July 28, 2006

Intriguing, and slightly worrying…

Writing about web page http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19125591.800.html

In a recent New Scientist article about the practicalities of polygamy as a lifestyle choice, a psychology professor said:

Infidelity in monogamous relationships is estimated at 60 to 70 per cent, so it seems that attraction to more than one person is normal.

I found that statistic quite surprising, if not slightly scary… is it really true???

On a different, but not unrelated, point… is the divorce rate going up because more relationships are actually failing? Or is it just because relationships that would previously have been maintained due to the stigma attached to divorce, but that had really failed, are being actively severed? How can we tell?


June 28, 2006

Security

Writing about web page http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19025556.200?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=mg19025556.200

Thank you to Duncan for sending me a link to the above article.

The internet is a fantastic tool: I myself would feel significantly at a loss without it. It allows you immediate access to a wealth of information, allows instant communication across the globe and transfer of data and ideas.

The advantages for scientists, for instance, could be huge: they will have unprecedented access to each other's experimental datasets and will be able to perform their own analyses on them. Searching for products such as holidays will become easier as price and availability dates will have smart tags, allowing powerful searches across hundreds of sites.

However, a comment was posted on my recent entry suggesting that certain contributors might want to restrict the things they mentioned in a public forum. Whilst I have no problem with people contrubuting in whatever way they like to my blog, I do worry that sometimes we may reveal too much. Several times I have read surprised entries from students who have discovered that their parents read their blogs.

"I AM continually shocked and appalled at the details people voluntarily post online about themselves." So says Jon Callas, chief security officer at PGP, a Silicon Valley–based maker of encryption software. He is far from alone in noticing that fast–growing social networking websites such as MySpace and Friendster are a snoop's dream … "You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your resumé. People don't realise you get Googled just to get a job interview these days"
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code–breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology – specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the web standards organisation W3C – to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all–embracing personal profiles of individuals.

There are examples of people who have been sacked from their jobs for revealing details of excessive drinking and drug–taking, and some who have been barred from religious colleges after revealing their homosexuality.

Why do bloggers so readily reveal such information online? Do we really consider the potential readership? Should we be more worried about the information employers and even governments can gather? Did the people mentioned above deserve their dismissal or should their treatment have been more lenient?


June 26, 2006

The morality surrounding Trident

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/thought/documents/t20060626.shtml

I heard, whilst prising myself from a rather deep sleep this morning, the words of Clifford Longley on Thought For The Day. He emphasised the need for a reasoned dialogue to begin about Trident and general nuclear issues.

Catholic bishops in Scotland have started the ball rolling with an outspoken rejection on moral grounds of the whole theory of nuclear weapons. They are just not compatible with God's commandment Thou shalt not kill, they argued, because possessing them entailed a conditional willingness to use them. That means an intention to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It is immoral to sign up to such a policy, say the bishops. But if so, how do we defend ourselves from the ultimate threat, a nuclear 9/11 or 7/7? Isn't that a moral duty too?

How exactly do we follow through this moral argument? Is a nuclear weapon morally wrong because of the intention to kill? If so, what about an armed police officer? Yes, they will presumably use is as a last resort and only ever when provoked, but the possibility of injury or even death is still there. I've read many recent comments applauding the killing of Abu Musab al–Zarqawi, the leader of al–Qaeda in Iraq. Granted, he was a brutal murderer and in the opinion of many got what he deserved, but was his killing morally right?

In the hands of politicians, these decisions are going to be reduced to issues of national pride and/or the cost to the taxpayer, or even personality clashes between ministers. As a nation we have to lift our game. Sometimes politics really is too important to be left to the politicians.

How important is the moral debate when weighed up against the other considerations of cost and practicality?


June 18, 2006

The importance of commemoration

I read a comment in a newspaper recently, I can't remember where, in which the author complained about the commemoration of important tragedies: 9/11, 7/7, the world wars etc. He moaned about constantly being forced to remember depressing events.

Another man, Charles Wolfe, who moved to New York in 1979 and lost his wife Katherine who was working inside Tower One on 11 September, said: "I'm ready for the big ceremonies to stop, it is bringing up grief unnecessarily."

I seem to remember an outcry from some at the incredible extent of the mourning following Princess Diana's death. Speaking seven weeks before the anniverary of her death, the Most Rev David Hope, England's second most senior archbishop, called for people to stop "wallowing" in it.

Are we wallowing in the remembrance of tragedies to a greater extent than we have done before? How important is it for us to continue to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of soldiers, disaster victims etc? Does it also serve as an important reminder for future generations? And is any of our commemoration too over–the–top or even utterly inappropriate?


June 15, 2006

Friendliness to strangers

Last weekend Justin and I went for a stroll down the Grand Union Canal – a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Whilst we walked I was struck by something I'd almost forgotten about but that I have been intending to blog for quite a while.

Almost every time we came across someone a generation or more above us we exchanged a 'hello', 'good afternoon' or something similar and we even struck up a short conversation with a couple on a passing canal boat. This was the same when I used to go walking and cycling in the South Downs at home. However, I'd probably think twice about doing the same with someone of my own generation. This to me seems to be a real shame.

Why have we stopped being friendly? Is it because we have become more aware of the potential risks posed by strangers? If so, why should someone of the younger generation necessarily pose less of a risk than an older person? Why are we so friendly when out in the countryside, for example, whereas similar exchanges are not usually seen on the streets of a town? Is it the expression of some feeling of companionliness with someone who obviously enjoys a similar pastime?


June 14, 2006

Threatening patriotism?

I heard a comment last week, I think at the beginning of a TV programme I didn't actually stay up to watch, that someone found the abundant England flags that are so prevalent at the moment to be threatening. This interested me.

As a country I don't think we are particularly patriotic any longer. Indeed, as a contrast, Anna remarked on arrival on the other side of the world that the Brazilians for one are incredibly proud of their country and are not backward in showing it. Why do we not fly the flag to the same extent as we once did? Do we feel that it's politically incorrect in some way (do we not express feelings of pride because we feel they are inappropriate or do we really no longer feel so much pride)? Why does it take the advent of a major sporting tournament for us to become so patriotic?

Why on earth should an English person feel so threatened by a flag representing his own country displayed in his own country? Is it because of the association with the darker and more violent side of football that has gained some England supporters unwelcome notoriety? If so why should all displays of patriotism be associated with this minority?


May 30, 2006

The benefits of not finding what you want…

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/5018998.stm

I found this article on the BBC News website very interesting, not least because it made me think about my own habits.

The idea put forward is that random exposure to subjects, viewpoints and media that you would not usually search for is important in broadening people's horizons and even in increasing their creativity. But is new technology increasing or decreasing the incidence of serendipity it? And is it really that important?


May 24, 2006

Justifying violent crime?

With the current murmerings about the rights of criminals being overplayed and victims being put at extra risk a story in this morning's Metro seemed particularly apt.

Jonathan Wright was assaulted by Michael Donohoe and hit over the dead with a nail–studded post, leaving him with a three–inch gash over his ear. However, when he applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority for compensation he was turned down because he swore at his assailant. Quoting from the letter of refusal…

Your conduct, in being verbally abusive towards the assailant, was an important factor in the incident.

May 22, 2006

Relationship standards

I had a rather random conversation today, the upshot of which was the following:

  • Why is it that the idea of a woman in a heterosexual relationship being intimate with another women is often relatively acceptable, if not arousing, to their corresponding partners? Why is the reversal involving the partner with another man generally less acceptable to the woman?

  • Why is it that some men don't regard their girlfriend kissing other women as cheating yet if they kissed another man it would be a serious offence?

  • Do men and women have different attitudes towards cheating and does this result in some hypocrisy in the actions of either?

May 19, 2006

Herceptin, H5N1 and drugs trials

I was attempting to avoid the H5N1 bandwagon but it looks like I failed…

Many have complained recently about the coverage of the bird flu story in the media, saying that it has been sensationalist and potentially panic–inducing. This is clearly a difficult subject because whilst the chances of the virus mutating and becoming a transmissible human virus are relatively low, if this does actually happen the resultant pandemic could be terrifying. It depends on how you classify a potential crisis. The BBC has on its forum, as many have highlighted, a series of alarmist comments from members of the public (as well as, presumably, a swathe of others asking everyone to calm down). The BBC and newspapers have been criticised for their own coverage of the situation.

The opening paragraph from a recent New Scientist article read:

I have nothing against miracles, but whenever there's a big buzz about a new drug, it's a fair bet it'll be down to the usual suspects: vested interests, early research, and uncritical journalists.

I'm sure everyone will be aware of the hype surrounding the release, and subsequent variable availability, of the new breast cancer drug Herceptin. The media pronounced it a 'wonder drug', but how many people know the real truth about its successes? The tests carried out showed that Herceptin benefits only a small number of women – shrinking tumours in only 15% of cases – yet the early reports did not make this clear. The trial was carried out on women who had cancers that had been treated early. Emphasising a figure of a 52% reduction in recurrence in a group who already have a small chance of re–contracting the disease is misleading (even those who have no treatment after surgery have a recurrence maximum of 10% per year, dropping to 3% after 10 years). The test groups were also very small – only in the 10s – so the perceived advantages could have been down to pure chance. Yet this drug was described as a potential ‘cure’ by the 2006 President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology: a man who is also a paid consultant to Genentech, Herceptin’s US distributor.

Another important recent medical story was about the drugs trial that left six men critically ill. Many criticisms were voiced at the time criticising and even blaming the manufacturer of the drug. Yet when a follow–up story came out declaring that the manufacturer had followed all the required protocols and was thus not guilty of any negligence it didn't make the BBC News website front page, nor the Science and Nature front page. In fact, I had to do a search to find it.

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone access to a treatment that may save or help to sustain their lives: far from it. However, bearing in mind the huge variation between the hype and the reality in the case of Herceptin I can’t help but think that the injustice has been blown slightly out of proportion. Again with H5N1, there is a balance to be had between the potential risks. But is it the duty of the media to reflect these issues realistically and in a balanced manner? The newspapers need to sell and the TV companies need to maximise viewer ratings, and sensational stories will help with this. However, whereas newspapers are private companies, the BBC is publicly funded and has a Board of Governors who purport to act as ‘trustees of the public interest’. Is it in the public interest for these stories to be reported in a totally balanced manner or should we be expected to draw our own conclusions based on the true facts? How do you ensure a balanced coverage when many important stories may be reported many times, each time with a potentially different slant? Surely the purpose of a forum is to air the views of the public: should the BBC or any other company censor its fora to prevent potential hysteria or is this unfair?


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