“There is no health without mental health.”
It has been an interesting year for neuroscience, with several breakthrough moments in research – from the discovery of a protein that could increase your long-term memory, to advancements in brain scanning that could potentially change what it means to be human. This year also marked the thirtieth anniversary of the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre. We looked at the importance of our brain in relation to our wellbeing, how to supply it with healthy nutrients (whether vegetables or insects), and highlighted the interconnectedness between mental health and our overall health.
Even with a busy lifestyle, eating a nutritious diet should be high on your list of priorities, though researchers found this to be more difficult than expected with current Canadian nutrition labels. We also learned more about ourselves as humans and the role of empathy when it comes to pain. Despite advancements in neuroscience, it is evident there is still a strong need for more interdisciplinary research and collaboration when it comes to understanding mental health, since psychiatric disorders are still poorly understood and the traditional treatment of chemical cocktails is no longer enough.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, there continues to be a prevalent and dangerous public distrust in them.
From vaccines to climate change, scientific knowledge continues to be misrepresented in the media. Confusion over the Ebola virus was far more rampant in Canada and the U.S. than instances of the disease itself, though this was not true in West Africa, where Ebola had been a problem long before the fearmongering of the corporate media. The anti-vaccination movement returned to the media spotlight with the outbreak of measles and controversy with Queen’s University instructor who was teaching anti-vaccine rhetoric as real science. As a result, some communities (mostly upper middle class) have decided that their suspicions of vaccines are more valid than decades of scientific research that clearly debunks the myths of their supposedly harmful ‘side effects.’
The public mistrust of scientists was compounded by a Harper government campaign to silence the voices of government scientists doing research on climate change, retracting funding and otherwise preventing them from sharing freely their work with the public they supposedly serve.
Overall, the general misrepresentation of science in the media and the oppression of scientific knowledge continues to be a problem. However, this year has also seen renewed engagement by scientists in novel ways, including a local radio initiative named Science Faction that aims to share science research using only the 1,000 most-used words. This year’s events have been a stark reminder to scientists that effectively communicating their research is often as important as the results themselves.
One of the beautiful aspects of the hacker community is its general willingness to take in anyone interested to learn.
Technological literacy has been a trending topic this year, highlighted by U.S. President Barack Obama writing his first line of code during an Hour of Code event as part of the 2014 Computer Science Education Week. Whether in the form of large-scale hackathons – like MHacks, McHacks, or PennApps – or local initiatives led by smaller groups such as HackMcGill’s Hack101, the efforts of the hacker community to communicate their knowledge to people and get them involved, have not gone unnoticed. Knowing even a modicum about technology can have a real impact on your life. The information security and domestic espionage scandals that have popped up throughout the year are a reminder that it’s preferable to understand some of the inner workings of the gadgets we use every day as they often serve as channels for very sensitive information.
While the way private information is handled needs to be much more transparent, especially with respect to corporations and government entities handling large databases of private information about individuals, we have to be proactive about protecting ourselves, and stop relying entirely on other people to keep our confidential data from prying eyes. In November, McGill’s IT security was put on the hot seat for storing passwords in insecure ways, and throughout the year, the Snowden leaks have revealed more and more of the NSA’s dark plans to keep a close eye on everyone’s private information. To top all this, the debates over net neutrality, a key concept that could make or break the internet’s future, are far from over, and the risk of having corporate interests and conservative groups obtain vast power over the internet as we know it is very real. To be able to understand these issues, avoid pitfalls, and take the right decisions for ourselves and for the next generations, we’ll need to be tech-savvy, we’ll need to cease to be simple consumers, and we’ll need to be interested in learning and embracing technology, ultimately becoming hackers ourselves.