Saturday, September 26, 2015

Food for Thought

The latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) result is that computers don't help student learning.

In a recent paper by Peter Evans-Greenwood, Kitty O’Leary, Peter Williams, Deloitte, 18 Sept 2015, the authors write, "(E)ducators need to turn their attention to creating environments and platforms where students can learn what they need to learn when they need to, and instilling in them the habits of mind, attitudes and behaviours that will enable them to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) knowledge-rich environment."

Food for thought?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Myths about the New ‘P’

The US Federal Government, through FDA, has just recently approved the manufacture and use of Palcohol following the false start over its approval last year.

Palcohol is sometimes referred to as 'powdered alcohol' which is a misnomer since Palcohol is not powdered alcohol at all. It is a substance created and manufactured by Mark Phillips, an Arizona businessman. In its rawest form, a preparation like Palcohol consist of pure alcohol held in a matrix of cyclodextrin, an edible white powder, like starch and that is soluble in water. Cyclodextrin, if eaten, is non-toxic, is not sweet, is not digested and is a contribution to dietary fibre. Raw Palcohol looks like icing sugar.

Palcohol has yet to reach the market place in a commercial form, but several states in the US are already preparing to the ban the sale of this substance if they haven’t done so

There’s been a recent revival of activity on the Internet about this now not-so-new consumable, most of which is wrong and has been spread around through ignorance. I applaud Phil Mason's (Thunderf00t's) initiative in swiftly identifying invalid data circulated via the Internet last year. 

Here’s just some of the myths associated with Palcohol:

It can be used to spike drinks.

While this might be true, it would be very difficult to spike a drink successfully using Palcohol. First, the substance has to be stirred for at least a minute for the powder to disperse. Then there is the matter of the volume of powder required to spike the drink effectively – Palcohol contains only about 10% by volume of alcohol. To have the equivalent effect of a single shot of vodka would require almost half a cupful of the powder – not something easy to conceal, never mind dissolve in a standard drink.

Snorting Palcohol gets you drunk superfast.

This myth is hilariously funny for it would mean snorting about half a cupful of Palcohol to get the same effect as drinking one shot of vodka. What is funnier is that even one snort of the powder would cause the consumer unbearable discomfort and pain.

Palcohol is easier to conceal than liquid alcohol.

Pure alcohol forms only 10% of the volume of the Palcohol that holds it. A far easier and more discrete way to conceal alcohol would be to hide the liquid in a suitable container – a practice that has been used for centuries. Palcohol is just too bulky for any useful amount of it to be carried discretely.

Alcohol is heavier than Palcohol so airlines could save millions on fuel costs by providing Palcohol instead of traditional alcoholic drinks. Similar savings can be obtained through lower shipping costs for resorts that rely on imported alcohol.

This is almost as funny as the idea that snorting Palcohol is a quick way to get drunk. Palcohol contains about 50% alcohol by weight, so clearly it would be far cheaper to transport liquid alcohol than the twice as heavy equivalent amount of Palcohol.

Palcohol presents a higher risk than alcohol on its own.

Palcohol certainly does not present any risk to the consumer greater than that already presented by liquid alcohol. In many ways the risks are lessened due to the form that the alcohol is in when received initially by the consumer. An example of this is Palcohol’s inability to flow like liquid alcohol, so it presents a lesser fire risk. 

However, there is one risk that Palcohol now has the potential to present due to the recent publicity of it as a possible banned substance. It is well known that if any substance is banned, consumption of it inevitably increases. When it's eventually released to the market, I predict that the sale of Palcohol will skyrocket initially due to this publicity and level off to an extent that we may never hear much of its existence again.

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