Category Archives: Uncategorized

Putting vaccination risks into context

Picked this graphic up on Facebook last night.

Some people seem hesitant to discuss vaccination in the comments so hopefully this gives them the excuse they need.

Really drives the message home, doesn’t it?

Fluoride – friend or foe: a lecture

A quick announcement for Waikato readers.

The Hamilton fluoride referendum deadline is next weekend. If you are still trying to decide how to vote, or just want to get more information on fluoride, this would be a great lecture for you.

It is next Tuesday evening, at Waikato University. One of the Current Issues lecture series organised by the Waikato Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Everyone is welcome.  Here are the details:

Fluoride – friend or foe

Dr Graham Saunders, Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, Waikato University.

Room L.G.01, Gate 1, Waikato University

Tuesday October 8, 2013, at 7.30 pm.

Fluoride is the small ion that is grabbing attention at the moment. For the synthetic chemist it is plagued by contradiction: Aggressive when naked, but docile when wet. It is responsible for fluorosis, but also endows teeth with resistance to decay.

The talk will present:

  •  The chemistry of fluoride
  • The reasons for its harmful and beneficial properties
  • How fluoride is introduced to water
  • The misconceptions and misinformation.

Graham Saunders is a graduate of Oxford University. He has a research background in fluorine chemistry spanning over two decades. His past work has included using highly reactive fluoride compounds, fluorine gas, and making additives for water treatment. His current research interests include breaking extremely strong carbon―fluorine bonds and using the unique properties of the fluorine atom for highly water repellent surfaces.

Room L.G.01 is in L block. Entry is easiest through either Gate 1 on Knighton Rd or Gate 8 on Hillcrest Rd. A campus map is available at http://www.waikato.ac.nz/contacts/map.pdf. There is no charge for this event.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Fluoridate our water Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page

Talking sense about morality

Here’s a great blog post by Jerry Coyne outlining a scientific approach to morality (see How should we be moral?: Three papers and a good book) it gives a summary of his current ideas and a reading list of papers and a book which have influenced him.

I go along with Jerry’s conclusions but I would add a couple of things  to his summary:

  1. I agree that there is no such thing a objective morality – but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we can show an objective basis for morality. We can understand how some of our values have an objective basis (others may not) and this is important in our evaluation of moral codes.
  2. I think we should extend our understanding of an instinctual morality model (as opposed to a rational one) beyond the simple proposition of an evolutionary origins of our instincts. We need to see that the instincts or intuitions driving our moral feelings or emotions can also develop, or evolve, via cultural mechanisms. I think this is important to understanding of the moral zeitgeist, the way that our moral codes tend to change over time.

An objective basis for morality?

There is a difference between objective morality – which implies some sort of moral truth existing independently of humanity – and objectively based morality. This latter implies that there is a basis for our morality – the nature of our species – which means that we generally come to the same moral conclusions. Our morality is not just a matter of personal choice.

I see the simplest basis of morality in the simple facts of life itself. Living organisms, even the most primitive, have the property of valuing life and its continuation. Without this basic biological value such organisms would not survive and reproduce. Just imagine a simple organism which ignored indications of nutrients in its environment and had no ability, or “desire,” to reproduce. Natural selection would soon have put paid to it.

While initial organisms may have had simple physical and chemical mechanisms putting biological value into effect evolution eventually led to development of neuronal structures and brains. Biological value could be expressed as instincts and emotions.

Evolution of social animals provided requirements for a finer structure to biological value. The interactions between organisms became more important and this finer structure became represented in the instincts and emotions of social animals – including humans.

Long story short – I see an objective basis for human morality in human nature itself. The fact that we are a sentient, intelligent, conscious, social and empathetic species.

Hijacking human instinct

Of course, there is not necessarily a direct line between our evolved instincts, objectively based in biological and social value, and the morality we profess.  Jonathan Haidt described his useful theory of foundational moral values in his recent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (see my review in Human morality is evolving). While some of our moral codes related to life, care, harm and well-being are related to foundational human values involved with life and its survival – biological and social value – others are not. Or at least they are driven by instincts which have been hijacked. For example instincts of purity may well be related to survival and life, but moral codes related to sacredness, racial superiority and religious purity (unrelated to life and survival) rely on the hijacking of such instincts.

So while I assert that there is an objective basis for some of our morality – especially that related to life, care, harm and well-being -  some of our morality may well not have a genuine objective basis, even though it utilises basic human instincts.

Moral learning and moral zeitgeist

A simple instinctive model of morality, relying on evolved instincts and not conscious deliberation, really doesn’t explain how and why human morality changes. It doesn’t explain the moral zeitgeist.

I think it’s necessary to include both rational consideration as well as instinctive, emotional reaction, to explain this. As Jerry said, our “instinctive judgments are largely a product of evolution.” But it doesn’t stop there. Our intuitions, and hence our emotions, are produced unconsciously, without delineation, but over time they are influenced by our conscious deliberation and learning.

When we learn to ride a bike, or even to walk as a toddler, our actions are deliberate. We consciously consider them and put them into effect. But with learning these actions no longer need conscious deliberation. They are incorporated into our unconscious brain and carried out automatically. Just as well – imagine that adults had to continue all the conscious activity the toddler uses when they start walking. With all the inevitable conscious mistakes. Just imagine grown-ups walking along the footpath, but every so often falling on their backside like a toddler! Because the process of walking had not been learned and incorporated into their unconscious.

I argue, that the conscious moral deliberations of individuals and society produce the same sort of learning. These deliberation may be active – as, for example, our current discussion of marriage equality. Or the learning could be almost passive. Exposure to our culture. I think many people have unconsciously shifted their attitudes towards working mothers, racial integration and homosexuals because of their exposure to TV shows, books, and life itself, where these modern moral attitudes are accepted.

Incorporation of this moral learning into our subconscious means that  homosexuality, for example, no longer automatically provokes our instincts of purity and disgust. Or meeting an atheist no longer causes us to react out of disgust or respect for authority.

So while our day-to-day moral functioning relies on these intuitional reactions and not logical consideration, these unconscious intuitional reactions have been modified by our learning and exposure to cultural changes.

Moral progress?

On the one hand, that moral attitudes related to care, life, harm and well-being can have an objective basis in biological value, in the very nature of life, means we have ways – both emotional and logical – at arriving at common agreement on what is “right” and “wrong.” On the other hand, although our morality is instinctive or intuitional and not rational (at least in common day-to-day activity) the deliberate intellectual consideration of moral issues, as well as our passive exposure to a culture which is changing because of that deliberate consideration, means that we are capable of moral learning. Of adjusting our automatic moral reactions over time. Of making moral progress.

And I think we can conclude that this has happened on issues such as human rights and discrimination – even if not uniformly and evenly.

Similar articles

A load of science

If you are into science videos this will interest you. It’s a collection of 100 science lectures given by top scientists.

They are divided into the following groups:

  • General,
  • Science and engineering,
  • Biology and medicine,
  • Chemistry,
  • Physics and astronomy,
  • Earth and environment,
  • Technology and computer science,
  • Science and the future,
  • Science and business, and
  • Miscellaneous

Some are several years old – but they look interesting. And they certainly cover a range of interests within science.

Thanks to Shirley Zeilinger for pointing me to 100 More Incredible Lectures From the World’s Top Scientists.

Similar articles

Moral behavior in animals

Observing moral behaviour in other animals helps elucidate the evolutionary underpinnings of human morality. In this lecture Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals | Video on TED.com.

de Waal’s first book, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes
(1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior.His latest books are Our Inner Ape
(2005) and
The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society
(2009).

Similar articles

December ’11 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for December 2011.* Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats. There are now over 260 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters.

I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers for December, 2011.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks


*This month has involved a bit more work because of the change in year – particularly with statcounter blogs. Hopefully I have not had any senior moments. But if you find a mistake please let me know and I will correct it.


feed icon Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings

Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email

Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

Continue reading

2012 Global Atheist Convention – Melbourne

The organisers of the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne have announced that tickets will go on sale from September 1st. If you are planning to go I recommend an early purchase as they did sell out quickly last time. And successful as the 2010 Convention was this one is shaping up to be even better.

Convention organisers are announcing confirmed speakers one at a time – The latest is Ayan Hirsi Ali who is certainly going to be a crowd drawer. She is one of my heroines.

Photos of the other speakers so far announced are below. Click on the individual photos to go to their details.

Daniel DennettRichard DawkinsSam HarrisChristopher HitchensAnnie Laurie GaylorLeslie CannoldPZ MyersLawrence KraussEugenie ScottPeter SingerCatherine DevenyDan BarkerFiona PattenLawrence LeungKylie SturgessTanya SmithAyaan Hirsi Ali

NZ blog rankings update

Just want to clarify the status of the rankings of NZ blogs I have been providing. A blogger had claimed that the system is “broken” – I assure you that is incorrect.

Monthly rankings

These are up to date, largely automatic and reliable. They rely on public access to statcounters, sitemeters, or similar icons installed on blogs.

I post these every month, usually on the first of the following month. You can access an archive (including the latest) of these rankings at the Blog Ranks Page.

I think most people are interested in monthly rather than daily data because these even out fluctuations to some extent

Daily averaged ranking
I had a system which automatically posted a ranking based on daily averages. This enable a snapshot – which of course did not compensate for variations.
Currently that is not operating because of changes to the way statcounter reports it’s data. So far I have not had the expertise or free time to institute an automatic work around. Bloody hell, I dont even have a computer at the moment.

When I get my new computer I will change the settings to remove access to that spreadsheet until it has been corrected.

Hopefully that will prevent this sort of misunderstanding.

Add your blog
Meanwhile, I assure you I am interested in making the rankings as inclusive as possible. The current system already lists more than 250 NZ blogs.

I believe a system using blog visit stats is far more realistic than anything based on a numbers taken from a single ranking source like Alexa. These are often very misleading.

So if you have a NZ blog which is currently unlisted please consider installing a meter which enables public access to your stats. If you do, let me know and I will add your blog to the ranking system.

Is Monckton good value?

On a recent podcast I heard John Abraham, well known for his debunking of claims made by Christopher Monckton, say that Monckton was actually a good asset to climate science. That the man had so discredited himself and his climate denier/contrarian arguments that he was turning people off. The more he spoke the more he discredited climate change denial/scepticism.

Perhaps this explains why Monckton’s recent visit to New Zealand has been such a failure for him. Of course he and his mates are attempting to blame “censorship.” You know – the “censorship” that occurs when others don’t dignify him with a debating partner or don’t bother going to his meetings.

I certainly have noticed far fewer people supporting him recently compared with the height of the “climategate” attacks. At that time many local blogs were posting Monckton’s videos. Those same blogs have been strangely silent during this visit. The only video I saw posted was on the Christian Apologetics.com blog.

What a come down.

And who are his remaining fans? They seem to be a select few at the moment. I did a search for details of his meetings. Couldn’t find any reports (strange and suspicious – suggesting that perhaps the attendance was low). But the blogs and web sites advertising his meetings were interesting.

Of course there was the climate change denier/contrarian climate conversation group and climate realists. After all they organised the visit. But what company did they have?

I mentioned the Christian Apologetics.org. But there were also a couple of conspiracy paranoia sites, Chemtrails Watch, More than 9/11, OpenUReyes , Evolution News NZ and one clearly racist site White News Now.
And then a few way out personal blogs like John Ansell’s blog (remember him – sacked by the ACT Party for being too openly racist) and
The Voice of Reason (which as you would expect is anything but reasonable)

Then there were the Home Education Foundation, Saucy American in NZ and the right wing Fairfacts Media Show.

Crikey Monckton – with friends like this you don’t need any enemies.

But for a bit of humor read Lord Monckton Runs Wild on Wellington Streets.

Converting beliefs to “truths”

Michael Shermer‘s latest book looks interesting – The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

Chris Mooney interviews him about the book in the latest Point of Inquiry podcast (see Point of Inquiry or  download the MP3).

Shermer’s thesis is that with humans belief comes first – then we look of evidence to support that belief. I have often made the same claim – we are a rationalising species, not a rational one. There are good evolutionary reasons for this.

At first sight this seems a rather pessimistic thesis for a scientist and sceptic. However, in the book Shermer deals with the tools that science offers for overcoming this problem. For approaching a more objective knowledge of reality. He asserts that science is unique in this.

I have managed to get a copy and look forward to reading it.

Similar articles