Episode 159: Policing in Canada

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem is joined by Ashlyn, Lauren, and Laura to discuss the history of policing in Canada.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Historical events in RCMP-Indigenous relations (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) | Canada isn’t offering a history lesson on colonialism, but the RCMP is (The Eyeopener) | History of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) | Explainer: Who were the RIC? (TheJournal.ie) | Sitting Bull (The Canadian Encyclopedia) | The RCMP was created to control Indigenous people. Can that relationship be reset? (Global News) | Don’t forget RCMP’s history (Ammsa.com) | Heritage Minutes (YouTube)

The Pass System: Don’t forget RCMP’s history (Ammsa.com) | A Condensed History of Canada’s Colonial Cops (The New Inquiry) | Pass System in Canada (The Canadian Encyclopedia) | North-West Rebellion (The Canadian Encyclopedia) | 1889: Peasant Farming policy implemented (decolonizEd) | The pass system: another dark secret in Canadian history (CBC Radio)

Police Killings in Canada: List of killings by law enforcement officers in Canada (Wikipedia) | Discover Canada: Canada’s History (Canada.ca) | Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (Wikipedia) | John Joseph Harper (Wikipedia) | Inquest begins into police shooting of Winnipeg teen (CBC News) | Police identify man shot by officer (CBC News) | ‘It’s devastating’: South Sudanese condemn fatal police shooting of man with mental health issues (CBC News) | ‘Truly sorry:’ Winnipeg officer sentenced to prison for killing pedestrian (National Post) | Canadian police struggle to maintain reputation under unprecedented scrutiny and demands for new approach (National Post) | Stop the killing: Fatal police shootings in Canada (The Indy) | A timeline of police charged with murder or manslaughter in Canada (The Globe and Mail) | Theft (Armoured Suits Criminal Defence Lawyers) | Capital punishment in Canada (Wikipedia) | Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (Wikipedia) | Shooting of Chantel Moore (Wikipedia) | Investigation of shooting death of Chantel Moore could take months (CBC News) | Edmundston, N.B., police officer who shot Chantel Moore now back at work (Global News) | Five things to know about Quebec police watchdog probing New Brunswick shootings (Global News) | Muslim man shot dead by Canadian police during mental health crisis (Daily Sabah) | Death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (Wikipedia) | Defund the police? Here’s a look at how much Canadian cities spend on policing (CTV News)

Alternatives to Calling the Police: Alternatives to Calling the Police (Safe Congregations Handbook, UUA.org) | 12 Things to do Instead of Calling the Cops (Sprout Distro)

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Episode 69: Québec’s Charter of Values

Episode 69: Québec’s Charter of Values

In the second anniversary episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, we fulfil our CanCon requirement! Gem Newman discusses the proposed “Charter of Values” in the Canadian province of Québec with Scott Carnegie, Greg Christensen, and special guest Shayne Gryn.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: HAAM Meetup | Drinking Skeptically | Québec’s Proposed Charter of Values | Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms | Reasonable Accommodation | The “Notwithstanding Clause” | National Post: Quebec Releases Controversial ‘Values Charter’ | Montreal Gazette: The Public Favours Charter of Values | Globe and Mail: Quebec’s Secular Charter Is Clearly Unconstitutional, But Could Still Become Law | Quebec’s White, Privileged Feminists Don’t Speak For Me | Canadian Atheist: A Practical Guide for Discussion of the Charter of Quebec Values | Canadian Atheist: A Practical Guide for Avoiding Discussion of the Charter of Québec Values | Shayne Gryn: The Racialized and Gendered Impact of Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Secularism | National Post: Woman Says She Was Accosted in Mall Over Her Islamic Veil | CBC: Sikh Mounties Permitted to Wear Turbans

What Are You Listening To? The Nerdist Podcast | This American Life | Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! | Penn’s Sunday School | Quirks and Quarks | The Brain Science Podcast | Reasonable Doubts | The Reality Check | The Flop House

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Episode 53: HIV/AIDS Denial

Episode 53: HIV/AIDS Denial

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble, Laura Creek Newman, and Gem Newman discuss the pseudoscientific belief that AIDS is not caused by HIV. Also on this episode, Ashlyn interviews Susan Gerbic of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: HIV/AIDS Denialism | Opportunistic Infection | Peter Duesberg | Thabo Mbeki | Koch’s Postulates | Matthias Rath: Steal This Chapter (from Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science) | Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia

Update (7 August 2014): The Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project has recently attracted some criticism from within the skeptical community for its use of private forums to conduct discussions, training, and the like, rather than making use of the open, transparent services (such as projects, sandboxes, and talk pages) already provided by Wikipedia for its editors. Rebecca of the Dublin Skeptics in the Pub discusses these issues on Skepchick here.

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Episode 51: Climate Change, Part 2

Episode 51: Climate Change, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, and Donna Harris discuss the science (and politics) of global climate change.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Greenland Ice Sheet May Melt Completely | Hurricane Formation (Principle Layers of the Atmosphere, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation) | The Year Without a Summer | Solar (Sunspot) Cycle | Global Warming & Climage Change Myths from Skeptical Science

Correction: Greg mentioned that the Year Without a Summer (1816) was precipitated by the eruption of Krakatoa; this “volcanic winter” is actually attributed to a succession of volcanic events culminating in the eruption of Mount Tambora, which began in 1815.

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Episode 50: Climate Change, Part 1

Episode 50: Climate Change, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Richelle McCullough, and Donna Harris discuss the science (and politics) of global climate change.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Correlation and Causation (Wikipedia, Internet Explorer Market Share Linked to Murder Rates, Ridiculous Infographics) | Milankovitch Cycles (Wikipedia, Khan Academy) | Bob Carter (Wikipedia, Skeptical Science, Telegraph Article) | Greenland Ice Sheet May Melt Completely | Hurricane Formation (Principle Layers of the Atmosphere, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation) | Global Warming & Climage Change Myths from Skeptical Science

Correction: In this episode, Donna mentioned that Tracie Harris would be speaking at February’s HAAM meeting. Tracie will in fact be speaking on 12 March 2013.

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What Does Creationism Say About Our Culture?

Cross-posted from Skeptic North.

According to a 2007 Angus-Reid poll, 59% of Canadians accept evolution and common descent, while 22% are convinced that God created human beings within the last 10,000 years (with acceptance of evolution being correlated with youth and with higher levels of education, and belief in special creation being more prevalent on the prairies). While it can be tempting to dismiss those who claim that evolution is a religion or that there are no transitional fossils as backward or fringe, the truth is that the prevalence of these beliefs (even in high places) is actually an interesting phenomenon.

As any skeptic can tell you, simply correcting misinformation—supplying the relevant facts, highlighting a logical fallacy, whatever—is nearly never enough to dissuade a believer. Why? Because beliefs don’t stand and fall simply on their own merits. Understanding why people believe things that are sometimes downright odd can provide us with important insight. It seems to me that this sort of context can not only tell us how we might go about winning the argument, but it can give us insight into what the argument is really about.

Look, it can be great fun playing whack-a-mole with creationist claims (I’ve done it many times myself)—we can say that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biological sciences until we’re blue in the face—but when you get right down to it, belief in creationism seems relatively benign when compared to (for example) the conviction that lemongrass makes a good cure for pancreatic cancer. But it’s important to understand that pseudoscientific beliefs do not exist in a vacuum, that they are instead part of a larger cultural context: and that context should be of great interest to skeptics.

I’m sure that many of our readers remember that in a 2009 Globe & Mail interview Gary Goodyear (our Minister of State for Science & Technology, for those of you who were about to check Wikipedia) refused to answer a question about his stance on evolution, stating “I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”

While many people were justifiably appalled that Canada’s Minister of State for Science & Technology confused a question about his position on an important scientific issue with a question about his religion, I’m inclined to think that Goodyear may have simply been engaging in a rather artless attempt to dodge a question that he may have considered politically awkward (recognizing that his position is probably not in line with the overwhelming scientific consensus). Regardless, countless people swarmed to Goodyear’s defence, with National Post columnist Jonathan Kay characterizing the Globe & Mail article as a “witch hunt”.

So what does the prevalence of creationism (or at the very least, the hesitation to accept the strong scientific consensus) say about our culture?

When a person finds that an opinion (even if said opinion is a deeply held religious opinion) is contradicted by the scientific evidence, most reasonable people would probably agree that this person has two real options: to impugn the evidence or to change the opinion. The choice that an individual makes may be in some sense mediated by the answer to this question: Does this person think that the evidence is contradicting the belief, or do they think that the belief is contradicting the evidence?

However, there is a hidden third option: to blithely ignore the conflict. Whether it takes the form of treating science as just another social construct, no more valid than any other, or of simply denying the necessity of basing one’s beliefs on evidence, this seems to be an increasingly popular tactic for coping with cognitive dissonance.

The fact remains that we now live in a culture in which personal opinion and scientific evidence are, in the eyes of many, given equal weight. We live in a culture in which it is commonplace for a person, upon finding that established science contradicts their personal opinion, to say, “All the worse for science!” This is troubling.

It seems that many people treat their opinions about science (or politics, for that matter) in the same way they treat their preferred sports teams. These opinions are strongly influenced by social and geographical factors, but that doesn’t prevent anyone from strongly and cheerfully proclaiming the superiority of their side of the argument—and in both cases, people are unlikely to be swayed by the evidence (sorry, Maple Leafs fans).

In fact, for people who hold strong opinions on any subject, evidence that contravenes the opinion is actually likely to strengthen the opinion, rather than erode it. This phenomenon is known as the “backfire effect“. A widely reported study on the subject (as it relates to factual claims in politics) was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgia State University in 2006, and it concluded that “corrections fail to reduce misperceptions for the most committed participants. Even worse, they actually strengthen misperceptions among ideological subgroups in several cases.”

No one can be completely immune to the backfire effect (or to any other cognitive bias). But if your primary conviction is to the method rather than to the conclusion, then perhaps you will be better equipped to recognise that it is your opinion that is in need of correction.

So what does creationism say about our culture? That, at the very least, we must remain vigilant.

Announcing Bad Science Watch!

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New watchdog targets bad science in policy and regulation nationwide

Toronto, ON – Monday, July 9th, 2012 – Bad Science Watch, a new Canadian science advocacy group, has issued a challenge to the Canadian government: stick to the science in the development and implementation of important policy decisions. This group will work diligently to ensure Canadians are protected from exploitation by unscrupulous organizations peddling useless and potentially harmful products and services.

Bad Science Watch strives to serve as a key Canadian lobbying organisation, dedicated to challenging lax consumer protection measures and fighting for the rights of Canadians to accurate information when making decisions which affect their health, prosperity and well-being.

“The Canadian public has been poorly-served by a government which displays little respect for objectivity and science,” said Bad Science Watch Executive Director, Jamie Williams. “Consequently, weak consumer protection regulations allow the sale of products and services that don’t work, and Canadians are exploited by the unscrupulous or misinformed.”

Bad Science Watch will announce details of its first projects in the coming weeks. Among them: targeting bogus food-intolerance testing in Canadian drugstores, and an intensive investigation into the state of the Canadian anti-WiFi lobby.

“Bad Science Watch will fill a unique role as the only national organization in Canada with a focus on strengthening consumer protection against bad science,” explained Chair of the Board of Directors, Michael Kruse. “With a strong commitment to the most professional and transparent non-profit practices, our experienced Board of Directors, Steering Committee, and Executive are striving to create the most effective and consistently successful force countering bad science in Canada.”

Canadians interested in volunteering and donating to Bad Science Watch can find more information at www.badsciencewatch.ca. Bad Science Watch can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

For media enquiries, or additional information, please contact:

Jamie Williams
Executive Director
Bad Science Watch
jwilliams@badsciencewatch.ca
1-888-742-3299 x 102

Bad Science Watch
180 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M3K 3P5
Tel: 1-888-742-3299
Fax: 1-888-813-3569
Email: info@badsciencewatch.ca


Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

Bad Science Watch is funded by individual donations, and is committed to organizational transparency.

Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

Episode 23: Justice and Hate Crimes

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Greg Christensen, Ali Ashtari, and Jeffrey Olsson talk about Canadian hate crime legislation and freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Bill C-10 & Minimum Sentences | Iranian Rapper Facing Death Threats | Atheist Murdered in Texas | Ernst Zundel | David Ahenakew | Summary of Hate Crime Definition | Criminal Code of Canada | Statistics on Canadian Hate Crimes | Effect of Hate Crime on Victims | References to Notable Canadian Hate Crime Convictions | Hate Crime in Canada: An Overview of Issues and Data Sources

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Prayer at City Hall

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

On Tuesday, I was contacted by a producer with Radio-Canada (the French division of CBC) for an interview. They were putting together a téléjournal (television news) piece about prayer in Winnipeg City Council meetings, and were hoping for comment from the Winnipeg Skeptics. I agreed to speak with them, and also attempted to put them in contact with Jeff Olsson of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba and Robert McGregor of the Winnipeg Secularists (who, I informed them, had put together a petition on precisely this subject).

Robert McGregor speaks to Catherine Dulude. Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Winnipeg City Council generally starts the day with a prayer—see, for example, the minutes from the City Council meeting on 25 April 2012. (The minutes of all City Council meetings can be found here.)

There were several points that I stressed in the interview, which I’ll summarize here.

First of all, while the Winnipeg Skeptics has no official position with regard to any particular religious claim (except for those that relate to science, such as creationism), the organisation is supportive of secular government over sectarian government.

It is true that Canada doesn’t have a constitutional separation of church and state; indeed, while we have no official religion, our head of state is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That said, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.

I have no problem with members of City Council praying privately. I would never ask a politician to “check their religion at the door”. But when religious observance is carried out by an elected body that is meant to represent the people, that religious observance is effectively being carried out on behalf of the people. Canada’s government is committed (nominally, at least) to multiculturalism and religious pluralism. It seems to me that, in such a nation, governmental entanglement with religious practice (such as prayer) should be minimized.

Even the most benign, vague, and seemingly inoffensive prayers can be divisive. A simple prayer to “God” may be offensive to a deist, who may not believe in an interventionist god, or to a Hindu, who may believe in many. Members of minority religious or cultural groups may see governmental prayer as another way in which they are marginalized.

As is to be expected, the five-minute discussion that I had with the journalist was cut down to a single soundbite—but one that accurately represented my position—while Robert McGregor was (appropriately) given a more extensive interview. I thought that the finished piece (which is a distinctly Manitoban combination of French and English) was very good, and you can view it here.

Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Less good was the online article summarizing the téléjournal piece, which identified me as the organiser of the Winnipeg Secularists and seemed generally convinced that Robert and I were the same person. This has since been corrected, but until about an hour ago still listed my name as “Greg”.

If you don’t read French, feel free to have Google translate the article for you. Alternatively, there is a similar article (bereft of any reference to yours truly) on CBC. The usual caveats against reading the comments section apply, of course.