UTSA annual symposium: What ever happened to critical thinking? Thu Sept 24, Hart House

UTSA Annual Symposium- What Happened to Critical Thinking? 7 pm Thurs Sept 24th Hart House, Music Room( 2nd Fl) Casual but structured conversations Pizza and Coffee to be provided. There’s an endless sea of headlines circling around, making bandwagon causes the new norm. What happened to critical thinking? Questioning received wisdom is a timeless philosophical tradition. Suddenly social media makes polarized conformity the new normal. The world is much more complex than black and white. This Thursday the 24th help us bring some colour and life to these issues: the new sex-ed curriculum, the border between free speech and hate speech, and the intimate links between medical research and the pharmaceutical industry.

Ontario Sex-ed curriculum-

Free Speech and Hate Speech-

Medical research and the pharmaceutical industry-

Join the discussion,
-Gianni, UTSA President


Facing the Challenge of Peace: A shared statement by peacebuilding organizations

Joint statement on World Peace Day - CFSC

Facing the Challenge of Peace: A shared statement by peacebuilding organizations

On this day, the International Day of Peace, we, a group of peacebuilding organizations from around the world, bring you this message.

The 70th anniversary of the United Nations brings an unprecedented number of major negotiations, reviews and processes that together will frame the work of multilateralism for the next decade and beyond. Next week, the world’s leaders will sign on to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has identified peaceful, just and inclusive societies as one of five cross-cutting priorities for the international community, and there will be high-level discussions on terrorism, UN peace operations and peacebuilding.

Violence is a fundamental dimension of human suffering, just as are poverty and oppression. Violence darkens lives and destroys hope across the world, from remote villages to famous cities, from the poorest countries to the richest. We cannot hope to eliminate extreme poverty, the central aim of the 2030 Agenda, without addressing violence.

Furthermore, we cannot expect to unravel the challenges of today’s world, from terrorism and displacement, transnational crime and repeated cycles of civil war, oppression and state violence without digging deeper. We must address the roots of violent conflict and instability in economic and political exclusion; injustice, gender and other forms of inequality; insecurity and institutional weakness; and consider changing an international system that does too little to raise up the voices, needs and aspirations of the many, rather than the interests of the few. That many of these issues are upheld in the 2030 Agenda is a heartening development but more needs to be done.

Peace means healthy, more stable lives for our children.
If we accept the premise that the keystone of the UN’s work, across development, humanitarian action and peace and security, needs to be to foster the growth of peaceful, just and inclusive societies, then what changes need to take place – what do we need to do differently?

An initial step would be to use a preventive lens for all development, humanitarian, security and indeed business initiatives, both at the UN and beyond. Leveraged effectively, the 2030 Agenda could help outline a shared approach to addressing and preventing violence at root. The following principles will be vital for the international community to adopt:
  • Embrace the universality of the 2030 Agenda: all societies must work towards becoming more peaceful, just and inclusive. Our task is not complete until all human beings, wherever they may live, can fulfil their potential in peace
  • Always seek to understand the context: an effective and inclusive analysis, involving a variety of local perspectives, including youth and women, should be a prerequisite for any external engagement.
  • In the planning and implementation of development, humanitarian, economic or security engagement, always seek to do no harm, to ensure that unintentionally or otherwise, the consequences of that engagement do not themselves make things worse, for example by affirming existing or new patterns of political or economic exclusion.
  • Focus on increasing resilience, particularly emphasizing the relationship between individuals, their communities and their government. This requires attention to reconciliation and to societies’ capacity to build dialogue, make inclusive and collaborative decisions, and resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Prioritize local needs, the longer term support for peaceful, just and inclusive communities, over external self-interested agendas, particularly short-term security or stabilization objectives.
- See more at:


Why Canada needs a science watchdog

Why Canada needs a science watchdog

The recent series of pieces at iPolitics on Canadian science and science policy bears witness to a growing concern about the health of public interest science.

One such source of concern is the increasing imposition of constraints on the ability of government scientists to communicate their science to the public. Concerns about muzzling have been voiced by academic institutions like the Canadian Association of University Teachers, media associations like the Canadian Science Writers Association, professional organizations like the Royal Society of Canada and even the prestigious international science journal Nature.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada recently released the first results of a survey of over 4,000 government scientists, 90 per cent of whom reported that they were prevented from speaking publicly about their scientific work. The evidence of muzzling is sufficiently persuasive to have prompted an investigation by the federal Information Commissioner into the legality of government communication policies, following a petition by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic.

A second source of concern is Canada’s reduced capacity for science in the public interest. Recent data from Statistics Canada indicate that in 2012-2013, for the fourth year in a row, federal science and technology funding has declined, with most science-based departments and agencies experiencing cuts. One might argue that in these trying times of fiscal restraint, even science must do its bit. But despite a more difficult economic situation south of the border, President Obama’s 2014 budget plan still included a 9.2 per cent increase ($143 billion) in federal non-defense R&D spending.

Reduced capacity for science in the public interest reflects both ashrinking budget and a shift in priorities away from basic scientific research. The 2013 budget provided $37 million to the three research councils for industry-dedicated programs, effectively replacing funds lost to deficit reduction measures. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Council’s (NSERC) Major Resources Support Program, which traditionally provided much of the infrastructure and equipment for basic research, has been suspended. And earlier this year, the National Research Council (NRC) was restructured to serve as a “concierge” facility for industry.

A third concern is what appears to be the selective elimination or reduction of institutions and programs engaged in the collection of scientific information on the environmental and health impacts of economic development. Shuttered or defunded programs and institutions include the Experimental Lakes Area, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences and the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy, among dozens of others.

A fourth concern is the apparent indifference to evidence-based decision making. In August 2012, responding to questions about the Northern Gateway pipeline, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asserted that “the only way that governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria.” In March 2013, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver advanced the view that President Obama was — on the Keystone XL issue, at least — “driven by facts“, adding “that’s what drives us as well.”

The evidence suggests otherwise. The mandatory long-form census that provided critical information to governments and businesses alike was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS), which, it was argued, would deliver similar quality data — even though all the experts said otherwise. Recently, Statistics Canada slapped a disclaimer on the first results of the survey and data from many municipalities across Canada were withheld due to concerns about data quality.


UK scientists apply for licence to edit genes in human embryos : Nature News & Comment

UK scientists apply for licence to edit genes in human embryos : Nature News & Comment

Scientists in London have asked for permission to edit the genomes of human embryos — a request that could lead to the world’s first approval of such research by a national regulatory body.

Kathy Niakan, a researcher affiliated with the Francis Crick Institute, London’s new £700-million (US$1.1-billion) biomedical-research centre, said on 18 September that she is proposing to use gene editing to provide “fundamental insights into early human development”. In a statement released through the Crick, Niakan said that her team wanted to use technology based on the CRISPR/Cas9 system — a recently developed technique for precisely editing genomes that has become hugely popular in the biology community. Her application was first reported by The Guardian newspaper.


Campus Safety Alert, Threats against women on campus. Solidarity event Mon Sept 14

Yesterday, the University of Toronto issued a campus safety alert due to anonymous public threats made against women and feminists on campus (particularly against those in Women and Gender Studies and Sociology). Please know that the University and Toronto City Police are monitoring the situation very closely. The University has a variety of safety programs to support students, faculty, and staff while on campus. Please see for more information.

The following is the link to the President’s statement in response to the threats:

All members of the University committee are invited as an act of solidarity with all women-identified people and feminists on all three campuses by wearing purple on Monday, September 14. Please share  notice of this act of solidarity widely.
Individuals can show support as well by attending the CUPE 3902 Women's Caucus Demonstration Against Gendered Violence at 1 pm on Monday. Our rally begins outside of the Sociology Department (725 Spadina Ave) on the SE corner of Bloor and Spadina!

Lecture, Emmanuel College: Religious Extremism in Muslim History

Religious Extremism in Muslim History

Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub: Religious Extremism in Muslim History
Date: Wednesday September 23, 2015 Time: 7 pm
Location: Auditorium, Noor Cultural Centre
123 Wynford Dr, Toronto, ON M3C 1K1
Admission: $5
Contact the Noor Centre for more information: 416-444-7148
Professor Mahmoud Ayoub (PhD) is Professor Emeritus at Temple
University, and Professor of Islamic Studies & Christian-Muslim
Relations at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut


Religion in decline: More Harvard freshmen now identify as atheist or agnostic than Catholic or Protestant

Religion in decline: More Harvard freshmen now identify as atheist or agnostic than Catholic or Protestant

An annual survey of Harvard University’s incoming freshman class revealed in September that more students identified as atheist or agnostic than as Roman Catholic or Protestant, suggesting millennials are turning away from traditional American faiths in a country that has long had a Christian majority.

Harvard’s poll of beliefs and lifestyles of the class of 2019 found that 21 percent of incoming freshman said they identified as agnostic and 16.6 percent identified as atheist. Meanwhile, 17.1 percent identified as Catholic and 17 percent as Protestant. In other words, 38 percent of the incoming freshman class said they were agnostic or atheist, while 34 percent said they were Catholic or Protestant.

Some 12 percent of the class said they identified as “other,” including 10.1 percent Jewish, 3 percent Hindu, 2.5 percent Muslim and 0.4 percent Mormon, according to the poll results which were recently published in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper

European Parliament adopts report calling for comprehensive SRE in schools - British Humanist Association

European Parliament adopts report calling for comprehensive SRE in schools - British Humanist Association

In a vote held in the European Parliament yesterday afternoon, MEPs overwhelmingly voted to adopt the Rodrigues report on ‘Empowering girls through education in the EU’. Adopted with 408 votes in favour and only 236 against (with 40 abstentions), the report calls on EU Member States to ‘improve measures to apply gender equality at all levels of the education system’, particularly stressing the need to introduce comprehensive sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools if this to be achieved

The news has been welcomed by the the British Humanist Association (BHA), which campaigns for compulsory SRE in Britain and supported the European Humanist Federation (EHF) in lobbying for the report’s adoption.

Written by Portuguese MEP Liliana Rodrigues, the report states that ‘sensitive, age-appropriate and scientifically accurate sex and relationship education is an essential tool in the empowerment of girls and boys’ and calls not only for the introduction of compulsory SRE, but also for other subjects to be coherent and compatible with the principles taught as part of that curriculum. Elsewhere, the report also highlights the need to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, as well as encouraging member states to enable girls and boys to challenge traditional and restrictive gender stereotypes.

Despite passing with a sizeable majority, however, the report faced significant opposition from a number of conservative religious groups, including the European Evangelical Alliance (EEA) and La Manif Pour Tous, both of which called on MEPs to reject the report. Indeed, a series of ‘split votes’ on the specific paragraphs related to sex education in schools was held at the request of several MEPs. Happily, efforts to defeat the report were unsuccessful.

BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs, and Vice President of the EHF, Pavan Dhaliwal, commented, ‘We’re absolutely delighted that the report has been approved with such an overwhelming majority of support and we hope that many of the EU’s member states will now move to implement its recommendations. As the report notes, all the evidence indicates that comprehensive and fully inclusive SRE in schools leads to the best outcomes in terms of sexual health, unplanned pregnancies, homophobia, gender stereotyping, and violence against women. It’s well past time that SRE is introduced in all schools and we will continue to campaign for that change both in the UK and at a European level.’


New Species Of Human Discovered In South Africa |

New Species Of Human Discovered In South Africa | IFLScience

Brace yourself: this discovery is huge. So huge that its profound implications will shake up our very own family tree. The University of Witwatersrand, in collaboration with National Geographic,
is proud to announce a remarkable story of human heritage. The discovery of an early human ancestor that sits beautifully within our own genus of Homo. I ecstatically present to you, Homo naledi.

This incredible fossil find comes from the richest single hominin assemblage so far discovered in Africa. A gift that keeps on giving, the species not only enlightens us on the origins and diversity of man, but also seems to display a behavior long believed to be unique to humans, even perhaps a defining feature of our species: deliberately disposing of its dead in an isolated chamber. The discovery has been published in two papers in the open access journal eLife.

A textbook-worthy accident, H. naledi was first stumbled upon two years ago by amateur cavers during an exploration of a cave system known as Rising Star, located within South Africa’s famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. From this, the Rising Star Expedition was born, starting in November 2013 with a 21 day exploration involving a team of 60 scientists and volunteer cavers. Expecting to recover a single skeleton, just three days in they realized they had much more than that, “something different and extraordinary,” research leader Lee Berger said at a press event IFLScience attended.

That something different turned out to be not several, but 15 individuals from a single hominin species, represented by more than 1,500 fossil elements found within a single chamber in total darkness some 90 meters (295 feet) from the entrance. Named in tribute to the chamber, naledi means “star” in the South African language Sesotho. And sure, 1,500 sounds like a lot, is a lot, but the team believes that there are thousands and thousands of remains still untouched. “The floor is practically made of bones of these individuals,” Berger added

Harvard gives students more latitude to describe their gender

Harvard gives students more latitude to describe their gender

Harvard University’s largest academic division is allowing students register for the new academic year as male, female or transgender and choose which gendered or genderless pronouns they prefer, school officials said Thursday.

The Ivy League school’s arts and science college, which enrolls about half of Harvard’s 21,000 students, will give them the chance to indicate whether they prefer to use the traditional pronouns “he” and “she” or alternatives including “ze,” “hir” or variants of “they.”

“If faculty or advisors are inadvertently outing someone by using a name or pronoun that doesn’t reflect their authentic self, that is a problem,” said Michael Burke, registrar for the university’s school of arts and sciences. He noted that the program may be rolled out across Harvard’s other schools next year.

Professors will be able to access this information through a new student information system, eliminating what Burke said can sometimes be an awkward conversation about gender identity between professors and their new students.

“If on the first day of class your professor is referring to you as a man, and you identify as a woman, even if you’re not trans, you could understand how that might affect you,” Burke said. “It’s jarring.”


Peel board won't exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues | Toronto Star

Peel board won't exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues | Toronto Star

Parents can remove their kids from sex-ed classes for religious reasons, but any requests for students to opt-out of learning about gay families or diverse gender identities won’t be tolerated, says the director of Ontario’s second largest school board — one that expects to be hard hit by protests over the new health curriculum.
The same day as anti-sex-ed rallies were planned outside Liberal MPP offices across the province, Tony Pontes was to tell teachers and superintendents about the Peel board’s tough stand, saying if parents have a problem with such strong support for equity and inclusion, the public system may not be right for them.
“Let’s be clear: Some in our community may not like this,” he says in a speech to be given Wednesday morning, a copy of which was provided to the Star.
After noting the 905-area board is opening its first gender-neutral washroom at a high school as well as introducing a new gender identity guideline for educators, some parents “may choose to switch school systems … if so, that is a price we must be willing to pay.
“We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” said Pontes, who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”
He said that while some parents do have “genuine concerns” that the board will work to address, critics of the updated sex-ed curriculum have used it to “raise fear, generate untruths and build constituencies of protest based on false information. I find that unconscionable.”
Since the new curriculum was announced, opponents, made up mainly of different faith groups, have tried to derail it, labelling it age-inappropriate, radical and even immoral — arguing parents should be the ones providing such information, and at a time when they feel their children are ready.

Explore Hart House: Welcome FREE BBQ Sept 17

Explore Hart House: Welcome BBQ | Hart House

On September 17, you are invited to our first-ever Explore Hart House Welcome BBQ.

Discover rooms where you can strengthen your core and your creativity, from the dance studio to our dark room. Follow uncharted corridors to an improv session or an archery range! Take a right turn  and find yourself in the quadrangle, pressing cider or sharing a free meal.
(They are also advertising debates!)


First teaching of evolution in new primary national curriculum gets underway in English schools - British Humanist Association

First teaching of evolution in new primary national curriculum gets underway in English schools - British Humanist Association

Today marks the first teaching of the new primary national curriculum in English schools, which for the first time includes a module on evolution as part of the year six programme of study (ages 10-11).
 Evolution had previously only been taught from year ten (ages 14-15) onwards, but the development of the module ‘Evolution and Inheritance’ at Key Stage 2 means children will now have the opportunity to learn about Darwin’s theory from a much younger age. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has been at the forefront of the campaign for such a change and welcomes its introduction in schools today.

Seeing evolution taught as part of the primary national curriculum has been a long-time goal of the BHA, and the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, launched back in 2011, was set up to do achieve just that. Drawing on the support of organisations such as the British Science Association and the Association for Science Education, as well as leading figures such as Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, the campaign successfully secured the change when the Government published the final national curriculum back in September 2013.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘For more or less its entire recent history the BHA has been campaigning for children to be taught about evolution from as early an age as possible, so we’re delighted that this will now start at primary school. So much of our understanding of this world hinges on learning about evolution, and the importance of having children learn about it at a formative age cannot be overstated.’

Free lecture: A Hitchhiker's Guide to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem : Toronto Public Library

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem : Lillian H. Smith : Program : Toronto Public Library

Tue Sep 22, 2015
6:30 p.m.- 8:00 p.m.
Lillian H. Smith library,  , Judith Merrill Science Fiction Collection
239 College Street, Toronto, ON   M5T 1R5  (College and St George, across from UofT bookstore)

Dr. Juris Steprâns (Mathematics and Statistics, York) looks at logic in science fiction, including both the misconceptions and insights which scifi has produced about Godel's theorem, one of the most misunderstoodresults of mathematics.

The Science of Science Fiction series is presented in collaboration with York University's Faculty of Science.