New tools for privacy

On-line surveillance, whether by companies, criminals or governments, is a worrying reality of our present time. A recent survey showed that feelings around government surveillance are quite mixed, though I’d say too much in favour. The same survey’s results on privacy (generally not related to government surveillance) seem more heartening but show large disparities between different countries.

In this context of widespread surveillance, I think it is important to have some idea of tools that can help protect oneself while on-line. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a new tool, Privacy Badger, which aims to help protect against third parties tracking your browsing across multiple sites. This should help protect against “canvas fingerprinting” which records your information about your computer (and in Slate) and settings which may allow it to be identified on different sites. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Dogs and fish

This first story concerns the intelligence of dogs and the perception of dog owners’ about the intelligence of dogs. As per the io9 article title, people think their dogs are a lot smarter than they actually are. The closer people are to their dogs, the more they overestimate their dog’s intelligence.

This second story is a bit concerning. It started as a great story about a 12-year-old girl’s science fair project which made ecologists stop and think about an invasive fish. Now it’s taken a darker turn and appears that the project was not as original as the media attention made it out to be and the credit should actually be going to a young scientist. It turns out that the girl’s project is based on work that this guy had already done and published and that the girl’s father is friends with the young scientist’s former supervisor. While it’s still great for the girl, it’s not fair that the scientist is now being ignored and losing the credit.

Animals in zoos

White Bengal Tiger at Cougar Mountain Zoo.

In a sense this post serves as a follow up to one of the links in a previous post of mine. I linked to a piece that argued that animal captivity was not inherently wrong and which detailed a number of ways in which captivity might actually be better for the animal. I would agree that there are occasions when captivity is ethical and/or necessary but I got the feeling that I would find much fewer occasions than the author would. I want to now draw people’s attention to an article published last month in Slate which looks at how zoos are bad for animals. Continue reading

World Humanist Day

Today is World Humanist Day which serves to celebrate and promote secular humanism. Although I’m a bit apprehensive about the name, humans are not the only creatures that are important, it’s still an important movement with which I share a number of goals. There is a long post about the history of humanism on Wikipedia but, for those who are not familiar with it, the International Humanist and Ethical Union defines it as follow.

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

These are important points for us to move forward as a society and not live in the sort of world where people are sentenced to death for marrying someone of a different religion or a society where someone can sell medicine that has no effect just because they dreamed it up. The British Humanist Association recently put a series of videos describing humanism that were narrated by Stephen Fry and deserve a look. They give the humanist answers to questions about morality, truth and how we find meaning in our lives.

Lastly, and related, I want to bring attention to a petition for secularism in South African schools. Secularism isn’t only important for atheists, it’s important to everyone who wants the freedom to believe what they want. It means that people can not discriminate or impose their views just because they are Christian and you are Muslim, or they are Hindu and you are an atheist.

What about demographic representation?

South African politics can be amusing and it can also be surprising what upsets people. The new big controversy has been a cartoon published by Eye Witness News which has been condemned as racist. Even more ridiculous, the ANC actually claims the cartoon undermines the democratic process. Sure, it’s going to upset some people but it’s hardly undermining democracy. Continue reading