Robert Alison

  • Think the past winter was bad? Get ready for mini Ice Age

    Scientific speculation is intensifying that a new mini Ice Age is looming. The last mini Ice Age struck the northern hemisphere about A.D. 1450 and lasted 400 years. It was dubbed the "Little Ice Age." In Canada, it had a huge impact on everything from crop yields to changing ecosystems.
  • How to type handwriting

    BARRIE, Ontario -- Longhand writing is fast becoming obsolete. Its slow but certain death is imminent, the victim of the digital age. "There are so many children today who can't even read writing, let along write it," explained communication specialist Michael Sull.
  • Long brutal winter starving waterfowl

    BARRIE, Ont. -- The brutal and seemingly never-ending winter of 2014 has already taken a substantial avian toll in parts of central and eastern Canada. With yet another polar vortex poised to strike, the situation looks dire for many species of birds. Significant mortality in wild turkeys has already been confirmed in parts of central and eastern Canada, with another bout of bitter cold sure to make matters worse.
  • At the end of the day, clichés are no-brainers

    BARRIE, Ont. -- Jargon and clichés permeate Canadian conversations. Collectively, they have prompted an intensifying backlash by those who find them irritating and objectionable. One main criticism is they establish a linguistic dichotomy, pitting in-group members, who possess a more or less exclusive understanding of special lingo, against out-group members who feel excluded and ostracized.
  • 'Entitled' to drive distracted

    Distracted drivers are a national epidemic. They are rapidly becoming public enemy No. 1. According to a recent Harris Poll, fully three-quarters of cellphone users admit they use their cellphones to talk while driving. Two-thirds regularly use hand-held devices while driving, despite laws banning that activity.
  • Genetic screening moral minefield

    Prenatal genetic screening shows the medical future of offspring. New non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPS) can predict one's medical future by betraying specific genetic loci that generate future health disorders.
  • The many human benefits of stress

    Stress boosts brainpower. It enhances memory and makes people more alert. Accumulating research confirms the beneficial effects stemming from confronting stressful circumstances. It seems that dealing with stress makes the human brain stronger. By contrast, cognitive sharpness wanes in those whose lives are comparatively stress-free. "Predictable chronic mild stress (PCMS)... is beneficial to the adult brain... (and) leads to enhanced memory," write researchers V.K. Panbar, B. Hattiangudy and their colleagues. "(Stress) increases hippocampal neurogenesis and improves mood and cognitive function."
  • Human beings are born bigots

    VICTORIA -- Discrimination and prejudice are inherent genetically encoded biases already in place in the brain circuitry of young infants, researchers claim. Psychologists conclude intolerance of societal heterogeneity is an innate element of the human mindset, starting virtually at birth. "A central feature of human psychology is our pervasive tendency to divide the social world into 'us' and 'them,' " explained Neha Mahajan of Temple University and Karen Wynn of Yale University. "There is a phenomenon of in-group bias and enhanced interpersonal attraction toward those who resemble ourselves."
  • 'Trying' to learn is failing

    VICTORIA -- In its recent report, Hipster isn't a real job, the B.C. government lambastes graduates, inferring they are lazy, disaffected scroungers who perform menial jobs despite holding advanced degrees from prestigious universities. Holding one or more advanced university degrees no longer necessarily leads to a high-profile job. Quite the contrary. Employers contend that graduates are not being hired because they lack the necessary individual skills.
  • When 'there were no chiefs'

    Pre-colonial North American native societies were almost exclusively individualistic. There was no formal government, nobody in charge. Peoples' behaviours were not forged, shaped or ordered by any sort of sovereign political entity. The concept of elected officialdom in native communities, however, was imposed by federal authorities more than a century ago, not without some enduring repercussions.
  • Marriage slips from wedlock to hook-up

    The traditional concept of marriage is in a chronic state of decay. Historical wedlock fundamentals are corroding, and the metamorphosis is intensifying.
  • Parents court trouble letting kids boomerang home

    Accumulating statistics show today's mollycoddled kids prefer the comforting velvet-cushion homespun pampering of the parental home to the cold realities of independent living. Life on a silver platter sharing the parental home is the option of choice for young people facing uncertain economic times. Boomerang kids are adolescent or adult children who have left the parental home at some point in the past to live on their own, but who have subsequently returned to live with parents.
  • We're creating adult-phobic children

    An intergenerational schism is fracturing society. It is an age-based estrangement that is alienating young people from adults. Its scope is unprecedented. According to Linda Sibley at Confidential Kids, "Kids no longer trust adults."
  • Age of Majority: blunt instrument to gauge maturity

    When is a child no longer a child? In most of the civilized world, that is determined, not by physical or mental maturity, but rather by law. A child becomes an adult the second he or she reaches the age of majority. The transition from childhood to adulthood is sudden, fixed in statute law. The actual age of majority itself is an arbitrary number that officially designates the chronological age at which a "minor child" transcends into an adult. It has no scientific basis. It is, in fact, unrelated to any mental capabilities or any other physical or physiological variables other than age.
  • You are as old as you smell

    Human chemical communication is universal. Body odour signatures are a critical element. "Similar to other animals, humans can extract signals from body odours that allow us to identify biological age, avoid sick people, pick a suitable partner and distinguish kin from non-kin," explained neuroscientist Johan Lundstrom at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
  • Daydreaming is good -- try not to think about it

    Daydreaming makes the mind sharper. Accumulating evidence shows that mental drifting boosts brain power and promotes cognitive flexibility, creativity, imagination and general "smart thinking." "There is a ubiquitous tendency for human brains to wander," Malia Mason, at Columbia University, found.
  • TV wildly distorts perception

    North American television-program content is increasingly under fire because it flagrantly misrepresents important features of mainstream society. By inaccurately portraying elements of everyday reality, television dramas and other programs forge enduring misconceptions that distort the mindsets of viewers. Much of what is broadcast on television does not mirror actuality, researchers report, but instead distorts fundamentals so as to create a false impression of authenticity that people actually come to believe is factual.
  • When doing good is bad

    VICTORIA -- Benevolence can be a bad thing. Excessive kindness can doom its recipients to acute psychological and health repercussions, accumulating evidence shows. "Do-gooders" often go too far in their altruistic zeal to be charitable, obliging and humanitarian, researchers caution.
  • Cats are rats -- ask the songbirds

    VICTORIA -- Canada's 7.9 million house cats are the focus of intensifying public disquiet. There are those who loudly protest catastrophic predation by cats on wildlife and demand cat control. Others vociferously oppose any sort of cat constraint owing to their unique and iconic status that should exempt them from municipal oversight. The controversy is pitting neighbour against neighbour.
  • They're 'entitled' to their rioting

    Major riots in several Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and, most recently, London, Ont., are likely rooted in a self-focus entitlement mindset characteristic in the New Me (Y) Generation, suggests a new study by researchers Jean Twenge and Elise Freeman at San Diego State University and Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia. The vast majority of riot perpetrators have been adolescents and 20-somethings, members of the Y Generation, those born between 1982 and 2000, the most self-indulgent generation ever documented, prompting some researchers to dub the group the Entitlement Generation.
  • Ethics of 'neuro-weaponry' hard to wrap your brain around

    Mind control will be a primary focus of neuro-weaponry, which is expected to reshape warfare, neuroscientists confirm. Emerging technologies will give birth to highly sophisticated adversarial applications centred on brain science; conventional battlefield methodology could soon fade into history.
  • 'Anchored' sounds so much better than pig-headed

    The cognitive phenomenon of "anchoring" dramatically leads human judgments astray, psychologists confirm. People's beliefs and judgments are very often anchored on incomplete, deficient and sketchy information that forms the basis of a lifelong mindset, impervious to persuasion and adjustment. The resulting cognitive bias is pervasive; it vigorously resists any subsequent interpretation of information that might alter the anchored conviction.
  • Anonymity fuels the paradoxical growth of cybersex

    VICTORIA -- A cybersex revolution is upon us. The recent, but thoroughly popular phenomenon is sweeping across college and university campuses, according to research at the University of New Brunswick. Online sexual communication has increased vastly, and the prevalence of the behaviour among students is linked to their tenacious attachment to computers.
  • Text betrays its author's gender

    Male and female brains are wired differently, studies confirm, and new diagnostics show those differences surface in the spelling, phraseology, punctuation and other peculiarities of written language. Distinctive words, syntax, colloquialization, repetition, subordination, capitalization and other features of written text expose the gender of the author. Research confirms the gender of a writer emerges readily from scrutinizing unmistakable clues.
  • Queues join roads for rage

    Waiting in cashier queues is a frustrating part of shopping, often so irritating that "queue rage" is a new phenomenon sweeping across North America and Europe. Irritation escalates wherever people are delayed by slow-moving cashier lineups. The resulting phenomenon is very much like road rage, and is especially prominent at supermarket tills.


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