Quo Vadis, Journalism?

About the concerning evolution of the media from reporting to activism, from investigative to “virtue journalism”

In the fall of 2020, Fearless Canada hosted an open letter addressed to journalists’ professional organizations and to politicians, calling for open, unbiased coverage of all perspectives on the corona crisis. The post “Assembling a collective of Canadian professionals and skilled workers for honest and open coverage of the health crisis” and the letter included in it refer to the code of ethics for Quebec journalists, which invokes values of “critical viewpoint”, “impartiality”, “fairness”, and “independence”. The letter contrasts these and many other ethical aspirations with the one-sided reporting about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Specifically, the authors and signatories denounce the suppression or outright attack of the mainstream media on initiatives such as the Great Barrington Declaration, America’s Frontline Doctors, the German Corona Committee, and the Spanish Médicos por la verdad among many dissenting doctors’ and scientists’ groups.

Giuseppe Garcia in “Was ist bloss mit den Medien los?” [“What on earth is going on with the media?” – Screenshot of video on RPP Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDFzBX6Y7gY

The role of the legacy media in the ongoing fear-mongering campaign around COVID-19 is of greatest concern for the future of Western democracy. Journalists, producers, and publicists turned themselves into proponents of government restrictions and parrots of public health edicts when they should have asked tough questions about the validity, necessity, proportionality, and efficacy of the measures. Recently, I discovered a gem of a video by Swiss journalist, author and communications consultant Giuseppe Gracia, The video “Was ist bloss mit den Medien los?” [“What on earth is going on with the media?”] is posted in German; I am outlining the gist of Gracia’s insider observations here.

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Emergency Update on Covid Research and Outreach

The preparations for, and start of, the Fall 2021 has brought the corona crisis to a new level of intensity. I have not had time to write any of the many blog posts I have in mind or already drafted. Instead, I want to provide a quick summary and update of recent work.

A number of faculty from across Canada and various disciplines spanning the natural and social sciences and humanities have formed Canadian Academics for Covid Ethics. The group had already published several pertinent letters and op-eds that you can find on the web site.

In addition, I interviewed with Argentinian journalist Agustina Sucri for an extensive article titled “Carta de académicos a los no vacunados“, appeared with Dr. Angela Durante on the Richard Syrett Show – News Talk Sauga 960 AM (September 2, 2021, recording from 1:02), and was profiled by Richard G in Fearless Canada’s Covid Stories and Testimonials.

Last but not least, I joined the Canadian Covid Care Alliance and co-authored a letter-to-the-editor of the Toronto Star with Drs. Steven Pelech and Julie Ponesse, in response to the Star’s disturbing August 26 front page hate messages.

More work is in progress.

The Coronoia Reloaded

Surfing the Waves of SARS-CoV-2 and Lockdowns in Canada and Around the World

In a way, writing about the ongoing insanity is helping me keep sane … that’s the last sentence of the conclusion of volume 2 of the Coronoia series. “The Coronoia Reloaded” was published on Bastille Day of 2021, sadly also coincident with President Macron’s announcement of vaccine passports to further establish totalitarian central control of life in France.

Back and front of “The Coronoia Reloaded”, https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B099BYQN78

The book is currently awaiting re-approval from Amazon KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing) after undergoing a few minor corrections. For the cover photo, I again took a picture of a discarded mask sullying my Southern Georgian Bay beach. The mask is a stark symbol of the futile precautions (see Chapter 13) we continue to engage in, while SARS-CoV-2 just wants to be its viral self (see Part I).

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Questions About COVID-19

Following “the” science will get us nowhere – our pandemic response needs a greater diversity of strategies being explored and implemented

The lines above were the original title and subtitle for an opinion piece written by myself and five other Ontario academics, which was published this week in the Toronto Sun under the title “It’s time to follow the scientific method — and re-evaluate Canada’s COVID approach“. We did not intend to present any groundbreaking new findings around the disease or the pandemic response. We merely wanted to put another stake in the ground to argue for more open debate, the end of debasing, censoring, and deplatforming critical voices, and the return to common sense and evidence-based government decision-making.

Screenshot from https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-its-time-to-follow-the-scientific-method-and-re-evaluate-canadas-covid-approach

The greatest strengths of the piece, in my opinion, lies in the group of authors, which consisted of a biotechnologist, two geographers, a historian, a physicist, a physiologist, and a statistician. Across these natural and social science disciplines as well as the humanities, we are united in the conviction that the Western world’s pandemic response to SARS-CoV-2 was badly mismanaged. Importantly, we believe that at this point in the pandemic, you do not need to be a medical or public health expert to speak up; every single person in the world is a stakeholder in the pandemic that they are experiencing and often suffering from!

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Even If Your SARS-CoV-2 PCR Test Is Positive, You May Not Be “Truly Infected”, Says WHO

Bonus: Select feedback on my Sun op-ed

Mentioning the state of Florida in my Dec 14 Sun newspaper op-ed was one of the triggers for a nasty personal attack from a fellow geographer on Twitter, suggesting that I spread “cherry-picked disinformation” and “contribute to ignorance”, “rather than listening to [the health experts]”. After having my olive branch spurned, I decided to ignore these uninformed and underhanded comments and let others think for themselves. Some community members indeed seem to have a better sense of what a geospatial data analyst can contribute to resolving the corona crisis. In response to a similar kick at the expertise of a “professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies” by a Sun reader, other readers’ answers included that “it’s about data and using it properly” (John Cauchi) and “As for this professor, he is a professor because he has critical thinking skills” (John Smith). My personal favourite is Twitter user Darryl Schomson’s observation that “Geographers have a unique, synthetic view of the world which no other discipline has.” I am very grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response and support; hopefully I will find the time to put together a collage of the most insightful comments.

Due to recent events, I want to talk a little bit more about Florida. I mentioned Florida in the op-ed because they had recently mandated their labs to report PCR test results along with the cycle threshold (Ct) count (for source, see my blog post “Brave New Covidworld?“). This was a consequence of concerns about what Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharyan calls “functional false positives” (see the interview referenced in my post “Some Doctors Are Giving John Snow a Bad Name“).

As if it was coordinated with my op-ed, the World Health Organization (WHO) this Monday, 14 December 2020, issued an information notice/medical product alert for laboratories that use PCR tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. According to this document, the WHO is responding to reports of “an elevated risk for false SARS-CoV-2 results“.

Continue reading “Even If Your SARS-CoV-2 PCR Test Is Positive, You May Not Be “Truly Infected”, Says WHO”

The Coronoia Blogbook

Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States

“The Coronoia Blogbook: Critical Observations re COVID-19 and Lockdowns in Canada, Germany, and the United States” is a collection of posts originally published on this blog between March and November 2020. The posts were lightly edited and rearranged into three thematic groups: Part I puts “COVID-19 in Context”, Part II illustrates “Mapping the Pandemic”, and Part III discusses “What the Data Do Not Tell Us”.

Back and front covers of "The Coronoia Blogbook"
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Ryerson Geographers at AAG 2017

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting is one of the largest and most inspiring gathering of geographers and affiliated researchers. Faculty and graduate students from the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies will be presenting their innovative applied/applicable research in Boston next week. Here’s what they are up to:

The Cottage Effect: Investigating Spatial Bias in Citizen Science Using a Comparative Analysis

is part of the Paper Session:
Emerging Field Methods for Environmental Perceptions and Behavior

scheduled on Wednesday, 4/5/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Edward Evan Millar, MA* – Ryerson University
Emily Hazell, MSA* – Ryerson University

Strengths and Weaknesses of Index-based Assessments of Sustainable Landscape Function

is part of the Paper Session:
Land Systems and Sustainability Science

scheduled on Wednesday, 4/5/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Richard Ross Shaker, M.Sc., Ph.D.* – Ryerson University

Thriving or merely surviving? The importance of solar radiation access to urban tree vitality

is part of the Paper Session:
Urban Forestry and Arboriculture

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Andrew A Millward, PhD* – Ryerson University, Geography and Environmental Studies
Michael Grosu, BA – Ryerson Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group
Christopher Scarpone, MSc – Ryerson Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group

From invader to occupier: application of dendrochronology and spatial modelling to investigate the spatio-temporal dynamics of Norway maple colonization of an urban park

is part of the Paper Session:
Urban Forestry and Arboriculture

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Vadim Sabetski, MSA* – Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University
Andrew A Millward, PhD – Ryerson University, Geography and Environmental Studies

Talk of the Town: An Equity Focused Analysis of “Blurry” Media Categories to Reveal Expressed and Hidden Perspectives on Neighbourhood Gentrification

is part of the Paper Session:
Justice and equity in the transformation of urban systems 1

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Sara Edge, PhD* – Ryerson University
Emma Beattie – Ryerson University

Poster #072: Scenario analysis: Modelling the impact of urban vegetation on levels of noise annoyance in city of Toronto

is part of the Poster Session:
GIS and Technology Poster Session

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Desislava Stefanova* – Ryerson University
Tor Oiamo, PhD – Ryerson University

Poster #073: Assessing Urban Health Simulation Outcomes Through Concentration Response Functions at the Census Tract Level

is part of the Poster Session:
GIS and Technology Poster Session

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Danielle C.L. Sadakhom* – Ryerson University
Tor Oiamo , P.h.D – Ryerson University

Driving Students to School and the Impact on Local Air Pollution

is part of the Paper Session:
Symposium on Human Dynamics in Smart and Connected Communities: Smart Cities and Urban Computing 6

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Matthew Adams* – Ryerson University
Weeberb Requia Junior – McMaster University

From gut-feel to spatial big data: exploring the boundaries of retail location decision-making

is part of the Paper Session:
Location Intelligence: Business Geography Research and Applications

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Joseph Aversa* – Ryerson University
Tony Hernandez, PhD – Ryerson University

The Corporatization of Small Scale Retail in Canada

is part of the Paper Session:
Location Intelligence: Business Geography Research and Applications

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Tony Hernandez* – Ryerson University
Maurice Yeates – Ryerson University
Christopher Daniel – Ryerson University

Environmental noise and justice in Toronto, Canada: in search of equitable mitigation strategies

is part of the Paper Session:
Justice and equity in the transformation of urban systems 2

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Tor Oiamo, PhD* – Ryerson University

A Local Spatial Market for Upscale Retail in Canada?

is part of the Paper Session:
Retail Geography

scheduled on Thursday, 4/6/2017 at 13:20 PM.

Stephen J. Swales* – Ryerson University
K. Wayne Forsythe – Ryerson University

Location and Temporal-Spatial Understanding of Canadian Inventions: 1991-2016.

is part of the Paper Session:
Urban Economies and the Ordinary Life C: Cities and Industry

scheduled on Friday, 4/7/2017 at 13:20 PM.

Brian Ceh* – Ryerson University
Matthew Abraham – Ryerson University
David Kosior – Ryerson University

Integration, healthcare and well-being: a case study of Sri Lankan immigrants in Toronto, Canada

is part of the Paper Session:
Urban health and well-being

scheduled on Saturday, 4/8/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Lu Wang* – Ryerson University
Anne Christian – Ryerson University

A Comparative Analysis of Nanjing and Toronto for Their Respective Urban Planning Systems

is part of the Paper Session:
Regional Development and Urban Planning Series II (China)

scheduled on Saturday, 4/8/2017 at 10:00 AM.

Shuguang Wang* – Ryerson University
Shan Yang – Nanjing Normal University

Sanctuary Practices in International Perspective

is part of the Paper Session:
Rescaling Migration, Citizenship, and Rights I: Sanctuary Practices

scheduled on Sunday, 4/9/2017 at 8:00 AM.

Harald Bauder* – Ryerson University

Encouraging urban forest stewardship through digital storytelling

is part of the Paper Session:
Trees in the City 2: Urban Forest Stewardship, Policy and Program Impacts

scheduled on Saturday, 4/8/2017 at 13:20 PM.

Amber Grant, MASc Candidate* – Environmental Applied Science & Management and Urban Forest Research & Ecological Disturbance (UFRED) Group, Ryerson University
Andrew A Millward, PhD – Ryerson University, Geography and Environmental Studies
Sara Edge, PhD – Ryerson University, Geography and Environmental Studies

Conference Web site: http://www.aag.org/annualmeeting

Program search and abstracts: http://meridian.aag.org/callforpapers/program/index.cfm?mtgID=63

The above list does not include roles as session organizer, session chair, or panelist, which you will find detailed in the conference program.

Ryerson Geographers at AAG 2016

Another year has passed, and another annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) is about to start in San Francisco this week. The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson is sending its usual strong complement to AAG 2016, although the writer of these lines is sadly staying behind in a cold and rainy Toronto.

Contributions from @RyersonGeo have a traditional focus in Business Geography, with additional abstracts in the areas of urban forest, population health, migration & settlement, local food, renewable energy, and sustainability science. In approximate chronological order of presentation:

In addition to these contributions, Dr. Hernandez also serves as chair, introducer, organizer, and/or panelist of sessions on

  • BGSG Career Achievement Award: A Conversation with Ken Smith
  • Connecting Practitioners and Students – Advice on Career Development in the Field of Location Intelligence
  • Location Intelligence Trends in the Contemporary Omni-channel Retail Marketplace
  • Retail and Business Geography I & II

Dr. Millward also serves as chair of the session on “Arboriculture and Urban Forestry” and Dr. Steenberg is a panelist in the session entitled “Disrupt Geo 1: new ideas from the front lines of maps, mobile, and big data”.

We wish our colleagues and all participants a productive and enjoyable AAG 2016!

Normalization vs. Standardization – Clarification (?) of Key Geospatial Data Processing Terminology using the Example of Toronto Neighbourhood Wellbeing Indicators

In geospatial data processing, the terms “normalization” and “standardization” are used interchangeably by some researchers, practitioner, and software vendors, while others are adamant about the differences in the underlying concepts.

Krista Heinrich, newly minted Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) and a GIS Analyst at Esri Canada, wrote her MSA major research paper on the impact of variable normalization and standardization on neighbourhood wellbeing scores in Toronto. More specifically, within a SSHRC-funded research project on multi-criteria decision analysis and place-based policy-making, we examined the use of raw-count vs. normalized variables in the City of Toronto’s “Wellbeing Toronto” online tool. And, we explored options to standardize wellbeing indicators across time. Here is what Krista wrote about these issues in a draft of her paper:

In most analysis situations involving multiple data types, raw data exist in a variety of formats and measures, be it monetary value, percentages, or ordered rankings. This in turn presents a problem of comparability and leads to the requirement of standardization. While Böhringer, & Jochem (2007), emphasize that there is no finite set of rules for the standardization of variables in a composite index, Andrienko & Andrienko (2006) state that the standardization of values is a requirement.

Several standardization techniques exist including linear scale transformations, goal standardization, non-linear scale transformations, interval standardization, distance to reference, above and below the mean, z scores, percentage of annual differences, and cyclical indicators (Dorini et al, 2011; Giovanni, 2008; Nardo et al., 2005; Malczewski, 1999).  It should be noted however, that there is inconsistency among scholars as to the use of terms such as normalization and standardization.

While Giovannini (2008) and Nardo et al. (2005) categorize standardization solely as the use of z-scores, they employ the term normalization to suggest the transformation of multiple variables to a single comparable scale. Additionally, Ebert & Welsch (2004) refer to Z score standardization as the definition of standardization and place this method, along with the conversion of data to a 0 to 1 scale, referred to as ‘ranging’, as the two most prominent processes of normalization. According to Ebert & Welsch (2004), “Normalization is in most cases a linear transformation of the crude data, involving the two elementary operations of translation and expansion.” In contrast, other scholars classify the transformation of raw values to a single standardized range, often 0.0-1.0, as standardization (Young et al., 2010A; Malczewski, 1999; Voogd, 1983) while Dailey (2006), in an article for ArcUser Online, refers to the normalization of data in ArcMap as the process of standardizing a numerator against a denominator field. […]

In this paper, we employed the term standardization to define the classification of raw values into a single standardized scale and in particular, through the examination of linear scale transformations and their comparison with Z score standardization.  The term normalization is used in this paper to describe the division of variables by either area or population, as is referred to by Dailey (2006), therefore regularizing the effect that the number of individuals or the size of an area may have on the raw count values in an area. “

In other words, the way we use the two terms, and the way we think they should be used in the context of spatial multi-criteria decision analysis and area-based composite indices, standardization refers to making the values of several variables (indicators, criteria) comparable by transforming them to the same range of, e.g.,  0-to-1. In contrast, normalization refers to the division of a raw-count variable by a reference variable, to account for different sizes of enumeration areas.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that in my cartography course, following the excellent textbook by Slocum et al. (2009), I am using the term “standardization” for the important concept of accounting for unit sizes. For example, choropleth maps should only be made for standardized (i.e., normalized!) variables, never for raw-count data (a great rationale for which is provided at http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/gis/manual/normalize/).  Furthermore, high-scoring blog posts at http://www.dataminingblog.com/standardization-vs-normalization/ and http://www.benetzkorn.com/2011/11/data-normalization-and-standardization/ define normalization as the rescaling to the 0-to-1 range (our definition of standardization) and standardization as the z-score transformation of a variable. Oops, did I promise clarification of these terms ?-)

In case you are wondering about Krista’s results regarding the Wellbeing Toronto tool: It depends! She discusses an example of a variable where normalization changes the spatial patterns dramatically, while in another example, spatial patterns remain very similar between raw-count and normalized variables. Standardization was used to make wellbeing indicators from 2008 comparable to those from 2011, as we will report at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) annual meeting in April 2014. Our abstract (URL to be added when available) was co-authored by Dr. Duncan MacLellan (Ryerson, Politics and Public Admin department), my co-investigator on the above-mentioned research grant, and Kathryn Barber, a student in Ryerson’s PhD in Policy Studies program.

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence – an era of geomatics research in Canada

The GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence is holding its final annual conference as part of the Global Geospatial Conference 2012 in Quebec City. From 1999-2012, GEOIDE brought together some 400 Canadian University researchers and over 1,400 students in collaborative, multi-year projects that spanned Geomatics engineering and the natural, social, and health sciences. At Ryerson, faculty members in Civil Engineering, Geography, and Planning were involved in GEOIDE-funded research. Upon a quick count, at least ten graduate and five undergraduate students contributed to my own research within GEOIDE between 2005-2012. During this time, we developed and tested tools for argumentation mapping to engage stakeholders in spatial planning and decision-making.

An argumentation map combines an online cartographic map of an area of interest, e.g. for urban re-development, with a discussion forum. People interested in, or affected by, a spatial planning or decision-making issue can reference their comments and opinions to specific places in the mapped area. This enables others to read existing posts from either the map view or the threaded structure of the discussion forum. Additionally, decision-makers can investigate hot spots of discussion, the most contentious areas within the plan, as well as the patterns of contribution (by date/time and by participant) during an online public participation period.

Interest in argumentation mapping and related concepts has gained traction with the increasing availability of geospatial Web tools such as Google Maps, OpenLayers, etc., many of which have a global reference map already included (e.g. from the OpenStreetMap initiative). Building on my most frequently cited article in Environment and Planning (2001 – over 90 citations), the GEOIDE network has enabled student research such as the project that led to an article in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (2008), which draws the link between Web 2.0 concepts and argumentation mapping. That article has 57 citations as of today and is featured as the third-most cited article of the journal since 2007.

Besides the direct funding of graduate student stipends and undergraduate research assistantships and work-study positions, attending the annual GEOIDE summer school was a highlight for a number of students. A series of my students were actively involved in the GEOIDE student network and the planning of the last three summer schools. The network provided a great deal of organizational and leadership experience and valuable professional networking to Ryerson students and helped involve them in cutting-edge research at the intersection of geography, geomatics, planning, and policy studies.