Episode 89 – 17th June 2011

We speak to Tim Harford, go on a Slutwalk and find out about the oldest example of biomineralisation in a fossil, and why it’s important. And more!



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Oldest Example of Biomineralisation (1:38) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Phoebe Cohen)
Slutwalk (11:28) by Christine Ottery
Pro-NCH (19:01) by James Firth
Anti-NCH (25:26) by Misty
Tim Harford Interview (30:26) by Dr*T
The Daily Express is Misleading (39:13) by Tom Hodden
FFRF vs The Rapture (45:51) by Salim Fadhley
Smellytweet Update (56:46) by James Thomas
The song at the end is by David Lovesy

Follow-Up Links:

12 thoughts on “Episode 89 – 17th June 2011

  1. ‘Men still have no idea what “no” means, a lot of the time’

    Even with the hastily added qualification, “a lot of the time” is less than 1% of UK men on average committing one rape per year – based on roughly 18,000,000 adult males in the UK and 12,000 rapes reported to the police per year. This isn’t a lot of the time, its a vanishingly small minority. But hey, I would say that – I’m a bloke and therefore almost certainly a rapist!

  2. Unfortunately Pete, you have had to base that figure on reported inncidents. Although the number of men who are rapists is a tiny minority, and is probably somewhere around your estimate we have to consider that there is reasonable data suggesting that sexual offences are under reported, before taking into consideration the nature that it is rarely random men, and is most likely a familial offense most of the time.

    All too often the reaction I encounter when discussing the topic is the rahter base “that hardly counts” or “that is a grey area” we witnessed recently from many commentators on the allegations against Julian Assange. What ever good or bad WikiLeaks has done, there was an assumption the allegations were not worth the fuss with out wanting to look too closely. If those claims were “nothing” andmany assumed the girls must have implied consent while being asleep, and hey they were in the same bed… etc, we can only wonder how many identical inncidents are not reported.

    It is by no means “men” as a whole,or exclusively a male trait, but we have far too little data to say for sure how small a minority we are talking about.

  3. There is no way to know how many rapes are unreported, so I based my estimated based on the only hard data I could find (from the Stern Review of Rape Reporting, if you are interested).

    What is also unknown, from the data I can find, is how many accusations of rape are simply false. There is an unspoken assumption that any report of a rape that does not lead to a conviction is a guilty man walking free because of some kind of institutionalized sexism (which I never see proved, only suggested by the reporting of specific anecdotes, e.g. cherry-picked comments about the Assange case)

    Rape seems to trigger a sort of ‘conviction quota’ mentality in some people that I find quite chilling.

  4. I’m confused about all the fuss against the New College of the Humanities. I’ll start with what I do understand about the protests, and end up with why I don’t think the reasoning adds up to a real problem.

    Education should be free. Of course. The same opportunities for learning should be available to everyone.

    The NCH is not free. It’s rather far from it, in fact, and so flies in the face of the principle above. I understand that.

    Here’s where I lose the thread. Grayling and his associates want to offer an innovative university education. They want to try something that’s never been tried before, and which, if successful, may just catch on in UK universities across the board.

    Grayling is not a public official. He does not control the disposition of public funds.

    Grayling is also not wealthy enough to fund an entire university in perpetuity out of his own pocket.

    If Grayling wants to offer an innovative university education, just how is he supposed to do it except by charging fees commensurate with the cost of education? All this whinging about how expensive the NCH is can’t overcome this point.

    The NCH may revolutionize university education. If so, its methods may catch on in public universities and so become available to a wider audience. Alternatively, or concurrently, the NCH may attract endowments that allow it to expand its grants and bursaries (already planned for 20% of students.) But for now, there’s no way to get around the fee.

    Grayling wants to raise the bar for university education in this country. For a privileged few, certainly, but if all goes well that exclusiveness will erode as noted above. Those protesting the NCH seem more apt to attack innovators than to use their energies to advocate for more available and effective public education. They are lowering the bar for everyone.

    Grayling is not the Lib Dem party. Let’s keep the blame where it belongs.

    And one quick thing about the attacks on Richard Dawkins after the BHA talk. Dawkins didn’t say, “Well, cars are expensive too, so obviously you poor folks weren’t meant to have one.” His point was that, for those who can’t afford a car, attacking the carmakers is misplaced. The carmakers have neither the ability nor the incentive to offer their cars for free. Same for the NCH. If people truly want education to be free, they need to go after the only entity capable of making that happen: government. That’s what Dawkins was saying.

  5. It can indeed be off putting, and not just towards sex offences. Prejudicing judgement before the evidence is a no no. It also works both ways, and the slut walk organisers are quite right that some of the attitudes from those in the public eye can not be tolerated either; we can neither presume guilt, nor claim girls bring it on themselves, or that men in general are all alike. We should not generalise at all. As eachcaseis its own box ‘o’ horrors.

    But we also have to acknowledge the limitations of available data.

  6. I found a new rule for my rules for spotting fallacious arguments. Thanks.

    Rule # 247:
    Mimicking the opposition in a whiny voice is a red flag indicating a high probability of compound fallacies often with the primary fallacy being either red herring or ad hominem. (see examples: most any Pod Delusion episode)

  7. …But I have never done my Richard LittleJohn impression on the show. :( I’m not sure I have seen anybody mimic anybody else… Just talk about them sarcastically.

    I think Brian Dunnings “Trip through Logic Fallacies”, or the “Signs of Pseudoscience” (was that Sagan?) are more concise than your rules Bob.

  8. Re AC Grayling’s NCH, I’m with Christopher Petroni on this. I see it as a very brave venture for Grayling and others to embark upon. I wish it every success.

  9. Despite Misty’s report, I am still in the dark as to the actual objections to Grayling’s proposed new universities. I can see why she thinks some of the weaker arguments apparently put forward in support are false, but she seemed to think that it was so obviously wrong there was no need to actually try and explain why. Just knock down a couple of straw men arguments in favour and that means we are left with the default position that it is a bad thing.

  10. There must be something I’m missing, possibly on account of being American, because it seems weird to me that there’s the view in the UK that charging for a university education is somehow unforgivable. That the UK has been able to offer university education for free is amazing and something I rather wish the U.S. government would aspire to (instead of the state university systems raising tuition, reducing services, and raising the salaries of the highest-ranking school officials). Where I’m lost is what harm will be done by private universities. Apart from violating some unspoken principle, I’ve yet to see anyone cite even flimsy, hypothetical problems that might arise from the NCH.

  11. Raven, Christopher Petroni, it’s the fact that he’s offering something to the wealthy which is not available to the poor. When we’re talking about cars, people generally shrug and accept that that’s just how capitalism works. When we’re talking about education – something that has the potential to drastically effect the opportunities open to you for the rest of your life, people worry about a two-tier model where children of the wealthy can pay for the best education, and hence get the best jobs.

    Obviously this actually already happens in the UK with private schools, which get a far higher proportion of their students into top universities than state schools do. But if in the future some of the best universities are also available mainly to the rich (and people who can’t afford the fees – a vast majority – have to scrabble for the 20% of places with bursaries), that’s only going to reduce social mobility further. It’s possible that some innovative ideas might spread out from NCH to other universities, but that is not the only consideration. Graduates compete against each other for opportunities, and if the ones that could afford expensive private universities are always one step ahead of everyone else then we have a problem – it means able young people don’t get the opportunities they deserve, the country as a whole doesn’t offer its best education to those most able to benefit from it, and our politicians, business leaders and academics are disproportionately selected from the minority of people whose parents could afford to pay £18000 per year for their university education.

    Is this the Government’s fault? Yes, mostly. The trebling of fees to £9000 per year for those who can afford it and the way the new loan system works has opened up a commercial opportunity for those wanting to set up private universities. For those who would otherwise expect to pay back the full £9000 pounds a year, £18 000 per year in fees now doesn’t look quite so expensive as it used to.

    But it’s still legitimate to question whether Grayling is right to want to devote his time to heading a venture that aims to offer an elite education to a small minority whose parents can afford it.

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