Category Archives: diversity

Permission to have that conversation

In May, Maajid Nawaz presented this important talk at the 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum. It’s important because he attacks the concept that religion, and especially Islam, should be protected from criticism. And especially he attacks the concept that we should not talk about the problem of Jihadism, or Islamic terrorism. We should not avoid calling a spade a spade.

Maajid says the West, and particularly the USA, has it all wrong. The policies of intervention, imposing “democracy” and the killing of terrorist leaders and civilians via bombing and drones, will never solve the basic problem – that extremist jihadism appeals to many Muslims, even western born Muslims.

He is advancing the need to counter jihadist ideologies with alternative moderate policies – but points out this is hardly happening. And how can it happen if people are too “politically correct” to discuss and condemn actions like the stoning of women, female genital mutilation, imposed marriages, etc.

Maajid has the right credentials to back up his message. He is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and used to advocate jihadism.  He was imprisoned in Egypt from 2001 and 2006. His experience led him to change his thinking and he left Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounced his Islamist past and called for a “Secular Islam“.

Now he is a co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists.

Maajid wrote about his experiences and changes of thinking in his book Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism.


More recently he discussed these problems with the atheist Sam Harris. Their discussion is published in the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.

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Debating fluoridation and tyranny – Tom O’Connor responds

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Individual consent – what does it mean and how is it obtained?

This article below is a guest contribution from Tom O’Connor responding to my article Attempting a tyranny of the minority on fluoridation. I invited Tom to discuss the issue here, and offered him a right of reply because I think there is value in discussing the points he raised in his Timaru Courier opinion piece and  that I critiqued in my article.

Unfortunately, in this issue, the scientific arguments are very often a proxy for underlying values issues, at least on the part of opponents of fluoridation. It is in the nature of values issues that there is no “correct” answer (in contrast to arguments about facts). Nevertheless, the values issues are important so I hope they can be developed in discussion here around Tom’s original opinion piece and his response here. In the end, such issues are decided by democratic and political means so open discussion of the issues is important.


Firstly I am not opposed to the use of fluoride to combat tooth decay per se. Nor do I have any “anti-fluoride mates” as you put it. If the government wants to make fluoride freely available there are many ways of doing that without imposing it on everyone.

There are three main elements to the fluoride debate. The first is the efficacy or otherwise of fluoride as a preventative for tooth decay.

The second is the use of reticulated potable water as a means of delivering anything other than clean water to the community.

The third is the issue of mass medication, or mass treatment or mass therapy of people without individual consent and practical convenient and affordable alternatives. Legislating to declare a medical treatment is not a medical treatment simply on the ground that the dose rate is measured in parts per million is one of the most stupid and dishonest things I have ever seen any government do. Many medications are measured in such minute quantities.

The Grey Power Federation objection to the proposed addition of fluoride to potable reticulated water is based on the third element only. We do not have a policy in the first element simply because we do not have the expertise or scientific qualifications to develop such a policy. We have not considered the second element.

That policy has been, in my view, adequately explained in the Timaru Courier opinion piece you refer to. The following comments are therefore mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Grey Power members or anyone else.

Efficacy

As you rightly point out there is probably nothing to be gained in participating in the endless argument between proponents and opponents of fluoride as an oral health treatment. Both sides have accused the other of engaging in pseudo-science and scare mongering. Both are, to some extent, probably accurate and in agreement on that point alone. However, where doubts exist, it is probably better to err on the side of caution.

Reticulated water

Territorial local authorities have the responsibility to provide potable water to their communities where no other sources are available or suitable. The principle responsibility of local authorities, as outlined in the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand, administered by the Ministry of Health, is to ensure drinking water is as free from all other substances and organisms as possible. Using reticulated potable water to convey anything else, be it medical or not, is contrary to that principle.

The use of chlorine to remove micro-organisms and other pathogens is designed to remove unwanted and potentially unsafe matter from drinking. At the end of that process there is not supposed to be any detectable chlorine. That there often is demonstrates the difficulty of getting the addition of trace elements correct. That is a very different matter to the deliberate introduction of an additional substance which many people don’t want.

Mass treatment and individual consent

This is not the first time mass medication or treatment has been introduced in New Zealand. Iodine deficiency, as a cause for goitre, was discovered in the early 1900s and to address the problem table salt was iodised at up to 80mg of iodine per kilogram of salt in 1938. This was accompanied by an extensive public education programme and there was always un-iodised salt as a practical, convenient and affordable option on grocer shop shelves for those who did not want it.

Suggesting that those who object to fluoride in the water they pay their local authority to deliver can obtain alternative supplies from a community tap or buy it from the supermarket is unacceptable. These options are not possible, practical, convenient or affordable for many people.You may also recall a recent proposal to add folic acid to all bread products as a means of addressing a reproductive issue for women. The public outcry which saw that proposal dropped was not solely based on doubts about the efficacy of folic acid but the fact they many people simply did not want their bread medicated with anything for any reason.

You may also recall a recent proposal to add folic acid to all bread products as a means of addressing a reproductive issue for women. The public outcry which saw that proposal dropped was not solely based on doubts about the efficacy of folic acid but the fact they many people simply did not want their bread medicated with anything for any reason.

There are practical and cost effective methods of providing fluoride for those who want it. Forcing it on those who don’t want it is simply unacceptable in a free society.

Tom O’Connor


I will post a response to Tom’s arguments in a few days. Meanwhile, readers are welcome to make their own arguments in the comments section.

Ken Perrott

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Traditions and social arrangements out of step with social diversity

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Image credit:Americans Turning Away From Organized Religion in Record Numbers

A new report from The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life recommends changes which challenge the current traditional role and power of religion in the UK. Among its recommendations are:

National and civic events should reflect the pluralist character of modern society and “national forums such as the House of Lords, [should] include a wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.”

Repeal of the legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship and its replacement by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection.

All pupils in state-funded schools should have a statutory entitlement to a curriculum about religion, philosophy and ethics that is relevant to today’s society – that is education about religions and beliefs – not religious instruction.

More relevant coverage of religion and belief by the BBC. “The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.”

Fairer treatment of complaints about media coverage of religion and belief with the establishment of a panel of experts on religion and belief to advise the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

So far these are still only recommendations. Government action will be required to enact required changes and you can bet the recommendations will face stiff opposition from the establishment.

Religious and belief landscape transformed beyond recognition

The commission’s work shows clearly that the current treatment of diversity, of religion and belief is not suitable for modern society. The existing arrangements and traditions must change to take account of the changes that have occurred in recent years. The report says:

“Over the past half century, Britain’s landscape in terms of religion and belief has been transformed beyond recognition. There are three striking trends:
• The first is the increase in the number of people with non-religious beliefs and identities. Almost a half of the population today describes itself as non-religious, as compared with an eighth in  England and a third in Scotland in 2001.
• The second is the general decline in Christian affiliation, belief and practice. Thirty years ago, two-thirds of the population would have identified as Christians. Today, that figure is four in ten, and at the same time there has been a shift away from mainstream denominations and a growth in evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
• The third is the increased diversity amongst people who have a religious faith. Fifty years ago Judaism – at one in 150 – was the largest non-Christian tradition in the UK. Now it is the fourth largest behind Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. Although still comprising less than one in ten of the population, faith traditions other than Christian have younger age profiles and are therefore growing faster.”

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life was convened by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, to consider the place and role of religion and belief in contemporary Britain. Membership of the commission is representative of the diversity of beliefs in the UK and it surveyed opinion throughout the UK with local hearings and submissions.

Some idea of its history and activity is given in this video

The final report is fittingly entitled “LIVING WITH DIFFERENCE
community, diversity and the common good.” It can be downloaded from here.

Relevance for New Zealand

I think we need something like this in New Zealand – specifically to make recommendations to government, educational and policing bodies and local authorities. So far, such approaches to  New Zealand diversity have been rather wishy-washy and have not produced recommendations requiring legal or by-law changes.

However, there always seems to be a problem in such considerations in that non-religious representation tends to be token. Inherent in the situation is that there are a large number of religions and sects, many with small memberships. On the other hand the non-religious, while comprising about 50% of the population, has very few organisations to represent their interests.

Often the majority of participants in such consultations and deliberations assume the issue is religious diversity, rather than belief diversity, and consider only methods of accommodating religious differences.

In such situation the non-religious participants can be ignored or not properly listened too, despite their large constituency.

Still – I would love to see some of the recommendations from the British commission about education, parliament, constitutional relationships and national and civic events discussed here.

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Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility

PN Tap

Alia Grant, 7, collecting “fluoride-free” water from the Papaoeia Park tap in Palmerston North. Credit: Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Apparently a source of “fluoride-free” water provided by the Palmerston North City Council since last May has seen little use. Despite the council providing the “fluoride-free” public tap at the request of campaigners, the data on its use shows an average of only about 4 people a day drawing water from it (see comments by Palmerston North City Councillor Aleisha Rutherford and email to her from council officials).

This data will interest other councils, like the Hamilton City Council, who are considering installation of similar “fluoride-free” taps. They might question whether such low use warrants the costs involve (more that $90,000  for Palmerston North and a budgeted $60,000 for Hamilton). But I am more interested in what this low usage implies for they way anti-fluoride campaigners have exerted their own freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice involves responsibility

I have always argued for freedom of choice on issues like community water fluoridation (CWF) where opinions are divided. I believe that freedom of choice is actually guaranteed by democratic processes.

Yes, I know, the minority sometimes complain that such democratic decisions remove their freedom of choice – and certainly anti-fluoride propagandists make much of this. Often claiming that the minority’s freedom of choice, in this case, is more important than the health of the community as a whole.

But that argument is disingenuous. Such choices are about the availability of a service or social health measure – not about having such services or health measures imposed on people. There is always a choice – and that is the great thing about democratic decisions. The community supports socially provided health care and secular education. But that in no way prevents the minority, who oppose such measures, the freedom to organise their own healthcare or education. Free secular education and healthcare is not imposed on anyone.

So, it seems obvious to me that someone who genuinely believes fluoridation is not OK should be responsible enough to take their own steps to either filter the water supply or arrange for a different source if they find themselves in the minority. I am not for a minute suggesting they give up their belief, or even their attempts to convince others. Just that they be responsible, accept the majority have spoken and that the majority decision should prevail – at least until there is a democratic change of mind.

Given the ready availability of alternative water sources or filtration devices, it would be silly not to take advantage of them. That is exactly what I would do if in that situation. But very few of my anti-fluoride discussion partners on this issue, when asked, acknowledge they take such steps. Instead, they will often complain about costs, even claiming these costs are prohibitive, and moan about having fluoridation “forced” on them.

Water filters a common

So the low usage of this “fluoride-free” tap indicates to me that people who seriously object to fluoridation of their water supply are already taking their own steps to remove it – most probably using a relatively cheap filter. And, I believe their use of such filters probably predates any public action they have taken on the issue. Similar filters are, after all, quite common and many people use them for aesthetic reasons to remove the taste of chlorine or organic matter.

So why do anti-fluoride activists make such a fuss – attempting to deny a democratically accepted social health measure to people who support it? After all, any personal claims of their own sensitivity to fluoride are surely invalid if they have exercised their freedom of choice and taken steps to filter their water or find another source.

The water consumption data for the “fluoride-free” tap in Palmerston North suggests that all but a very few (perhaps 4 people?) are responsibility taking their own steps to filter the water. This fuss, then, surely has nothing to do with their own situation. I can’t help thinking it derives from their own ideological and political beliefs about what society as a whole should do.

Perhaps these ideological and political beliefs, rather than any scientific fact, are the real source of their claim about the danger of community water fluoridation?

See also

 

What is life?

Feynman-life

I am being purposely provocative here – and who else provokes better that Richard Feynman.

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Rapid change in attitudes to marriage equality

marriage-equality

Click the image to go to the video (unfortunately I can’t embed the video here).

The video demonstrates “The Stunning 15-Year March to Marriage Equality Around the World.” And it certainly shows how rapid this change in community values has been.

I suppose many people will look at the map and feel they occupy the moral high ground because we are citizens of a country that has accepted marriage equality. The map certainly differentiates between those who have accepted and those who haven’t.

But the very rapidity of this change in community values is also a lesson. We should expect more countries to accept marriage equality in the near future. and secondly, we should be a bit humble and not make judgments on people and countries who have not yet accepted marriage equality.

After all, we were in that position a very short time ago.

Thanks to:  Same-sex marriage world map: Countries where gay unions are permitted after Supreme Court (VIDEO)..

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Being open-minded

This meme is for those commenters here who accuse me of having a closed mind.

open minded

I am always happy to change my opinion or view of things – if there is evidence to suggest I should.

And no, claims that “science once thought the world was flat,” or “science once supported smoking,” is not a credible argument that we should ignore current scientific consensus. It’s especially not an argument we should suddenly adopted unsupported claims as “gospel truth.”

Along these same lines, it’s worth considering this quote from Carl Sagan – if you want me to consider a really extraordinary claim your evidence had better be exceptional.

extra

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Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA?

putin

Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”

TIME-poll

I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”

IMG_0633

One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?


Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

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“I just know”

This is from a satirical site – but the trouble is many people seems to think this way. They are continually commenting on blogs and other social media and think their arguments trump science!

From The Spudd.


evidence-pyramid

“I just know” replaces systematic reviews at top of evidence pyramid

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) announced today that “I just know” will replace systematic reviews as the top level of evidence available in medical research. For years scientists and doctors have dismissed anecdotes from the likes of anti-vaxxers and pseudoscience pushers, but it appears they are finally ready to listen.

“After much research and deliberation, we feel we cannot ignore what a parent or conspiracy theorist feels “in their gut”. There are just too many anecdotes and too many people buying untested alternative health products to ignore this any longer,” explained SHEA spokesman Dr. Harold Rami.

Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Chiropractors and anti-vaxxers the world over are celebrating this as a huge victory.

“Even though my son was showing signs of autism before he got vaccinated, I know in my gut and in my heart that it was still the vaccines that caused it,” said mother and anti-vaccine advocate Cheryl Jones.

“This is a big win for us,” said Naturopath and homeopathy dispenser, Paul Theroult. “I have seen it many times. I sell my patients a homeopathic remedy – for say the common cold – and then bam, they are cured within one to two weeks. There is no science backing up my claim that the homepathic pill cured their cold, but in my gut I just know it did.”

 

The victims of terror

Appropriately, some of the most effective protests against the most recent act of terrorism has come from cartoonists.

Charlie Nebdo

Let’s hope the pencil, and brush, are mightier than the weapons of terror.

down with terror