Thursday, June 25, 2009

Salad Dodging

The traditional playground taunt directed at fat people is 'salad dodger', but it seems that avoiding salads could be a good idea - apparently many pre-packaged salads have more fat/calories than a BigMac and fries!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music as Cure

One aspect of art and society that Plato wanted to regulate was the musical modes, suggesting that the ideal city should only allow those that breed good characters. It's now been shown, not particularly surprisingly, that music can affect blood flow and breathing. This suggests that it may have medical uses. I wonder why such studies are always done with classical/operatic music though?

Religious Attitudes to Organ Donation

One thing I've recently been thinking about is organ procurement, and in particular possible objections to an opt-out (or 'presumed consent') system. It's often suggested that this may violate the conscience of certain religious groups, e.g. because they think their bodies must be buried whole if they are to have an afterlife. It's pleasing to see that a variety of UK religious leaders consider organ donation a moral duty.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Light Switches and Religion

One of the things I'm teaching today is multiculturalism, which raises the issue of exemptions from laws for certain groups. A classic example is the fact that Sikhs don't need to wear motorcycle helmets. It's not obvious that this exemption is justified. If the law is purely paternalistic then we might say 'on their head be it', but then it's not clear that the law's justified at all. If there are good other-directed reasons for the law, then we could simply conclude that a religious code requiring one to wear a turban effectively forbids one to ride a motorbike.

I was struck by this recently reported example, however. Apparently an orthodox Jewish couple object to light sensors outside their home because their religion forbids them switching lights on on religious holidays.

Firstly, it seems to me that a religious code that "bans lights and other electrical equipment being switched on" can't be that old, and thus I wonder at its provenance. I don't recall anything about electrical goods in the Old Testament (though lights or lamps could of course be there). Secondly, it's not really clear to me what the objection is. It seems that they don't object to lights being on - apparently what they want is the lights to be on the whole time - only to them being switched on.

Presumably, what matters is whether they switch the lights on. I assume their religious code isn't forbidding anyone to switch lights on or they'd have to go around interfering with others. In this case, it's not clear why motion sensors count as them doing it. After all, they could easily cause others to switch lights on - e.g. if I was to see them enter a dark room and turn the light on for them, I don't see why this should be against their religion. Motion sensors should therefore be interpreted as the action of someone else.

It's quite common for people to circumvent religious requirements in this way. I understand that in Israel Jewish doctors feel it's wrong to turn off life support. Apparently what happens is that machines are built that will turn off unless reset - then the doctor simply fails to reset and life support is withdrawn by omission rather than act. Whether this is morally significant is highly doubtful, but since when was religion about morality anyway?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Silly Job Interview

This morning I took part in a mock job interview conducted by John Hawthorne and a panel of 6 doctoral students, in the Philosophy Faculty's Doctoral Thesis Seminar. I guess that more practice is always a good thing. Thankfully it didn't go like this Monty Python sketch.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Oxford University PLC?

Continued assessment exercises, such as QAA, RAE and REF have led many academics to worry that universities are increasingly being treated like businesses. Now the government has abolished the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, merging its functions into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills these fears are only likely to grow...

Friday, June 05, 2009

Exams May Cause Family Deaths

The higher rate of grandmother deaths in the run-up to exams can only mean that family members literally worry themselves to death over the performance of their beloved students.

That or the problem with most surveys is 'garbage in, garbage out'...

Refusing Organs

Apparently most people would be less likely to want organs from bad people. Scrap plans to harvest murderers for spare parts then...


Boris Johnson puts his foot (and more) in it...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Journal Moratorium

Nous and PPR have declared moratoriums on new papers, until 1st October 2009 (Weatherson, via Leiter).

Speedy publication is important for those early in their career. I'm happy to report that I received off-prints of my ETMP piece yesterday - and was suitable impressed with the quick turnaround (first submitted Nov 2008; R&R Dec 2008; revisions submitted Jan 09 and accepted in just over two weeks; online publication Feb 2009; in print this month).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ageing Academics

The spin on this story suggests that UK academics are ageing, which is probably a good thing for younger aspiring academics like myself. Then again, it says one in five (20%) are 55 or over, while only 25.2% are 35 or under. That still suggests more in the latter category than the former, though hopefully there's some attrition over the intervening 20 years...