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Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.


A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it's bad for you

By Clifton Mark

‘We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else …’ Barack Obama, inaugural address, 2013 
‘We must create a level playing field for American companies and workers.’ Donald Trump, inaugural address, 2017

Meritocracy has become a leading social ideal. Politicians across the ideological spectrum continually return to the theme that the rewards of life – money, power, jobs, university admission – should be distributed according to skill and effort. The most common metaphor is the ‘even playing field’ upon which players can rise to the position that fits their merit. Conceptually and morally, meritocracy is presented as the opposite of systems such as hereditary aristocracy, in which one’s social position is determined by the lottery of birth. Under meritocracy, wealth and advantage are merit’s rightful compensation, not the fortuitous windfall of external events. 

Most people don’t just think the world should be run meritocratically, they think it is meritocratic. In the UK, 84 per cent of respondents to the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey stated that hard work is either ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ when it comes to getting ahead, and in 2016 the Brookings Institute found that 69 per cent of Americans believe that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill. Respondents in both countries believe that external factors, such as luck and coming from a wealthy family, are much less important. While these ideas are most pronounced in these two countries, they are popular across the globe.

Although widely held, the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false. This is not least because merit itself is, in large part, the result of luck. Talent and the capacity for determined effort, sometimes called ‘grit’, depend a great deal on one’s genetic endowments and upbringing.

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Science journalism should embrace limits, bring scientists to the fore

By Cristina Sanza, Concordia University; Brittney Borowiec, McMaster University; David Secko, Concordia University; Farah Qaiser, University of Toronto; Fernanda de Araujo Ferreira, Harvard University; Heather MacGregor, University of Toronto; Michael Bramadat-Willcock, Concordia University, and Pouria Nazemi, Concordia University

Eat blueberries for the antioxidants. Exercise daily at a moderate intensity for optimal heart health. Get the vaccine to prevent the disease.

Our decision-making and conduct is influenced by what we read, see or hear. And many parts of our lives, from the food we eat to our quality of sleep, can in some way be linked back to scientific research.

The media — aiming to inform or engage — can end up peppering readers with sensationalism, hype or inaccurate science stories that shape our day-to-day lives and how we perceive the value of science. But this could be avoided if science journalists update the way they report stories.

And if readers understand what accurate, balanced science journalism should look like, they’ll able to distinguish the good stories from the not-so-good ones, and make informed choices.

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Tools for thinking: Isaiah Berlin's two concepts of freedom

By Maria Kasmirli

‘Freedom’ is a powerful word. We all respond positively to it, and under its banner revolutions have been started, wars have been fought, and political campaigns are continually being waged. But what exactly do we mean by ‘freedom’? The fact that politicians of all parties claim to believe in freedom suggests that people don’t always have the same thing in mind when they talk about it. Might there be different kinds of freedom and, if so, could the different kinds conflict with each other? Could the promotion of one kind of freedom limit another kind? Could people even be coerced in the name of freedom?

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52 volunteers transcribed 871 prayers in 6 weeks

We're done!

In December, we started recruiting volunteers to help transcribe every daily prayer said in the BC Legislature since 2003.

Together, we transcribed 871 prayers delivered in the BC Legislature from 2003 to the present. The team comprised 52 volunteers from across the province (and beyond) and we accomplished this amazing feat in a month and a half.

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Give nurses evidence based treatment options

BC is at the forefront of addiction research and treatment provision. So when nurses develop substance use problems, why are are they not afforded the same right to quality and ethical health care as other citizens?

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On our Vancouver Sunday meetings

Questions arise from time to time about the structure and procedures behind the Sunday meetings that the BC Humanist Association hosts in Vancouver. Rather than continue to respond to these inquiries as they land in my inbox, I thought it might be prudent to share some of our thinking here.

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Homophobia in the hallways: LGBTQ people at risk in Catholic schools

By Tonya D. Callaghan, University of Calgary

Recently, a Calgary woman filed two human rights complaints with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The employee, Barb Hamilton, says she was pushed out the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) because of her sexuality and was refused employment on the grounds of marital status, religious belief and sexual orientation.

Hamilton says she knew of 10 LGBTQ students in the school where she was principal who had hurt themselves, including by cutting themselves or attempting suicide because of homophobia at home or school. She says she went to the district for help but nothing changed.

Many Canadians may believe that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination. But my research into religiously inspired homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools since 2004 shows there are other LGBTQ-identified teachers who suffer similar fates.

I personally experienced this risk when I taught high school English for CCSD.

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Scientists need time to make discoveries

By Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo

Since the announcement that I won the Nobel Prize in physics for chirped pulse amplification, or CPA, there has been a lot of attention on its practical applications.

It is understandable that people want to know how it affects them. But as a scientist, I would hope society would be equally interested in fundamental science. After all, you can’t have the applications without the curiosity-driven research behind it. Learning more about science — science for science’s sake — is worth supporting.

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The authoritarian, neo-traditionalist attack on 'gender studies'

By Jennifer Evans, Carleton University

Recently, a bag thought to contain a bomb was left outside the National Secretariat for Gender Research in Gothenburg, Sweden. The dynamite-shaped device inside turned out to be a fake, but the intent to threaten and scare was clear.

Eva Wiberg, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, expressed her grave concerns, saying some scholars are more exposed to hatred and violence than others.

Lately, we have witnessed global story after story of government rollbacks on abortion provision, LGBTQ rights and now the closure of entire programs devoted to women’s and gender studies. It is part of the populist playbook in places like Poland and Hungary.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsinaro put it bluntly in his inaugural address on Jan. 2. He will fight the “ideology of gender” teaching in schools, “respect our Judeo-Christian tradition” and “prepare children for the job market, not political militancy.”

The war on gender studies is a pillar in the authoritarian critique of liberalism. But for many scholars, it is a sign of the times for liberal democracies as well.

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Bowen Island human rights complaint affirms atheism is a protected class

Amid the numerous stories we worked on last week, the BC Human Rights Tribunal released a 90-page decision following a complaint against a Bowen Island Montessori School (BIMS).

When I wrote about the complaint when it was filed over two years ago, I said:

The Montessori’s efforts to single out one family discriminated against them for their beliefs and sends a signal to prospective families on Bowen Island that the school requires ideological conformity from its community.

In her decision, Tribunal Member Barbara Korenkiewciz agreed. She awarded $5000 each to parents Gary Mangel and Mai Yasué and $2000 for their child.

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