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Archive July 2012

NZ Blog Rankings FAQ Ken Perrott Jul 31

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It’s almost time for posting the July NZ Blog Rankings. Every month after posting a get a rash of queries about the list, and requests from bloggers for inclusion. So here as list of frequently asked questions which readers can consult.
Don’t hesitate to ask if your question is not covered.


1: What is the NZ Blog Rankings?

Produced monthly, usually on the first of the month,  it is a list of NZ blogs, ranked by their activity.

2: Why bother ranking NZ blogs?

Because some people see a need for it. Here are some possible reasons for this

  • Some will just use it as a list of NZ blogs with links they can investigate.
  • Others are more interested in the blog activity.
  • NZ bloggers themselves may be interested to see where they rank, and how well other blogs with a similar agenda, or speciality, rank.
  • Some bloggers may use the list as way of advertising their blog – a list of links attracting readers

There are no doubt other reasons, but the fact that bloggers want to be included, or bloggers and readers keep referring to the list indicates it has a use. Every month I notice a surge of activity by readers checking out the blog links on the list.

3: How are blogs ranked?

Several different ranking methods have been attempted in New Zealand. For example, using the Technorati or Alexa ranking systems.  Each have their adherents and critics. In the end I concluded that ranking using actual blog statistics is probably the most useful and objective method. Blogs are ranked by visit numbers for the month, and page view numbers are also included.

4: Why are many NZ blogs not included?

The statistics used in the blog rankings are obtained automatically and need participating blogs to include a site meter to gather the data and to allow automatic access to the data. Many bloggers already do this for their own information. But not all blogs have site meters, or allow public access.

5: How do I include my blog

Just contact me using the contact form below or in About me. Let me know your blog URL and the URL for your sitemeter (this isn’t necessary if you have installed a link or widget on your blog that I can find).

I am happy to answer queries about the process but suggest that bloggers at least attempt to install a suitable site meter before proceeding.

6: What site meter should I use

That’s up to you – providing I can automatically access the data. Ones that NZ bloggers currently use include  in order of decreasing popularity):

7: How do I allow public access to my stats?

A few meters allow public access by default. Sitemeter and Statcounter need setting the access to public. It pays to read the instruction for installation.

For Sitemeter:

Have a look at this article. The privacy level is set from the Manager section under the “Privacy Level” link. The default setting is NORMAL which allows public access by clicking on your counter.

For Statcounter:

Go to Config.>Control User Access and Public Stats.>Choose “All stats are public.

8: What about mistakes?

We all make mistakes – even with an automatic system. Contact me using the form below if you come across a mistake and I will attempt to fix it. Mistakes are most likely just after first inclusion in the ranking database.

9: Why do some blogs rank a lot lower than expected?

usually this is because the blog’s site meter has stopped recording and sometimes happens after a blogger has reformatted their blog. Eventually the numbers get really low and I check the blog. If the site meter has been removed I usually delete the blog from the list.

10: How do I exclude my blog?

I generally add NZ blogs with publicly available stats I come across. If you find you are included and you want to opt out just contact me and I will delete your blog from the database.

If you have another question or wish to include (or exclude) your blog on the ranking list  please use the contact form below:

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

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So scientism = non-theism? Ken Perrott Jul 30

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I have concluded that anyone making accusations of “scientism” is just being dishonest. The term is usually used inappropriately, as a straw man, and in an attempt to claim “other ways of knowing” which are preferable to science. (But in a cowardly way, by attempting to discredit the science and not providing support for this “other way”).

But this is really stretching the strawmannery of “scientism.” It’s part of a BioLogos infographic portraying “America’s View on Evolution and Creationism.” It blatantly presents ”scientism” as the only alternative to creationist ideas (theistic evolution, intelligent design and creationism)  (See the original inforgraphic at Infographic: America’s View on Evolution and Creationism in Christianity Today or click here for full graphic).) You get the message – if your beliefs don’t rely on the magical thinking of “other ways of knowing” you are guilty of “scientism” – which is a bad thing.

Modern science relies on evidence and reason. It tests and validates its ideas and theories against reality. There is plenty of room for speculation but it’s very much reality driven. So far no scientific theories incorporate gods, angels, leprechauns or fairies. But that is not to say they are excluded – just that so far there is no evidence or need for such entities. If, and when, the evidence arrives we will happily include such ideas. (Just don’t go holding your breath).

But according to this infographic modern science is guilty of “scientism.”

Well, if that’s how you want to define “scientism” I am happy to be declared guilty. But you can’t use that as a term of derision.

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Saying it with flowers Ken Perrott Jul 29

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The opening ceremony for the London Olympics seemed to raise more political/ideological issues than usual. Which is a good thing.

But this was one result. The anonymous placing of flowers at the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst in West Brompton cemetery near Earl’s Court in West London. She was a leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote.

Not in response to Danny Boyle’s amazing presentation itself (although it did include this among other humanitarian issues) – but to the fact that for the first time all the competing teams include a female athlete.

What a nice thought!

Thanks to tweeted about the flowers.

What really happens in religious instruction classes? Ken Perrott Jul 26

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In the current public discussion of the religious instruction classes in New Zealand public schools I notice many Christians are also opposing the current system. I had thought “Good on them. They are seeing this the same way I am as a matter of fairness, human rights, and opposing indoctrination of children.” And those letter-to-the-editor writers supporting the current scheme all seem to use rather extreme arguments which are not common with reasonable Christians.

However, I came across this video recently which makes me wonder if another motive for Christian concern about religious instruction in our schools is the way the more extreme religious cults can make use of it for evangelism. It’s one thing to know your child is being tutored by a kindly old Anglican woman – but the thought of a strident Exclusive Brethren having access to your children is a worry.

The video is of a talk by Joel Pittman, a former Pentecostal religious instruction teacher in Australia. They call their classes Scripture Classes or Special Religious Instruction (SRI), but essentially they have the same system as ours with the public school theoretically closed and instruction provided from an outside provider.

Religious Education and the Pentecostal Movement – Joel Pittman, Skepticamp Sydney 2011.

Joel describes how evangelicals use SRI for evangelism, how they frighten children into “giving their lives to Christ” and then encourage them to attend youth camps where they can be further indoctrinated.

I am sure many moderate Christian would be concerned if this was happening in New Zealand. And I am not saying it necessarily is. After all, the video describes the Australian situation. But it is obviously possible. Some of the more fundamentalist churches do recognise the possibilities religious instruction offer them in New Zealand. And it’s not as if school boards or the Ministry of Education vets the curriculum used, or the tutors. (After all, the school closes during the religious instruction classes).

The Trust Board of the Churches Education Commission (CEC) (which is one of the main providers in New Zealand) has representatives from many Christian denominations. It also has a rule to “ensure that no more than 40% of the total number of trustees at one time are from any one Member Denomination.” That seems good, but doesn’t necessarily ensure that extremist denominations have no influence. And the fact that some parents report their children being taught creationist stories does suggest they do have some influence.

The current CEC board includes representatives from Methodist, Assembly of God, Anglicans, Open Brethren, Presbyterian and Salvation Army.  And their last financial return shows donations from Anglicans, Associating Churches and Ministries of New Zealand (self-described as “fundamental, evangelistic and Holy Spirit honouring”), Baptist, Christian Brethren, Methodist and New Life churches.

Joel Pittman makes the point that the fundamentalist churches in Australia have the cash and can often override the less financial but more moderate churches with provision of SRI tutors and resources. It would be horrible to think this may also be true in New Zealand. I am sure most Christians would be concerned if this were so.

Perhaps its time for a bit more transparency. Who are the teachers supplied for teaching religious education in our schools? What are their denominations, beliefs and agendas? And how do they really run the classes?

Thanks to Chrys Stevenson at Gladly, the Cross-Eyed BearWhat REALLY happens in your child’s Scripture class – and beyond …

See also
Human values are secular


Mixing values and Jesus in secular education

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What Is Life? From Schrödinger to Watson to Venter Ken Perrott Jul 25

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In February 1943 Erwin Schrödinger, delivered a seminal lecture, entitled ‘What is Life?’, under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, in Trinity College, Dublin. This was published as a book – What is Life?

Craig Venter revisited this question in a lecture “What is Life? A 21st century perspective” a week or so back. This was presented in Dublin at the Science in the City program of Euroscience Open Forum 2012 (ESOF 2012). Venter covers the history of research into the nature of life over the last 60 years – from Schrödinger’s lecture up to his own recent discoveries.

Also at this lecture was James Watson, one of the discovers of the helical structure of DNA. Watson briefly commented on Venter’s lecture – and left the audience with a typically provocative question – given the role of chemistry in life does any role remain for biologists?

The video of Venter’s lecture is about one hour-long, and the sound quality is not the best. But listen to it if you can. Alternatively the text of his lecture is at the Edge web page – WHAT IS LIFE? A 21st CENTURY PERSPECTIVE.

(Sorry, I can’t embed these edge videos).

There is a shorter version of Venter’s lecture given as an after dinner speech at the Edge Dinner in Tuirin a few days before – see J. CRAIG VENTER: THE BIOLOGICAL-DIGITAL CONVERTER, OR, BIOLOGY AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT.

If you prefer podcasts this weeks Guardian Science Weekly also covers Venter’s speech. Alok Jha interviewed Venter – part of the interview is in the regular podcast. The full interview is in a podcast extra.

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Their mission – values or advancement of religion? Ken Perrott Jul 23

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Colouring in for Jesus at a secular public school

The organisations providing religious instruction in public schools have become quite defensive in their reaction the comments from concerned parents in the media. Simon Greening, current Churches Education Commission Chief Executive claims their purpose is not missionary. They don’t wish to convert children to Christianity, just teach them values. Their aim is to “educate not evangelise.”

Problem is this current story conflicts with their earlier stories, and with the recorded aims of their organisation. Recently one of their newsletters described schools as an “under-utilised mission field”:

“Churches by and large have not woken up to the fact that this is a mission field on our doorstep. The children are right there and we don’t have to supply buildings, seating, lighting or heating, . .”

And they also encouraged Christian followers to join school boards so they could have “more influence” on holding religious study in class.

Tax-free status

Their current claims also look very disingenuous when you peruse their registration as a charity to get tax exemption. (Yes, we are subsidising their activities*). The Churches Education Commission Trust Board describes its charitable purpose, or the main sector under which they registered, as “religious activities” – that is the advancement of religion. Its main activity is providing “religious services / activities,” and its main beneficiaries are “Children / young people.”

They amplify their declared purpose in the rules provided for registration:

“The Commission’s Charitable Purpose is to advance education in New Zealand and to advance the Christian faith in New Zealand. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Commission will seek to achieve its Charitable Purpose by:
(a)     stimulating, servicing, supporting and co-ordinating the efforts of member churches and related organisations engaged in Christian and general education in New Zealand;
(b)      promoting and undertaking Christian religious education programmes in New Zealand;
(c)      by generally providing and assisting with the provision of Christian religious education in New Zealand schools and the wider community;
(d)     developing and supporting chaplaincy in New Zealand schools;
(e)     encouraging people to be involved as informed Christians in education as professionals, as parents, or as other citizens.”

I don’t think there is any doubt about it. Their main purpose is “Christian religious education” and advancement of “the Christian faith in New Zealand.”

They don’t include advancement of human values in any of their documents. Clearly they have just taken opportunist advantage of the inclusion of values in the secular curriculum of New Zealand’s public schools to advance their own religious agenda.

They really are treating these secular public schools as a “mission field.”

Should we be allowing people who are this disrespecting of the truth, and covert with their intentions, teach values to our children?


*Actually this organisation also gets other public money. Their last financial returns shows they received four grants totally $12,880 from Internal Affairs Community Organisation Grants Scheme for their work in the Auckland region. They must have been “pulling the wool” to get those grants because they are not meant to fund “Projects seeking to promote commercial, political or religious objectives.”

See also:
Human values are secular

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The story behind the High Court action Ken Perrott Jul 22

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Some readers may be unaware that New Zealand SciBlogs produces a weekly podcast (usually available Friday afternoon). It’s worth listening to as it provides a Kiwi angle on current science news.

The latest podcast (Episode 37 – Science on trial) will interest everyone concerned about climate change, and particularly the recent High court case taken by a climate change denial group against NIWA. There is a long interview with Gareth Renowden, a SciBlogger who writes for Hot Topic. Gareth has published a book on climate change (Hot Topic) and is a mine of information on the science and politics of the issue. He provides an in-depth analysis of the High Court case and the people behind it. Well worth catching up with.

Also on this last podcast is an interview with James Renwick, a climate scientist working at School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University. He comments on the current scientific and political situation regarding climate change.

via The Sciblogs Podcast.


And if you have the time why not go back and listen to previous SciBlogs podcasts. For instance Episode 34: Digital Earth 2.0 includes an interview with yours truly discussing my blog post on the changing face of Australia’s religious affiliations.

Ethical enquiry or moral instruction? Ken Perrott Jul 19

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There has been a raging debate locally about the religious instruction classes in New Zealand public schools. I commented before that the Churches Education Commission, who run this programme, are hiding behind the provision of values teaching in the school curriculum (see Human values are secular).

This is somewhat opportunist because it promotes the idea that religion is required to teach morality (“you can’t be good without God”) and that their activity accords with the secular curriculum. It also ignores the fact that values is already taught in the normal classes.

The video below gives some idea of how values can be taught as part of a secular curriculum – its worth comparing this with the bible story mythology used by the Churches Education Commission (I provided some examples of their curriculum in Human values are secular).

Primary Ethics – What Happens in an Ethics Class

The classes shown in the video were developed by the St James Ethics Centre in Australia. They were trialed as an alternative to the Scripture Instruction classes in a number of public schools in New South Wales. The trial was so successful a larger programme now operates and is provided by Primary Ethics Limited, a public company founded by the St James Ethics Centre. It is effectively operating in a similar manner to the Churches Education Commission here (school “closed” during lessons, voluntary teachers, etc) – except it does not yet have charitable tax exemption in the way that the church’s programme does. (It won’t be able to get it on grounds of advancing religion).

I am not suggesting this set-up as an alternative for New Zealand – partly because I can imagine that when a school is closed to provide separate Christian and secular classes (and logically Hindu, Muslim, etc., classes) the divisions created could cause playground trouble. In fact all children should participate together in a programme exploring human ethics, whatever their religion. Dividing children up according to sectarian interests would only impose moral instruction, which treats children as puppets to be indoctrinated, rather than training them to become morally autonomous.

If the current values component of New Zealand’s curriculum is done well I imagine classes would be similar to that shown in the video.

Below I have extracted some topics from the curriculum offered to children in NSW. Have a look and compare that with the mythology imposed on children by the Churches Education Commission in New Zealand’s religious instruction classes.

Kindergarten (Stage E1)

Thinking together

  • Asking good questions
  • Time for thinking
  • Taking turns – speaking and listening

Thinking together about questions that matter

Finding answers to different kinds of questions. Children will begin to distinguish ethical from other kinds of questions and learn how to disagree respectfully.

Putting it all together: ethical inquiry

Discussion topic: Being left out

Giving and asking for reasons

When should/do we give reasons? Giving reasons to our teachers, parents, friends, brothers or sisters

Needs of animals

What do animals need in order to live good lives?

Distinguishing social conventions from morals

Examples: Pushing in, staring, table manners, please and thank you.

Friendship

Why do people have friends? How do we know if someone is our friend? What makes a good friend?

Acting fairly

Discussing what is fair in a variety of situations familiar to Kindergarten students.

Telling a secret

A discussion around what secrets are and when it’s OK to share them and why.

Why do we have rules?

Do rules apply to everyone? What if there were no rules? Classroom/school-based examples.

Should we tell on people who do the wrong thing?

A discussion of what ‘doing the wrong thing’ means and asking the questions:

  • Should we always tell?
  • Should we never tell?
  • Should we sometimes tell?
  • How can we work it out?

Caring for the environment

Is it always OK to swing on the branches of a tree? Or to collect shells from the beach? Or catch tadpoles in the creek/small crabs/ insects…?
How do we decide what’s OK to do?

Year 6 (Stage 3.2)

A fair society?

Students will use The Outsiders story to consider issues of fairness in society.

Should Human Rights be extended to other animals?

Human rights: where do rights come from and how are they justified? What obligations do they impose on governments and individuals? To what extent, if any, should human rights be extended to other living creatures?

Fatalism

Are our futures and fates fixed? Does what we do today have any effect on what happens in the future?

Beliefs, Opinions, Tolerance and Respect

What does it mean to respect another person’s beliefs or opinions? Should we always respect the beliefs of others? To what extent should we be tolerant of moral difference?

Moral responsibility

To what extent can we be held morally responsible for our actions? What might it mean for society if it turned out that even our conscious decisions were determined in advance?

Drugs in Sport

Performance enhancing drugs are banned in all sports. Students will discuss the concept of unfair advantage and whether the taking of performance enhancing drugs is morally wrong.

Appeal to Authority – Revisited

To what extent do we still appeal unquestioningly to authorities in our everyday lives? What are the consequences of thinking and acting for one’s self? Students will look at examples of groups that have refused to follow blindly.

The value of nature and the environment.
Does nature have intrinsic value? Is the environment worthy of moral consideration just because it exists? Or does it have value only because it meets human needs?

Can war ever be just?

What is wrong with war? Is it ever right to go to war? Students will examine the issue of pacifism and non-violence (e.g., Ghandi) and discuss if there is a moral way to conduct war.

An ethical life

Consideration of our moral responsibility to others. To what extent do we have a responsibility to continue examining and discussing ethical issues once we leave Primary Ethics classes? Should we always stand up for our beliefs?


I think such discussion topics would be a very useful part of values classes – and I am sure the kids would enjoy the discussion.

See also: Primary Ethics Curriculum.

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Scepticism, denial and the high court Ken Perrott Jul 18

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Currently the NZ High Court is hearing a case brought against NIWA by a local climate change denial group.* You can catch up with the background and progress at When asses go to court, When asses go to law, Exclusive: Flat Earth Society appeal to NZ climate sceptics – join us! and Niwa breaching its duties with figures – sceptics group

The most interesting aspect of this trial will be the judge’s verdict and reasons. But at this stage I just want to justify my description of the complainants as climate change deniers rather than sceptics (a term I know they prefer – although one of them is objecting even to that (see Four go a-court, with a hey, nonny-no). To me it all boils down to questions of  “good faith.”

We have plenty of debates in science – and sometimes these can become heated. But they are important to the whole enterprise. Ideas and theories must be tested against reality, and that testing should be done collectively – individuals are too prone to bias. So argument, debate and testing against reality is what keeps us honest.

But of course that debate must be carried out in “good faith.” With the intention of exposing errors and coming to a resolution which provides a better picture of reality. From my perspective scepticism is part of the process and there is plenty of room for sceptics in science – including climate science. Honest, good faith, scepticism can only be good.

So what about “deniers.” Well, the difference here is that their “scepticism” is not aimed at improving our knowledge, or of furthering truth, but in discrediting that knowledge. By now we have all become used to the climate change denial activity, its sneering attitude towards science and the facts, and the support it gets from the fossil fuel industry and extreme right-wing and conservative politicians.

But here’s a little guide I came across which helps illustration the difference between scepticism and denial. It’s from Get Energy Smart! NOW! and the post is titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire …” Differentiating Skeptic from Denier. (I sort of think the childishness of the title is appropriate in this case).

The post contrasts Legitimate scientific scepticism with denialism. Here’s an extract:

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

Denialism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Here’s an analysis of how that data set impacts your overall result.”

Denialism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

Denialism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Get it yet?

Actually, for anyone who has delved into the blogs, comments sections and forums of the climate change denial echo chamber the spite and sneering is not far from “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

I look forward to the High Court verdict.


*This denier group is rather weird. It calls itself the “New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust,” and is known as a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition – a local denier group with links to the US Heartland Institute and other right-wing think tanks. It originally attempted to register as a charity and was actually listed for a short time in the NZ Charities register. Now it has been removed!

Perhaps their registration was rejected, possibly because of its political nature or its unwillingness to provide financial reports. Or perhaps they decided that there was little mileage (and little support) from going down the charity road and it has fallen back on deeper financial pockets.

It might need them.

Image credit: Dirty Bandits

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William Lane Craig’s philosophy – the condensed version Ken Perrott Jul 16

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PZ Myers can certainly find the right turn of phrase – or cartoon. I thought this one in his post Plaintive logic made a necessary point.

What is it with philosophers of religion and syllogisms? They seem to think that simply listing their (usually faulty) premise and a conclusion somehow provides a water-tight deduction. Good enough to prove that their loving god created the universe, was also responsible for morality and fine tuning! Apparently also responsible for the logic they use (which is convenient).

Or are they just demonstrating they can count to 3 (or 5)?


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