A call for a culture of critical thinking

Abstract: South Africa's neglect of its children is damaging its global competitiveness... As highly developed as we humans think we are, we still retain elements of mammalian instinct, the strongest of which is to protect our young, even if it's at the expense of our own lives. Ironically, it is this mammalian instinct that defines one of the cornerstones of our humanity - it is considered abhorrent, even inhumane, to willfully subject a child to abuse, or to neglect its cries for help. It's helpful to bear this in mind when examining South Africa's ranking in global competitiveness. Every year the WEF (World Economic Forum) publishes the Global Competitiveness Report, which assesses the competitiveness landscape of a list of countries around the world according to twelve key indices. This year that list of countries totals 148. The report draws on an extensive spread of

There’s nothing snippy about ‘the snip’

Abstract: there are certain leading figures in South Africa who could prove their manhood by having a vasectomy... Recent events in South African presidential politics got me thinking about vasectomies and how some people, maybe many, might benefit from some people having it done. Of course, the age-old arguments against it still persist in some cultures, and normally hover around misguided notions that having the snip removes a man's masculinity. This is of course, not true. In fact, the very opposite could be argued: that only real men have 'the snip'. Walk into a crowded bar and shout "Hey, who here's having a baby soon?" and proud hands will reach for the sky. Walk into the same bar and shout, "Hey, who here's had a vasectomy?" and the chances are few, if any, would raise their hands. And it's not just a 'guy' thing. A

Reality check: The world isn’t binary

Abstract: Binary thinking is a devastating human weakness... You can bet your next Christmas bonus that George W. Bush will never be included with Mandela, Lincoln and Churchill as a political figure with the capacity for inspirational, statesman-like oratory. However, there remains one speech he delivered where he, albeit unwittingly, managed to encapsulate the reason there's a propensity within the human condition for social upheaval, the likes of which we should expect closer to home in the period leading up to elections. In the days that followed the 9/11 attacks, the world scrutinised Bush for leadership and direction; and he replied in force on 20th September 2001 with a rally of fighting talk before a joint session of congress in which he drew a line and laid down the parameters for his war on terror. The standout message was the following: "Either you

The unwelcome eye of journalism

Abstract: There's been a nasty shift in South African journalism...

Swimming upstream is a challenging endeavour - ask any salmon - but when the end task is a noble one, even if death - as in the case of the Pacific salmon - follows shortly thereafter, it can be argued that it's worth it. However, fighting against a tide of tabloid journalism has left science journalists wondering if it isn't easier to completely change species.

Anyone entrusted with trying to get more science and critical thinking into the media, will be familiar with the edict of most editors that their readers, viewers or listeners 'don't have an appetite for science'. This is of course utterly ridiculous because we are all consumers of science; there isn't a single element to our lives, and how we live it, that isn't examined or improved on by science.

But there's

Brief moment, BIG money

Abstract: The value of a human depends on whether or not they play football... How do you value a human being? Think of your daily commute to work: How often do you arrive at a traffic intersection and see a beggar asking for money? What is your reaction? Although you have spare change in your car, do you invariably keep it to yourself; your decision possibly shaped by the belief that the beggar's value is somehow lower than yours? What if, in the context of others, roles were reversed and your wealth was regarded spare change, your value considered lower? Furthermore, what if these 'others' provided nothing more than a mere distraction? Here's the best part: what if you were helping finance their exorbitant wealth for this mere distraction? Confused? I'm talking about the likes of Gareth Bale. If the name isn't familiar, here's some

Handy lessons from North Korea

Abstract: What we can learn from North Korea about populace control... Given the smattering of rather bizarre official reports that emerge from North Korea, and the fact that they're invariably distorted in an attempt to protect it as the world's most secretive state, it's hard to imagine that the country could teach us anything. However, if there's one thing it's hit squarely on the head, it's how to keep its people in place; something I'm sure most governments wish they could get right. If you'd like to try something a little weird but not that difficult, take a couple of minutes one day to pop into your local travel agent and tell them you feel you deserve a holiday, and that you were thinking of Pyongyang. The chances are they'd discourage you and suggest somewhere a little more upbeat; say Siberia. If I were

Why politicians need a whispering slave

Abstract: What modern political leaders could learn from the ancient Romans. As the world waited with baited breath as North and South Korea did the 21st Century equivalent of rattling sabres, I imagined North Korean leader Kim Jong-un perched on a throne, stroking a furry white cat on his lap, whilst he grinned and jabbed a podgy finger at little plastic missiles on a large map of the world. Grouped around him were his trusty generals, continually bowing and scraping the floor, shiny medals littering their chests and beads of perspiration glistening on their furrowed, worried brows. And I thought, "Boy, that man needs a whispering slave". In ancient Rome there was a very special tribute that was accorded to a victorious general. It was called the Roman Triumph. It was a lavish parade designed to honour Rome, but where the general was the

Should editors be our moral arbiters?

Abstract: Are TV news editors really qualified to determine what we watch? On 20th October 2011 Muammar Gaddafi was captured by rebel soldiers, taunted, beaten and shot. His body was then publicly displayed and abused. You will remember it because it was shown on TV. It savaged some of the fundamental moral guidelines of broadcasting, but was considered justified for reasons that are dubious. It deserves re-examining now because South Africa is, unfortunately, being increasingly riddled with such 'Gaddafi' moments. Shortly after the murder of Gaddafi I had the opportunity to challenge a professor of journalism and one of the UK's most respected authorities on issues around morality in the media why the local TV stations aired footage of his capture. I asked him who makes the decision whether or not I, as a viewer, should witness Gaddafi's obvious distress. He missed the broader philosophical

Piggy, and the death of journalism

Abstract: Look to Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' for the tragic future of journalism... You should keep this magazine; and one day in the not-too-distant future show it to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren and explain to them how in the old days you used to pay money to read something written by people called 'journalists'. They'll be amazed and surprised, even laugh at how bizarre such a notion should be. I'll be long gone by then, my final days spent as a dejected pauper, strapped to a gurney, thrashing around and frothing at the mouth, shouting between the spittle about how democracy killed a discipline and an art form, and steered humanity towards idiocy. If you have a sneaking suspicion where I'm going with this, I'd hazard a guess you've read William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'. Like Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', it endures as one

Remember your equations?

Abstract: A measure of worth for a leader lies in simple equations... There's a simple test to see if a person in a position of leadership has got what it takes to make effective decisions - ask them to explain the following equation: F=ma. If it's got you stumped, it's no use skimming through the myriad business management books collecting dust in your office; you won't find it there. You'll have to think back to when you were a lot younger. During the late 1990s I was part of a company that designed and presented science shows at schools and science centres. I've lost count of the number of schools I visited, but suffice to say I became something of an odd fixture in science education, pacing the school halls in my red lab coat crawling with plastic spiders, carrying my black box plastered