Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

RFT Ep 253 – Dark Origins Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 12, 2014

Download the episode here! 

littlered

Evidence Based Medicine

acupucture_chinese_medicine_cartoon

In a double dose of this weeks whine, we start off talking about how alt-med…the practitioners of ‘woo’ medicine have coopted the term evidence based medicine. Find out how they have done, why its important and what we can do about it.

Further Reading:

A child’s capacity to consent

bg050313dAPR20130503034523

In a recent decision by the Child Protection Agency in Ontario, a 10 year old girl have been given the right to refuse life saving treatment.

We discuss what is wrong (as it if was not obvious) why this responsibility should not be given to a child…hell, she can’t even buy smokes or a beer but make critical medical decisions…that’s okay.

We also provide the context as to why such a terrible decision seems to be the right thing to do, no make who wrong it truly is.

Further Reading:

Prairie Correspondent Talks Language, Bias and Politics

cartoon220309_152763a

When we elect an official…be they an MP or school trusty, what responsibility to they have to be “respectable”…how much should they suppress personal opinions…what right does the public/electorate have to dictate their lives and behaviors.

Listen and find out how a small local issue in Brandon can shed light on our society at large.

Bright Side

This semi-regular segment was inspired by a conversation i had with a friend of mine lately.

We talked for a couple of hours about a number of things.I could not help but notice that every time I had a new conversation bit, it was always a downer…some new scandal here…global catastrophe there…people being bad to other people…another study that is just propaganda…nothing up.

Anyway, it has set me on a quest to find some positive happy stories. So, this week:

Bright Side – New Prize to Save the World

seaclock

300 hundred years ago the UK government offered a huge prize, the Longitude Prize,  to anyone who could solve the driving problem of the age…how to determine a ships longitude (hey, who are we to judge).

2009-04-25-save-the-world-global-warming-600

In the spirit of the first prize , the UK government is setting up the the Longitude Prize 2, which will offer 10 million pound to whom ever can solve today’s most pressing problem…what is it? Well, this is the cool part, they are leaving it up to vote of UK residence.

save the environment

Which problem is more pressing? Food shortage, clean water, mobility and paralysis, independence and dementia, superbugs and the end of antibiotics or a green plane (yes, a green plane, have no idea why its on the list but it is).

images (5)

 

Old School Tricorder

Also related, we discuss the X-Prize to develop the first Tricorder…yes, like in Star Trek…how cool is that? There is also a 20 million dollar prize to land a rover on the moon…

medical-tricorder-on-original-archive

Tricorder the Next Generation

Further Reading:

Web Wisdom

A semi-regular segment where i share with you my loyal listeners shyte I found on the internet just too interesting to keep to myself.

Web Wisdom – Dark Origins of Fairy-tales and Nursery Rhymes

mermaid
We all know about Sleeping Beauty…Cinderella…how often as kids did we sing Three Blind Mice or Humpty Dumpty?  Did you know the real story behind these kid classics? Well, be forewarned, once you discover their dark origins you may never be the same again.

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

RFT Ep 238 – New Years Eve Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 31, 2013

Download the episode here! 

nsayear_590_474

Don’s Rant:

prostitution-legal-supreme-court

Don’s Rant is about the Supreme Court of Canada striking down key elements in Canada’s prostitution laws. It is now transforms the theoretical legality of prostitution and makes the actual practice of prostitution legal. Does this help or hurt the sex trade workers? Society? Listen and find out Don’s take on the issue.

Find out more:

Eulogy for Aaron Swartz

dwAMI67rQ6WIq-5UKIpebQ

Don give an impassioned and emotional eulogy to one of the promising progressive lights – Aaron Swartz, and how state bullying contributed to his suicide.

Find out more:

Aaron inspired

Does hockey need violence?

We discuss violence in hockey. Is there a need for the hockey fight? Could you get rid of hockey violence and do we want to?

Find out more:

The full lecture Don gave at Skepticamp Vancouver 2013 – “1984 – NSA, Snowden and Spying: A Skeptic Look at the Surveillance State”.

Find out more:

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Secular Battleground of British Columbia

Posted by Ethan Clow on February 6, 2013

The once comforting assertion that secularism was in no real danger because most people in BC held the “meh” opinion is quickly fading. What we’re seeing is that because so many people in BC held apathetic thoughts about secularism and religion, the sneaky power brokers with theocratic leanings have managed to quietly worm their way into policy making positions.

This puts us, the apathetic citizens of this province in an interesting position. Sure, we aren’t bombarded with pro-life billboards and pro-religious demonstrations and in-your-face proselytizing… but with our laissez faire attitude to religion, we have ceded the debate to those dedicated enough to work behind the scenes to advance their agenda.

This “meh” attitude does little to help us understand the issue of secularism because we’re basically extending the Vancouver feeling of apathy to the rest of the province, which is a mistake.

Recently we’ve seen the outcome of such thinking. News has been made over the question of distributing Gideon Bibles in Chilliwack. Additionally, the BC Humanists have started a petition to get the Chilliwack school board to stop distributing the bibles. (If you haven’t signed the petition yet, do so! Currently there are 252 signatures)

I was in Chilliwack not too long ago, a local MP was holding a town hall meeting on faith and secularism which was aptly titled “Beyond Secularism” We discussed this on the show in Episode 193. The panel was moderated by Gwen O’Mahony, and the panel itself featured three Christian apologists. I was there with some representatives of CFI Vancouver and we pointed out, you have a panel called “beyond secularism” with a poster that features five or six religious symbols, yet you have no one representing a secular point of view on the panel and the only religion you have represented is Christianity.

Going into that discussion, I was a little nervous, thinking that we would be in hostile territory and we would probably be run out of town. But I was surprised by the number of people who got up to provide strident defences of secularism. (Including an Arch Bishop for the Russian Orthodox Church, who gave a passionate statement about the importance of secular politics.)

Perhaps this is demonstrating that we are starting to wake the population up to the importance of secular activism. This is in no small part to the hard work of organizations like the BC Humanists, CFI Vancouver and the other skeptical activists across the province like CFI Okanagan and CFI Kamloops.

Our work is far from over.

Last night several of us from CFI Vancouver went to see the Premier of BC, Christy Clark discuss the role of faith and politics. (The event was live tweeted by CFI Vancouver here)

Christy Clark

Christy Clark

The event unfolded the way I thought it would, however; Clark managed to surprise me a few times. I’ve seen cartoonishly bad characterizations of secularism before, but Clark really upped the ante this time.

Starting off on a bad foot, the organizers announced they would only take written questions. A cowardly decision in my opinion. Clark had a audience of supporters, there’s no reason she should be afraid to talk unchallenged to them. This only made her constant repetition of how she’s a heroic maverick for talking about faith and politics all the more ludicrous. Clark responds to people criticizing her for speaking about faith and politics by presenting an event where she talks on these, so call forbidden topics, and shuts down an open Q and A.

And of course the event, which was supposed to start at 5pm didn’t get going until 5:30pm.

The event was put on by City in Focus, a faith based organization concerned with the “soul of the city” as they put it.

Clark started the evening off by remarking on the strangeness of faith and politics. Talking about the negative feedback she’s gotten for publically discussing her faith and religion. And how this is indicative of the change in society. She mentioned this specifically in reference to the number of atheists in British Columbia.

They key highlights (lowlights?) that are worth pointing out include the following:

Clark believes government should spend public money on faith based organizations because those groups are the ones doing the good work in society. Helping the poor etc. (Perhaps she’s not aware of the all the good work being done by secular groups like Insite, the Vancouver Food Bank, or Unicef)

Clark also stated that the most important part of her faith is practicing it. This means going to church to be reminded on why she needs to be a good person. Yes, the whole ‘religion makes people be good and not evil.’ Perhaps someone could inform Clark that atheists and non-believers learn to be good people without religion. It’s actually totally possible.

She also remarked that it’s tragic that more people don’t go to church.

One of the irritating assumptions she frequently made throughout the evening was assuming we were all God fearing people who attended church regularly. Oh and reality TV is bad. Damn meanies.

All of this is ironic because she admits that political discourse isn’t polite either. So it’s nice to know that we as a population are being held to higher standards than our politicians. (Who then draft policy to correct our so-called bad behavior)

When she got to question time, she remarked how she was surprised there was no open Q and A. (FAIL!)

Most of the questions were softballs lobed at her and she took her time knocking them around. A few interesting points that came out include:

Secularism is bad because some religious groups do nice things. (I’m paraphrasing there)

I was floored when she started talking about her plans for hospital proselytizing. She wants to make is so private information about patients in hospitals can be given to religious leaders so they can come into the hospital to preach to the patients. On the surface this sounds like a nice gesture but let’s deconstruct this for a moment. What she is saying is that if a patient is terminally ill, and stuck in a hospital bed, this persons condition should be given (how?) to local religious leaders (which ones? All of them?) Hospitals don’t do this because this is a huge invasion of privacy. Patients have rights, you see. So how does this work? Do hospitals have to ask permission first? Do they just tell churches? If someone is terminally ill do they just send out a newsletter to all the religious groups in the area “there’s another terminally ill patient in room 25”

What if the patient is a lifelong atheist who hates proselytizing? And now, in their final time on earth, they need to put with some priest coming to tell them about heaven and hell?

If a patient wants a religious person to come see them, they can tell hospital staff to call one up. Hospital staff should not be over stepping their authority and assuming a patient wants a theological lecture.

Think about the implications. What if you get some pushy religious person telling the patient to leave their estate to the church to get into heaven? No, this cannot be allowed. The current system of having the patient make the call (or requesting a call on their behalf) is the way this should work.

Just a terrible terrible idea by Clark.

Another question brought up the topic of bullying. Clark made the following statement “there are some things about bullying…you know…some things are hard to eliminate.”

Homelessness? It’s a complex problem she said. She also told a story about how she made a friend who was homeless.

When she was asked about making decisions based on the Bible she responded by acknowledging that the Bible contradicted itself. “It’s not static” She replied. “It’s a teaching document.” It’s a debateable thing.

I have to agree. I remember when I was trying to learn math in school. The formulas constantly changed, answers were never the same, sometimes 2 +2 was 5… it was fucking great.

No but seriously. The bible is a horrible teaching tool. It’s not ‘not static. It’s dogma. It hasn’t changed in a long time. What has changed is the mental gymnastics you go through to justify how in one part of the bible where it tells you to stone your son for disobeying you (Deuteronomy 13:5-10) what it really means is that families are nice.

To wrap things up, she did say a few good things. On the subject of genetically modified foods, she noted that humans have been doing this for 10000 years already. She’s right about that. She also said she supports same sex marriage (but doesn’t want to make religious people uncomfortable)

Our Premier Ladies and Gentlemen!
clark2

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Radio Freethinker Episode 196 – Goodbye Aaron Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 15, 2013

demand.logo

This week:
– Lead violence,
– Calgary’s Flaming Flu Controversy,

– Eulogy for Aaron Swartz
, and
– Sam Harris ain’t a good skeptic, its guns this time

Download the episode here!

Lead violence

56834116-lead-poisoningMore and more research is pointing to a possible cause for the REDUCTION of violence in the west…lead, or the reduction of it in our urban environments. We discuss the research and some of the implications towards social studies and race relations.

Find out more:

Calgary’s Flaming Flu Controversy

ghrn132lEthan discusses the ongoing controversy in Calgary revolving around how the Calgary Flames players and families ‘jumped’ the cue when it came to getting the H1N1 flu vaccine in 2009.

Find out more:

Eulogy for Aaron Swartz

184472_542876089056707_1319108737_nDon give an impassioned and emotional eulogy to one of the promising progressive lights – Aaron Swartz, and how state bullying contributed to his suicide.

Find out more:

Aaron inspired

Aaron inspired

Sam Harris ain’t a good skeptic, its guns this time.

cbe0109cd-gun-sales-500A recent controversy yet again arisen over what WAS one of the leading figures of the atheist skeptical community. Sam Harris yet again shows that at least on some subjects, he is far more the dogmatist than the enlightened skeptic.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

The Harper Monologue: The Politics of Hate and Fear

RageResistRebel details the predatory politics of Stephen Harper, the “Prime Manipulator of Canada”.

When:  Thursday, Jan 17 at 8pm

Where: Rhizome Caf on East Broadway, Vancouver

Cost: Tix $10-20

Philosophers’ Jam
How We Create Life’s Meaning

Sigmund Freud once said that if you question life’s meaning, you’re sick. But existential philosophers think that if you never question life’s meaning, you’re not only naïve – you’re inauthentic. In this session,  Kurt Preinsperg  will examine the ‘Meaning Quadrangle’ and consider a step-by- step method for how an individual can take the creation of life’s meaning firmly into their own hands.

When: Thursday, Jan 17 at 7pm

Where: Faculty & Staff Dining Lounge, Lanagra Collage, Vancouver

Cost: Free

Albert Camus, the Absurd Man’s Path

Robin Durand presents a lecture on Camus’s thinking, its topicality, who is the absurd man, and what his path of thoughts is.

Camus was French philosopher who promoted the philosophy of the absurd. Absurdism refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context, absurd does not mean “logically impossible”, but rather “humanly impossible”.

When: Thursday, Jan 17 at 7pm

Where: Alliance Fran on Cambie, Vancouver

Cost: Free

CFI Cafe Inquiry – Has Violence Declined?

January 19th at 1pm
Room 2200 of SFU Harbour Centre
This cafe will discuss of Steven Pinker’s latest book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” The central thesis of the book is that human beings have become less violent over the course of our history. From war to violent assault, Pinker believes that there is convincing evidence that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history.

545252_10151169840536946_1932597655_n

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Radio Freethinker Episode 176 – Olympic Cyborg Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 31, 2012

This week:

– Olympic Cyborg Sprinter,

– Olympic Measles Pandemic?,

– Politics, Religion and Economics at the Olympics, and

– Naturopaths conquer Alberta

Download the episode here!

Topics:

Olympic Cyborg Sprinter,

For the first time in Olympic history a cyborg…part human part machine…will competing at the Olympics. Or put another way, for the first time in Olympic history a disabled sprinter will compete in the regular Olympics with the aid of prosthetics legs. Good or bad?

Find out more:

Olympic Measles Pandemic?

The recent front page of the Georgia Straight warns Canadians about the imminent and probably deadly threat to our lives from the nuclear fallow from the Fukushima reactor accident arriving in the form of radioactive fish. Don takes a critical eye to this story and exposed its bias and unscientific slant.  

Find out more:

Politics, Religion and Economics at the Olympics

Saudi Arabia is sending women for the first time to the Olympics, but may pull out because the women will not be able to compete with their traditional hijab.
Lebanese athletes refuse to train in the same area as Israeli athletes because of the ‘crimes’ Israel has done to Lebanon.
London seems dressed down compared to the Queen’s jubilee thanks to the sponsorship police, who has ensured NO one but sponsors are allowed to ‘raise the rings’.

We discuss these issues and whether the Olympics should be above these topics or used as a means of global communications on issues.

Find out more:


Naturopaths conquer Alberta

We discuss the recent decision by the Alberta Ministry of Health to give the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta the same regulator, accreditation and self-governance powers as College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. Thus providing Naturopaths the same legitimacy as real doctors.
Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

SO you want to be an Astrobiologist!

The University of Edinburgh is offering a free online five week course called “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks wondered if other worlds were habitable. In the coming years this question will be experimentally tested. This course is an introduction to astrobiology. It explores the origin and evolution of life on the Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere. Astrobiology addresses compelling questions of wide interest such as: How did life originate on the Earth? Is this an inevitable process and is life common across the Universe? Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that bridges fields as diverse as astrophysics, biology, geosciences and chemistry.

In this course one will explore what we know about life’s ability to live in extreme environments on the Earth…look at different hypotheses for how it originated. You will look at some of the missions to search for life in our own Solar System and on planets orbiting distant stars. Discuss some of the extreme environments on the Earth that help us understand the limits of life and how life has adapted to cope with extremes. Explore the possibility of intelligent alien life and some of the implications of its detection. The course will provide a foundation in astrobiology and introduce students to concepts in a diversity of scientific fields.

Have I got you hooked? Well, you can sign up now but you will have some time to do prep work; classes start in Jan 2013. Assuming we survive the Mayan apocalypse of course.

Google Labs

Google has set up an exhibitionist in the Science Museum in London. In true Google style it was not intent to have a ‘traditional’ display so they have combined the exhibition with Google Chrome to launch Google Web Lab. Where virtual visitors from around the world will be able to interact with the displays and perform 5 different experiments from the comfort of home. The exhibit includes: Universal Orchestra, Data Tracer, Sketchbots, Teleporter, and Lab Tag Explorer.

Google’s Web Lab website

NASA’s Curiosity rover will land on Aug. 5

Plan a landing party and enjoy what NASA is calling the most frightening 7 minutes in space exploration history.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Join the BCHA for its third year marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade. For the past three years the BC Humanists have invited all local humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and other freethinkers to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade. This year we hope to have a bigger and more fabulous entry than ever!

DETAILS — Marchers should plan to arrive by 12:30 PM. Our staging area is designated EN4 and will be on the North side of Robson Street between Burrard and Thurlow. You can only enter the staging area from Burrard Street. Please plan on walking/biking/transiting downtown as there is very limited parking and many road closures..

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Cafe Inquiry: Limits to Growth

Café Inquiry is a monthly casual discussion group run by CFI Vancouver. Come along and enjoy morning tea and stimulating discussion with fellow freethinkers on a variety of topics. Our speaker is Patrick Walden, and will discuss are there limits to growth, and will our endless drive to continually expand hit a wall? Will our civilization collapse in the 21st century? Pat Walden is a research scientist at TRIUMF Cyclotron laboratory at UBC.
Saturday August 18th at 11am at SFU Harbour centre (room tba)

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton doesn’t like Beavers

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 31, 2011

In the category of “are they seriously talking about this?” is the news that for Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton, Canada’s national emblem the beaver, simply doesn’t cut it and should be replaced by with the Polar Bear.

And yes, just so everyone is aware, I realize that the term beaver is sometimes used as immature euphemism for the female genital area. We at Radio Freethinker are far to mature for such slang and there will be no such jokes along those lines. Let’s move on.

We are serious about the news story. The Globe and Mail reports that Senator Eaton, who was appointed by Stephen Harper in 2009 doesn’t consider the beaver a worthy emblem. She is quoted in the article as saying:

“Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations,”

Apparently she’s a fan of the north and believes that the polar bear is a more potent symbol of Canada, quoted in the same article:

“A country’s symbols are not constant and can change over time as long as they reflect the ethos of the people and the spirit of the nation.”

The senator said the polar bear is more noble and rugged.

“The polar bear is the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada’s most majestic and splendid mammal,” she said, noting it “survives in the harshest climate and terrain in the world.”

The irony of course is that polar bear may not survive much longer to be an emblem of Canada if the threat of climate change continues to go unheeded. According to the World Wildlife Foundation  polar bears face a number of major challenges thanks to the changing climate. Further:

In the southern range of polar bears, the shorter sea ice season has decreased the amount of time bears can hunt for their prey. Sea ice break-up keeps these bears on shore. This forces them to spend the summer without significant feeding, relying on their fat stores from the previous summer to survive.

Many polar bears now suffer from malnutrition and others face starvation, especially females with cubs. Polar bear populations in Canada’s Hudson Bay have declined by 22 percent since the 1990s and researchers predict up to 73 percent of pregnant females in this population could fail to bring their cubs to term, given current and anticipated sea ice conditions.

Perhaps if Senator Eaton is so impressed with polar bears she would endorse some significant climate change legislation to help improve their lot in life. Not only did the Harper government dump the 1998 Kyoto Accord (we’re 31% above target on reducing green house gases) but Canada is in danger of failing to live up to the most recent climate change accord, the Copenhagen Accord, which calls for a 17 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Senator Eaton may think this is a cute way to get some press (I’m just guessing about that, I don’t know her true motives) but at the very least I’d recommend a thorough history lesson on the role beavers played in Canada’s history and since she loves polar bears so much, an ecological lesson on what’s going to happen to them if we don’t do something about climate change in Canada.

Here’s her email address.

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Saturday Stub: Getting Political with David Letterman

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 15, 2011

For this week’s Saturday Stub I thought I post a couple clips from recent episodes of the Late Show with David Letterman. Why would I do that? Well, recently Dave had on as his guest former President Bill Clinton and the next night the host of the O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly.

Now I don’t normally dive into the arena of politics or political science (except for the few times I do) but I was rather intrigued by situation of Letterman interviewing Clinton and O’Reilly consecutively. Obviously O’Reilly is known in most circles as a right-wing pundit with more attitude than facts, generally you don’t go on his show for informed debate, usually its to get yelled at by O’Reilly and called a “pinhead.” Nevertheless, I’m always intrigued to see him outside his comfort zone. And I can’t imagine the Late Show is his comfort zone, on a previous appearance, Letterman suggested he was full of shit (paraphrasing)

Not to come across as some Clinton cheerleader either, I have major objections to his politics and I’m often surprised by how frequently he touts his “accomplishments” when he was President, really makes it sound like he’s campaigning for re-election. Nevertheless, here we have two spokespeople on either side of the political spectrum in American and Letterman asks them both some interesting questions about the Occupy Wall Street protests among other things. Have a look:

President Clinton on Dave Letterman Oct. 12 2011 Part 1

President Clinton on Dave Letterman Oct. 12 2011 Part 2

 

Now take a look at O’Reilly:

Part 2 of O’Reilly on Letterman Oct. 13 2011

 

And if you’re wondering, no I haven’t read O’Reilly’ book. I did however glance at it the other day in the book store. I noticed a few things right off the bat, first, O’Reilly’ name is a whole lot bigger than the other author. I flipped through it quickly and read a few lines, would you be surprised if I said a few red flags came up? Okay, honestly its not as bad as you might expect. Basically its more of a personal taste thing. But the book begins with a fictional narrative of Lincoln. What I mean by that is it has one of those… “Lincoln felt cold and anxious and slowly rubbed his temples as he contemplated…”  one of those narratives. I assume that’s only at the beginning. Nevertheless I’ve always disliked it when writers do that. It can really give the subject a voice or impression that isn’t accurate and really colour the rest of the book with a bias that may or may not be correct.

Anyway, perhaps I’ll borrow a copy from the library some time.

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Skeptical Questions for Politicians and their Answers

Posted by Ethan Clow on April 22, 2011

Last week we sent out a quick ten question survey to all the candidates in Vancouver’s five federal ridings. Stay tuned to this post for updates including when and how each candidate answers. UPDATED

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Questions for Political Candidates

Posted by Ethan Clow on April 17, 2011

With an federal election quickly coming upon us here in Canada, we at Radio Freethinker decided to take the opportunity to send off some questions to local candidates to see what they think about a few skeptical/atheists issues.

A number of other skeptical organizations have been doing just this and I think it’s a great idea. Not only does it give the candidates a chance to see another constituency out there, but it also lets them know that freethinkers have concerns and they want them addressed.

We decided to go with ten questions. While we could have asked hundreds, ten is a small, easily manageable number and any person running for political office surely will have the time to answer ten quick questions. We tried to include two questions from each of the main “battlegrounds” that skeptics deal with.

Those being: two questions on religion, two questions on alternative medicine, two questions on the supernatural, two questions on science, and two questions on evolution.

Here are the questions in full:

1. Canada is a ‘Christian’ nation.

2.  Religious belief should be legally protected from ridicule.

3. Complementary and alternative medicine (such as naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, herbalism, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy and/or acupuncture) should be given equal support in our public health system

4. Childhood vaccinations should be mandatory

5. Law enforcement should be barred from employing psychics in investigations

6. The evidence for alien visitation is “overwhelmingly positive”

7. Science is just one way of “knowing”

8. Scientists who work for the government should not be curtailed or censored in any way if they want to take their findings to the media or wish to publish their findings in scientific journals or periodicals.

9. Human beings have evolved over time in a random process absent of any control or design by a higher power

10. The age of the Earth is around 4 billion years.

We sent them to all the candidates in the five federal ridings of Vancouver.  Those ridings, with their candidates are as follows:

Vancouver Centre

Adriane Carr  (Green Party of Canada)

Jennifer Clarke  (Conservative Party of Canada)

John Clarke  (Libertarian Party of Canada)

Hedy Fry  (Liberal Party of Canada)

Michael Hill  (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada)

Michael Huenefeld  (Progressive Canadian Party)

Travis McCrea  (Pirate Party of Canada)

Karen Shillington  (New Democratic Party of Canada)

Vancouver East

Roma Ahi  (Liberal Party of Canada)

Libby Davies  (New Democratic Party of Canada)

Anne Jamieson  (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada)

Douglas Roy  (Green Party of Canada)

Irene C. Yatco  (Conservative Party of Canada)

Vancouver Kingsway

Louise Boutin  (Green Party of Canada)

Kimball Cariou  (Communist Party of Canada)

Don Davies  (New Democratic Party of Canada)

Matt Kadioglu  (Libertarian Party of Canada)

Trang Nguyen  (Conservative Party of Canada)

Donna Petersen  (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada)

Wendy Yuan  (Liberal Party of Canada)

Vancouver Quadra

Victor Edward Elkins  (New Democratic Party of Canada)

Deborah Meredith  (Conservative Party of Canada)

Joyce Murray  (Liberal Party of Canada)

Laura-Leah Shaw  (Green Party of Canada)

Vancouver South

Charles Boylan  (Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada)

Ujjal Dosanjh  (Liberal Party of Canada)

Meena Wong  (New Democratic Party of Canada)

Wai Young  (Conservative Party of Canada)

Jean Hakizimana (Green Party of Canada)

The Questions we asked are based on a five-point scale system. A candidate can answer between Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree. In addition we tracked down as many direct email addresses as we could but in some cases we’re sending this survey to their campaign  centres. In a few cases we couldn’t locate a suitable email address and therefore we sent it to the party headquarters. We do understand that some candidates will be extremely busy and probably get many such questions sent their way. We also included the email addresses of the National Party headquarters as well.

There is little over two weeks until the election. We hope that the candidates can find time to answer these questions before election day. I do wish we had been able to send this out sooner but to my surprise, tracking down contact information for the candidates proved exceedingly difficult. In addition, Elections Canada did not confirm the final list of those running until the 14th of April. Since then, I was spending as much time as I could spare tracking down how to contact each candidate or party.

Hopefully something comes of this. We will of course keep you informed as things develop.

Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Politics and Skepticism

Posted by Daniel Gipps on February 13, 2010

Politics is one area in desperate need of more skeptical inquiry. The problem is that it can be difficult to look skeptically at government policies and laws. The reasons for this are numerous: party support, ideological or moral beliefs, lack of information, lack of time, and many others. Another one of the biggest problems is that many of these decisions are either primarily economic, or partly economic, and there are economists who will tell policy makers anything. There’s an old saying that there are as many different economic models as there are economists and politicians are no doubt thankful for this.

Is there good evidence behind this claim about the Olympics? A skeptical look is the best way to find out. / Daniel Gipps

Proof is an important concept in skepticism. Skipping over the philosophical problems of whether we can actually prove anything (not that it isn’t an interesting topic, but isn’t relevant to the topic at hand), we have the problem of determining whether something is proven to be, for all intents and purposes, true. In science, there is a rigorous standard of proof. Large amounts of evidence must exist for a theory to be considered proven. It can also be disproved with even a small amount of evidence that contradicts it. The standard of proof within the scientific community is therefore very high. This is also similar to the legal concept of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” which applies to criminal law. Someone cannot be sentenced guilty to a crime unless there is enough evidence to remove any reasonable doubt that they may be innocent.

High standards of proof work for science, and exist for crime to reduce the likelihood that innocent people are punished. However, not everything relies on such high standards of proof. Our civil law system, that is issues such as contracts, property rights, divorce and even charter challenges work on a different standard. This standard is known as the balance of probabilities. What it basically means is that whatever is most likely is considered “proven”. Without this relaxation of standards, civil law would be almost useless. It is just too difficult, or even impossible, to prove many things “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The problem is, skeptics too often hold scientific standards of proof for things that simply can’t be proven to that level. Politics is definitely one of those areas.

One example of this that I am sure is fresh in everyone’s mind is the 700 or so billion dollar bailout of the largest U.S. banks by President Bush and continued by President Obama. It would be impossible to prove their true motivations behind the bailout beyond a reasonable doubt. Was it done purely to keep the economy afloat as both have stated numerous times, or was it primarily to keep their wall street friends from suffering the consequences of their reckless actions? Neither of these can be proven absolutely. Even if a secret recording of backroom talks surfaces, it would not be enough to absolutely prove anything. There is no way to know if those involved were speaking any more or less truthful on the tape than in public. All that can be done is to look into what is more likely based off of other factors such as campaign contributions. In this case, one needs only to look at the major campaign contributors for Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign(hint: it reads basically like a list of corporations who have received bailouts) to see the balance moving towards helping out his buddies rather than the nation as a whole.

Another problem is that political opinions generally have ideological or moral roots. A libertarian is likely to see a government managed economy as morally bad, whereas a socialist likely sees it as morally good. Neither of these positions is wrong in any true sense, they are both based off of the subjective morals of the individuals. A skeptical argument can not be made directly attacking their moral positions, as neither is objectively correct. A skeptic can however look at evidence, or make logical arguments about the consequences of either position. As an extreme example, if a politician tables a law that would free all murderers and give them, and future murderers, $100,000 each, a skeptic would likely point out that there will be consequences to that decision. The most obvious being that it gives an incentive to others to murder. Obviously this is quite ridiculous, but it does highlight how skeptics can question public policy separate from ideology.

Another problem in looking skeptically at public policy is a lack of information, or a difficulty in getting information. Many bills that are passed are pages long, written in legal jargon, and made purposefully vague. It can be very hard to skeptically critique what a law might do when it is vague, or gives great discretion to secondary bodies (e.g. University Endowment Act giving great control to the UBC Board of Governors to pass rules). These problems make it difficult to properly argue what the law actually does. One example is the Vancouver Charter amendment increasing in fairly vague terms the city’s ability to go after signs. The city insists that it is only to go after ambush marketing, but many groups such as the BC Civil Liberties Association have argued that the potential exists to do more. I will not get into the argument here, but it does demonstrate some potential problems for skeptics. If the wording of a law is vague (as many laws are), should skeptics look for the consequences of the extreme interpretation or a more moderate interpretation? For now I won’t answer that question, as I eventually want to write a well researched blog post on it.

I have found a strong distaste for politics within the skeptic community and I feel that it is a missed opportunity for skeptics. Laws put into place by our politicians have enormous impacts over our everyday lives. The latest scientific finding doesn’t affect us nearly as often (I intend in no way to diminish the importance of science, I simply mean to point out that while interesting, most scientific findings only really matter to a very select few). If skeptics want to have an important impact on people’s everyday lives, they need to stop ignoring public policy and start looking into the consequences of political decisions being made every day.

Posted in Blogs, Daniel's Blogs, Emeritus | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »