Monday, November 28, 2011

100% Pie

PHD Comics - which I've previously described as Dilbert for graduate students - doesn't seem to get updated as often these days. Not that it's moribund, but rather than Jorge Cham is busy with various other projects, including a movie based on the comic and international appearances. Bit of a shame really.

Anyway there's a new strip yesterday, which I found deeply dissatisfying. It's not that I don't get the point, but I'm surprised that science PhD students would produce such inept pie charts. This information isn't at all appropriate for pie charts, because the categories aren't exclusive. A show on National Geographic might be debunking myths about dinosaurs, for instance. Even worse, I can't comprehend only 45% of programmes on The Science Channel being either about science or not about science. I'd fail an undergraduate who produced these graphs...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quoted on Amazon

I have, in my time, written a fair few reviews on Amazon, particularly of music and books. Today, however, I found that a review I wrote elsewhere is quoted on Amazon. Here's the book in question.

The Amazon product description quotes me as follows:
""....This book brings together ten very different contributions, each of which illuminates the essay’s continuing interest.... while several essays would be accessible and useful to undergraduate students, the collection as a whole is aimed primarily at researchers, or at least more advanced students.... for those with an adequate background, this collection forms a fine introduction to some central interpretive debates around On Liberty."
--Philosophy in Review, Ben Saunders, The University of Stirling

My original review can be found here (open access). I'm incorrectly credited as Benjamin Saunders in the journal contents, but thankfully not on Amazon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Imported Notes

Judging by the comments I get, it seems that far more people view this blog via Facebook than actually visit the blog itself. Unfortunately, Facebook are withdrawing the facility that automatically imports blog posts as notes.

"You currently automatically import content from your website or blog into your Facebook notes. Starting November 22nd, this feature will no longer be available, although you'll still be able to write individual notes."

This policy seemed surprising at first, given that Facebook seems to want to take over one's whole internet experience. I did think that maybe it was because Blogspot was owned by Google, but as far as I know this policy applies to all blogs and not only Blogspot.

I may post blog posts manually to my Facebook wall, but we'll see how it goes...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Russia Bans Emos

Too bad my module on Mill is almost over (last lecture this afternoon), because I just came across this story - from 2008 - about Russia attempting to ban emo kids. It looks like a great example of unjustified state interference in individual freedom.

In fact, according to the report "The new bill describes "emos" as 12-16 year-olds with black and pink clothing, studded belts, painted fingernails, ear and eyebrow piercings, and black hair with fringes", which means adults are presumably free to dress as they wish. Since Mill's 'harm principle' only applies to those in the maturity of their faculties, and arguably not to those aged 12-16, this isn't technically contrary to his principle. But it's still a nice example. I wonder what became of this bill. Does anyone know?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ps and Qs (Reposted)

I tried this before, but didn't get any comments - perhaps because I think there was some Facebook problem at the time (posts here are imported onto Facebook and I get most of my comments that way) - so I thought I'd try again...

Something I've just been thinking about and want a second opinion on. (It's not anything I'm working on, just a thought sparked by something I was reading.)

Suppose we have two propositions, P and Q. P is true. Q is a more extreme version of P. Does it follow that Q is false? Or that we have reason to believe P rather than Q?

I think much depends on the content of these propositions and the way in which Q is more extreme than P. For instance:

P: Abortion is usually wrong.
Q: Abortion is always wrong.

Here P allows (though does not logically imply) that some abortions are not wrong, which Q doesn't. If it's the case that some abortions are permissible, then Q is false and we have reason not to believe it.

But one problem is that P, while true, might be under inclusive. For instance:

P: Abortion is always wrong after 30 weeks.
Q: Abortion is always wrong after 28 weeks.

Stipulate that Q is true. Then it follows that P is true also, because P is weaker. That Q is more extreme than P does not make it false, because it is true (by stipulation), even though P is also true. Someone who believes P believes truly, but they also have reason to adopt the more extreme position Q. (Because P is true, but not the whole truth.)

I think this counter example works, but it depends of course on P not being the whole truth. I'm wondering if there are other counter examples. I suspect, perhaps, there may be some in which the way that Q is more extreme than P is practically irrelevant. These would seem, at least, cases where though Q is actually less correct, there is no harm in moving from the correct belief P to the not entirely correct belief Q, given that Q entails P.

Thoughts and comments welcome...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Organ Donation in Wales

A touching story today in Scotland about a young boy's organs being donated after his death in a road accident. This story reminded me of recent debates around 'presumed consent' in Wales.

Judging by BBC reports, I'm not clear what's actually being proposed. Yesterday I read this piece, in which they report:
The Welsh government has told the BBC Wales Politics Show that it is planning a system of "soft" presumed consent where family members would still be consulted after a person's death.

But 'consultation' does not amount to a veto. In fact, from today's news it seems that the family will not have any right to veto donation, i.e. the proposal is actually 'hard' presumed consent:
Families would have no legal right to stop dead relatives' organs being used for transplant if the person has not opted out in advance, under a proposed Welsh law.

This is an issue I've written on before. See my previous article in the Journal of Medical Ethics and a forthcoming piece here.

I think it's important that the public debate move on from talking about 'presumed consent', which generates unnecessary and unhelpful controversy. An opt-out scheme can be justified on various other grounds, such as 'normative consent, 'tacit consent', or even by the claim that consent is not necessary at all. We'd be better able to debate the merits of the proposal if we weren't hung up on arguments about presumptions.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Eating English

It's not often the English diet can be held up as a healthy example, but compared to Scottish food it is... Interesting findings, but I'm not sure the 'fat tax' is a good idea personally, possibly because I've been reading a lot of Mill this semester.

Friday, November 04, 2011


It seems that the St Andrews/Stirling Program (SASP) has slipped to 3rd in the UK according to the latest Philosophical Gourmet Report preview. This is a bit of a shame, having been 2nd in the last two. No doubt it is in part due to some senior retirements in both departments, with new appointments at St Andrews not yet announced (at least at the time of the surveys).