News

1. Councillors consider adding 10 firefighters to boost coverage in Bedford and Sackville

The Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency logo is seen on a uniform in 2019. — Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford was at a virtual meeting of council’s budget committee on Wednesday where HRFE Chief Ken Stuebing presented his proposed 2022-2023 operating budget. Woodford writes:

The city’s finance department gave Stuebing a target of $78,090,000, a 1.9% increase. Most of that increase is attributed to new positions, including eight inspectors and four specialists to address a recent auditor general’s report. There are also 12 new firefighters in the budget. Those positions were approved in last year’s budget, but not for a full year’s pay.

And while council has been adding to the fire complement annually, it’s not enough to keep up with the city’s rapid growth.

“I think we’re starting to see the effects of a system under strain,” Stuebing told councillors on Wednesday.

That issue is particularly bad in Bedford and Sackville. As Woodford reports, Stuebing, as well as Capt. Brendan Meagher, president of the Halifax Professional Firefighters Association, have been expressing concerns about HRFE’s ability to respond to calls effectively with the goal of having 14 firefighters on scene of a fire within 11 minutes, at least 90% of the time. And in Bedford and Sackville, HRFE is meeting that goal only 3.05% and 2.17% of the time, respectively.

Stuebing asked council to add 10 new firefighters, although they wouldn’t be hired until February.

Click here to read Woodford’s story.

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2. COVID update: 4 deaths

Photo: Martin Sanchez/Unsplash

Tim Bousquet had the COVID update for Wednesday, which includes details on four Nova Scotians who died from the virus.  The deceased are:

• a woman in her 50s who lived in the Central Zone
• a man in his 80s who lived in the Western Zone
• a man in his 90s who lived in the Central Zone
• a man in his 90s who lived in the Eastern Zone

The province is also reporting 362 lab-confirmed new cases. And here’s that breakdown by Nova Scotia Health Zone:

• 144 Central
• 80 Eastern
• 63 Northern
• 75 Western

The update includes all the hospitalization and vaccination data, as well as details on testing sites. Here’s that information for today and Friday:

Thursday
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Alderney New Waterford Legion, 11am-3pm
Chedabucto Lifestyle Centre, 11am-3pm

Friday
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
Bras D’or Yacht Club, 11am-3pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.

Click here to read the full update.

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3. Maybe it’s time for a mammogram

On Monday, I went for a mammogram. It was the first one I had in three years, although before that I had gone annually since I turned 40 (I am now 51). After I tweeted out a public service announcement reminding others to get their mammograms, too, I decided to find out a bit more about the process. I wrote about that here.

I especially wanted to know how COVID lockdowns affected the number of screenings that were completed the last two years. It turns out screenings were down significantly. Here’s the data Trena Metcalfe, program manager with the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program, sent along:

With the numbers provided, historically approximately 0.5% of those screened will be diagnosed with a screen-detected cancer.

Many women find the squishing part of mammograms uncomfortable and painful. I asked why that was necessary, too. Click here to read more about that.

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4. “Inexcusable” lack of Black voices in local media

Brian Daly. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Matthew Byard has this profile of Brian Daly, an associate professor at the journalism school at University of King’s College, who’s worked in the media in Halifax, Montreal, and Toronto the past 30 years.

These days, Daly is teaching the next generation of journalists, but he’s also wants to see more Black voices in local media. He recently told Byard the lack of Black talent in local media was “inexcusable:”

[In Nova Scotia] the vast majority of the Black community can trace their roots to pre-Confederation, and that does make a difference because African Nova Scotians have a very strong sense of their Canadian identity. It’s a Black Canadian identity.”

I’m disappointed at the lack of representation of African Nova Scotians in mainstream media, and that’s inexcusable. It’s inexcusable that we haven’t seen, for example, some sort of program in the radio or television stations that should have been in place from … the outset of television broadcasting in the 60s.

Click here to read Byard’s complete story.

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5. The Tideline, Episode 69: Izra Fitch and International Women’s Day

Izra Fitch.

International Women’s Day is on Tuesday, March 8. To celebrate, Music Nova Scotia put together a day of programming topped by a huge live show at the Marquee. Pop artist Izra Fitch is on that lineup and she joins Tara Thorne in this week’s episode of The Tideline to talk about her gradual and full acceptance of the genre she loves (and loves to play), the women who inspire her, the evolution of her stage act, and that time she was Tara’s student.

Plus, Dana Beeler from MNS phones in to chat about why this day remains important to a certain sector of its membership.

Listen to the episode for free here.

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Views

Doing their own research: Where provaxxers and antivaxxers get their information

What does scouring 60 billion tweets say about vaccine skepticism?

I love a good research study on misinformation and disinformation, particularly about vaccinations and COVID-19, so of course I looked through this one by Bjarke Mønsted and Sune Lehmann at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). 

The two researchers created a program and taught a computer to scour 60 billion tweets to identify which attitude to vaccines was expressed in those tweets. Out of that data, Mønsted and Lehmann were able to identify what users were pro-vaccine (provaxx) and who was against vaccines (antivaxx). But the program and computer they used in their research also looked at the links in tweets to find out the sources of information the provaxx people researched compared to the research used by the antivaxx group. Mønsted wrote about that in Science Nordic:

It turned out that the two ‘sides’ of the debate draw on very different resources:

Provaxx profiles often refer to news media and science sites, while antivaxx profiles are far more likely to use links to YouTube videos and to sites known for spreading false news and conspiracy theories.

This isn’t a surprise to me at all.

Here’s a chart of the sources Mønsted and Lehmann found used most often by provaxxers and antivaxxers.

The two researchers broke down the sites used by both provaxx and antivaxx people into categories: news, social, science, conspiracy, pseudoscience, and commercial. News included sites like Fox, CNN, and The Guardian. Social included Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube got its own category. Businesses that sell products related to health or medicine fell under the commercial category. So, where were each group getting their research from? Here’s Mønsted again:

We could see that anti-vaccine profiles far more often share links to pages dealing with pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, which is not so surprising as research shows that tweets with anti-vaccine messages often contain conspiracy theories.

Additionally, antivaxx profiles very often link to commercial sites that offer alternative health products for sale. This is more surprising, as vaccine scepticism is often due to fears of financial conflicts of interest.

Lots of financial support for Big Supplement out there.

In his article, Mønsted said,studies show that the majority of vaccine-related misinformation comes from a small group of just 12 people, several of whom make a profit on their venture.” Mønsted added:

Joseph Mercola has made hundreds of millions selling vitamin supplements and other health products, while spreading misinformation about vaccines and conventional medicine.

Those 12, who are labelled the Disinformation Dozen, included Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mercola, and Ty and Charlene Bollinger. The Center for Countering Digital Hate has more on that in this report and it includes details on each member of the Disinformation Dozen, and if they are still active or have been removed from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Mønsted and Lehmann write in their report about the implications of all of this, and the bigger problem it presents for parents. This is important because it’s tough being a parent and you want to do best by your kids, but many parents are influenced by the decisions of other parents. Here’s more from Mønsted and Lehmann’s report:

One implication of these findings is that online (medical) misinformation may present an even greater problem than previously thought, because beliefs and behaviors in tightly knit, internally homogeneous communities are more resilient, and provide fertile ground for fringe narratives, while mainstream information is attenuated. Furthermore, such polarization of communities may become self-perpetuating, because individuals avoid those not sharing their views, or because exposure to mainstream information might further entrench fringe viewpoints.

A further problem exacerbated by the structure of the debate is that, parents often base their vaccination decisions on their impression of what other parents do, so vaccine hesitant parents who encounter a strongly anti-vaccine community might get the impression that not vaccinating is the norm and opt not to. This risk is compounded by the fact that anti-vaccine communities are highly effective at reaching out to undecided individuals, which highlights the need to reach undecided individuals with accurate information to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

If you’re familiar with Twitter at all, you know about echo chambers: that people interact most often with others who share the same opinion. Mønsted wrote a bit about that, too, but he and Lehmann also created a new term:

We similarly discovered that the sources of information that people are exposed to in their social networks depend heavily on their attitude towards vaccines. The more resistance to vaccines a user expressed, the further from the normal was the media image they could see shared from their social circle.

We call this phenomenon ‘epistemic echo chambers’ – that is, an echo chamber where (almost) all the ‘knowledge’ one is presented with confirms the perception one already has.

I find this fascinating because you, like me, have probably seen this all play out among your own relatives and friends, and what sources they’ve been sharing on social media. What to do about all this misinformation is another thing altogether. In his article, Mønsted wrote it’s the responsibility of the tech giants to fix their platforms to identify and remove sources of misinformation (the report on the Disinformation Dozen from the Center for Countering Digital Hate suggests that, too). But Mønsted says mainstream media shouldn’t be giving equal time to sources of misinformation. He writes:

While some media outlets – such as Fox News, which has often carried misinformation about the pandemic – have uncritically passed on the results, most media outlets have chosen to consult researchers who have expertise in epidemiology and infection models, and who have typically criticized the non-peer-reviewed working paper in strong terms, both in Denmark and internationally.

If we return to the vaccines, the most common arguments against vaccines are not substantiated in the scientific literature.

Therefore, those covering the topic should not hold up medical information and misinformation as equal views.

You can read the report here. 

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Noticed

Last week a few people — who know I will read anything about the coaching industry — sent me the link to this episode of CBC’s Marketplace, which investigated life coaches. I watched it last Friday and this show focuses on how some life coaches might be providing mental health advice, which they are definitely not qualified to do.

Three of the show’s producers went undercover as potential clients with three separate life coaches. Each potential client had a life “story” to share and for which they wanted help from a coach. I won’t go into too many details, as you should watch the show or read the article here, but the hidden video is shown to Lorraine Bennington, who is a life coach and registered psychologist. She assesses the appointments and tells Marketplace’s host what is right and wrong about each appointment.

Marketplace also interviewed a former client of one of the life coaches and said the coach does conversion therapy, not life coaching. It’s a very heartbreaking interview.

Marketplace shared statements from all three of the coaches here. In one case, a life coach apologizes, in another a coach explains her work and experience, and the third coach calls Marketplace’s journalism a “joke.”

I wrote about life coaches back in this Morning File in October 2020, and somehow I managed to find two life coaches who sounded experienced and, well, helpful.

I am seeing the coaching industry explode recently and there are a lot of coaches out there. Sure, coaches have been around for a long time — the most famous life coach, Tony Robbins, has been at the life coaching biz for eons, it seems (I am not a fan of Robbins).

But some coaches, like fitness coaches or vocal coaches, seem to be more legit, and offer something more tangible than others. I am seeing titles like mindset coach, spiritual business coach, spiritual life coach, human potential coach, whole-person coach, accountability coach, intuitive coach, motivational coach, wellness coach, love coach, divorce coach, creativity coach, empowerment coach, transformation coach, and wealth coach. And there are even coaches for the coaches.

I don’t know what some of these coaches do, but coaching is big business. And it’s exploding because it’s not regulated. (Marketplace talks about this in its episode, too). You can be a coach, I can be a coach, we can all be coaches.

When I wrote about life coaching, one of the coaches I interviewed said she believed life coaching should be regulated, saying, “There are some excellent coaches out there who just put up a shingle and called themselves a life coach; they figured it out, they’re self-taught. As long as there’s some kind of mechanism for good life coaches to exist, I think it would be nice for the public to regulate that.”

I agree. You know what — if you want someone to help you reach a life goal and plan a way to get there, that’s great. I am sure there are qualified life coaches to help. But regulation will help potential clients find the best fit. And regulation is good for the coaches, too.

Marketplace also shared this list from Bennington of what to look for when you’re thinking about working with a life coach. Tips include do your own research, look for experience, watch out for manipulative sales pitches, and go elsewhere for mental health support.

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Government

City

Thursday

Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting

Point Pleasant Park Planning Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — virtual meeting

Friday

Budget Committee – Contingency Date (Friday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting

Province

No meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Copyright Law and Text and Data Mining: Does the Canadian Copyright Act Need to be Amended? (Thursday, 5:30pm) — Lucie Guibault will talk

Climate Justice is Social Justice: Paradigm Shift to an Anti-Colonial Ecosocial Worldview. (Thursday, 5:30pm) — online panel discussion with Ingrid Waldron, Meredith Powers, Haorui Wu, Gail Baikie and Soni Grant; moderated by Dani Sherwood, with AI-generated captions

Carbon Markets, Carbon Finance & Net Zero Target (Thursday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — also on Zoom, with Stephen Entwhistle

Spirit Bear: Echoes of the past (Thursday, 7pm, McInnes Room, SUB) — also online; 2021-22 Shaar Shalom Lecture featuring Cindy Blackstock

Friday

Foregrounding Justice in the Use of Novel Artificial Womb Technologies (Friday, 12pm) — online talk by Claire Horn (with closed captioning)

Saint Mary’s

The Distinguished Retailer Speaker Series (Thursday, 4pm) — Zoom chat with Brian Hill of Aritzia

Laethanta Sona: Translating Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (Thursday, 6pm) — online 2022 D’Arcy McGee Lecture with Sarah-Jane Scaife and Micheál O Conghaile

In 2021, Sarah-Jane Scaife translated Samuel Beckett’s avant-garde masterpiece, Happy Days, to the Aran Island of Inisheer. The play was translated into Irish, by Micheál O Conghaile, for the performance. Meet both of them as we chat about this landmark event in contemporary Irish theatre.

Black / African Descent Student Leadership Panel (Thursday, 5pm) — online panel discussion will touch on recognizing personal achievements, overcoming obstacles, and celebrating other inspiring people in the Black community

Mount Saint Vincent

Upcoming:

Panel to discuss sexual empowerment this International Women’s Day (Tuesday, March 8, 12pm) — Register now for this online panel discussion:

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022, a panel of sex and pleasure educators will join in an open conversation about the topic of sexual empowerment, in particular dating, hook-up culture and COVID-19. Members of the public are welcome. Please note that this session will include mature content that may not be suitable for all audiences. The panel will be moderated by Shannon Pringle and panelists will include Katie Allen, Carmel Farahbakhsh, Rachele Manett and Luna Matatas. Find more information on the panelists and the events here. For more information, email here.

King’s

Thursday

No events

Friday

Conference of the Contemporary (Friday, 7pm – Saturday 3:30pm) — Via Zoom, students in the Contemporary Studies Program will present a conference on their work. On March 4 at 7 p.m., Hilary Ilkay will present a keynote lecture. On March 5, students will present their work in panels from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


In the harbour

Halifax
06:15: Oceanex Connaigra, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
07:30: MSC Sao Paulo, container ship, sails for Pier 42 for New York
10:00: IT Integrity, supply vessel, moves from Pier 9 for Irving Oil
13:00: Asterix, replenishment vessel, sails from Dockyard for sea
14:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Puerto Bolivar, Colombia

Cape Breton
14:00: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Gaspé, Quebec


Footnotes

This morning, people were complaining about school closures. It felt like the Before Times.


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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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6 Comments

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  1. The piece on the DTU study is a great article. It explains so much about the increasing divides we see in society. I expect similar findings would come from research on left/right political divisions as well.

  2. It is way past time for me to have a mammogram, but i won’t be getting one. My last one was way back in 2010 and getting my double h’s squished down to the slimness of a dime isn’t an experience I will be repeating while wide awake. 🙂 Maybe I should but I know I won’t. For now, my girls will continue as they have been for years, happily bouncing along as I go about my day.