Trials of an Event Law-aison

The trials of a second-year law student at the University of Alberta.

Exam Time!

Jonathan Ip - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's nice to finally get a shot at writing law school exams, although I guess "nice" might not be the best way to describe it. For most of my courses, if you do better in the April final exams, then the December exams won't be used in the calculation of the final course grade. This is good because it gives people a chance to get a feel for how to write these types of exams. Pretty much all the exams feature a fact situation where you apply your knowledge from the cases you went over during the term to analyze the hypothetical scenario. It's amazing how many topics covered throughout the term can be crammed into these hypotheticals so time is a huge issue.

The courses are year-long here so my December exams are considered midterms instead of finals. The only course that isn't year-long is the Foundations to Law course so that exam was a 100% final. I just wrote my 5th exam in 8 days, and I still have one more for Wednesday. Thankfully Legal Research and Writing didn't have an exam but we did have a written assignment. This month reminds me of my BCIT days with five exams crammed into a week or less.

We were learning about possession in Property Law in November and the law school held a movie night (with pizza!) for the documentary Up for Grabs (2004) (Youtube Trailer), an entertaining film which featured a conflict over the possession of Barry Bond's record-setting 73rd home run ball. We read about this famous case (Popov v. Hayashi) in class and it was neat to see the judge read the decision verbatim from what we had in our casebook. It was also fun to see the parties' expressions change as the reasons of the judgment shifts in favour of one party to the other, that is just not something you get from reading cases off a book.

While taking a "break" from studying for exams I perused a few papers, among others, published by the U of A Health Law Institute concerning policy issues with induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. One of these articles, "iPS Cells: Mapping the Policy Issues" [Zarzeczny et al. Cell, 139(6), 1032-1037 (2009)], gives a good overview of the ethical and legal challenges regarding research with iPS cells, and the other paper, "Stem Cell Research Policy and iPS Cells" [Caulfield et al. Nature Methods, 7, 28-33 (2010)], describes the various regulatory schemes for iPS cell research used in Canada, the US, the UK, and Japan.

Another interesting paper I came across was "Science Communication Reconsidered" [Bubela et al. Nature Biotechnology, 27, 514-518 (2009)]. The following paragraph from this article got me thinking a bit:

"The deficit model blames failures in science communication on inaccuracies in news coverage and the irrational beliefs of the public, but it ignores several realities about audiences and how they use the media to make sense of science. First, individuals are naturally 'cognitive misers': if they lack a motivation to pay close attention to science debates, they will rely heavily on mental shortcuts, values and emotions to make sense of an issue, often in the absence of knowledge. Second, as part of this miserly nature, individuals are drawn to news sources that confirm and reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. This tendency, of course, has been facilitated by the fragmentation of the media and the rise of ideologically slanted news outlets. Third, opinion leaders other than scientists, such as religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations and politicians, have been successful in formulating their messages about science in a manner that connects with key stakeholders and publics but at times might directly contradict scientific consensus or cut against the interests of organized science." [citations omitted]

Here's another part I found interesting in relation to the above paragraph:

"In regard to perceptions of coverage, contrary to conventional wisdom, research has consistently shown that most scientists are satisfied with the media coverage of their own research and are more likely to be critical of science coverage generally. Research similarly suggests that perceptions of bias in the coverage of biotech vary depending on a stakeholder's connection and personal commitment to the topic." [citations omitted]

The next few paragraphs in the article gave reasons to reconcile what appeared to be a paradox between the general state of inaccurately framed scientific messages and the apparent satisfaction scientists have with the media coverage of their own research. I found this section to be the most interesting. This article also marks the first time I've heard of cafés scientifiques, which is exactly what the name implies it is.


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