What is the point of the justice system?

This story is totally ridiculous. The entire point of a justice system should be to reform criminals so that they can return to society. Now I’ve heard of story where a man, due to an error, was not sent to jail. In the meantime though, he hasn’t been out committing crimes. He started a family, started businesses, made no attempt to hide and has essentially been a model citizen. When he was going to be released, they realised he wasn’t in jail and arrested him. Now they want him to server his 13 year sentence. More details available from the Riverfront Times here and here. That is totally pointless! It’s pure retributive “justice” that seeks only to punish. It’s ethically indefensible and serves absolutely no practical purpose.

There is a Change.org petition for his release.

Indulging superstitions comes at a real cost

Often we think of people’s superstitions as harmless quirks that have are easily tolerated. No one gets hurt if someone says a prayer before eating, refuses to walk under a ladder or doesn’t go out on Friday the 13th. Those are all superstitions, ie irrational beliefs in the supernatural, but ones that are so common or harmless that we give them a free pass. When some people take their superstitions to even greater extremes, like claiming lego will destroy children’s souls or that Dungeons and Dragons is evil, we find it ridiculous but don’t pay it much attention other than as a curiosity. Continue reading

Eureka! Canny crows figure out water displacement to get noms

Jason Bosch:

Rather than rewrite everything myself I will just reblog this post on a new study of crow intelligence that I found on WEIT. For what it’s worth, I believe there was a paper a year or two ago that found human children performed about the same in these tasks as crows did. I will have to go reread it before I can say for sure though.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

In the Aesop fable “ The Crow and the Pitcher, ” a thirsty crow manages to get water out of a near-empty jar by dropping pebbles into it, raising the water level so he could reach it with his beak. The moral was “Little by little does the trick.”

That fable is a title reference in a new a new paper in PLoS ONE by Sarah Jelbert et al. (reference and free download below), showing that crows can not only displace water this way—in this case to get a treat, not a drink—but also understand some principles of water displacement: use heavy rather than floating “stones,” avoid hollow objects, use vessels where the water level is higher rather than lower, and—it doesn’t work with sand.

The authors used six wild New Caledonian Crows (Corvus moneduloides), a species already known for its smarts and its ability to use tools (see…

View original 1,070 more words

Pew Forum quiz on religious knowledge

A recent post on Pharyngula points to a religious knowledge quiz from the Pew Forum. It contains 15 questions from a more extensive survey that was conducted on a representative sample of US adults. It’s an old quiz but it’s still interesting and allows people a chance to see how good their religious knowledge is. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Animals and food

Tauriq Moosa has a new essay looking at the ethics of keeping animals in captivity. He claims that it is not always wrong, and I’d agree that there are times when it can be right. It seems as though we’d disagree exactly how often that is but he does bring up a number of points that are worth thinking about.

The other two links concern animals as food; something that I see fellow South African Jacques Rousseau thinks should end in his lifetime: Continue reading

Scientific literacy in South Africa

General science education in South Africa is in a terrible state. Recently, a survey was conducted among 1000 South Africans. They were asked 10 true or false questions about general science and, as Rapport reports (The article is in Afrikaans because the English versions only report on that article and are pathetic in comparison), the average South African only got five answers correct. These same questions were also asked in the United States where the average person got 6,5 questions correct. Since there is a lot of confusion over these questions I would like go through them, share the correct answer and briefly expand on it. Continue reading

Trip to OIST and Japan

Shisa standing guard at the entrance to Seaside House.

Shisa standing guard at the entrance to Seaside House.

I’ve recently returned from my first trip outside of South Africa, which saw me heading to Japan via Dubai. After a little more than 20 hours travelling (not counting the waiting time in airports), I made it to Seaside House. Seaside House is located on the coast in Onna and is part of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) where I had been invited to attend the admissions workshop for their PhD programme. Continue reading