Category Archives: New Zealand

Science and management – a clash of cultures

Balloon_41

Found this while weeding out some old computer files. It certainly described the conflict between science and management I experienced while working – particularly since the reforms of the early 90s. “Science” became a dirty word while “profit” and management-speak became almost compulsory.


A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost.

He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted,”Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman below replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 55 and 56 degrees north latitude and between 3 and 4 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be a scientist,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the woman, “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist. “everything you told me is, technically correct, but I’ve no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”

The woman below responded. “You must be in Management.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the woman, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air.  You made a promise which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems.

The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

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Anti-fluoridationists misrepresent new dental date for New Zealand children

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Another whopper from the anti-fluoridation movement in New Zealand.

They claimed yesterday that “data released by the Ministry of Health today confirm that water fluoridation is having no noticeable effect in reducing tooth decay” (see DHB Data Show No Benefit From Water Fluoridation).

Yet a simple scan of the data (which can be downloaded from the MoH website) shows this to be patently untrue.

Here is a graphical summary of the New Zealand-wide data for 5-year-olds and year 8 children. It is for 2014 and I have separated the data ethnically as well as presenting the summary for all children (“total”).

DMFT and dmft = decayed, missing and filled teeth.

2014_5_years

214---8-yrNow – don’t these figures show the press release headline and the first sentence  are completely dishonest?

The data for all children (“total”) Maori and “other” show children in fluoridated areas have a higher percentage of caries-free teeth and a lower mean value of decayed, missing and filled teeth. The data for Pacifica are less definite – because the vast majority of Pacific children live in fluoridated areas. I discussed this further in my last post A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research.

Cherry-picking

So the headline and main message of the anti-fluoridationists press release were outright lies. However, they will fall back on the claim that the press release does contain some facts.  But these are just cherry-picked snippets taken out of context to confirm the bias of the anti-fluoride mind.

For example, comparing data for Christchurch and Nelson-Marlborough with those for  Auckland and Counties-Manukau is just disingenuous if the ethnic differences (which we know clearly play a role in oral health) are not considered. Similarly, reference to the 2o14 “overturning” of the Hamilton Council decision to stop fluoridation is just silly considering that there are no separate data for the city and the Hamilton Council fiasco over water fluoridation overlapped the period the data covers.

Of course, this press release has been processed through the international anti-fluoridation – “natural”/alternative health media channels so expect to be bombarded with international reports based on these lies.

The lesson from this little story – don’t take claims made by anti-fluoridation campaigners, or similar activists with an anti-science agenda, at face value. Always check them out.

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Fluoridation decisions to be made by District Health Boards

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Image credit: Constant Contact

This has been on the cards for a while. In recent years ideologically and commercially motivated activists have played havoc with the consultations organised by local body councils. Councils have shown by their own actions they are not capable of considering the scientific and health evidence related to community water fluoridation. The political intrigues of local bodies and the lack of scientific skills have prevented sensible decisions in many cases – and resulted in reversals of decisions – sometimes within a few weeks. yet New Zealanders have in most places voted to support community water fluoridation.

Councils have asked the central government to remove decisions on fluoridation from their responsibility. And now the government has decided to do just that.

This is the text of today’s  press release from the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health, and the Hon Peter Dunne, Associate Minister of Health (see Fluoridation decision to move to DHBs):


DHBs rather than local authorities will decide on which community water supplies are fluoridated under proposed changes announced today by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

“New Zealand has high rates of preventable tooth decay and increasing access to fluoridated water will improve oral health, and mean fewer costly trips to the dentist for more New Zealanders,” says Dr Coleman.

“This change could benefit over 1.4 million New Zealanders who live in places where networked community water supplies are not currently fluoridated.

“Water fluoridation has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and other international health authorities as the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”

DHBs currently provide expert advice on fluoridation to local authorities.

“Moving the decision-making process from local councils to DHBs is recognition that water fluoridation is a health-related issue,” says Mr Dunne.

“Deciding which water supplies should be fluoridated aligns closely to DHBs’ current responsibilities and expertise. It makes sense for DHBs to make fluoridation decisions for their communities based on local health priorities and by assessing health-related evidence.”

A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year. Members of the public and organisations will have an opportunity to make submissions to the Health Select Committee as it considers the Bill.

See also: DHBs could make call on fluoridating water

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March ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

blog-cartoon

There are about 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for March 2016. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. 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

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

Anti-fluoridation campaigner, Stan Litras, misrepresents WHO

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Stan Litras, Principal Dentist at Great Teeth, Wellington, and anti-fluoride activist but uses fluoride in his treatments

Wellington anti-fluoride campaigner, Stan Litras, has penned an “open letter” about community water fluoridation (CWF) to the Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne. He titles his document  HEALTH RISKS TO NEW ZEALANDERS FROM FLUORIDEbut, as we would expect, it is full of distortions and outright misrepresentations. (I have discussed some of Stan’s previous misrepresentations of the science of CWF in my articles:

A blatant  misrepresentation of WHO recommendations

I will just concentrate here on Stan’s whopper about the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations on the  of monitoring total fluoride intake for populations considering and implementing CWF. It is central to the recommendations he makes to Mr Dunne.

WHO does recommend monitoring the fluoride ingestion by a population before and after implementation of programmes for supplementing fluoride intake (eg., CWF, fluoridated salt and fluoridated milk). This is to make sure that fluoride intake is neither too low for providing dental benefits or too high when problems of dental fluorosis can occur. However, this following claim of Stan’s is just untrue:

“The World Health Organization strongly recommends that where health authorities implement water fluoridation, they must monitor total fluoride ingestion at the individual level. v

WHO notes that community level analysis is inadequate for assuring safety of all individuals.”

Let’s see what WHO actually recommends. Stan “cites” the WHO document Basic Methods for Assessment of Renal Fluoride Excretion in Community Prevention Programmes for Oral Health,” to support these claims but he does not appear to have actually read the document.

Here is what the WHO document actually recommends:

“public health administrators should assess the total fluoride exposure of the population before introducing any additional fluoridation or supplementation programmes for caries prevention.”

It recognises that:

“Today, there are many sources of fluoride, and this needs to be taken into consideration when planning a community caries prevention programme using fluoride.”

And it concludes from the available research reviews that:

“at present, urine is the most useful biomarker of contemporary fluoride exposure.”

But notes its limitations – such as, the influence of diet (vegetables and meat influence the pH of urine and hence the degree of excretion of ingested fluoride through the urine), within-subject variation, lack of correlation between urinary fluoride excretion and fluoride intake and uncertainty about levels needed to give protection. It quotes the conclusion of Rugg-Gunn et al., (2011) in their book chapter Contemporary biological markers of exposure to fluoride:”

“While fluoride concentrations in plasma, saliva and urine have some ability to predict fluoride exposure, present data are insufficient to recommend utilizing fluoride concentrations in these body fluids as biomarkers of contemporary fluoride exposure for individuals. Daily fluoride excretion in urine can be considered a useful biomarker of contemporary fluoride exposure for groups of people, and normal values have been published.” [My emphasis]

And then goes on to warn:

“Urinary fluoride excretion is not suitable for predicting fluoride intake for individuals.” [WHO’s emphasis]

This is the exact opposite of Stan Litras’s claim. The monitoring must be done at a group level – with proper care to make sure of random selection of people to sample. This publication provides lower and upper margins of optimal fluoride intake and the average daily fluoride excretion recommended for fluoride levels to be optimal.

Just to be clear – the limitations due to diet are not caused by the fluoride content of the foods but their different effects on urine pH and hence the excretion of fluoride in the urine. Random selection of people to sample allows these dietary variations to be averaged out for the group.

In fact, the WHO publication describes the methods for “studies” aimed at monitoring a population or group – not for monitoring individuals. So it does not support Litras’s recommendation that our public health system regularly monitor the fluoride level in individuals. And Stan’s claim that WHO asserts community level analysis is inadequate is completely false. It is, in fact, the individual level analysis that is inadequate.

Using “monitoring” to fear-monger

“Monitoring the fluoride levels in individuals” is central to Stan’s advice to Mr Dunne. He is just fear-mongering as this is neither necessary nor meaningful for the normal person. The before and after monitoring of groups recommended by WHO is simply to check if fluoride ingestion is inadequate before the introduction of fluoride supplement schemes like CWF – and to make sure that, after the introduction of the scheme, fluoride ingestion levels fall within the optimum range.

There is absolutely no suggestion by WHO that normal individuals should be regularly monitored for fluoride levels as Stan is recommending. He want’s to see this because it would cause unwarranted concern in the population.

Most at-risk individuals

While the WHO document recommends “priority is given to children of the
younger ages because of their susceptibility to enamel fluorosis” it does recognise a value in monitoring some adults. For example:

“adults, exposed to fluoride in certain industries (for instance aluminium production, addition of fluoride to water, salt or milk, or exposed to drinking water with excessively high fluoride concentrations).”

These are not normal members of the population – but the increased risk of exposure resulting from their professions could warrant some sort of regular testing regime. I compare this to the monitoring of people working with ionising radiation sources like X-ray machines or handling radioactive isotopes. The wearing of radiation detection badges and regular blood testing is warranted for these people – where it is not for the ordinary person in the street who is exposed just to background radiation and the occasional X-ray.

I imagine, then, that regular individual monitoring could be advisable for water treatment staff handling fluoridating chemicals – and dental technicians and practitioners who handle fluoride containing dental formulations such as varnish and filling materials.

A question to Stan Litras

I know for a fact that Stan Litras uses fluoride-containing dental formulations in his practice. Has he organised for regular testing of himself and his staff for possible fluoride contamination? Is he recommending that any of his patients treated with such material receive regular fluoride testing?

If not – why not?

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February ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

UPDATE: 8:00 pm 01/03/1016

My apologies – the first version of this post had mistakes in some of the rankings – hopefully, it is now accurate.
BloggingDevotion

Image credit: Isabella Bannerman.

There are about 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for February 2016. Ranking is by visit numbers – and there is a little more room at the top at the moment because of the departure of several high-ranking blogs. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. 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

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

January ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Blog-Post-Checklist (1)

Image credit: 29-Point Blog Post Checklist: How to Seduce Your Readers to Buy

There are about 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for January 2016. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. 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

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

December ’15 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

2016 HNY

There are about 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for December 2015. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. 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

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

Climate deal signed – now for the hard bit: action

Paris-Agreement-1024x575

Image credit: TWITTER/PEDRO SIRGADO

In the words of Prof Richard Allan, Reading University:

“The human race has a climate crisis, Paris has delivered a plan, next begins the hard bit: action.”

The final draft text of a climate agreement has been accepted by delegates in Paris. It’s 31 pages long and full of the normal political phrases. Download the full text if you wish to browse through the details.

The important bits are that it sets the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts. There will be an ongoing structure to enable this and check compliance.

NZ researchers comments

Here are some comments from New Zealand researchers gathered by the NZ Science Media Centre:

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, comments: 

“The Paris Agreement is a great achievement, the most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date. The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.

“Great to see (in article 4) that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required. But, targets remain voluntary and the required actions remain daunting.

“The review of a 1.5°C warming limit may come too late as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels. Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action.”

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:

“The Paris Agreement is certainly a major step forward given all the national constraints and differences. It is in many ways a compromise and I doubt will have any immediate impacts on NZ government policies.

“Minister Paula Bennett will take some time to come to grips with her new portfolio and the Royal Society’s Climate Change Mitigation panel that I chair will be producing outputs that should help with the realisation that there is much New Zealand can do to reduce our GHG emissions – and not rely on buying carbon credits from offshore as is the current intention.

“The only mention of carbon pricing in the Agreement is below – with nothing about carbon trading far as I am aware: ‘Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing’.

“The really positive outcome of the COP21 was in fact outside the Plenary rooms.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.

“There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement. But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.

“This indeed was a key message of the IPCC Mitigation 5th Assessment Report. After working on renewable energy systems for over 40 years at Massey University, it is pleasing to see that it will now have a major contribution to make worldwide alongside energy efficiency and innovative technology development. Technologies will not solve it alone – and behavioural change and social issues are key – but the transformation has begun.

“Overall the COP reminded me of a two week-long Telethon with announcements, celebrities, new funding announcements – “Thank you very much for your kind donation!”

“NZ will have to become more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries I think.”

Comments from UK researchers

The following comments, and Prof Allan’s above, were gathered by the UK Science Media Centre:

Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago. However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal –  means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University, said:

“Limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change will have a large impact on the reaction of the world’s ecosytems.  The challenge will be in everybody’s commitments to be visionary to achieve this goal.”

Dr Ilan Kelman, University College London, said:

“The Paris outcome is momentous, but let’s not get too carried away. The initial draft’s limitations are not overcome, especially that key parts remain voluntary. Major hurdles still exist in countries taking forward this agreement – given that governments change and that strongly opposed interests have not disappeared. Then, we have implementation on the ground which will take years. Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start.”

Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science, University College London, said:

“The new Paris Agreement is historic, important, world-changing and inadequate all at the same time. It is astonishing that all the countries of the world have agreed a pathway together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proof that this will happen will depend on  policy changes.

“To meet a target of well below 2 degrees C above per-industrial levels will require leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Will the deployment of renewable technologies be quick enough and cheap enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground? Personally I hope so. The proof will be whether globally investors shun fossil fuels and we soon see coal companies going out of business while investments in renewable technologies skyrocket.”

Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a game-changer. The long nights of negotiations have paid dividends. Legally binding, a robust way to increase emissions reductions, and strong reporting requirements – really impressive.  This agreement is the first concrete step on our collective way towards avoiding dangerous climate change. Paris already has the world’s sympathy, today it also has the world’s gratitude.”

Summaries from the New York Times

The New York Times also has commentary and reactions to the following specific clauses (see Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris and Inside the Paris Climate Deal).

Temperature Increase

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Preservation of forests

“Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.”

Bearing the cost

“As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.”

Tansparency

“In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties’ different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established.”

Absence of “Greenhouse Gasd Emissions Neutrality”

“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Loss and damage

“Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.”

Five-year contributions

“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.”

See details of comments on these clauses at  Inside the Paris Climate Deal – The New York Times.

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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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