All posts filed under: Top Stories

What’s Wrong With the New Australian Curriculum?

In education, we have lots of wars. There are the math wars, the reading wars, and the ongoing culture wars. What is less common is for all of these wars to ignite at once along with the declaration of a new war or two, just for the heck of it. That happened in Australia last week when the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority released its draft version of a new Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum is a strange beast. Australia is a federation of states and territories. Responsibility for education largely lies with these states and territories and so some choose to issue their own curriculum documents that are supposed to align with the national version, whereas others adopt the Australian Curriculum straight. It’s one of those messy compromises that is a feature of evolved systems of government but that you would never design if you had a blank sheet of paper. Let’s be clear—curriculums should be contentious. The US does not have a national curriculum and it is easy to imagine the scale …

Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe—A Review

A review of Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson. Allen Lane, 496 pages (May 2021) Viewed from a certain angle, history appears to be the legacy of our errors—the record of humanity risking too much and anticipating too little, getting things wrong and getting them wrong all over again. If there is a fatal flaw (in a Greek sense) that underwrites our experience of history and gives it a tragic aspect, it is—to appropriate a phrase from Kierkegaard—that we are doomed to live it forwards and understand it backwards. In his novel, The Plot Against America, Philip Roth called this “the relentless unforeseen,” the treadmill of the unknowable on which we are forever running. Roth’s novel—in which the isolationist celebrity Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and signs a peace treaty with Imperial Japan and the Third Reich—inverts our conception of catastrophe: America avoids the disasters of Pearl Harbor and the Second World War, but inherits other kinds, as the country finds itself insidiously neutral towards Nazi Germany, anti-Semitism festers, …

Identity and the Self in ‘Hamlet’

“Who’s there?” These are the two words that begin Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is primarily this question, and not “To be or not to be?” with which Hamlet wrestles throughout the play. The two words are spoken from one soldier to another; Elsinore’s castle guards are on the midnight shift, and on the face of it, the words simply set the stage for the time and place. (Shakespeare’s theatre had limited technology for special effects and set pieces, so atmosphere had to be invoked entirely with words.) But on another level, one that Shakespeare clearly intended, the question is an existential one, as is the more confounding response of the other watchman: “Nay, answer me. Stand, and unfold yourself.” This call-and-response poses a number of questions. Who are other people? How can we know that what others reveal to us is the real them? How do I “unfold” myself to others? Who am I, under my “folds”? Am I what I show others? Something deep within? Is my identity a series of socially constructed layers? Or …

Gaslighting the Concerned Parents of Trans Children—A Psychotherapist’s View

I first met Jo and Carol in Manchester two years ago, when I spoke as a clinician on a panel at what is believed to be the first conference dedicated to the issue of detransitioners (people who once presented themselves as transgender, but then decided to live in accordance with their biological sex). At this event, seven young women spoke publicly about why they transitioned, why it wasn’t successful, and how they came to the decision to detransition. All of these women had undergone mastectomies, and some had hysterectomies and even oophorectomies (the removal of both ovaries). They had all taken testosterone, which permanently deepened their voices, and gave rise to new forms of body and facial hair. Although they had experienced much in their lives, none was over the age of 25. As you might imagine, these testimonials were shocking and harrowing. Jo and Carol both have daughters embroiled in the trans-activist cause. (As at all points in this piece, I am using terms such as “girl,” “boy,” “son,” and “daughter” in reference to …

When Journalism Blurs Into Activism—A Canadian Case Study

This all began with an imaginary teachers’ manual. It ended with us challenging Canada’s self-described “national newspaper” about a range of stories in which ideologically-driven narratives seemed to trump fact. We are two long-in-the-tooth Canadian journalists who began our careers in the 1980s. We’ve written investigative pieces about AIDS, alternative medicine, drug-money laundering, health fraud, and chiropractic (which we co-authored a book about in 2003). Paul also has been a journalism professor at the University of Western Ontario, while Wayne founded Southam InfoLab, a research unit for a large Canadian newspaper chain. While neither of us is a scientist or mathematician by training, we learned that the correct reporting of facts and data is an important component of good journalism. We also learned how easy it is for even objective journalists to garble, ignore, or misunderstand the numbers they cite in their articles. Many writers, ourselves included, start their careers with only a tenuous grasp of many basic mathematical concepts. We generally either teach ourselves how to become informed and competent laypeople, or we recognize our …

James Baldwin and the Trouble with Protest Literature

“The hardest thing in the world to do,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1934 article for Esquire, “is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out.” Of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he quipped, “see how you will have to skip the big Political Thought passages, that he undoubtedly thought were the best things in the book when he wrote it, because they are no longer either true or important, if they ever were more than topical, and see how true and lasting and important the people and the action are.” Hemingway was not discounting the political, merely clarifying its relationship to literature. “Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study up about. If you write them truly they will have all the economic implications a book can hold.” Be it a piece …

Why Climate Science Is Like the Rest of Science

Recent White House initiatives suggest that addressing climate change has risen to the policy forefront of government at the presidential level for the first time in US history. Last week President Biden convened an online international meeting of heads of state on the issue and committed the US to a dramatic effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level of 50 percent of emissions in 2005 by the year 2030, which will require unprecedented action and cooperation between government and major industries. By and large, the public’s mood has shifted from one of skepticism to support, but because the issue is so deeply embedded in scientific predictions whose details are often absent in popular discussions, statements from prominent scientists have great potential to influence the debate. As a theoretical physicist whose primary research has been in what is often called “fundamental physics” I am acutely aware that my colleagues can project an air of superiority in being dismissive of other disciplines and the scientists who labor in them. My late friend and colleague Freeman …

Emotional Realism and The Enduring Art of Caravaggio

At a small auction house in Madrid there briefly appeared a very dark, very brown painting of Christ being presented to the people before his crucifixion: “ecce homo”, says Pilate—behold the man. A dirty old varnish obscures many of the painting’s finer details; but even so, art dealers around the world thought it might be something special—nothing at auction goes unnoticed now, in the Internet age—and they were plotting between themselves how best to snap it up. Their excessive enthusiasm helped to alert the Spanish authorities who quickly then pulled the painting out of the auction and slapped an export ban on it, pending further investigation. The dealers’ enthusiasm and the authorities’ caution will be justified, though, if the painting turns out as expected to be a lost original by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), who has become by far the most popular of all old master painters. It is not so surprising that some of Caravaggio’s paintings should still be flying under the radar, because, even though he was extremely famous during his short …

When Will Activists (and the Media) Get Honest About Police Shootings?

Minutes before Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts of murder and manslaughter, Ma’Khia Bryant, a black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, was shot dead by police. Almost immediately, enraged protestors gathered outside police headquarters. “Say Her Name!” they chanted. The New York Times reported that the girl’s grieving mother, Paula Bryant, had told WBNS that her daughter was “a very loving, peaceful little girl.” In an attempt to correct a tendentious version of events immediately promoted by civil rights attorney Ben Crump (and uncritically repeated by the Times) in which the young victim was described as unarmed, the Columbus police department took the unusual step of releasing the officer’s body-worn camera video the same day. During a briefing at which the footage was exhibited for the press, police played the video twice, the second time in slow motion—because events on the ground escalated with such rapidity that it’s the only way to follow what happened: The police officer gets out of his squad car and approaches a group of people milling about in …

When Men Behave Badly—A Review

A review of When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault by David M. Buss, Little, Brown Spark, 336 pages (April 2021) Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology. Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or …