Monday, November 3, 2014

How I Can Understand Science

Science is often difficult to understand because it requires thinking. 

If a person is not a thinker he or she won't understand a lot of what they read in Science. 

This misunderstanding is often interpreted by the non-thinking reader as confusion in what Science is trying to put across.

It then becomes a cycle that feeds itself and the reader begins to feel that Science is rubbish and contradicts itself. 

The reader then forms the belief that people just look around for the scientific facts that back up their position and in part, the reader is right. That's because some of the people who do this are non-thinkers. 

So the answer is: "read, digest (that means think) repeat. 
No one learns everything on the first pass." - Dr. K

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Homeopathy – A Cure for Ebola?

    New Zealand Green Party Member of Parliament, Steffan Browning, has recently caused a stir by supporting a petition appealing to the World Health Organisation to use homeopathy in the treatment of the deadly disease ebola. Browning later posted his support to Facebook. The petition was launched by the controversial Australian homeopath, Fran Sheffield, on the site.
    New Zealand Green Party co-leader Russell Norman said that the action of his colleague in signing the petition was “unwise”. Browning’s support for the use of homeopathy to treat ebola was dismissed as “barking mad” by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key.

Homeopathy is a well-respected system of alternative medicine that has enjoyed a long history. It dates back to before 1796, the year when the principles of homeopathy were laid down by Samuel Hahnemann. There are many prominent people around today who have used homeopathic medicine for various ailments and found it to be effective.

In the practice of homeopathy, “remedies are prepared by repeatedly diluting a chosen substance in alcohol or distilled water . . .  
. . . dilution usually continues well past the point where no molecules of the original substance remain” – Wikipedia. This means that if pure water is used as the dilutant, the final liquid is actually purer than tap water.

I find it hard to believe that anyone could have suggested using this method to prepare a remedy for any human ailment other than thirst. 

Sheffield claims that homeopathy is effective in curing a range of diseases including viral, bacterial and protozoan infections and that “appropriate homeopathic medicine is likely to be just as effective against the ebola virus”, an opinion shared by other homeopathic practitioners.

In 1988 there was an attempt to provide some explanation of how homeopathy might work. The findings of Jacque Benveniste and the work of others in the field suggested that water seems to have a ‘memory’ for minute amounts of substances that it comes into contact with. The suggestion was that this ‘memory’ possessed by water may offer some explanation of how homeopathic preparations could have a biological effect. 

The existence of this special property of water, suggested by Benveniste, has never been proved unequivocally despite scientifically rigorous work done to achieve this by teams of scientists in the Horizon studies. I believe that it is significant that these studies were fiercely rejected by the community of homeopaths.

How much does the power of belief play in the apparent successes and subsequent support that homeopathy has garnered over the centuries? How much does the weight of authority play in how this belief persists?

The professional body of homeopaths seems to support the action of Fran Sheffield and condones the distribution of a petition (that also solicits donation of money by way of sponsorship) through a posting on the Internet. Why else would such a petition remain online? Apparently it has gathered over 5000 signatures and counting. Thank goodness scientists are condemning this type of action as irresponsible.

    By the way, I use a PC to publish my posts. I might just as well claim that
    if I connect the mouse, keyboard and screen to the box that the PC was
    first packed in and then connect it all to the Internet, it works fine and
    saves power.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Equality – BLOG ACTION DAY 2014

Official HeForShe logo

    Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a
    precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.
    Kofi Annan

There is a principle behind and beyond the words of Kofi Annan:
that effort towards eliminating any form of inequality must start and work in tandem with effort to overcome gender inequality.

We live in interesting times and there never was a time needier of united humanity than today. I was much moved by Emma Watson’s United Nations speech on gender equality.

She made me think again about this fundamental and hugely important humanitarian principle – “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. Emma approached this principle from the standpoint of feminism: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes . . .  it is not the word (feminism) that is important, it's the idea and the ambition behind it.”

    Inequality is any difference that may lead to disadvantage, however slight, experienced by an individual or group of people. In many instances, the complete elimination of inequality is not possible, through factors that are simply beyond human control. Complete elimination of inequality is often a fictional, utopian state. However, the word inequality used here refers to the practical circumstances where inequality can be diminished or eliminated by human thought and action.

    There are two general types of inequality, one occurring when individuals or groups in the same or similar circumstances are treated differently and the other occurring when individuals or groups in different circumstances are treated the same way. Either of these inequalities results in a disadvantaged position for an individual or group.

Many barriers will be met in any attempt to achieve equality, to whatever aspect of humanity that equality applies. A lot can be controlled by human thought and action. However, for most people, there are many barriers that are extremely difficult to moderate or remove. Prejudice is one such a barrier.

Prejudice is a preconceived notion that is often the root cause of discrimination, committed either deliberately or unconsciously, in ways that can result in inequality. This happens specially when exercised by and within social groups. Such destructive partiality exists in individuals and is fostered in social groups throughout the world. It can exist in seemingly subtle ways that are nevertheless still expressions of prejudice or partiality. Gender partiality leads to gender inequality.
Emma Watson mentioned in her UN speech that gender inequality is a matter for men too. I post links
here to two videos as examples of one aspect of gender partiality in relation to violence. They show recent social experiments on how bias can influence the actions of individuals among groups in certain situations.

Unmistakably, preconceived opinion about gender difference is a factor in how both men and women react differently according to the situations shown in the videos. They depict a measure of benevolent sexism that exists within societies everywhere. That aspect is among the many thousand manifestations of gender inequality that occur in societies throughout the world. 

The horrific statistics presented by Plan International USA for the International Day of the Girl, 11 October 2014, puts into perspective the magnitude of inequality experienced by girls and women worldwide as a result of gender prejudice.

Over a period of half a century, affirmative actions taken to redress the recognised effects of gender prejudice in society have yielded limited success. Often, affirmative action made matters worse and tended to polarise opinion rather than consolidate desired principles. Emma Watson has told us “it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals”.

The HeForShe movement is one that permits men and women to unite unashamedly and work towards the elimination of gender inequality. Please take this opportunity to visit the HeForShe site and register your support for this honourable cause.

    HeForShe is a solidarity campaign founded by UN Women for gender equality.
    #BAD2014 #Inequality #BlogAction #HeForShe 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Appeal for the People of Christchurch City

Christchurch Cathedral Window
At 12.51 pm on Tuesday, 22 February, the beautiful city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was devastated by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake.

This was only one of the hundreds of aftershocks, following the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that shook the city on the morning of Saturday 4 September 2010.

Miraculously, few people were injured in this huge shake for the city was asleep when it struck and despite its magnitude, its centre was 30 to 40 km west of the city centre. Christchurch was well on the way to recovering from this earlier devastation when the second major shake struck on Tuesday at a depth of only 5km.

Tuesday’s shake caused devastation that reduced many of the homes and buildings in the inner city to rubble. Over 120 people so far are known to have died, crushed by falling debris or within collapsing buildings. Over 200 people are listed as missing. Hundreds are injured, many of them severely.

The people of Christchurch have a strong spirit and they have a fine mayor in Bob Parker, whose civil defence leadership skills are second to none. But the people of Christchurch need you.

Please help by donating to the Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Appeal

or to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Value of Instruction

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneThe Value of Instruction
“A long time ago, in Newsday for November 15, 1994, Billy Tashman said with reference to a large, government-sponsored field test of different instructional approaches: ‘The good news is that after 26 years, nearly a billion dollars, and mountains of data, we now know which are the most effective instructional tools. The bad news is that the education world couldn’t care less.’
The same holds true today." James Kauffman

When I first began teaching, I bristled with the desire to instruct, inspire, coach, and enlighten. I’d just been through Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, where my tutors and mentors truly recognised the worth of excellent instruction.

Yet for the past 30 years and more, I have felt like a disillusioned school teacher who is old fashioned, out of date and not really understanding what’s happening in education.

The other day, a good friend and colleague passed on to me a recent article from Teachers College Record, by James Kauffman. It was written as an introduction to his recently published book,

The Tragicomedy of Public Education:
Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing

As I read through Kauffman's article, I recalled how I felt when I read Shelley Gare’s book,

The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Common Sense.

I experienced déjà vu at every page.

James Kauffman is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

In his review article, entitled Reforming Public Education: A Tragicomedy, he explains how some people, working within education, fail to recognise the most important factor in improving learning:

“Truly ridiculous statements about reforming schools have been made by generally intelligent people who happen to botch thinking about education. Too often, their silly statements are taken seriously, making matters worse. Some would-be reformers ignore what produces most learning — instruction.”

Kauffman draws attention to all the areas of stupidity in education that I’ve complained about, for decades . . .

. . . about improving teaching:

“They might say we need better teachers without defining “better.” People aren’t necessarily better teachers because they’re smarter, know their subject better, or have taken more courses. We need standardized tests, but good teaching isn’t easily measured as “value added.” “Better teacher” doesn’t necessarily mean “higher average pupil gain score.” Good instruction is defined by what a teacher does.”

. . . about pursuing change without recognising what needs to change:

“On January 2, 2010, Kevin Huffman published in The Washington Post his heartfelt opinions about how to reform education, including suggestions that we recruit talented teachers and fire bad ones, base policies on student achievement, and get parents to demand what’s best for their children. He quotes a U.S. Senator from Colorado, who says that the education system must change, but he doesn’t say how. Any change will do? Sorry, Kevin and Senator, with all due respect, we don’t need just any kind of change. Unless it’s the right change, we’ll get nowhere.”

. . . about the
misunderstanding and misuse of statistics:

“One reason the “thinking” of so many earnest reformers is tragicomic when it’s taken seriously is that you can’t have all of the children (or teachers or any other group we measure) reaching any percentile higher than the first group any more than you can have all of the children (or teachers) above average.”

. . . about setting education goals that are absurdly unachievable:

“No Child Left Behind (. . .) set the goal of universal proficiency of students by 2014. That goal is a will-o’-the-wisp that anyone else who understands the most basic mathematical-statistical realities knows is impossible.”

. . . about teaching methods inappropriately applied to all learners:

“Direct, systematic instruction is more effective than other approaches like “discovery learning” (essentially, letting kids find out for themselves) and a lot of the other popular but failed ideas about teaching. Go to to find out more.”

. . . about using test scores to judge success.

Kauffman lists his criteria for judging success:

  1. effective instruction,
  2. students’ engagement in productive activity,
  3. homogeneous grouping for instruction,
  4. positive emotional climate,
  5. clear school-wide expectations,
  6. positive support for desired behaviour,
  7. involvement of parents and communities.

Check out:

The Tragicomedy of Public Education: Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing,
James M Kauffman, FULL Court Press, 2010
– ISBN 1-57861-682-4

The Tragicomedy of Public Education – DESK COPY

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes