Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘Canadian scientist’

Radio Freethinker Episode 167 – Global Austerity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 22, 2012

This week:

– Space X launch,
– Dangers of overselling vaccination ,
– Canada’s endangered scientist,
– Austerity: does it work (Part 1 of 3 interview with Seth Klein).

Download the episode here!

Topics:
Space X Launch

Space X successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule to restock the International Space Station. 

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Dangers of overselling vaccination

New research shows that overselling vaccination causes people to be less likely to get their children vaccinated.

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Canada’s endangered scientist

We discuss the Harper governments budget cuts and the extreme harm they are having on Canada’s scientific community and research. We focus on the Experimental Lakes Area.

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Austerity: does it work

Don’s sits down with Seth Klein in the Radio Free Thinker virtual studio and discusses austerity: what it is, does it work and is our governments following the austerity bandwagon.

Seth Klein is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for BC.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.

Illusions of note:

Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.

TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.

The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination

Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.

When: May 23 at 7pm

Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe

Cost: Free

Canadian Copyright Law for Composers

MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.

When: May 25 from 2-4pm

Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie

Cost: Free

E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue

This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making.  This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.

The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.

When: May 26 from 2-5pm

Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings

Cost: by donation

slutTALK: The (Un)Conference

In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.

When: May 26 from 1-4pm

Where: WISE Hall – 1882 Adanac

Cost: by donation


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The Department of Science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 13, 2012

Well, it looks like we’ve finally done it. It’s a high bar to clear but we made it. What, you may ask? Well, at least in one regard, Canada is more  screwed up than the USA.

I was reading in the Ottawa Herald about the difficulty one reporter had to get a simple interview with a Canadian scientist in the employ of government…well-funded by the National Research Council.

Apparently the reporter Tom Spears heard of some research NASA was doing to measure snow fall. He had learned that NASA had teamed up with Environment Canada, the NRC and several universities to fly through and over falling snow in southern Ontario this winter. It used specialized equipment to analyse falling snow in different weather conditions.

He contacted NASA and was talking to one of the research scientist in “15 min”. Now being a proud Canadian, Spears wanted to get the Canadian angles which he though would be interesting considering the large contribution we had made to the project.

In the USA, he could just contact the scientist directly and conduct an informative interview…Harper put an end to that tom foolery. To talk to a government related scientist (employed by or funded via research grants from agencies like the NRC) in Canada, you have to put in a request with a federal department; which he did. After waiting about 2 days, Spears had to publish without his interview or the information he was hoping to include. He did receive some bland generic talking points and an inventory of the plane.

Curious about how the agency handled his request, he filed a Freedom of Information Request and received over 50 pages dealing with his simple request. The long and the short of it, the lower government agents wanted to arrange an interview promptly but were shot down by more senior management who thought it not appropriate and simply wanted to give a paragraph or 4 about the technical details…i.e. what type of plane, the instruments, etc.

Junior agents pointed out that was not really what the reporter wanted, which it was not, but followed orders. Spear just wanted to ask “So why study snow? Is Ontario snow special? do we have special knowledge on this, what is the state of Canadian snow science?” That sort of thing; he was hoping to place a spot light on our scientists and their work. Spear wrote his story with only a perfunctory nod to the NRC participation and not the human interest or nationalist angle he was hoping for.

In an ironic twist, the document he received mentioned the departments reaction to the published article commenting on how the NRC was only mentioned in passing once and the absence of any mention about the Canadian scientific contribution to the project…but that was okay, the journalist didn’t really want anything more than confirmation of the NRC involvement…which was NOT what he wanted.

As a good skeptic I was both dismayed and alarmed by this story. It seems the default position of our government is to provide as little information as possible. There was no political agenda here, no sensitive or controversial material…it just seemed the bureaucrats, taking their lead from their ruler Harper, thought that the less the people know what the government is doing the better.

This leads to a bigger question…why are we muzzling Canadian scientist?

This is not an isolated event, there have been a number of incidences where the Harper government has directly told scientist to NOT speak to reporters. In fact at a recent Montreal conference, Harper added intimidation to the list of ways to NOT inform the people. Attendees were told NOT to grant interviews and to pass along any request to a ‘press agent’ of the NRC who would arrange things. Also, the NRC ‘press agents’ would record everything said…‘for clarification and reference in case there is a discrepancy between the news story and the official line’.

Since the Conservative government won its majority there has been a constant attack on environmental and regulatory entities both in and out of government. Our scientist are some of the best in the world and have been doing great research into many important areas including a number inconvenient to the Harper agenda – climate change, fish farms, environmental health, etc.

Now there is a great political argument to be made against this erosion of our access to OUR OWN science and scientists…that the Harper government is more secretive than the North Korean politburo but I will put that aside for the moment.

What makes this important for the skeptical community is that to be a good skeptic one must be informed. Scientific skepticism is based on empirical evidence and when that is denied to us we can no longer be assured that the answers we derive or support are authentically rational. The free and open flow of information is (almost?) always the best way to run society ESPECIALLY scientific information. An election is 3 years away…there is little we can do now to reverse this governmental trend but we can ensure people know what Harper et al are doing. We can and must ensure that when Elections 2015 rolls around; WE DO NOT FORGET!

<notes found in Ep 163>

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