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A Scientific Rant

Maybe I’m just getting old, but lately I am finding more and more that there are two groups of Face Book users who really rile me.

The first is the self-righteous group of do-gooders, whether they are vegans, fur-lovers, tree huggers or adhere to any other cause which seems to turn presumably normal, sane human beings into viragos attempting to digitally beat the rest of us into submission.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel strongly about humane treatment of farm animals, am at the moment looking for an older rescue dog to join our family as a friend for my adored, breeder-bought pom, and can even get quite emotional about trees, especially in fall.

My gripe is with those who, with no knowledge of (or even interest in) the circumstances, have no hesitation in tearing apart a total stranger because they may have a different opinion.  Since when did social media become a dictatorship?

The second group that has me tearing my hair out are the conspiracy theorists.  I’m not talking about the flat earthers, or even those who are convinced that the whole moon landing was faked and that the planes which criss-cross our skies are trailing plumes of toxic gasses – presumably those responsible for the latter are all safely ensconced with their loved ones in air proof bunkers so as not to succumb to the fumes.

These are merely entertaining and do no harm.

No, the group which worries me the most are those who constantly advise their followers to ‘do your research’ while at the same time denigrating any professional or academic studies. Research, apparently, can only safely be done on Google and anyone who is accepted by their peers in any field must obviously be suspect.  Their postings are often preceded by statements like “things your doctor won’t tell you” or things Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know”.  Big Pharma and Big Agri feature often in these rantings, whereas there is no mention of Big Organics, which rakes in millions every year.

Doctors, who spend years studying, and racking up a fortune in student loans doing so, are – according to this section of the Face Book community – only in it to support Big Pharma and have no interest in actually curing their patients.  Either that or these gullible professionals just blindly follow the teachings of their professors who, for some reason or other, are hell bent on disseminating the untruths which apparently plague the medical profession.

Where this group differs from the first is the extraordinary amount of harm they can do.

Natural cancer cures are one example.  Since, it seems, doctors are determined to kill off their patients with chemotherapy and radiation, cancer sufferers are urged instead to eat only organic plant food and use coffee enemas (to name but a couple of alternative ‘cures’). And when, horrors, the patient still dies, the proponents of these treatments blame the patient for the failure[1].

And then, of course, there are the anti-vaxxers.  Just when it seemed we had managed to eliminate many of the diseases which maimed and killed our parents and grandparents, a whole group of vociferous individuals with no scientific background at all has convinced so many people that vaccinating their children is exposing them to dreaded consequences, that diseases like measles, mumps and even diphtheria are making a come back.  This is not entertaining, it is both frightening and appalling.

Science was considered very suspect in the early 17th century, to the extent that scientists like Galileo were branded heretics and forced to recant. Today, centuries later, many on social media seem determined to reject any scientific evidence in favour of the emotional or the anecdotal.     The only difference today is that, instead of being excommunicated from the church for believing in science, those of us who are inclined to place our confidence in that which is tested and proven are likely to be branded as shills for companies like Montsano.  Nothing much changes.

 

“The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and … attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.”

— Alhazen (965–1039)

 

[1] https://www.naturalnews.com/049722_cancer_treatment_natural_remedies_common_mistakes.html#

February 24, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Why Spelling is Important

 

When I started lecturing at University I was surprised to find that spelling and grammar was not to be a factor in marking as long as the essay/exam was understandable.  I imagine it would have been different if I had been teaching an English class but my area of expertise is child development and I was lecturing in the Education Department. I still shudder to think of the variety of written English been taught by some of my ex-students!

Of course English writing, and therefore spelling, is based on the Roman alphabet which dates back to the 600’s and was developed for a language which is phonologically very different to English.  To overcome this digraphs – sh, th, ch, and gh were created to represent sounds not readily available in the existing alphabet, which made for some interesting spelling, for example enough and high

Generally though, in the Middle Ages, writers spelt words phonetically.  The problem with this was that, with all the regional dialects in the UK at the time, there was no consistency in the pronunciation of words.  Night, for example, had more than 60 different spellings. including nyght and nicht.  Drowgh and trghug, among other variations, were both acceptable ways to spell through; and cloudy could be rendered clowdie, clowdy, or clowdye, just to mention a few.

For hundreds of years writers gaily went their own myriad ways, with spelling, punctuation and grammar being matters of individual preference.  Then came the advent of the printing press in 1452, which made the written word more accessible to the common man.  Before then books were laboriously copied out by hand, often by monks, and were only available to those in the upper echelons of society who could afford them.

With the printing press, of necessity, spelling became more uniform.  This made reading and interpreting the writers’ ideas a whole lot easier.  Whereas before the same phrase could be written “Trghug the clowdye nicht”, or “Drowgh the clowdy nyght”, or even  “Yhurght the clowdie nihte”,  the use of the printing press ensured that at least some effort was made to come to an agreement about the spelling of most common words.  This doesn’t imply that writers immediately began expressing themselves in standardised English.  In fact, most letters, diaries and other handwritten documents continued to display a very varied choice of spelling. Nor does it imply that the most logical forms of words were chosen as the standard for spelling. To try to bring some order into the system reformers in the 16th century tried using the etymology of a word to determine its spelling.  For example the word double originated from the French doble.  Sometimes this worked, but just as often it didn’t.

To add to the confusion there were considerable changes in spoken English around about the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the now fairly standardized written form of the language remained much the same.

And then, just when we thought we had it all worked out, in the early 17th century Britain started to colonize America and it all fell apart again.  Today the differences in British and American spelling seem to revolve around the KISS principle.  Whereas British English steadfastly retains most of the quirks of centuries of spelling traditions, the Americans seem determined to keep it all as simple as possible.  So, for example, they dropped the redundant ‘u’ –  colour became color, neighbour became neighbor, behaviour became behavior. And they dropped the extra ‘l’s’ – cancelled became canceled and modelling became modeling, except where the British version of a word has one ‘l’, whereupon, presumably to be contrary, they added one – so wilful became willful Then they turned ‘s’ into ‘z’ (and, to add insult to injury started calling it zee instead of zed).

But we adjusted, dividing English spelling into two camps in the northern hemisphere  – American and British – with Canadian spelling hovering uncomfortably between the two. And again a reasonable compromise seemed to have been reached, until social media appeared and suddenly any gains made over the past fifteen centuries fell by the wayside.  With auto-correct barely keeping our online correspondence coherent, abbreviations, hashtags and  other examples of ‘text-speak’ are the order of the day.

So what do we do? Revert to the idiosyncratic, individualized spelling and grammar of the middle ages? And, in view of its shady past, is spelling that important anyway?

Surprisingly it is.  Firstly misspelt words do affect textual communication, they can drastically change the meaning of a sentence and make it almost impossible to read, however versed in textese one may be and, secondly, while this might come as a surprise to some, sending out a resume full of spelling and grammar errors is still almost certain to put you out of the running for your dream job.  Rightly or wrongly glaring mistakes tend to make you appear less intelligent than you may be.

Still not convinced? According to a 2009 study done by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com 45 percent of employers interviewed used social networks to screen applicants; and of the 35 percent who decided not to offer a job based on the applicants’ social media content, 29 percent did so because of poor online communication skills. https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/more-employers-use-social-networks-to-check-out-applicants/

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Language | Leave a comment