Dr. Donald Low, who did the right thing, right to the end. RIP.
[NOTE: I wish I could properly cite the interview on which I am basing this post, but I just can't find it. If anyone can provide me with a link to the actual story, please let me know.]
On 25 September, around 7:00 pm, I listened to an interview on CBC Radio 1 (Toronto) of a professor of Disability Studies from Ryerson University. The interview was essentially a commentary of a powerful video by Dr. Donald Low, the exceptional microbiologist who steered Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis. In that video, Dr. Low called for new standards to provide dying with dignity to everyone. The commentary by the Ryerson professor, herself disabled, raised warning flags about Dr. Low’s call.
She talked – very eloquently – about all the different ways that one can define “dignity” as a social norm, and that any such norm would lead to a slippery slope that would end up with the disabled being euthanized without their consent because society had decided they lacked “dignity” in their lives. Essentially, she argued that every life has some kind of inherent dignity that must be respected – even if that means denying them dignity in death.
Maura E. Charette. Photographed by her father, who wrote an equally questionable article in the same issue of IEEE Spectrum, on the “myth” of a STEM “crisis.”
August must have been a slow news month at IEEE, because they’ve published a staggeringly bad article, Is a Career in STEM Really for Me? The piece is so shallow and naive, I felt compelled to write about it.
Maura E. Charette wrote the piece. She has just started Grade 8.
(I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.)
Image courtesy Wikipedia.
I shall read:
Melissa Mohr. 2013. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing (available both on Google Play and Amazon).
I’m adding this book to my goram reading list, based on an interview that Dr. Mohr gave Q The Summer (CBC Radio 1, 15 August 2013).
Here’s some of the points from the interview that make me want to read the book.
Swearing comes from the limbic system, not from the usual language centres of the brain. This explains why some brain injuries impede regular speech but not swearing. It can also be beneficial; for instance, swearing seems to actually increase our tolerance for pain.
How swearing has changed over the years is an indication of what that culture thinks is taboo. Ancient Romans – being “manly men” – often used words indicative of being sexual “receivers” as swear words. During the Medieval period, swear words typically involved religion. In Victorian times, swearing was all about sex – to the point that even “leg” was considered a taboo (and hence a swear) word. (If you wanted to refer to the leg of a table, one would use “limb” or “lower extremity” or some such.) By the middle of the last century, Victorian goofiness had given way to the usual swear words we know today, which remain sexual and scatological in nature.
Warning: this is a long one; and I’m very much in favour of gun control.
There’s plenty wrong with Canada, but one thing we’ve got right (in principle at least) is a strong gun control. Given the recent spate of shootings, both in Canada and the US, there has been a lot of discussion about gun control. I’d tried to argue for strict gun control on Google+, but the arguments became scattered over several discussions and so may have lost some of their effectiveness. So I’m going to try and put them all in one place here, in the hope that my position will make more sense.
I wrote a mini-review of The Conundrum, by David Owen, and posted it on Google+. It’s a book about climate change, resource depletion, and that science and technology will only make matters worse.
I didn’t like it, not just because I’m a science geek, but because Owen makes poor arguments in it. Unfortunately, I agree with him on his major premise – that only massively lowering consumption will work to save humanity in the long run – but his book offers nothing useful to advance or even defend this position. Read my Google+ post for more.
Short version: doesn’t bother with The Conundrum.
I find the term “ideological” is used far too often these days as a pejorative, especially in politics. I find this disturbing, because ideals are very important.
It seems that every time there’s a row at Queen’s Park or in Parliament, someone somewhere ends up accusing their adversary of being ideological, as if that were a bad thing. Oddly, those on the political left use the term as often as those on the right (based on my very unscientific “survey” of listening to the news while driving to work). Or perhaps not so oddly; after all, politicians are all aliens.
I suppose they’re trying to say that pragmatism was needed, and that being ideological is being the opposite of pragmatic, and therefore wrong.
Trust me. I'm a scientist.
Ars Technica recently reported on a survey carried out jointly by Scientific American and Nature about the level of public trust in scientists and their opinions. The results indicate clearly that people trust scientists. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can trust these results.
Don’t get me wrong. I am definitely a member of the species Homo Scientificus1 – I know that science works, and that there are no known alternatives that can outperform science as a means of understanding reality. But there’s a problem with this survey that undermines the argument it makes.
Science knocks down its own boundaries.
In late July, an article was published online in the journal Nature that suggests it may be possible to circumvent Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Big deal, right? Well, yes it is, actually, for two reasons: (1) it may be one of the most significant advances in science in the last 50 years, and (2) it underscores the difference between science, the sciences, and scientists.
Smoking is bad.But is tobacco bad too?
Scientific American recently reported on research on the effects of tobacco and coffee on the brain. It turns out that there’s something in tobacco and coffee that helps keep dopamine cells healthy, which means that we may be on the verge of figuring out why coffee-drinkers and smokers tend to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. This reinforces what I’ve always thought: value judgements suck.
Harper's census changes stink of fascism.
Steven Harper’s ultracon, intelligence-free government is at it again. Der Führer von Kanada and his cronies have decided to drop the mandatory long census form that was distributed to one in five households, in favour of a different – and relatively useless – optional long form to be distributed to more people. Besides the increased environmental impact (“optional” only means that more of them will end up unused in the trash), it undermines the information-gathering that is absolutely fundamental to plan for Canada’s future. (Updated 21 July 2010.)