Interesting stuff – 2017-01-12

Along the lines of my previous commitment to blog less, I intend to also keep my comments on “interesting stuff” to more of a minimum. I hope. I have this awful habit of rambling…

According to MacLean’s, Canadian scientists are no longer “muzzled” as they were under the Harper government. Just how bad was the former restriction on their freedom of speech? Per the article, it would seem they were more than free to publish whatever scientific discoveries they made in whatever scientific journals were appropriate.

On the face of it, that can hardly be construed as “anti-science.” Their limitations were with respect to interacting with the media, not when they were doing real science; in that respect there is no indication they were in any way muzzled.

And, of course, journalists would be just as free as the rest of us to read their research and report on it, so where’s the problem? Just that scientists were restricted from engaging directly with the media.

Why is that a problem? Somehow I don’t think the government wants every employee at Canada Revenue Agency, or the military, to talk to the media if contacted.

Could it be that the Conservatives were less naive with respect to journalism’s tendency to misrepresent the facts than the present Liberal government is? That’s one possible explanation. Another possible explanation is that some scientists might be prone to launch into para-science speculation, as in the author quoted in the article who wrote a dystopian novel about a world ravaged by climate change. That is no longer science proper, but science fiction. At best science speculation. And if it is presented under the banner of “science” then the public is likely to get mixed messages.

This raises another question for me; should government hire scientists? I’m not sure that’s a good idea, though I’m also not sure I could articulate why, exactly.

So how’s that whole drug “harm reduction” thing working out? I’m sure the situation will get a whole lot better when we legalize marijuana.

What is Canada’s national identity? This was one of the questions I floated in my mind as we drove across the country last summer. It’s a tough question to answer, but to say we simply do not have a core identity, as our own Prime Minister publicly declared, seems more than a little misguided to me.

Oh, how far we have strayed from the laws of logic discovered and articulated so many millennia ago. The first law of logic is the law of identity, something is what it is, and not something else. Seems kind of obvious, but it has implications.

According to the law of identity, to say that Canada has no core identity is to say that there is no way to differentiate Canada from any other country. Is there nothing different between Canada and the US? Is Canada not fundamentally different from Russia? What about North Korea?

That is obviously absurd; clearly we are different from other countries and wildly different from some. But if we are different then that means there is something that Canada “is not.” But the only way that Canada can “not be” something is if Canada “is” something else.

In short, Canada does, in fact, have a core identity. Trudeau is mistaken.

But I will confess that defining what Canada “is” can be terribly tricky.

About the “laws of logic” I mentioned earlier, perhaps the reason we are less inclined to give them the time of day is because we are less inclined to give those who discovered them the time of day. Why? Because they were white.

No, that’s not racism, that’s progressivism. I know, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.

A group of students at University of London want the ancient philosophers – well, those philosophers who are white at any rate – dropped from their curriculum. More specifically, students in the “School of Oriental and African Studies” want those white philosophers dropped.

Two questions come to mind. Does that mean the rest of us should ignore Oriental and African philosophers? I’d like to give them an ear, but perhaps I should be just as ethnically focused as they are. Perhaps my open-mindedness – my bizarre tendency to not judge people based on the color of their skin – is a bad idea?

Second, why do such demographically focused schools even exist, anyway? Perhaps I should start a “School of white, heterosexual, married, male, English-speaking engineers who like to write and invent in their spare time” so I can justify ignoring those who are unlike me.

It would seem those who work in the public sector tend to take more time off than those who work in the private sector. This is why “sick time” was such a big deal in some recent government union negotiations.

StatsCan provides some fascinating statistics on annual sick days. Women take more sick days (11.4) than do men (7.6). That’s 50% more. Sick days can include days where the person is literally sick, and also where they have family responsibilities, like if the kids are sick. It wouldn’t surprise me if women were more likely to stay home with sick kids than men, or to take them to doctor’s appointments and such, but that’s just my speculation as to part of the gender difference explanation.

Older people tend to take more sick days than younger people, which isn’t surprising.

Those who work for a union take more sick days (12.9) than those who do not work for a union (7.5). That’s 72% more sick days. People in the public sector take more sick days (12.4) than those in the private sector (8.3). That’s 49% higher. The public sector difference could be due, in part, to the fact that many public sector employees are unionized.

Which leads one to ask what is the cause, and what is the effect? Could it be that working for a cushy unionized / public sector job motivates people to take “sick days” even for questionable purposes? After all, the average is about one per month and, interestingly, is just below the maximum allowable per year which is, per the first link, 15 days per year. One has to wonder what would happen if they raised it to 20 days; would the average number of sick days also go up?

Or here’s an alternate possibility; those with health issues seek out unionized / government jobs. If I know I’m going to need a lot of time off for health reasons, maybe it’s better to find employment where the benefits are vastly superior?

Or maybe those are both contributing factors, who knows. I’m just speculating at this point. Quite interesting, anyway.

Here’s a discomforting twist on assisted suicide in Alberta. First (as anybody would have expected) it is expanding. Yeah, history has a tendency to repeat itself. But how it is expanding is interesting.

Considering the opposition many doctors and other Albertans have to doctor-assisted suicide, the Notley government’s move to give nurse-practitioners the same right takes on a very different light. It very much appears that Notley decided she was going to expand the practice of assisted suicide, even if it meant going over the heads of doctors.

She went over the heads of doctors? How did that happen?

Albertans might well ask why Notley would use an order-in-council, rather than put the matter to a vote in the legislature

By bypassing the democratically elected body. That’s how.

So while the federal government is celebrating its freeing of scientists to speak their minds, Alberta is choosing to ignore its doctors and push an ideological agenda via democratically questionable processes. That almost makes them sound worse than those cursed Conservatives.

Truth is relative, right? I’ve heard that plenty of times. How ironic, then, that a culture that pushes the “truth is relative” perspective is suddenly up-in-arms about fake news.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of hearing, “the debate is settled.” If people want to question the consensus then I feel we ought to support that, not shut it down. Even if that means questioning well established truths like the fact that vaccines are not linked to autism, or something as seemingly obvious as the fact that medication can sometimes help certain mental illnesses.

If the science is truly settled then these critics simply won’t make any headway. Let them question all they want.

The concern, apparently, is the perception in the public. If we give voice to these people then the general public might buy into what they are saying.

News alert: the general public is already buying into it. Letting them speak their mind isn’t going to change that.

The problem is with the general public, and squashing freedom of inquiry (even into pointless areas of investigation) isn’t going to fix that. Instead, shutting down discussion almost always gives the distinct impression that somebody has something to hide! If they want to rebuild trust in the general public then maybe the experts should spend less time telling people to be quiet and more time thoroughly and respectfully explaining why they are mistaken.

If somebody were to say, “math is challenging” would that strike you as a homophobic comment? Probably not. It wouldn’t strike me as a racist comment either. Nor Xenophobic. I’m losing track of all the new “phobics” on the market; am I missing any?

It also wouldn’t strike me as sexist. But some people just cannot resist playing the identity card. Which, I might add, is rather unbecoming of somebody flying the “conservative” banner.

Of course, insulting a politician with a degree in economics about their implicit lack of understanding of economics, when you are having a disagreement over economics isn’t smart either.