organizers. First-time users pay $50 for an evening's worth of DriveSafe. After that, the charge is $100 for the night — that includes two shifts of DriveSafe staff: from 10:30 pm to 1:30 am and from 1:30 am to 4 am. Each van is equipped with a driver and assistant, who serves as navigator and passenger-controller.

To book the service, call 398-1716 two weeks before your event.

Who says peanut butter kills?

At the recent international meeting on genetically modified foods in Montreal, hundreds of demonstrators expressed concern about the fruits of this new biotechnical era in agriculture. Is there a need for concern? How is one to know? Is the popular media giving us the information we need?

To address the quality of science reporting, McGill Student Pugwash has organized "Peanut Butter Causes Cancer: Science, Media and Popular Delusions," a day-long conference on the question of who gets to popularize science and to what end.

The keynote speaker is Jay Ingram, host of @discovery.ca on the Discovery Channel. Ingram will talk about television's strengths and weaknesses in explaining scientific matters. Speaking on the phone from Toronto, the broadcaster cites his show's recent report on the fake dinosaur-to-bird transition fossil as good TV science. "We could show it and we could talk to the guy who revealed it."

On the other hand, covering genetically modified food or global warming in an interesting way is next to impossible. "How many times can you show six smokestacks?" he asks. Some stories, he says, are best left to the print media.

In addition to Ingram, James Connell, president of the International Science Writers' Association, will speak on "Selling Science: Is research news just another product in a profit-centred market?" and Catherine McMullen, science consultant to the Canadian International Development Agency, will speak on "Scientists and Public Policy: Creating an interface between science, bureaucrats and the general public."

A panel, including microbiology and immunology professor Michael Dubow, will be challenged to explain just how they would inform the public about a new, antibiotic-resistant, infectious strain of tuberculosis.

Pugwash, founded in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in 1957, is an international movement of scientists and other thinkers, dedicated to the responsible use of science and technology. This event is open to the public and will be held in the McIntyre Medical Sciences Building from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm this Saturday, Feb. 12. A four-dollar contribution is suggested for the event which includes lunch. But will there be peanut butter sandwiches?

For more information, see the Pugwash web site.

Stuck in the stats? Help is near

A word of warning: Should you consult the spanking new McGill Statistical Consulting Service, don't be offended if you're accidentally addressed as "the salamander person" or the "Rhesus monkey type."

That's just David Wolfson's way of remembering clients; in other words, it's the statistical problem that's more likely to be remembered than the name of the client.

For the past three years, Wolfson, a professor of mathematics and statistics, has lobbied for such a stats service to be resurrected after Computing Services was forced to close its service down in the early '90s due to a lack of funds.

Opened one month ago, the SCS is designed to help students and professors who are either stuck in their analysis, want a second opinion on their analysis or want help designing their studies "to ensure efficient statistical analyses and results that are interpretable," explains Wolfson.

Ultimately, it was Dean of Science Alan Shaver who agreed to support a three-year test-run and put up the funds for the salary of one of the full-time consultants, statistics lecturer Fabrice Rouah. The Computing Centre has contributed one of its staff members, Michael Walsh, along with some computer hardware. Funding also comes from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

"Nearly every North American research university has such a service," notes Wolfson, adding that being able to act as consultants gives graduate students invaluable practical experience. "My students have complained for many years that they were not being prepared to do statistical consulting in the real world."

While initially only the paid staff will offer the service, by this time next year, students will begin a new course in statistical consulting which will involve on-the-job experience.

Clients so far have come from medicine, psychology, biology, economics and the Montreal Neurological Institute. The service is free to all students. It is also free to staff, unless the job is particularly lengthy, in which case a fee of $50/hour will be charged. Appointments with SCS may be made at scs@math.mcgill.ca.

Rock around the classroom


Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, 300 students tap, rock or sway to the sounds, images and stories of those who made rock 'n' roll.

They're enrolled in a course titled "Popular Music After 1945" that takes students — non-music students only — from the rhythm and blues of the 1940s, through the era of rockabilly, and on to the British invasion, Motown, the folk revival, psychedelic, punk and so on.

On this particular Tuesday, Fats Domino's rendition of "On Blueberry Hill" is playing as the students shuffle into the amphitheatre. The theme of the lecture is "New Orleans & Chicago Rhythm & Blues."

The teacher, Craig Morrison, is a rockabilly — think Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and the contemporary Stray Cats — expert, and the author of Go Cat Go, a history of rockabilly, which serves as one of the course texts.

The other textbook used is Rockin' in Time, a social history of rock 'n' roll. Besides reading, students are also required to know 200 songs that Morrison has collected on audiotape. "Anyone of them can show up on the exam," he notes.

Developing a critical ear for the post-war styles is part of the course and students are required to write a "concert report" on one of three musical events: Hillbilly Night, held every Monday in NDG, Blues Night at Café Campus or the recent concert of the Momentz, Morrison's own band. "They can write anything they want on me because I won't be marking it," he hastens to add.

Morrison is a hands-on teacher, illustrating rhythms on the piano or guitar. He also gets the students to participate with their feet, hands or voices, the latter being the most challenging. "If you want to make modern people giggle, make them sing," he says. On this day, Morrison has them beat out the rhythm of the straight beat, as in Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it on the Grapevine," versus swing, as in Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."

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