Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Commonsense on the inviolacy of the confessional

In his letter to The Australian, Alan Slade (Dover Heights, NSW) elegantly put into words the idea that I too had regarding commonsense on the inviolacy of the confessional:
Cardinal George Pell claims that the confidentiality of the confessional is inviolate. This need not be incompatible with compliance with our secular laws. All that is needed is a minor modification to confessional rules. Priests taking confessions can be instructed to refuse forgiveness/absolution to those who commit a crime as defined by the law of the land in which the church is located. The supplicant, as a devout Catholic, will need to submit to the secular legal system before spiritual forgiveness can be considered.
I did not see any response from Pell or the Catholic Church...

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Saudi reforms

In Newfound status for Saudi women David Ignatius reported that 30 women would join the kingdom’s Shura Council, highlighting the fact that King Abdullah ignored the Saudi cleric who said it would be “haram” under Islam to name women to the council. Ignatius writes
If Saudi women are deemed worthy of joining the body that advises the king on sensitive matters, it’s harder to justify the many limits on their rights.
I wonder what will be the short-term outcome of this initiative.

What will happen to Steve Keen?

I was both amused and amazed by the University of Western Sydney's approach to handling a problematic staff member, Steve Keen. By referring him to the ICAC for his threat to pass all third-year economics students, I wonder if they will open themselves up to a wider investigation into soft marking, such as that reported by The Australian and in meld magazine.

As is pointed out in the latter report, many Australian institutions accept international students with IELTS scores of Band 6, which is only a medium level of English. And this can lead to pressure for soft marking. As Anna Ko says
If universities do not want to practice soft marking, they should raise their admission standards.
Disclosure: the author is an employee of the University of Western Australia, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.

Doctoral graduates left chasing dreams

Some interesting comments—the growth in the number of PhDs, from 3900 in 2001 to 6500 in 2011, is notable—but few suprises in Doctoral graduates left chasing dreams.

I agree with Richard Strugnell that Australia is producing too many PhDs, and that
We are training them on the assumption they are going into academia. But the majority won't. We just don't know where they end up.
Zlatko Skrbis says
...a judgment cannot be made about what is an appropriate number of PhDs without an understanding of their career outcomes...
which is reasonable, but the following comment about the federal government failing to fund a longitudinal study of PhD graduates sounds like sour grapes; the federal government fails to support the majority of requests for research money!

In Physics, Australian PhDs interested in getting a position in academia usually take post-doctoral positions, often overseas. Those that do return to academia in Australia are enriched by this tortuous track to tenure.

In each issue of Physics World the once a physicist column makes interesting reading. When students ask me "why should I study physics?" or "how does physics training help in other careers?" the answer can likely be found here.

Disclosure: the author is an employee of the University of Western Australia, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.