Category Archives: Science

Can we talk about who pays for these experts and studies?

On May 13th, I published this status on Facebook:
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On May 18th, this was published in the Guardian:

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Zirka matters, AIDS doesn’t – To the Vatican at least.

So the Pope again as granted us with a blessing that makes no sense.

“Condoms can be used to fight Zirka.”

Thanks and…What, that’s it? No mention of AIDS, then. Yeah…what else is new?

My mother says it is because the Catholic Church still believes it is a “faggot disease”. I know religious authorities have this gob-smacking resilience when it comes to accepting the reality of today’s world but one cannot deny that the place where AIDS is the most endemic is also the place where homosexuality is the most brutally punished.

What is it, then?  What is it with Zirka that has allowed it to become a greater danger than AIDS? What is it about this disease that made the Vatican agree to contraception? As a far as I can see, all explanations come to a couple of conclusions that I can’t help but think are very far-fetched accusations. Or are they?

Is it because Zirka is hurting traditional Catholic countries, i.e. South America, whereas AIDS is plaguing countries where Catholiscism has been fighting for domination for ages against local beliefs and Islam?

Is it because the people affected by Zirka are mostly of Western and Christian culture whereas AIDS is plaguing countries that “Europe has not managed to civilise.”? Is it because the Pope is South American so he can relate so there is some kind of understanding whereas the white men in Rome can never relate to Africans?

Is it because people most affected by Zirka are closer to being white-skinned than the millions of Africans slowly dying of AIDS?

Is it because the effects are more striking? It is true that Zirka leads to rapid malformations therefore making it a highly visible disease whereas AIDS is hurting one’s body as a whole. People with AIDS usually die, not because of AIDS as such, but after failing to heal from other diseases due to the weakness of their immune system.

Or is it really because they still view AIDS as a punishment of God on the sodomites and the unfaithful? Do they really still believe that AIDS is due to sex before marriage, infidelity, sinful practices and a refusal to obey the Vatican’s precepts?

One thing is for sure, they don’t believe mosquitoes are solely responsible, they know it has a sexual aspect in the spreading of the disease or they would have never mentioned contraception to fight it. We know mosquito bites can spread AIDS as well so why? Just why?

I don’t know why or what but there is something deeply carved in the mindset of this men-only club that is the Vatican. Something inherently dark and twisted that made them come up with the acceptance of condoms for one disease but the keeping of the ban for the other, when the other has been one the worst epidemics humanity has know along with the Plague, malaria, TB and all strands of influenza.

I don’t know. I don’t think they even know themselves, frankly. That’s the point of letting let a 2000 year-old book dictate every aspect of your life, you never have to truly reflect on what you do and therefore be accountable for anything you do. It’s in the book…

The witch-hunt and Tim Hunt

Let’s talk about Tim Hunt and the witch-hunt of which he is a victim…according to many people.

Hunt is a Nobel laureate in his 70’s who thought it would be funny to address a room full of women, during some kind of dinner for women in science, to say that mixed labs were a bad thing because “women cry” when facing criticism and men like him cannot concentrate and do their jobs properly because of the physical attraction they feel for the said women.

Someone tweeted what he said, the storm mounted and he was forced to resign from the University College of London for being a sexist pig, to cut the story short. It’s all over the papers if you want more details.

I said “tried to be funny” but actually we don’t know because he first said that it was a joke but also that he was sticking to his comment. Then he said he was confused, nervous and did not know what to do or say exactly. Then he said he was misquoted then there was an article in the Guardian where he says that nobody had asked him for his version of events. Sorry love, but we did find it pretty self-sufficient when you said you were sticking with the idea that evil women were a bad influence on poor men.

An article where his feminist wife says she would have never married him if he were a sexist pig basically, as if it were relevant to anything. Then some people, including women (because every woman speaks in the name of the 4 billion other women, obviously) went to the media to say his dismissal was unfair and the reaction had been disproportionate.

He complains that he was in the plane when he got his notice, he says it was not the right way to do thing and now friends and family, colleagues and ex-students are coming to not criticise his medieval reading of society but to try and put the focus on how he was pushed out. To make him the victim in this story.

Now let’s take the arguments one by one.

The status of women to begin with. What I see in all condemnation and attempts to focus the debate on him as a victim is that it is still okay to use age-old, hackneyed stereotypes about women as a joke, as he pretends to have done in the first place. “Women do not have their place in the labs because they cry when people disagree with them”. Mr Hunt, whatever his intentions were, has obviously not evolved the least since his twenties in the mid-1960s. He still lives in a world where women are crying for nothing and where crying is an act of weakness, and unfair because it brings men to their emotional knees – whether it triggers anger, annoyance or pity.

Women cry because, like babies, they cannot express themselves differently when they see they are losing the argument so they are bringing on the tears hoping to put the men they are working with in a position where he feels like an awful executioner, hoping he will just give in.

For those who are still finding ground to say it was tongue in cheek, let’s consider this hackneyed , sexist cliché and replace it with a hackneyed, racist cliché that would go as such: “Mix-raced labs are not working because black people are lazy so it makes the work of white people even harder”. Or even worst: “Black people are violent when facing with criticism so mix-raced labs are a danger to white people’s lives.” Not so funny anymore, is it? He would have been fired too, had he said something like that. Would people be making him a victim? Would people try to convince the world that his employer should have acted differently?

No.

Why?

Because racism is beyond the pale and we expect people to have moved on from 1950s views of people with a different skin colour. No company or institution would put up with such a level of bovine, racist idiocy and no one would dare try to defend him by saying that people need to lighten up and have a bit more humour. Why not with outdated views of women? Because beyond race and wealth, women are still considered as lesser than men so it is fine to be sexist, even for fun.

The daily fight to encourage women to be in science, the endless fight to make people understand that women are not lesser than men is a fight as important and crucial as the fight against racist prejudice. This is why I support the firing of Tim Hunt.

Then there is the argument, he said he would not deviate from, about women being a distraction to men. Women are pretty, attractive and it makes it very difficult for men like him (he said words for words) to concentrate and work. He said people fall in love and it changes their priorities and clouds their judgement. So we have to separate men and women…especially women that need to get out of the labs where men are…because they were there first, I presume.

First of all, it doesn’t add up to the reality of couple and marriage. Most people marry within their own profession because we do spent most of our lives working. As far as the economy is concerned, love is not the most damaging factor to productivity.

But no matter, the same way some school are still unisex, one would think: why not? Only-male labs and only-female labs could be good.

No, they would not for we still live in a world where Nobel laureate publicly said that women are irrationally and cunningly emotional so funding for female-only labs would be close to none with all the investors going for the serious, male-led labs.

And why stop at labs? What about male-only companies where men can concentrate on work at all time without the fear of being accidentally attracted to a female? I can make a huge list of stupid ideas like that…I worked in a boys school for years and there not being any girls doesn’t change anything to how the boys are performing. Countries where single-sex schools have close to disappeared are not at the bottom of the league when it comes to how their students are performing.

Apart from this, the argument Mr Hunt is giving is that he cannot control himself, he has no will power to focus on the task in hand when women are here. They distract him with their attractive femininity – when they don’t guilt-trip him with their tears.  And he puts all men in the same bag as him. Is it his Nobel prize that allows him to speak for all of them?

The fact is: in his mind, the focus should not be trying to address the fact that adult men like him are still behaving like teenagers in a professional environment such as labs, we should instead remove women.

That’s the same argument the Talibans and other various religious fundamentalists of all kinds have to force women to wear the burqa or stay at home behind the opacity of its walls. When you listen to their arguments, they say women are a distraction, they are a temptation. They say it is in their nature to appeal, to attract, to seduce the men and divert him from his true goal: religion and God. Replace religion by work and God by science and you have Mr Hunt’s “funny” or “confused” exposé.

I am sure his feminist wife has something to say about the comparison but as far as I am concerned, it is quite striking. Old, sex-obsessed males who think women are the reason for their unholy or unfocussed self and should be removed.

Why do people defend such a view? Why is he the victim when he says such things? Why is the victim of a so-called ‘self-righteous witch-hunt’ when he just put 52% of the world population in the same boat labelled “To get out of sight”?

Finally, there is Mr Hunt himself. If you look carefully at all that has been said by him recently, we have a man who uses casual sexism as a mean to be funny, who then says he was confused and nervous, did not what to say, say one thing then the opposite in the same sentence, and uses his wife’s credential to justify an open and mature mind he can’t show himself.

He seems to have lost touch with the outside world and to not exactly know the ins and outs of anything, especially when he makes sexist jokes at a women in science dinner, in front of women. This is not just a error of judgement but sheer lunacy. Not a good place where you are working as a renowned teacher.

As far as I am concerned, such men are and should remain a thing of the past and his forced resignation is just the enactment of this. You can again accuse women or political correctness, like his defenders are doing right now. “It’s all because of Twitter!”. No, it isn’t.  What’s to blame is casual chauvinism and the self-entitlement of old men who think their working prowesses render them forever untouchable.

University College London realised that Mr Hunt’s credentials as a Nobel laureate were not strong enough to balance his outdated behaviour so they decided to lay him off because he became a liability to their future. A future that lays in mixed labs with grown-up and professional men and women who act as such.

There is one and only person to blame for Mr Hunt’s downfall is Mr Hunt himself.

Wikipedia: For the best

The problem with Wikipedia is not Wikipedia, it’s how people use it.

The tool itself is absolutely brilliant. I like to see it as a modern Great Library of Alexandria, a true wonder that exists only to serve knowledge: to share it, to compare it, to discuss it, to enrich it. It’s rare in today’s society where everything has a price and everything is deeply carved by private economic interests.

However, when you mention Wikipedia, people shrug and ridicule it. It is changing but the info you get from it is usually dismissed as nonsense and there are two main reasons for it.

The first one: the celebrities. Wikipedia is mostly mentioned in mainstream media along with celebrities and their biography. You will hear Liam Hemsworth surprised at the fact that he worked in a library before making it as an actor. You will enjoy Jennifer Saunders laughing at her supposed previous relationships with rock stars who wrote songs about her. The list is endless and the reason is that there is a huge demand in biographical details of celebrities. When checking Dan Radcliffe on Wikipedia, no one really gives a crap about which film he did first, people are looking for a possible homosexual experience or a confirmation that he’s a raging alcoholic.

Wikipedia, in its form, offers the perfect support for it: it’s free and everyone can contribute but come to think of it, our own parents don’t know about our full private life so how can a complete stranger do? So it’s a free for all, one can write anything they want or read in the tabloids which are becoming the reference in itself.

People who have the time and the will to go on the Internet and write about Frank Lampard’s private life are his devoted fans or haters. Not football fans, but his fans or his haters. The ones who fangirl over pictures of him in a suit with his girlfriend or the ones who are getting back at him because he plays for rival team.  When it comes to the rich and famous, Wikipedia becomes as erratic, naïve and deceiving as the people who write and read about them.

Nevertheless, reducing Wikipedia to rubbish because of that is sophism. David Letterman, a couple of months ago, dismissed some details about the sea bathing Melbourne for they were found on Wikipedia. His argument was that his biography was wrong on the website therefore the information about Melbourne was wrong too. No, it’s a different scale. Geographical facts are gathered scientifically and can be easily checked and amended if wrong whereas genuine biographical facts of celebrities are few and far between so people will grant themselves literary licence to fill the blanks.

The two are not comparable and the issue is not with Wikipedia but rather with people who read celebrity entries like they read the tabloids: it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The second reasons are the fucking idiots from that American university. Yes, I swore but they are a waste of brain!

A couple of years ago, a professor and its students were obviously bored out of their mind and did not know what to do with the millions a private company had bankrolled them so they ‘made’ an experience. They went on Wikipedia, wrote absolute bollocks about something in physics (I think) to see if people believed it. People did so they have been discrediting Wikipedia ever since.  According to them, it proves Wikipedia is 100% nonsense!

Question: How is it different from them publishing these wrong facts in an article or in a book? People would have believed it as much they did on Wikipedia and it would have been rectified as much as it has been on Wikipedia.

We believed them, not because it is Wikipedia, rather because these people have academic credentials to write about this. We, Wikipedia and the rest of us, trusted them to write honestly about what they know. That’s the whole point of Wikipedia: it calls on people who know about something to genuinely share it with clear references. The same way the press is expecting scientists to be honest about what they write, whether it is accurate or not.

This is not Wikipedia’s fault if we don’t question what a university professor, who we trust to tell us the truth, is writing on it. These people could easily have written something true to inform us, to help us, to bring something more, instead of wasting their and our time by deceiving everybody. They are one of the main reasons why Wikipedia is full of errors, because they are too busy trying to prank  and deceive people to begin with.

Their conclusion is sophism in its genuine essence. When some scientists publish something that turns out to be wrong in a newspaper, we don’t discredit the whole press as such. We don’t question every single fact from every newspaper. We discredit the scientist. When a scientist comes on TV or the radio or write a book to assert something that, after investigation, is discovered to be rubbish, we don’t call for people not to trust the media, we point the fingers at the scientist.

So why do we point finger at Wikipedia instead of that professor and those students? I don’t see how using their academic credentials to fool people is proof that Wikipedia is shit. If the medium creates the lie, like tabloids do, I agree they should be discredited because they instigate the problem. However, this is not the case here. Wikipedia and its staff have not deceived anyone, the professor and its students have.

Regarding the content in itself, it is also a matter of educating people on how to handle it and this is not Wikipedia’s mission either. What are they supposed to do? Force people to read a 20-page disclaimer? This is the job of teachers like me to tell students that Wikipedia is very good but to teach them to double check the facts here and there. One can argue that it’s what the professor and its students were aiming for but this is not what they either said or achieved. Their conclusion was plain: Wikipedia should not be trusted, therefore used.

When I read about my country or things I know on Wikipedia, it turns to be 90% accurate and that’s enough for me. If I see something I know to be wrong, Wikipedia is expecting me to be clever enough to amend it with trustworthy references instead of slamming my laptop in disbelief and preaching the hanging of its founder.

When after hearing of Chernobyl again in the press, I go there finally looking for an answer as to how radioactivity is affecting living organisms, I am just looking for some overall understanding not a full-on exposé on how to handle radioactivity in my house or because I have decided to clean Fukushima myself. But already I hear the nuclear scientific community saying that Wikipedia is fooling people into believing something that is not true. Get down from your ivory tower, stop the finger-pointing and make it true then! Why is it so difficult for people who know to do that?

After that, it’s all a matter of scale. As long as it doesn’t encourage people to go to Fukushima for a uranium-cleanse spa treatment, I am fine with what I read because I am not a nuclear scientist, I am MFL teacher with a passion for baking. It’s a good start for me to look further. Then again, if you have students in final year of nuclear physics reading Wikipedia like the Bible, the university has serious issues with its teaching. Don’t blame Wikipedia.

The website’s mission is to make knowledge easily accessible to everyone, by everyone, through everyone. It calls on us to selflessly share what we know, to build a new beacon of knowledge and we do. In this day and age of general dumbing down in mainstream media, it is hard for the media to believe but people do go and look for information and knowledge on a daily basis and they are changing their attitude towards it.

Not everything in the books of The Great Library was true, far from it, but what was written inspired people, helped them move forward and triggered discussions. It was starting point. That’s what Wikipedia is for. And the fact that people are ready to share so much in exchange of nothing, the fact that all my students know about go to look for some information is an achievement no one can dismiss.

The Health Inquisition: Milk is plotting world’s death

tumblr_ne2gwfcJkA1rasnq9o1_1280 If I believe what American scientists are saying about milk and health, this map shows that Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands should be the unhealthiest countries in the world. It turns out they are precisely the opposite.

Unfortunately, I also suspect that the researchers at the American universities are what we call “scientists” and if one looks carefully, one will find that most of their research are largely funded by private companies.

So yeah…bollocks!