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Thursday, March 20, 2003

  • Students of peace study war
  • Prof assesses inventors' chances
  • Events of today and tomorrow
  • The talk of the campus
Chris Redmond

Spring . . . in Iran


Students of peace study war

As the bombs are falling over Iraq this morning, the director of UW's Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies is not completely discouraged.

"The peace community has been effective," says Lowell Ewert (left), who holds the double role of director of the IPCS and director of the peace and conflict studies program. Both are based at Conrad Grebel University College.

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  • Ewert said yesterday that although international protests have not stopped the war against Iraq that was launched last night by the United States and its supporters, "it has served to focus the world's attention on this conflict," and that means the war will be waged very differently than if it were being fought without that close attention from all quarters.

    "War is the abnormal state of human affairs, and peace is the normal state," Ewert said firmly. "Our hope and prayer is that the war lasts as short as possible, and causes as few casualties as possible." He'll be one speaker today at a special meeting of Grebel students, organized to let them talk about what's happening with the world and deal with the impact of the war's beginning.

    The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies is an umbrella for a certificate program in conflict resolution; Conflict Resolution Network Canada, whose work includes a range of issues from criminal justice to mediation; and the well-known Project Ploughshares, which is often heard from on issues of war and peace.

    Ewert notes, though, that most of his work is with PACS, the academic program, which offers an option or minor to students from across campus. "It's difficult for an academic program to be activist," says Ewert, adding that PACS is "very compatible" with the work being done by IPCS, and Ploughshares in particular.

    He's currently teaching a course in conflict resolution that has about 100 students -- only a few of them from Grebel or with a Mennonite background, and only a minority of them definitely pacifist, but all interested in new, less violent approaches to settling conflict.

    And are they talking about the United States and Iraq these days? "How," asks Ewert, "can you talk about conflict resolution without talking about the Iraq situation? I'm reserving part of each class to do some discussion and debriefing -- how are the principles we've discussed in class reflected in this situation? To put it crudely, it's a wonderful case study."

    Prof assesses inventors' chances -- from the UW media relations office

    [Gyro] Innovation by the likes of Gyro Gearloose (left) -- the brilliant but absent-minded inventor in Disney's Donald Duck cartoons -- is extremely risky in terms of the chances of success, according to research by a University of Waterloo professor.

    [Astebro] Thomas Åstebro (right), an associate professor in management sciences, makes that finding in an article published in the latest issue of the Economic Journal. But a handful of so-called "independent inventions" make very large gains and for this reason, he argues, it is well worth thinking about policies on invention that bring net benefits to society.

    The term "independent invention" is used by patent offices to describe something that is not assigned to a company. Åstebro estimates that innovation by independent inventors is extremely risky, with an average chance of reaching the market of approximately seven per cent.

    Of the lucky seven per cent, a large proportion that reach the market -- 60 per cent -- realize negative returns and the average realized return among those that commercialize their inventions is minus seven per cent. Based on these data, independent inventors might be viewed as of little value to society and their activities discouraged.

    But Åstebro also estimates that a "mutual fund" of independent inventions earns a pre-tax return of approximately 11 per cent and that a pool of six per cent of the inventions that are identifiable well ahead of market launch earns a pooled pre-tax return of approximately 34 per cent. The reason for the difference between the pooled return and the average return is a "skewed" distribution of return with very large gains for a few inventions.

    Approximately 50 per cent of all inventors proceed with development efforts, although an independent review shows their idea to be of very little commercial value. Risk-seeking is one of several plausible reasons why so many inventors proceed to develop their inventions while only a small fraction can reasonably expect to earn positive returns.

    Another is that inventors are unrealistic optimists. And a third is that independent inventors are "skewness lovers" who, while realists, are attracted to unfair gambles because of a skewed distribution of return with a tiny probability of extreme gains, he found.

    The research was conducted on a random sample of 1,091 inventions submitted to the Canadian Innovation Centre in Waterloo by their inventors for a technical and commercial review. The CIC functions as an independent evaluator and charges a fee for the review.

    From a policy perspective, the issue is not so much to decide whether independent inventors are a "good thing" as whether there are feasible policies that could bring net benefits. The findings suggest that improvements might be possible. Society, as well as most inventors, would be better off if inventions that are identifiable early as of poor quality were not pursued, Åstebro said. Low-cost public services such as the CIC serve as an important policy vehicle as they may both inform investors of good prospects and discourage poor ones. In related research with Irwin Bernhardt, Åstebro estimates that the "social rate of return" to the CIC service is between 36 per cent and 70 per cent.

    No 'forum' today

    The Open Forum on Co-op, co-sponsored by the Federation of Students and the co-op education and career services department and originally scheduled for today, has been postponed to next week: Thursday, March 27, 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Rod Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall room 101. At the forum, co-op students will be able to learn about current and upcoming changes in CECS, including the new CECS.online system. A number of representatives of CECS will be in attendance to take questions from the audience.

    Events of today and tomorrow

    The UW Sustainability Project presents a talk today by Paul Langan of Transport 2000, who has some thoughts about the Ontario government's plans for more highways -- and no more trains -- in southwestern Ontario. (One indication of his opinion: his brief is titled "Highways to Hell".) He'll speak at noon in the great hall of the Student Life Centre.

    But some students may be elsewhere, as the Arts Student Union is offering a free "cornucopia roast -- authentic pig roast on a spit" at Federation Hall. The feast is open free to arts students, with a ticket available at student society offices -- others pay $10 -- and dean of arts Robert Kerton will speak. Times: noon to 2 p.m.

    Chemical engineering graduate Gary Blau, now engineer-in-residence at Purdue University, will speak at 3:30 this afternoon in Rod Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall room 307. Topic: "Bayes, Bias and Balderdash: Tools for New Product Portfolio Decision Making". Blau is the first visiting lecturer funded by the new Park Reilly Fund, an endowment in memory of one of UW's first chemical engineering faculty members.

    The "interdisciplinary coffee talk society" today presents Brian Ingalls of applied mathematics, at 5:00 at the Graduate House. He'll speak on "Man-made Versus Biological Feedback Mechanisms". Everyone's welcome.

    Tonight in the Laurel Room, South Campus Hall, the campus recreation program will hold its seventh annual Campus Recreation Recognition Night. "This evening," I'm told, "was originated to publicly acknowledge the hard work and dedication from our staff and volunteers in the delivery of our varied Campus Recreation programs -- Aquatics, Fitness, Conditioning, Clubs, Leagues and Tournaments and Instructional Programs." Dinner will be followed by a short awards ceremony, as outstanding graduating students will be honoured and Campus Recreation Leadership Awards and certificate winners will be announced. M. J. Macdonald, a campus recreation alumnus, will be the guest speaker.

    "Jazz-Fest 2003" opens tonight (and continues tomorrow) at the Graduate House -- "a sonic journey through the jazz spectrum", which is a way of saying that there will be multiple bands, with names like Standard Time, The sharp 5 and The Eyes of Oedipus. There's a $5 cover charge (to benefit Habitat for Humanity) and the music starts at 8:00 tonight, 5:00 tomorrow.

    The current production of "Godspell", staged by students from Conrad Grebel University College, continues at Kitchener's Registry Theatre. . . . Tomorrow, the accounting school will hosts its fifth annual Financial Econometrics Conference in the Davis Centre. . . . The morning meeting of graphics staff, which was to happen yesterday, has been rescheduled for tomorrow, with the result that copy centres will be closed until 9 a.m. . . . A seminar on "Trends and Opportunities in Networking and Communications" will start at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Davis Centre room 1302, sponsored by the UW-based Nortel Networks Institute. . . .

    The fourth installment in the electronic music series ElectrOnica will start at 4:00 Friday afternoon (and run to 3 a.m.) in the Student Life Centre. . . . The annual athletics awards banquet is scheduled for Friday night in Federation Hall. . . . And St. Jerome's University, a bit late for St. Patrick's Day, will present "The Irish Troubles in Fiction and Film", a talk by English professor Danine Farquharson, Friday night at 7:30. . . .

    The talk of the campus

    If a nurse you see at health services is wearing a mask, that's a good thing -- "a normal, natural progression of Universal Precautions" -- and not a scary thing, says a note from Linda Brogden, an occupational health nurse there. The masks are sometimes being used lately, in an environment of concern about an illness with the catchy name of SARS -- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It's been much in the news fever, malaise, aches, coughs, difficulty breathing), and people who think they may have it are naturally advised to seek medical help. With the virus around, health care staff are sometimes wearing masks, but "there is no need to be alarmed," Brogden assures patients. "It does not mean that we think someone has this disease." You can read more on the health services web site.

    I've received a correction to the information about four new Canada Research Chairs at UW that were announced earlier this week. A UW news release erroneously said that the chair awarded to Norman Zhou, of the mechanical engineering department, was at the $200,000-a-year "upper" tier of chairs. In fact, his position (salary and expenses) will be funded at $100,000 a year for five years under the new grant. Zhou also receives $123,923 in research infrastructure funding for his work as Canada Research Chair in Micro-joining.

    UW president David Johnston was supposed to be heading for Hong Kong, but the trip has been cancelled, his office said yesterday. He was to attend the University Presidents' Global Forum organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, "but given the international scene, they have postponed the event until next year. Of course, many other meetings were scheduled for him as well. Meetings with alumni, business contacts are all being cancelled. As well, he was to speak at a Hong Kong Alumni Gala Dinner and to the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce."

    Science has become the first of UW's faculties to announce the student who will speak as valedictorian at June convocation ceremonies. This year's representative of new science graduates will be Matthew Iley, who will be a brand-new Doctor of Optometry come convocation time.


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