Who’s to blame in the Ukraine-Russia standoff? It depends on perspective

A Ukrainian soldier sit in the trench on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine in January 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)

In the West, the current standoff between Ukraine and Russia has typically been presented as one in which a righteous Ukraine is standing up to bullying by a scheming, even Machiavellian Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may indeed like to see himself as Machiavellian, but otherwise this characterization is only one point of view.


Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks during a news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels in January 2022.
(Johanna Geron, via AP)

During a recent visit to Kyiv, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly reaffirmed Canada’s solidarity with Ukraine over the Russian-dominated separatist territories in the east. She also reiterated her government’s desire to see Ukraine join NATO.

But Ukraine is arguably not an ideal candidate for portrayal as a righteous victim by Joly or anyone else. While it has made some progress in terms of democratization, Ukraine is not a bastion of democracy and the rule of law in a part of the world otherwise lacking in those qualities.

Low rating on democratic progress

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization, Freedom House, gave Ukraine a paltry 39 out of 100 for its 2021 democracy rating, describing the country as “transitional or hybrid” in terms of democratic progress. Even Joly has had to acknowledge that Ukraine has some way to go in both of these regards.

What’s more, Ukraine hasn’t been an honest broker in negotiations with Russia over the future of the predominately Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian territories. Ukraine has done very little to provide the citizens of those territories with the autonomy negotiated back in 2014 and 2015 under the Minsk Protocols. Moscow has hardly gone out of its way to look for compromise and good will, but then neither has Kyiv.

It’s also important to remember that this swath of Russian-speaking Ukrainian territory did not end up as part of an independent Ukraine through some sort of popular revolution. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev believed, likely with some justification, that the U.S.S.R. collapsed and an independent Ukraine was born thanks to the machinations of a power-hungry Boris Yeltsin and other Soviet republican leaders, including Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuk.

By getting rid of the U.S.S.R., these Soviet leaders removed their principal political rival, Gorbachev, in what seemed more a power grab than a reflection of popular sentiment.

Back in December 1991, Yeltsin and Kravchuk certainly didn’t have a popular mandate to sign the U.S.S.R. out of existence. In early 1991, a significant majority of the Soviet population made it quite clear in a Soviet Union-wide referendum that it favoured the preservation of the U.S.S.R. in at least some form.

Signing the agreement to dismantle the former Soviet Union and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991.
(RIA Novosti Archive), CC BY-SA

Premature end?

Had the U.S.S.R. survived, having a large Russian population in eastern Ukraine would not have been a cause for concern. Many Soviet citizens saw themselves as Soviet as well as another nationality. But of course that didn’t happen, and the U.S.S.R. was brought to what Putin certainly sees as having been a premature end.

It is worthwhile trying to see current events from a Russian perspective. Putin’s show of force can be seen as a move to defend a Russian minority in Ukraine — and a local majority — from an anti-Russian government in Kyiv that has not kept its side of the bargain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 21, 2022.
(Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More broadly, Russian moves can also be seen as an attempt to ward off the encroachment of a hostile military bloc — NATO — into territory that has historically been dominated by Russia.

There is also probably some truth to German Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach’s recent suggestion that Putin is looking for international respect — both for himself and Russia. If the West treats Russia like a pariah, it is more likely to act like one.

In what’s now an intensely polarized situation, diplomats and politicians on all sides of the current crisis in the Ukraine would do well to remember that their cause represents only one point of view. If a peaceful resolution to the crisis is to be found, then a Russian perspective cannot simply be ignored.

Alexander Hill does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The pandemic exposed the vulnerability of international students in Canada

Universities and colleges need better, more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students. (Shutterstock)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, students in Canadian universities and colleges faced many challenges. Classes moved online, students were asked to leave campus residences and many students lost jobs or faced reduced work hours.

While some domestic students could return home, many international students could not go back to their home countries, either because of the cost or because of border restrictions.

Roommates in shared dwellings struggled to adhere to proper social distancing measures. Media reports suggested the pandemic had made international students more vulnerable to adverse events and had posed unique challenges for them.

In fall 2020, we decided to ask international students how they were faring, using a survey and in-depth interviews. We hoped that a better understanding of the challenges they encountered could inform an effective policy response. What the students told us revealed intense psychological, academic and financial vulnerabilities, often occurring in conjunction with one another.

Growing number of international students

The number of international students in Canadian colleges and universities has grown rapidly over the past decade, while the number of domestic students has remained relatively constant. According to Statistics Canada there were 142,170 international post-secondary student enrolments in fall 2010; there were 388,782 in fall 2019. Based on data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) there was a 35 per cent dip in the number of new study permits issued in 2020, presumably because of the pandemic; however, the number rebounded to the pre-pandemic level by the end of 2021.

The IRRC study permit data also shows that more than half of all international students come from either India or China. Since 2017, India has become the top source country.

Universities and colleges have made strenuous efforts to attract international students, who pay three to four times the tuition of domestic students.

Facing closed or restricted campus facilities has been difficult for many students.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins

Survey of international students

In our survey, we were not seeking a representative sample of international students based on where they came from or where they were going to school. Instead, we hoped to hear from anyone willing to share their experiences.

We advertised the survey on social media and wrote to campus clubs, student unions and international student offices. About 1,000 international students answered at least some of the survey questions, and roughly 600 completed the whole survey. Our sample included students from 84 countries. About 46 per cent of respondents were from India and seven per cent were from China. Other nationalities represented included: the Philippines (3.7 per cent); the United States (3.4 per cent); Colombia (3.3 per cent); Nigeria (3.3 per cent) and Iran (2.4 per cent).

After the survey ended in February 2021, we conducted in-depth interviews with 25 survey respondents.

Psychological stress

We asked students four questions that sought to capture how often they felt anxious or depressed in the previous two weeks. Importantly, the four questions constitute psychological scales that are correlated with clinical diagnoses of depression and anxiety.

Based on their answers, about 55 per cent of our respondents were at risk of depression and about 50 per cent were at risk of an anxiety disorder. In interviews, international students spoke of loneliness, mental exhaustion, panic attacks and social isolation.

Students reported that they found counselling centres at their schools hard to reach and that attempts to make appointments did not work out due to the large number seeking help. At best, there were long waits to get appointments. Shivajan Sivapalan and Yasir Khan, two doctors who work in student health and wellness services, report that international students face significant barriers in accessing health supports.

Dr. Shivajan Sivapalan and Dr. Yasir Khan discuss how to improve health access for international students in a presentation through the India Research Centre for Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Guelph.

Academic stress

A significant minority of our respondents — about 30 per cent — reported that they had not adapted well to online instruction. International students overwhelmingly felt that online courses undermined their overall educational experience because of the lack of interaction with fellow students.

Almost two-thirds identified lack of interaction as an obstacle to online learning. Lack of interaction with peers was also chosen as the most important obstacle by the greatest number of respondents.

Inability to experience and adapt to Canadian culture, lack of social networks, and inability to use campus space and amenities were other factors that undermined their overall educational experience.

Financial stress

Media reports have highlighted the financial precarity of international students, as have reports from non-profit organizations such as One Voice.

Journalist Nicholas Hune-Brown’s excellent story, “Students for Sale,” notes that the study-work-immigrate dream is being heavily marketed abroad with admission to a Canadian university or college as the entry point. He details how some arriving students are carrying heavy debts from home, along with massive family and community expectations.

Our survey and interviews showed that the loss of parental or spousal income and the loss of wages from off-campus employment created the greatest financial hardships for international students.

When we asked international students “how concerned are you about your ability to pay for your education,” almost 80 per cent were either “concerned” or “very concerned.”

In interviews, students specifically identified a persistent and pervasive feeling of not receiving adequate value for the fees they were paying. One said:

“I feel like we’re getting kind of the short end of the stick with paying almost double [of] … domestic students during the pandemic.”

Another said:

“ … now it feels like I’m paying $10,000 per semester to teach myself.”

Intersecting vulnerabilities

Roughly two-thirds of our survey respondents experienced financial stress, just over 70 per cent psychological stress, and almost 40 per cent academic stress. Over 25 per cent felt both financial and psychological stress but not academic stress; about 20 per cent felt all three kinds of stress.

While some students experience all three forms of stress together, others experience only one or two or none at all. We observed that psychological, academic and financial stress interacted with each other, compounding the collective toll. For example, not having a job can increase anxiety; high levels of anxiety can affect focus and, in turn, academic performance.

People march towards Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Toronto office at a rally led by current and former international students calling for changes to immigration rules during COVID-19, in September 2020.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Policy gaps

The difficulty that our interviewees had in getting help to deal with their psychological distress suggests that universities and colleges need better and more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students.

Several community groups or community-partnered campaigns like the Pardesi Project at Sheridan College have also pointed out the need for better mental health services. That said, we know of no comprehensive analysis of mental health services tailored to international students in Canadian universities and colleges.

The financial precarity that many international students experience suggests a need for targeted and sustained financial support, including emergency grants and loans and the extension of tuition fee payment deadlines.

While Canada was comparatively generous in allowing international students who met the eligibility requirements to receive the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit, there was no sustained financial support offered by Canadian universities and colleges. Emergency support would acknowledge the financial situation in which international students find themselves. Even without the pandemic, the loss of a job or a lengthy spell of illness or injury can spell financial disaster.

International students pay significant tuition fees and, as future permanent residents and citizens, contribute to Canada’s success. There is an urgent need to understand their unique vulnerabilities and to develop effective policy responses.

Anil Varughese’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

Saul Schwartz’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

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More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border

There’s a renewed stream of migrants seeking refuge in Canada after a 20-month ban on asylum requests designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Families are once again lugging suitcases and carrying children across a remote, snow-covered ditch to the border.

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Boris Johnson’s many challenges – and how Tory MPs aim to capitalise

Analysis: Backbenchers are spotting opportunities to take advantage of a weakened leader

Boris Johnson and the Conservative party are facing crises on multiple fronts, all interconnected in various ways. As the pressure mounts on the prime minister, his MPs are spotting opportunities to take advantage of a weakened leader by pressing hard for different concessions.

Here we take a look at the challenges facing Johnson, and the demands he is facing from his MPs that may help them go away.

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London drinkers given caustic soda instead of salt in tequila slammers

Apparent staff error caused injuries to five people at central London bar Tiger Tiger last month

Clubbers in London’s Tiger Tiger were mistakenly given caustic soda instead of salt when knocking back tequila slammers, sending four people to hospital with burns.

Police attended the nightclub near Piccadilly Circus in central London last month after receiving reports that people had chemical-related injuries, believed to be caused by a staff error. Authorities then closed Tiger Tiger as a precaution.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg and the age of enlightenment | Letter

The leader of the Commons should never be confused with the search for knowledge, betterment and understanding, which characterises 18th-century intellectuals, writes Toni Silver

The reference to Jacob Rees-Mogg as “the honourable member for the 18th century” is a soubriquet that I find extremely distressing (Rees-Mogg’s roots tell a true Conservative tale – just not the one he wants us to hear, 22 January).

It should be noted that the 18th century was the age of enlightenment, with a long list of luminaries whose names have become bywords for the possibilities of the thinking and endeavour of which humans are capable. A quick “Kanter” through without racking one’s brain could produce Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Wollstonecraft, Hegel, Diderot, Paine et al.

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Making tough choices for better NHS care | Letters

One junior doctor says we need to make the NHS the best choice for healthcare, Gary Hartnoll believes consultants who do private work are an easy target and Steve Iliffe says tapping the private sector can help the NHS

Private healthcare does more than just undermine waiting lists for NHS patients (Hundreds of England’s NHS consultants have shares in private clinics, 21 January). Students, junior doctors and other healthcare professionals need training by senior NHS doctors. When private treatment goes wrong or isn’t enough to fix a problem, private patients end up back in the NHS system to fix any issues ahead of those who have waited.

As a junior doctor, I believe that we must keep our NHS public to ensure high standards of care for everyone. But with the NHS increasingly unable to deliver even basic care, I can understand why patients with the means choose to cut the queue. I understand why colleagues choose private work, when NHS constraints force us to lower the quality of our care, under deteriorating working conditions, with ongoing pay erosion.

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Court backs CPS decision not to charge alleged killer of drowned boy

Mother of Christopher Kapessa attacks justice system over response to incident in Wales in July 2019

The mother of a 13-year-old boy who drowned in a river in Wales has said her son’s alleged killer has got away “scot free” after the high court dismissed a challenge to a decision by prosecutors not to bring charges over his death.

Alina Joseph, the mother of Christopher Kapessa, said: “The [Crown Prosecution Service] have concluded that there is enough evidence to prosecute him for manslaughter.”

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‘Arrogance, indolence and ignorance’: Treasury minister resigns over Covid fraud errors – video

Treasury minister Lord Agnew has resigned at the despatch box over what he called a series of ‘schoolboy errors’ from the Treasury in the handling of Covid business fraud. Agnew said: ‘I hope that as a virtually unknown minister beyond this place that giving up my career might prompt others more important than me to get behind this and sort it out’

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Fear of COVID-19 and fear of change are dangerously intertwined for 2022

At the end of 2021 there was a correlation between worldwide Google searches for the term “fear of change” and “fear of COVID.” (Shutterstock)

Omicron has renewed people’s fear of COVID-19, while at the same time starkly surfacing our other embedded fear — fear of change.

In looking at Google Trends, my research shows that at the end of 2021 people googled “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates. This result projects an increasingly widespread Omicron-driven fear accompanied by an increasing and intertwined fear of change.

As they inextricably entwine, fear of change and fear of COVID-19 are foreshadowing a year of intense “fight, flight and freeze.”

As a change management scholar, over the years a few simple clichés have sustained themselves. Generally, we hate change because it shakes up the status quo, predictability and our naive sense of control. Clinical psychologist Carla Maria Manly says, “Our brains are hardwired to prefer routine and consistency.”

The pandemic has shaken up many of our routines, feelings or normalcy and ability to maintain consistency. So as people continue Googling “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates, we need to think about their impacts and how we can get out of this fear cycle.

Trying to control change

For a long time, we have been told to embrace linear, mechanistic thinking that teaches what happened before will likely happen again, and so old solutions work best for new problems.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has turned that thinking on its head. We fear COVID-19 because of its befuddling failure to be controlled, the way its changed our lives and the risk of illness and death.

An article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Fear of COVID-19 Infection Across Different Cohorts: A Scoping Review,” put it succinctly by stating studies identified “various domains of fear related to the fear of COVID-19 infection.” These included, “fear of oneself or their family members getting infected, fear of having economic losses and being unemployed, or fear of avoidance behaviours toward gaining knowledge about the pandemic,” as well as “fear of making decisions [about actions like] whether to visit parents or not, whether to look for information on death rates or not, etc.”

But perhaps it shouldn’t be so scary. If we think of COVID-19, we can flatten the fear with facts, and when it comes to change, consider how its been around for billions of years.

Instead of trying to control change, we should take solace from organizational consultant William Bridges who looks at events in our lives more as psychological “transitions” than change, where we let go of how things were (endings), and enter a “neutral zone” of “creating new processes and learning” often feeling confusion and distress.

According to Bridges, beginnings involve new understandings, values and attitudes. He’s offering a process for accepting that yesterday’s solutions, cultures, structures and systems are no longer applicable — a means of letting go.

The big question is whether we can let go of yesterday, experience deep reflection and start a new beginning.

Instead of trying to control change we should see it as a transition.
(Shutterstock)

2022 and the fear ahead

Fear is an excellent accelerator for those with specific agendas, for those with divisive intentions and for those fiercely protecting their own definition of status quo.

In my doctoral work on public protests, I found an ocean of reviewed literature on how a state of fear can trigger anger, outrage, a demand for action, a disintegration of trust and even civility.

Today, we are very afraid.

A public opinion poll by Ipsos in December 2021 showed that in over 28 countries surveyed, 32 per cent of respondents agreed that COVID was the “world’s number-one worry.”

In a study of American Twitter data published in September 2021, researchers found that the public trusts the vaccine but are also experiencing a mixture of fear, sadness and anger.

Google Trends provides real-time data for comparing the search terms “fear of change” versus “fear of COVID.” For example, on Jan. 12, 2022, at 2 p.m. PST, the average for all countries was equally 53 per cent for searches about fear of COVID-19 and fear of change.

What’s in store?

Forecasting is inherently tricky and as meteorologist Edward Lorenz said, change can be subject to sensitive dependence on initial conditions, meaning even a very small thing can set off a ripple effect of immense consequence.

In a nutshell, Lorenz cautions when it comes to thinking people can nail down a perfectly predictable future based on only what they know and ignoring what they don’t and often can’t know. Short term projections can be OK, longer term not so much. And if people don’t have certainty, they get very uncomfortable and fearful.

As science writer David Robson wrote in the BBC, “the fear of coronavirus is changing our psychology.” He said:

“Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of disease may even sway our political affiliations.”

In other words, thanks to COVID-19, our fear of all manner of change becomes both magnified and deeply intractable.

So, what to do in the twisted fate of 2022? In my book Corporate Personality Disorder: Surviving and Saving Sick Organizations I argued that fear can be explained as an amalgam of powerlessness and the unknown — COVID-19 has led many of us to feel powerless.

Overcoming this fear, whether it be fear of change or fear of COVID-19 requires personal empowerment and knowledge. But the trick is defining whose power and what knowledge.

Eli Sopow does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Lower drug prices are a priority for Canadians, but not for the federal government

Changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board regulations, which are intended to help lower drug costs in Canada, were originally scheduled to take effect in July 2020. (Shutterstock)

Once again, the federal minister of health has postponed changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) regulations for another six months until July 1, 2022.

The excuse is that bringing the amendments into force during the COVID-19 pandemic requires preparedness and consultation and the government needs to further engage stakeholders — the pharmaceutical industry and its allies.

The process of changing the regulations started in June 2016 when the PMPRB released a public discussion paper. Changes were necessary because of the high cost of drugs in Canada: The PMPRB reported in 2019 that only the United States, Switzerland and Germany had higher drug prices. On a per capita basis, Canada spent the third-highest amount in the world on drugs in 2021, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Lowering drug prices was part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan — although pharmacare gets only a passing mention in the latest mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the new Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Finally, the multinational drug companies were not living up to their end of the bargain: in 1987 they agreed to spend 10 per cent of sales revenue on research and development in Canada in return for Canada changing its rules about drug patents. By 2019, that figure had shrunk to 3.9 per cent.

Delayed by two years

The PMPRB changes were initially supposed to come into effect on July 1, 2020, but were delayed for six months. The reasons, according to the federal government, were “to minimize the imposition of new administrative burden on industry” and to give stakeholders more time to provide feedback because of the impact of the pandemic.

Efforts to lower drug prices were part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan.
(Shutterstock)

Fast forward six months and there’s another six-month delay. This time, a spokesperson for Health Canada said that the industry needed more time to adjust to new reporting requirements while dealing with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 24, 2021, seven days before the changes were to start, the federal government decided that industry needed even more time because of the pandemic. On that occasion, Health Canada said, “It is not anticipated that further delaying these amendments will be needed.” But as the announcement on Dec. 23 showed, another delay was necessary.

Lobbying efforts

Are the pandemic and the need for more discussions the only reasons for these repeated delays? The multinational drug companies, as represented by their lobby group Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC), have been very vocal in their opposition to the changes.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is reportedly rebuilding bridges with Big Pharma.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

IMC disputed the need for them, the benefits that would result and claimed that drug companies would either not launch or delay the launch of new drugs in Canada. The only evidence for the latter threat was a report from Life Sciences Ontario, an organization whose membership includes multiple multinational drug companies.

If the pandemic meant more discussions were necessary, it also meant more lobbying by the industry. According to an investigative article in The Breach, an online media outlet, IMC lobbied elected representatives and government officials 55 times in 2021.

“Lobbyists for U.S.-based pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson … paid designated office holders in Canada a combined 116 visits since October 2020.”

The bulk of the lobbying was to make sure that Canada didn’t support any relaxation of patent standards at the World Trade Organization. But in light of reports that then Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne had “made it a mission to rebuild bridges with Big Pharma,” some of that lobbying was very likely also around the PMPRB changes.

Besides lobbying and predicting repercussions like delayed drug launches, the industry has also attempted to buy its way out of the changes. IMC offered to spend $1 billion over 10 years to boost local manufacturing and commercialization, and on new programs to improve access to drugs for rare diseases on the condition that some of the pricing changes be scrapped.

Vocal opposition

IMC was backed up by various patient groups. Durhan Wong-Reiger, president and CEO of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD), warned that “draconian” restrictions on drug prices won’t solve Canada’s budget problems.

Chris MacLeod, the founder of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society, said burdensome drug-pricing measures could cut Canada out of the latest COVID-19 vaccines and treatments being developed around the world.

Canadians pay some of the highest prescription drug costs in the world.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

On its website, CORD lists over 25 drug companies among its “corporate leaders.” The website of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society doesn’t say if it has any relationships with drug companies.

Likewise, a group of “concerned Canadian doctors” recently wrote an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator. In it they argued that the federal government should halt implementation of new federal drug pricing regulations until a thorough consultation that includes physicians is undertaken.

Their reasoning is that if the regulations went ahead, Canadians will have increasing difficulty accessing effective new drugs. The article did not mention whether any of the signatories had financial conflicts of interest with drug companies.

Finally, there has been pressure from outside Canada. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby group that represents giant American drug companies, made it clear that in its view the changes “will significantly undermine the marketplace for innovative pharmaceutical products, delay or prevent the introduction of new medicines in Canada and reduce investments in Canada’s life sciences sector.”

In its annual report, the Office of the United States Trade Representative warned that the U.S. “will continue to monitor the implementation and effects of … changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s pricing regulations.”

Rising drug costs for Canadians

While the federal government has been bowing to the pharmaceutical industry, the amount that Canadians spend on medicines has continued to rise. In 2020, Canadians spent an estimated $32.7 billion, 4.3 per cent more than the previous year. Meanwhile, more than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.

A report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions estimates that the lack of affordability of prescription drugs could be causing 370 to 640 premature deaths due to heart disease every year, and 270 to 420 premature deaths annually of working-age Canadians with diabetes.

More than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Added to these grim numbers, job losses due to the pandemic have meant the loss of benefits including insurance for prescription drugs. An Angus Reid poll reports while seven per cent of Canadians gained prescription drug coverage during the year ending in October 2020, 14 per cent lost it during the same year.

Canadians have been waiting more than five years for lower drug prices. It’s time to stop waiting.

In 2019-2021, Joel Lexchin received payments for writing a brief on the role of promotion in generating prescriptions for Goodmans LLP and from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for presenting at a workshop on conflict-of-interest in clinical practice guidelines. He is a member of the Foundation Board of Health Action International and the Board of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. He receives royalties from University of Toronto Press and James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. for books he has written.

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When two ecosystems collided, ichthyosaurs re-evolved the ability to consume large prey

A specimen of the newly discovered species of ichthyosaur had teeth that showed it was capable of consuming large prey. (Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The land contact between North and South America has long been a fountain of research. The Isthmus of Panama — the narrow strip of land between the two continents — fully emerged about 3.5 million years ago. It allowed contact between terrestrial North and South American mammals, and resulted in wide-scale invasions of placental mammals into South America and the ultimate extinction of most southern marsupials.

In the late Jurassic, 150 million years ago, Earth was emerging from a relatively cool period, the supercontinent Pangea was breaking up, and a spike in extinction intensity rippled across the ecosystems. During the following period, known as the Early Cretaceous, the planet was warming, global sea levels and atmospheric oxygen were rising and the continents continued to fragment.

As a result, two entirely isolated oceans, the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys, which would later become the Atlantic Ocean, came together across the Hispanic Corridor. This union of oceans during a time of relatively high temperatures created a perfect storm for ecosystem evolution and drivers for novel biodiversity in the Neotropics — an event that would transform the course of marine ecosystems for the next 60 million years.

Biodiversity hotspot


Hispanic Corridor.
(Climate Archive), Author provided

Our research team, consisting of scientists from Colombia, Canada and Germany, explored the Neotropics by using the fossil record from the Paja Formation, a poorly studied shallow marine deposit in central Colombia that was laid down just after the formation of the Hispanic Corridor. Our main goal is to understand the origin and evolution of this marine ecosystem, and if it served as a potential ancient biodiversity hotspot — an epicentre for new species to originate and flourish.

We discovered a new species of ichthyosaur, the giant fish-like marine reptile. While examining a beautifully preserved skull specimen of the species we named Kyhytysuka sachicarum, we recognized this to be the first Cretaceous hypercarnivore ichthyosaur.


The skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.
(Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The new species evolved from Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the Tethys, but differed in that it had unique teeth for an ichthyosaur: there were several different tooth shapes that served different purposes, ranging from piercing to saw-tooth cutting to crushing.

This large ichthyosaur represents a revival of hypercarnivory (eating large prey). Although some early evolving ichthyosaurs did this, they moved to small fishes and invertebrates for the next 70 million years. Kyhytysuka somehow re-evolved the capacity for hypercarnivory during this time and place of intense ecological upheaval.

Large marine animals

Kyhytysuka was also one of the last surviving ichthyosaurs. Most ichthyosaurs went extinct by the end of the Jurassic — only a few made it into the Cretaceous but none survived past 100 million years ago. The fossil record in the Paja Formation preserves hints of the changing marine ecosystem.

3D animation of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.

These rocks preserve some of the largest marine animals ever discovered, including several ichthyosaurs, enormous whale-sized pliosaurs, the first long-necked elasmosaurs and a 10-metre-long crocodile that was the last survivor of a long lineage of Jurassic marine crocodiles.

The fossil record also contains the oldest known marine turtles in the lineage of today’s sea turtles as well as the origins of several crustaceans that survive today .

The information in the fossil record helps us reconstruct ancient food web interactions based on what was present in the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys prior to their contact and what was present during their contact in the Paja Formation. Changes to these ancient food webs promise to shed light on the environmental and ecological factors involved in the long-term sustainability of ecosystems.


An artist’s reconstruction of an Early Cretaceous ecosystem, created for Hace Tiempo, the first illustrated book about Colombia’s geological history.
(Hace Tiempo/C. Jaramillo and Guillermo Torres Carreño), Author provided

Careful inspection of fossils from this unique time and place offers a new window into what happens when ecosystems collide. So far, we’re finding this facilitates the evolution of enormous top predators and several evolutionary origins of new lineages that would persist for millions of years.

These results provide relevant data for better understanding of the consequences of the Jurassic-Cretaceous extinction on marine animals and, ultimately, of the advent of today’s marine ecosystems.

Dirley Cortés received funding from the BESS-NEO program, NSERC CREATE 46283-2015, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Anders Foundation, the 1923 Fund, and Gregory D. and Jennifer Walston Johnson, and the Fonds de recherche Nature et technologies Quebec (FRQNT). DC received particular subventions to this project by the Redpath Museum’s Delise Alison Award- 2019, the Sigma Xi Grant-in-aid-of-Research (GIAR), Canada-2019, and the Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science excellence award-2019 (QCBS). This work is part of DC’s PhD thesis dissertation at McGill University.

Hans Larsson receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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The Conversation – Articles (CA)

South Wales police left residents ‘unprotected’ during Swansea riot

Independent review finds officers stood by rather than tackling rioters during Mayhill unrest in spring 2021

A police force left residents “in danger, at risk and unprotected” for a “protracted period” during a riot in which cars were set on fire and bricks were hurled at houses, leaving people fearing for their lives, an independent review has concluded.

The chief constable of South Wales police, Jeremy Vaughan, apologised that his force had failed to act quickly enough during the disturbance in Swansea and accepted residents had been “tormented” by the rioters.

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Julian Assange wins first stage of attempt to appeal against extradition – video

The WikiLeaks founder has won the first stage of an attempt to avoid extradition to the US to face espionage charges. Assange’s partner, Stella Morris, spoke to supporters and the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the decision was made and explained they will now have to wait for the supreme court to decide if it will hear the appeal

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Minister resigns in protest at handling of fraudulent Covid loans

Responding to question on £4.3bn in Covid payments lost to fraud, Lord Agnew says he is unable to defend government

Follow the latest UK political developments as they happen

The minister responsible for efficiency has resigned his post publicly in parliament, saying he was unable to defend the way the government handled fraudulent Covid business loans.

“Given that I am the minister for counter-fraud, it would be somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly,” Theodore Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister whose brief also covers the Treasury, told the Lords.

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British kids’ TV shows under threat after ministers end funding

Young Audiences Content Fund had been intended to help UK broadcasters compete with US streaming services

Children’s television makers have said that distinctly British kids’ programmes could vanish from screens and be replaced with imported shows, after ministers quietly closed a £44m fund designed to support the sector.

The Young Audiences Content Fund had been intended to help British broadcasters compete with the globalised children’s output available on YouTube and cartoons on US streaming services such as Netflix.

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‘I don’t think it will ever be the same’: commuters slow to return in England

Lifting of working from home Covid guidance leads to gradual awakening in London and Manchester

Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverage

At Moorgate tube station in London’s financial district, more commuters braved the return to office on the first Monday since government guidance to work from home was lifted.

“It does feel busier today, it’s good – London’s waking up,” said the woman staffing the barriers of the station.

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I don’t trust PM not to leak interview with Sue Gray, says Cummings

Former No 10 adviser says he will only submit written evidence to Downing Street parties inquiry

Dominic Cummings has submitted written evidence to the inquiry into lockdown breaches in Downing Street in 2020, telling Sue Gray he did not trust Boris Johnson not to leak his conversations with the inquiry chief.

The former senior adviser also claimed that officials were deeply uncomfortable with handing over some evidence to the inquiry, believing that they could face retribution for damaging evidence.

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RSPB calls for emergency shooting ban during bird flu outbreak

Shoots cause stress for migratory species such as Svalbard barnacle goose, whose numbers are down 38%

The RSPB has called for an emergency shooting ban after an “unprecedented” outbreak of bird flu that has left wildfowl populations in “catastrophic decline”.

Migratory geese that overwinter on the Solway Firth, which stretches between Scotland and Cumbria, are being hardest hit, with a 38% decline in the Svalbard barnacle goose breeding population from winter last year.

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The big idea: should animals have the same rights as humans?

Debates about the human-like attributes of animals miss the point. Can we respect them regardless?

The government has finally caught up with what most animal behavioural scientists have been saying for years by formally recognising animals as sentient beings in its animal welfare (sentience) bill. In November it was confirmed that the scope of the bill would be extended to include in the “sentient” category all decapod crustaceans (such as crabs and lobsters) and cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish). This ruling heeds a review led by Jonathan Birch of the London School of Economics, who points out: “Octopuses and other cephalopods have been protected in science for years, but have not received any protection outside science until now.”

Although these rulings are welcome, their tardiness is sobering. People have been arguing fiercely, dogmatically and even violently about animal welfare for a very long time – yet framing the issue in terms of legally enforced rights comes with baggage about the socially constructed (and therefore exclusively human) nature of moral status and rights-based reasoning. The starting point should rather have been the nature of animal cognition: how we and other beings are situated in a broad panorama of minds. While there is still plenty to learn about that mindscape, Birch is right to imply that, given what science has already told us, it borders on the absurd that UK law took so long to formally acknowledge animal sentience.

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‘I owe it to the kids’: coin found by detectorist dad sold for £648,000

Devon family makes a fortune from 13th-century gold coin discovered thanks to return to an old hobby

A metal detectorist who gave up his hobby when he started a family, only to return to it when his children were old enough to nag him into taking them out detecting with him, has been rewarded with one of the most extraordinary finds – a lovely example of England’s oldest gold coin, which has sold for a record-breaking £648,000 at auction.

Michael Leigh-Mallory, 52, found the Henry III gold penny buried 10cm deep on farmland in the Devon village of Hemyock shortly after taking up his old hobby again. Not realising what it was, he posted a picture of the coin on social media, where it was spotted by the auctioneers Spink in London.

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Boris Johnson warns Russia invading Ukraine would be ‘painful, violent and bloody’ – video

The British prime minister has warned Russia that invading Ukraine would be a “disastrous step”. Boris Johnson said: “We also need to get over the message that invading Ukraine from a Russian perspective is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business.” White House and Downing Street said they had started withdrawing diplomats’ families from Ukraine

Nato reinforces eastern borders as Ukraine tensions mountUS and UK withdraw families from Ukraine embassies but EU to stay put
No 10 casts Johnson as head of anti-Russian alliance over Ukraine
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Johnson warns of painful and violent Ukraine ‘lightning war’

Prime minister to hold talks with other political leaders amid fears of imminent Russian invasion

A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “painful, violent and bloody business”, Boris Johnson has warned as he said a “lightning war” was possible but not inevitable.

The prime minister said it would be “disastrous” if Vladimir Putin directed thousands of soldiers to cross into Ukraine seeking to take further parts of the country after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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England to end Covid testing for double-vaccinated travellers, says Johnson

PM announces he is scrapping compulsory testing for arrivals who are double-jabbed

Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverage

Coronavirus testing for double-vaccinated travellers arriving in England will be axed, Boris Johnson has announced.

The prime minister did not confirm when the travel rules would be eased, but it is likely to happen before the February half-term break.

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Jill Schlesinger on why why you should file your taxes as soon as possible

CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger joins “CBS Mornings” on the first day of tax season to discuss what Americans need to know when filing their taxes this year. She addresses specifics about the Child Tax Credit, stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and free resources for tax prep.

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Woman stabbed to death and man fatally hit by car in west London

Police were called to reports of a stabbing in Maida Vale and also found a man had been hit by a car

A woman has been stabbed to death and a man has died after being hit by a car in west London.

The Metropolitan police said it had launched an urgent investigation after the incident in Chippenham Road, Maida Vale, at about 9am on Monday.

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Long in the tooth: Goldie the pufferfish has emergency dental work

Veterinary surgeon in Kent sawed an inch off her teeth after owner realised they had grown too long for her to eat

A pufferfish had to undergo emergency dental work after her teeth grew so big she was unable to eat.

The owner of Goldie the porcupine pufferfish, Mark Byatt, 64, rushed her to the vets in Kent after noticing she was losing weight because her long teeth prevented her from eating properly.

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Julian Assange wins first stage of attempt to appeal against extradition

WikiLeaks founder is seeking to appeal against ruling that he can be sent to US to face espionage charges

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be able to go to the supreme court to challenge a decision allowing him to be extradited to the US to face espionage charges.

However, the high court refused him permission for a direct appeal, meaning the supreme court will first have to decide whether or not it should hear his challenge.

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Academic recounts police strip-search as CCTV exposes ‘dehumanising’ language – video

Dr Konstancja Duff was given an apology and compensation by the Metropolitan police after she obtained CCTV footage of officers making sexist and derogatory comments about her.

Here she recounts what was happening as officers at an east London police station cracked jokes about her body after they restrained her and cut her clothes off.

The academic was arrested after she tried to give a 15-year-old boy being stopped and searched by police a card with details of solicitors.

She was taken to Stoke Newington police station, where she was strip-searched. ‘What’s that smell? Oh, it’s her knickers,’ officers quipped to each other

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Met apologises to woman for ‘sexist, derogatory’ language during strip-search

Force pays compensation to Dr Konstancja Duff for language used after CCTV captures officers’ comments

The Metropolitan police has apologised and paid compensation to an academic for “sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language” used by officers about her when she was strip-searched.

“What’s that smell? Oh, it’s her knickers,” officers at a north-east London police station said to each other after Dr Konstancja Duff was held down on the floor and her clothes cut off. “Is she rank?” another said.

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Eye Opener: As fear mounts of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, some Americans are being evacuated

Some Americans are being evacuated from Ukraine amid fears over a potential Russian invasion. Also, U.S. schools face big testing challenges as COVID-19 hits hardest in states with low vaccination rates. All that and all that matters in today’s Eye Opener.

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Schools join the fight against human trafficking

Protests around the world aim to end human trafficking. Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images

Education leaders across the U.S. are trying to figure out how to effectively teach students about the risks and warning signs of human trafficking, which includes being forced into domestic servitude, commercial labor or sex work.

According to 2019 data gathered by the Polaris Project – a nonprofit that fights human trafficking, including sex trafficking – 24% of survivors reported that they were first trafficked before they turned 18.

In 2017, California became the first state to require human trafficking education for students and teachers. Tennessee, Florida and Virginia also now require school staff to receive formal training intended to stop human trafficking.

As cases of human trafficking continue to make headlines, similar prevention and education efforts are being made in schools across the country. Parents and community members in other states may also find similar efforts coming to their communities. As a scholar who studies business ethics – and as executive director of the Center for Ethics and Human Rights at Colorado State University – I recommend school leaders keep five key goals in mind when creating anti-trafficking educational programs.

1. Create a safe haven

Childhood researchers suggest that children need a safe haven where they can go when confronted with fear and threats. They also need a secure base, a place where they feel secure to explore the world around them.

Ideally, children’s homes would serve these purposes. But schools can also provide safe havens and secure bases. Children who feel more secure are less vulnerable to predatory people, who often fake affection and provide a false sense of love as a tactic to lure kids into the world of human trafficking.

2. Pay attention to triggers

When being taught about human trafficking, it’s possible that children’s memories of past trauma might be triggered. Educators who are aware of this possibility are more likely to be better at protecting kids from being triggered, and better able to respond properly if it happens.

Many children have been exposed to trauma, such as neglect or abandonment; physical, sexual or psychological abuse; loss of a loved one; or refugee or war experiences. When these memories are triggered, children feel distressed and unsafe.

Triggers may include words, tone of voice, facial expressions, smells, feelings or postures that are embedded in a child’s mind. And some can cause unexpected reactions in seemingly regular situations. For instance, a child whose abusive parent used to eat oranges may be triggered by the smell of an orange, and this memory may became linked with the abusive experience in the child’s mind. Or a common nickname might have been used by an abuser and can be a trigger.

Often, these memories are not conscious ones, so the child may not understand why they feel distressed or overwhelmed, and yet they respond to the trigger as if they are facing a real threat.

3. Be inclusive

When teachers show compassion, warmth and kindness to their students, students are more likely to develop a strong sense of belonging in the classroom space.

Without that sense of belonging, students might come to see themselves as unworthy of attention and love, which hurts their self-esteem and makes them more vulnerable to the influence of predators.

4. Dispel misconceptions and stereotypes

Young white women are often depicted in media as representative of trafficking victims, although women and girls of color experience high rates of trafficking.

Also, women of color who are forced to engage in sexual acts or labor are often stereotyped as deviants and treated with suspicion by officials and law enforcement.

And while boys are less commonly trafficking victims, they are still at risk of being trafficked. In addition, many human trafficking reports do not provide data on nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people.

Trafficking education materials work best when they accurately discuss who the perpetrators are. Effective anti-trafficking education teaches kids that traffickers are not just strangers or people belonging to another race or ethnicity. Traffickers are often friendly, charismatic, well-dressed and seemingly wealthy, and they may appear to be kind and warm. They may also be close family members and caregivers who exploit children in their care.

5. Use appropriate touch and tone

Teachers often use touch and tone of voice to build connections with children. But many children who have experienced trauma are sensitive to touch and avoid it. Teachers who learn how to use touch in reassuring and affirming ways – such as an encouraging pat on the back, an occasional handshake, high-five or fist bump – can help build a sense of safety and security in the classroom, building trust with students and making them less likely to fall prey to traffickers.

Similarly, using consistent tones of voice that are calm, reassuring and firm can help students’ development, engagement, learning and growth.

Schools can play an important role in helping students learn about and protect themselves from human trafficking. With these five concepts in mind, school leaders will be better prepared to help keep kids safe.

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Lumina Albert does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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More women in a STEM field leads people to label it as a ‘soft science,’ according to new research

How seriously people take particular scientific disciplines partly depends on how many women enter them. skynesher/E+ via Getty Images

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

One factor that influences the use of the labels “soft science” or “hard science” is gender bias, according to recent research my colleagues and I conducted.

Women’s participation varies across STEM disciplines. While women have nearly reached gender parity in biomedical sciences, they still make up only about 18% of students receiving undergraduate degrees in computer science, for instance.

In a series of experiments, we varied the information study participants read about women’s representation in fields like chemistry, sociology and biomedical sciences. We then asked them to categorize these fields as either a “soft science” or a “hard science.”

Across studies, participants were consistently more likely to describe a discipline as a “soft science” when they’d been led to believe that proportionally more women worked in the field. Moreover, the “soft science” label led people to devalue these fields – describing them as less rigorous, less trustworthy and less deserving of federal research funding.

Why it matters

Over the past decade, a growing movement has encouraged girls and women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. This effort is sometimes described as a way to reduce the wage gap.

By encouraging women to enter high-paying fields like science, technology and engineering, advocates hope that women on average will increase their earning power relative to men. Others have hoped that, as women demonstrate they can be successful in STEM, sexist stereotypes about women’s ability and interest in STEM will erode.

Our research suggests this may not be the case. Stereotypes about women and STEM persist, even in the face of evidence that women can and do productively participate in STEM fields. These stereotypes can lead people to simply devalue the fields in which women participate. In this way, even science and math can end up in the “pink collar” category of heavily female fields that are often devalued and underpaid.


What does a ‘scientist’ look like in your mind’s eye?
ER Productions Limited/DigitalVision via Getty Images

What other research is being done

Other research has found that explicit “science equals men” stereotypes were weaker among people who majored in science disciplines with high participation by women, like biological sciences, compared to those who majored in fields with few women, like engineering. This finding suggests that exposure to women in your own field can shift the gender stereotypes you hold.

But our studies more closely align with other research suggesting that, rather than reducing gender stereotyping, women’s increased participation results in the devaluation of more heavily female fields.

When women make up more than 25% of graduate students in a discipline, men – and to a lesser extent women – become less interested in pursuing that discipline, and salaries tend to go down. Other studies have found that the same job is seen as deserving a lower salary when positioned in a “female field” than when it is listed in a “male field.” Together, this suggests that the presence of women, and not characteristics of the job or field, is what leads to devaluation and lower pay.

What still isn’t known

Participants who worked or planned to work in science were just as likely as the rest of the population to use gender as a cue to categorize soft vs. hard sciences. But in scientists, we found no connection between that tendency and their beliefs about women’s ability in science and math. That is, scientists’ levels of sexism, as measured by self-report, were unrelated to their inclination to call fields with many women “soft sciences.”

We don’t know how scientists and non-scientists ended up making the same connection between gender and soft science labels. It’s possible that people who work in science are just more aware of norms against expressing such gender stereotypes – meaning their self-reports are less likely to reflect their true beliefs and actually more closely match those of non-scientists.

But it’s also possible that something else is driving their use of the “soft science” label. For example, to our surprise, women who worked in science were more likely compared to men in science to label fields with many women as “soft sciences.” This could reflect the tendency for some women who experience sexism in their fields to distance themselves from other women as a way to protect themselves from being targets of sexism.

What’s next

Science advocates must grapple with the fact that women’s work in scientific fields can result in fields being devalued. For society to benefit fully from the broad spectrum of scientific disciplines, advocates may need to address gender stereotypes more directly.

Gender stereotypes about STEM could also affect which fields talented students choose to pursue. The label of “soft science” might be a turnoff for high-achieving students who want to prove their strengths – or, conversely, students who are insecure about their abilities might avoid a major described as a “hard science.”

[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]

Alysson Light does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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How many bones do penguins have?

Specialized anatomy means flightless penguins are master swimmers. Christopher Michel , CC BY-SA

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskidsus@theconversation.com.

How many bones do penguins have? – Sawyer, age 7, Media, Pennsylvania

As a zoo and wildlife veterinarian, I sometimes take care of penguins – both in the wild and in aquariums and zoos.

I’m always fascinated when I have to take X-rays of an injured bird that might have a broken bone, is sick or having difficulty moving. While penguins might look like simple, torpedo-shaped ice-waddlers, their bodies are actually quite complex.

Even though they look nothing like people or animals you may encounter every day – like dogs and cats – they have similar skeletons and joints. They even have knees and elbows, but have about half as many bones. A human skeleton is made up of 206 bones. A penguin has just 112 in its whole body.


X-ray of a penguin.
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Author provided

All birds evolved for flight, with feathers, wings and a body that allows them to soar high in the sky. To attain liftoff, over time penguins evolved to have fewer bones in their skeletons.

How did they do that? Some of their bones actually fused together, including their ankles. Unlike humans, who have two main ankle bones, a bird’s leg bone connects directly with its feet and toes.

Birds also have fewer bones in their spines than many animals. Their lower back bones joined together into just one bone, called the synsacrum. The only other animals to have this type of backbone were the dinosaurs. For the birds, this helps them keep their bodies in a horizontal position without tiring out their back muscles while flying or swimming.


Wild Humboldt penguins.
Julie D. Sheldon, Author provided

Bird bones in general are unique. They are lightweight and hollow, which allows the animal to take flight. Because birds need a lot of oxygen for an intense activity like flying, their bones are filled with spaces for air and they also have nine air sacs that surround their lungs.

But wait, you might be thinking, “Penguins don’t fly at all.” That’s right, they evolved for a life on land and in the water, and they have a unique skeleton compared to many other birds.

The first penguins, which appeared shortly after the dinosaurs went extinct about 66 million years ago, were flightless. Ten million years later, they had become great swimmers. Present-day species spend up to 75% of their time in the ocean. That meant they had to grow heavier so they could dive underwater to hunt for food.

Penguins developed dense, hefty bones that don’t have the air pockets that flying birds have. That helped make up for the air sacs around their lungs. Their bulky bones keep them from floating up to the water’s surface, like a scuba diver who straps on a weight belt to submerge.

Penguins are uniquely adapted to swim underwater.

Penguins’ wings are also different because these birds need to swim, not soar into the sky. Penguins’ wings morphed into what look like short, flat, stiff fins that don’t bend like flying birds’ do. They also have fewer bones than other birds.

Their wings act like paddles, helping them race through the water at high speeds. Gentoo penguins can swim up to 22 mph. That’s much faster than Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, who broke a world record for humans at 5.5 mph.

The combination of hefty bones and powerful finlike wings allows penguins to descend quickly and dive incredibly deep to hunt for fish, krill and other food. An emperor penguin can go down to at least 1,500 feet, which is about the length of five football fields.

Thanks to their fewer number of dense bones and other cool adaptations, penguins are champions of open water.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

Julie Sheldon does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Kazakhstan’s internet shutdown is the latest episode in an ominous trend: digital authoritarianism

While security forces in Kazakhstan cracked down on street protests, the country’s internet service went dark. AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

The Kazakhstan government shut off the internet nationwide on Jan. 5, 2022, in response to widespread civil unrest in the country. The unrest started on Jan. 2, after the government lifted the price cap on liquid natural gas, which Kazakhs use to fuel their cars. The Kazakhstan town of Zhanaozen, an oil and gas hub, erupted with a protest against sharply rising fuel prices.

Immediately, there were reports of internet dark zones. As the demonstrations grew, so did the internet service disruptions. Mass internet shutdowns and mobile blocking were reported on Jan. 4, with only intermittent connectivity. By Jan. 5, approximately 95% of internet users were reportedly blocked.

The outage was decried as a human rights violation intended to suppress political dissent. The deployment of a “kill switch” to temporarily shut down the internet on a national scale renewed questions of how to curb the global threat of digital authoritarianism.

As a researcher who studies national security, cybersurveillance and civil rights, I have observed how information technology has been increasingly weaponized against civilian populations, including by cutting off the essential service of internet access. It’s part of an ominous trend of governments taking control of internet access and content to assert authoritarian control over what citizens see and hear.

A growing problem

Governments using a kill switch to block internet access on a provincial or national scale is increasing. In recent years, it has occurred as a form of social control and in response to citizen protests in multiple countries, including
Burkina Faso, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, China and Uganda. The number of internet shutdowns is on the rise, from 56 times in 2016 to over 80 times in 2017 and at least 155 blackouts documented in 29 countries in 2020.

The correlation between the growing use of the kill switch and growing threats to democracy globally is not a coincidence. The impact of this trend on freedom and self-determination is critical to understand as authoritarian governments become more sophisticated at controlling information flows, including spreading disinformation and misinformation.

Legal shutdown

Kazakhstan’s internet is largely state-run through Kazakhtelecom, formerly a state monopoly. Foreign investment and external ownership of telecommunication companies in Kazakhstan are limited. The Kazakh government has the legal power to impose internet censorship and control through both content restrictions and shutdowns; for example, in response to riots or terrorism.

Under Kazakh law, the government is empowered to “temporarily suspend the operation of networks and (or) communication facilities” when the government deems internet communication to be “damaging” to the interests of an “individual, society and the state.”

Citing terrorist threats, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev paralyzed mobile and wireless services for almost a week and invited Russian troops into the country to help with “stabilization” in the wake of the protests.

The off switch

Kazakh authorities first attempted to block access through Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) tools to block internet communications, according to a report in Forbes’ Russian edition. DPI examines the content of data packets sent through the internet. While it’s useful for monitoring networks and filtering out malware, DPI tools have also been used by countries like China and Iran to censor webpages or block them entirely.

DPI technology is not an impermeable barrier, though, and can be circumvented by encrypting traffic or using virtual private networks (VPNs), which are encrypted data connections that allow users to shield their communications. When the DPI systems were inadequate for a countrywide block, the authorities resorted to manually shutting off access, though precisely how is unclear.

One possibility is that authorities rerouted DNS traffic, which is how domain names lead people to the right websites, or worked in collaboration with internet operators to block transmissions. Another possibility is that the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan has the capacity by itself to block access.

Digital life interrupted

The effects of the internet shutdown were immediately felt by the population. Political speech and communication with the outside world were restricted, and the ability of protesters and demonstrators to assemble was constrained.


Kazakhstan’s internet shutdown hampered the ability of protesters to organize.
AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

The internet shutdown also hampered daily life for Kazakhs. The nation is highly integrated into the digital economy, from grocery purchases to school registrations, and the internet outage blocked access to essential services.

In the past, Kazakhstan’s government has used localized internet shutdowns to target isolated protests, or blocked specific websites to control information and limit the cohesiveness of protesters. In the early days of the January 2022 protest, some in Kazakhstan tried to circumvent internet restrictions by using VPNs. But VPNs were unavailable when the government disabled internet access entirely in areas.

Concentrated power, central control

The power of the Kazakhstan government to institute such a widespread shutdown may be evidence of greater control of the centralized ISP than other nations, or possibly an advance to more sophisticated forms of telecommunication control. Either way, the shutdown of entire networks for a near-total nationwide internet blackout is a continuation of authoritarian control over information and media.

Shutting off access to the internet for an entire population is a kind of digital totalitarianism. When the internet was turned off, the Kazakhstan government was able to silence speech and become the sole source of broadcast news in a turbulent time. Centralized state control over such a broad network enables greatly expanded surveillance and control of information, a powerful tool to control the populace.

As people have become savvier internet users, as Kazakhstan demonstrates, governments have also become more experienced at controlling internet access, use and content. The rise of digital authoritarianism means that internet shutdowns are likely to be on the rise as well.

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Margaret Hu received an honorarium from Microsoft Research and her research assistant is funded by Microsoft Research. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Future of Privacy Forum.

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What’s a 990 form? A charity accounting expert explains

Most nonprofits must file this paperwork with the IRS every year. Dean R Specker/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Most tax-exempt nonprofits must file a 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service every year, typically in mid-May.

The 990 is purely informational. Nonprofits commit to serve an “approved purpose” – such as fighting bigotry, protecting animal welfare or sheltering the homeless – and meeting other eligibility rules. In exchange, they generally don’t pay taxes on the donations they receive or other sources of income. But they must file either this 12-page form or a shorter version of it, in which they report information about their finances, leadership and activities.

The IRS needs this information to verify that nonprofits should keep their tax-exempt status. It reviews 990s and selects some to audit, just as it does for individuals and businesses.

The 990’s formal title is “Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.” Since 1941, these forms have given the IRS an overview of nonprofit finances, including revenue, expenses, assets and liabilities. The form sums up the group’s mission, indicates who sits on its board of directors and states highest-paid employees’ pay.

The most recent version discloses details regarding the group’s activities through answers to more than 80 questions. While charitable nonprofits file most 990s, other entities, such as nonexempt charitable trusts, private foundations and some political organizations, also must file them.

Why 990s matter

Because the government makes this data publicly available, organizations that assess the quality of a nonprofit’s operations and management, such as Charity Navigator, can analyze it. This helps the public assess whether the organization is trustworthy.

And prospective donors and others may easily access 990 forms, with help from “finder” features that groups like ProPublica and Candid maintain.

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When nonprofits fail to file 990s for three years in a row, the IRS automatically revokes their tax-exempt status. Those organizations may apply to have it reinstated by sending in a new application and paying a fee.


This informational form can help the public learn about a nonprofit’s operations.
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Shorter forms or none at all

There are at least 1.5 million U.S. tax-exempt nonprofits. Most need to file a 990 return, which they must do electronically.

Nonprofits with incomes below $200,000 and assets of less than $500,000 may file a shorter version of the form called the 990-EZ. The 990-EZ, which is four pages long, still requires the reporting of income and expenses. Because it asks fewer questions, completing the 990-EZ requires less disclosure.

Nonprofits with incomes of $50,000 or less may file even simpler paperwork: the 990-N form. Often called an e-postcard, the 990-N requires the reporting of minimal information. It simply verifies that the nonprofit still exists and can continue to be tax-exempt.

Private foundations and similar groups file the 990 PF, on which they report any tax due on investment income. There’s also a 990-T, for nonprofits with taxable business income.

One large group of tax-exempt nonprofits isn’t required to file 990s: churches and other faith-based organizations engaged in worship.

Read other short accessible explanations of newsworthy subjects written by academics in their areas of expertise for The Conversation U.S. here.

Sarah Webber does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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How mRNA and DNA vaccines could soon treat cancers, HIV, autoimmune disorders and genetic diseases

Nucleic acid vaccines use mRNA to give cells instructions on how to produce a desired protein. Libre de Droit/iStock via Getty Images

The two most successful coronavirus vaccines developed in the U.S. – the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – are both mRNA vaccines. The idea of using genetic material to produce an immune response has opened up a world of research and potential medical uses far out of reach of traditional vaccines. Deborah Fuller is a microbiologist at the University of Washington who has been studying genetic vaccines for more than 20 years. We spoke to her about the future of mRNA vaccines for The Conversation Weekly podcast.

Below are excerpts from that conversation which have been edited for length and clarity.

How long have gene-based vaccines been in development?

This type of vaccine has been in the works for about 30 years. Nucleic acid vaccines are based on the idea that DNA makes RNA and then RNA makes proteins. For any given protein, once we know the genetic sequence or code, we can design an mRNA or DNA molecule that prompts a person’s cells to start making it.

When we first thought about this idea of putting a genetic code into somebody’s cells, we were studying both DNA and RNA. The mRNA vaccines did not work very well at first. They were unstable and they caused pretty strong immune responses that were not necessarily desirable. For a very long time DNA vaccines took the front seat, and the very first clinical trials were with a DNA vaccine.

But about seven or eight years ago, mRNA vaccines started to take the lead. Researchers solved a lot of the problems – notably the instability – and discovered new technologies to deliver mRNA into cells and ways of modifying the coding sequence to make the vaccines a lot more safe to use in humans.

Once those problems were solved, the technology was really poised to become a revolutionary tool for medicine. This was just when COVID-19 hit.


DNA and mRNA vaccines are much better at producing T cells than are normal vaccines.
NIAID/NIH via Flickr

What makes nucleic acid vaccines different from traditional vaccines?

Most vaccines induce antibody responses. Antibodies are the primary immune mechanism that blocks infections. As we began to study nucleic acid vaccines, we discovered that because these vaccines are expressed within our cells, they were also very effective at inducing a T cell response. This discovery really prompted additional thinking about how researchers could use nucleic acid vaccines not just for infectious diseases, but also for immunotherapy to treat cancers and chronic infectious diseases – like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes – as well as autoimmune disorders and even for gene therapy.

How can a vaccine treat cancers or chronic infectious diseases?

T cell responses are very important for identifying cells infected with chronic diseases and aberrant cancer cells. They also play a big role in eliminating these cells from the body.

When a cell becomes cancerous, it starts producing neoantigens. In normal cases, the immune system detects these neoantigens, recognizes that something’s wrong with the cell and eliminates it. The reason some people get tumors is that their immune system isn’t quite capable of eliminating the tumor cells, so the cells propagate.

With an mRNA or DNA vaccine, the goal is to make your body better able to recognize the very specific neoantigens the cancer cell has produced. If your immune system can recognize and see those better, it will attack the cancer cells and eliminate them from the body.

This same strategy can be applied to the elimination of chronic infections like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes. These viruses infect the human body and stay in the body forever unless the immune system eliminates them. Similar to the way nucleic acid vaccines can train the immune system to eliminate cancer cells, they can be used to train our immune cells to recognize and eliminate chronically infected cells.


There are dozens of ongoing trials testing the efficacy of mRNA or DNA vaccines to treat cancers or chronic diseases.
Stefan Cristian Cioata/Moment via Getty Images

What is the status of these vaccines?

Some of the very first clinical trials of nucleic acid vaccines happened in the 1990s and were for cancer, particularly for melanoma.

Today, there are a number of ongoing mRNA clinical trials for the treatment of melanoma, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, glioblastoma and others, and there have been some promising outcomes. Moderna recently announced promising results with its phase 1 trial using mRNA to treat solid tumors and lymphoma

There are also a lot of ongoing trials looking at cancer DNA vaccines, because DNA vaccines are particularly effective in inducing T cell responses. A company called Inovio recently demonstrated a significant impact on cervical cancer caused by human papilloma virus in women using a DNA vaccine.

Can nucleic acid vaccines treat autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disorders occur when a person’s immune cells are actually attacking a part of the person’s own body. An example of this is multiple sclerosis. If you have multiple sclerosis, your own immune cells are attacking myelin, a protein that coats the nerve cells in your muscles.

The way to eliminate an autoimmune disorder is to modulate your immune cells to prevent them from attacking your own proteins. In contrast to vaccines, whose goal is to stimulate the immune system to better recognize something, treatment for autoimmune diseases seeks to dampen the immune system so that it stops attacking something it shouldn’t. Recently, researchers created an mRNA vaccine encoding a myelin protein with slightly tweaked genetic instructions to prevent it from stimulating immune responses. Instead of activating normal T cells that increase immune responses, the vaccine caused the body to produce T regulatory cells that specifically suppressed only the T cells that were attacking myelin.


Many diseases result when people have mutations or are missing certain genes, and nucleic acid vaccines could act as temporary replacements for the missing genes.
ttsz/iStock via Getty Images

Any other applications of the new vaccine technology?

The last application is actually one of the very first things that researchers thought about using DNA and mRNA vaccines for: gene therapy. Some people are born missing certain genes. The goal with gene therapy is to supply cells with the missing instructions they need to produce an important protein.

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A great example of this is cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease caused by mutations in a single gene. Using DNA or an mRNA vaccine, researchers are investigating the feasibility of essentially replacing the missing gene and allowing someone’s body to transiently produce the missing protein. Once the protein is present, the symptoms could disappear, at least temporarily. The mRNA would not persist very long in the human body, nor would it integrate into people’s genomes or change the genome in any way. So additional doses would be needed as the effect wore off.

Research has shown that this concept is feasible, but it still needs some work.

Deborah Fuller is co-founder of Orlance, Inc, a biotechnology company developing a needle free technology to deliver RNA and DNA vaccines. She also serves as a scientific advisor for HDT Bio, a biotechnology company developing RNA vaccines for COVID19 and other infectious diseases; scientific advisor for Abacus, Inc., a biotechnology company developing cancer vaccines and scientific advisor for SQZ Biotech, a biotechnology company developing cell-based therapies for cancer and infectious diseases. She is also serving as a vaccine expert for Wilmerhale on legal matters. She receives funding supporting basic and translational research in RNA and DNA vaccines from the National Institutes of Health.

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House panel investigating January 6 spoke with Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr

Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, said on “Face the Nation” Sunday that the panel has spoken with former Attorney General William Barr. This comes as the committee investigates a reported plan to use the military to seize voting machines in the 2020 election. CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion reports from Capitol Hill.

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Some schools turn to COVID testing to keep kids in the classroom amid spike in infections

Amid a spike in coronavirus cases, schools across the U.S. are turning to COVID testing to try to keep kids in the classroom. While the majority of districts have stayed open, nearly 4,500 schools did not offer in-person learning on one or more days last week due to a rise in infections. Meg Oliver reports from Paterson, New Jersey.

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UK could grow up to 40% of its own fruit and vegetables by using urban green spaces

If overlooked open spaces were used, dependence on overseas imports could be reduced, research finds

Britain could grow up to eight times its current production of fruit and vegetables if all available urban and under-used green space were turned to cultivation, new research has shown.

Only about 1% of urban green space is made up of allotments, but if gardens were used, along with parks, playing fields, watersides and other overlooked open spaces, the area would add up to enough to grow nearly 40% of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, most of which comes from overseas, according to the study.

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Police failed Dennis Nilsen’s victims. Decades later, little has changed | Peter Tatchell

A damning new documentary shows families are still seeking answers about his string of homophobic murders

The murders of four young gay men in 2014 and 2015 by the serial killer Stephen Port were nothing new. Nor, sadly, was the catalogue of police failings that followed. The murder of “queers” has been going on for decades, with investigations repeatedly marred by toxic incompetence, negligence, indifference and homophobia.

The mishandling of the Dennis Nilsen investigation is revealed in a damning three-part BBC documentary, which begins on Monday on BBC Two. It tells the grisly tale of mass murder and dismemberment from the point of view of the lives of the victims, and explores what their deaths tell us about society at the time. The missed opportunities to nail Nilsen are meticulously examined, including how police paid scant attention to parents concerned about their missing sons.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner. He is also director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, a human rights organisation

The Nilsen Files starts on BBC Two at 9pm on 24 January

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Liverpool bomber had asylum claim rejected six years before attack

New details raise questions about why Emad al-Swealmeen was not pursued for deportation in 2015

The Liverpool bomber had an asylum claim rejected on multiple grounds six years before he attempted to detonate a homemade explosive outside a hospital, court documents show.

Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, was killed when the bomb he was carrying exploded inside a taxi outside Liverpool women’s hospital on Remembrance Sunday last year.

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