Science Fatigue Keeps us Clinging to Bad Health Habits



Daniel du Plooy, La Trobe University

The World Health Organization (WHO) threw the cat among the pigeons last week with a new report linking eating red and processed meat to cancer.

It didn’t claim our way of life is killing us, but it would seem this way from the reactions. Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, for instance, said the WHO would have humans living in caves were we to follow all its recommendations.

This response is all too familiar and highlights the public’s fundamental misunderstanding of how science works. Two issues stand in the way of, and often override, sensible interpretations of research findings – science fatigue and confirmation bias. Continue reading Science Fatigue Keeps us Clinging to Bad Health Habits

Tips for CV Writing in Australia – An Insiders View



I find myself in the dubious position of being a ‘CV expert’, quite by accident. Not that my advice should not be trusted, but becoming an expert by accident comes with the problem of never realising when your knowledge would be useful to others.  It might also just be the academic imposter syndrome at work, who knows.  So after bringing hundreds of graduate students’ CV’s to a point where a recruiter would hopefully look twice, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the common pitfalls with those who do not get the opportunity to experience the wrath of my red pen.  So here are a eight quick tips for the Aussie CV.

1.  No Photo and No Header

This is not a beauty contest. Don’t give anyone ammunition to discriminate against you.  This also means no marital status or religious affiliations (Yes, it happens, and some parts of the world expect to see it in a CV). OK, so use a header, but don’t put the header information on every page, you’re wasting space.  Also keep in mind that if the company uses software to weed out CV’s it will probably skip the information in the header.

2.  Keep it Short

If you are a recent graduate, no more than two pages.  You have loads of experience?  Then consider a third page. The aim is not to have an exhaustive document with everything you have ever achieved all the way from your time in primary school. So keep it short, and keep it relevant, which leads to my next point.

3.  Tailor Your CV – For Every Job

If you can’t list every conceivable skill you have ever picked up, then you should focus on the skills required by the job you are applying for. Don’t just list these skills, tell us what your skill level is. This also applies to your experience, and responsibilities. Do you want that tax auditor job?  Then there is no need to add the details of your Nail Painting Course from 2008.

4.  Yes, Your Soft Skills are Important

Everyone applying for the job probably has the same technical skills. The company can even train whoever they want in the technical skills.  The one thing they desperately need are people who will ‘fit’ well. This elusive ‘fit’ comes from your soft skills. The workplace needs people with Emotional Intelligence, good team players, people with integrity and honesty.  Don’t give a list of these nice sounding words in your CV, tell them more about these skills.  Where did you pick them up, how do you use them?

5.  Interests Anyone?

“I like going to the movies, reading and walking on the beach.”  No, these are things everyone likes to do. It is a common human experience.  No need to list them. Is there something that makes you a more interesting person? Something that would be a lovely conversation starter in the interview?  Then by all means, list it, but don’t write a book about it.

6. Career Objective / Profile

If you decide to have an objective or a profile at the start you should make it specific to the job you are applying for.  Short and to the point. Something generic immediately shows that your CV is stale, and you just shoot it off to hundreds of recruiters while crossing your fingers.

7. Referees Available on Request

Don’t list your referees’ details on your CV.  This information should be asked from you at the time of the interview. Even saying ‘referees available on request’ is becoming unnecessary, it is assumed.

8.  The Devil is in the Details

Your CV is in a competition, and in most instances it will rise to the top based on first impressions.  Are your headings consistent? Is your spacing consistent? Is it easy to find information? Is your email professional? (no, speedyboy77 at gmail is  not professional). Have a LinkedIn profile, and consider including the short link in your CV.

Yes, different industries and individual recruiters vary in their approach, so do your research. Hopefully this guide will get you started. Happy CV writing!

Jacob and Laban

Jacob_Laban_and_dtrs_1343I wonder how many of you are familiar with the Biblical story of Jacob and Laban?  As a child, hearing this story, I always had some serious questions for Jacob about his behaviour.  I really thought he was stupid.  The story, in a nutshell, was that Jacob wanted to marry his uncle Laban’s daughter Rachel.  The agreement was that he would work for Laban for seven years before he could get her hand in marriage.  After seven years, on the wedding night, Laban switched Rachel with Leah (the ugly older sister) without Jacob noticing until the morning after consummation.  His love for Rachel was so great that he worked another seven years to get Rachel.  From the strife between the two wives for the love of Jacob and his unequally divided love we get the resulting squabble with Josef being favoured as a son of Rachel which leads to the Egypt issues and the whole nation being taken into slavery – so with hindsight not a good move by either Jacob or Laban.

So where am I going with this?  I never thought this would happen, but I feel like Jacob.  Unlike Jacob who wanted a wife, I want freedom.  I want financial security, and independence.  For the first seven years of my working life I worked quite happily for a meager salary thinking that in the future things will get better, and everything will work out.  I was rudely awakened after seven years to realise that I received absolutely diddly squat for all my time.  No ultimate freedom, no future prospects, nothing.  The scales fell from my eyes, and I had the same feeling Jacob would probably have had the morning after Leah.  I decided that I will not be duped again, and that the next seven years will end in freedom.  I realised now that I do not love a ‘nice’ workplace, and friendly colleagues (Leah), I much rather prefer freedom and choice (Rachel).  Now I am stuck for another seven years.  I have to save every penny, and live as frugally as I possibly can, but at the end I will have enough interest to cover the basics.

The seven years are tough.  Especially when Laban is right there, holding your freedom – he can just give it to you if he wanted to, but no, you have to suffer for it.  Now I just need to hope that the world economy does not screw me over in the meantime, and that I am not just chasing rainbows.  Hold on Rachel, I’m coming!

Climate Change and Wikipedia

SciMethdSo, if you haven’t heard, Australia recently elected a new monkey to replace the previous head monkey in the troop based in Canberra.

Now Australia is not the first and not the only country to dabble with carbon tax, but it’s citizens are probably more vocal than most other countries in either their support or opposition of this tax.  This strong sentiment seems to be reflected in the larger political parties too (kind of a chicken and egg situation).  The one introduces a carbon tax, the next one abolishes the tax and makes some dubious claims about the science of climate change.  Who to believe?  If only we had some way of finding truth, of discovering reality.  Oh, wait… science claims to do that!?

Now I have to say firstly that science is not a dogmatic religious order that imposes new findings on the citizens of earth.  Rather, science is a method.  It is a method of discovery and inquiry.  This obviously means that scientists can be wrong, and they often are.  There are lists and lists of things scientists got wrong, just Google it.  We all understand the importance of finding out new things by using science.  It is the method that took us out of the dark middle ages and into the enlightenment.  We cannot deny it’s power.

Unfortunately there seems to be a distinct lack of understanding as to the mechanisms of inquiry which have brought us thus far, even among educated people who should know better – like politicians.  Just recently Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the senior UN official of “talking through her hat”, claiming bushfires were not the consequence of climate change, just a fact of Australian life.  Hot on his heels was his environment minister Mr Hunt.  Mr Hunt said he’d spoken to Ms Figueres and she’d indicated “very clearly and strongly” that there wasn’t evidence the fires ravaging parts of NSW were caused by climate change.  “She felt that that had been misrepresented,” Mr Hunt told BBC radio.  The environment minister said he “looked up what Wikipedia” says about bushfires and it was clear they were frequent events that had occurred during hotter months in Australia since before European settlement.

Wow, Wikipedia you beast.  You have overtaken the scientific method as our modern day source of investigation and inquiry.  You provide us with peer reviewed research on which we can rely.  We can even make laws and base policy decision on Wikipedia information.  Why did we not think of this earlier?  It is so much easier for politicians to form an argument based on a platform of information that can be edited and changed by anyone.  Who wants to go through all the hassle of finding the truth?  Nope not this neoconservative bunch of dimwits.056997-tony-abbott     (Nothing against Wikipedia – best place for a quick reference, just not the source of the information)

Expectation Debt

debtI know I have not been blogging as regularly as I should.  I have the usual excuses:  holidays, Christmas, New Year, laziness, procrastination and existential crises.  With the New Year also came the time for the inevitable cyclical New Year’s resolutions.  I say cyclical because for most people, their resolutions stay the same from year to year.  You want to protest that statement, but think about it carefully.  Weight loss, better living, better listener, better husband, better wife, language learning, realizing some business idea, implementing some new life strategy, reading more, and on and on it goes.  It’s the human condition, don’t feel bad about it.  To be sure, some people do follow through on their resolutions.  Me?  I just repeat them.  Recycling is the way of the future 😉

In considering this issue of resolutions and new beginnings I realised that the success or failure of this resolution might depend quite a bit on social pressure.  This is not the only factor, just the one I want to focus on.

There is a very fine line between creating some social pressure in order to motivate yourself, and creating expectation debt.  If I want to lose weight as a resolution, and I tell all my friends and family that by April I will have a six-pack abs, it will probably motivate me in some way to achieving that goal.  On the other hand I have created a debt which needs payment come April.  I have created expectation debt (I credit the idea of expectation debt to the New Escapologist).  If you create too much expectation debt, then you create a self-fulfilling crisis.  I am naturally hesitant to create debt.  Debt has never had good public relations.  Too much debt will inevitably make you untrustworthy, because it becomes impossible to pay off.  That is why big talkers are never taken seriously.  They lose the positive effect of motivation from their debt, and people do not hold them to their resolutions, because they are never fulfilling their expectations.

The idea of a self-fulfilling crisis is explained by the example of the stock market.  The theory is that, for example, a financial crisis is not directly caused by unhealthy economic fundamentals, but rather the pessimistic expectations of the investors themselves.  So investors’ fear of the crisis makes the crisis inevitable.  If you create too much expectation debt, and people stop taking you seriously, eventually you stop taking yourself seriously.  It becomes too easy for you not to complete stuff.  By creating expectation debt we fear that we might not complete the task, which is natural, but with too much expectation debt it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you fail.

I have resolved this year to stop talking about all the things I will be doing, and just doing them – for once.

Wage slavery

wage-slaveThe puritan / protestant work ethic and the link made by Max Weber in 1905 to capitalism has all but upended this world.  No, the book did not upend the world, the persistent idea that work is good has upended this world.  See, I think I should make a clear distinction between terms by defining the word ‘work’.  In my worldview work is not living.  Work is slaving in order to survive.  Work is not doing and engaging in self directed acts of meaningful labour, it is the exchange of your time and life force in order to enrich and support a system who’s only value to you is to sustain you enough in order to extract more time and life force from you.  Work is evil.  Through the ages we have had work manifest itself in different forms.  Initially work was synonymous with survival.  If you did not work, you did not survive.  Think cavemen thoughts.  We moved on from this basic system of only survival, we became more organised and complex in our groupings and some of us started to have ‘free’ time.  Suddenly some people could focus their attention on things that before would not have been possible in ultimate survival mode.  Now we could have teachers, and ministers, and philosophers, and soldiers.  Our modes of food production allowed this to happen.  Needs became wants and once greed took over there was no stopping this machine.  Those with more power and soldiers decided that the easiest way not to work was to get others to work for them – forcibly.  Slavery is born.  Most ancients all the way from the Bible to the Greeks believed that slavery was in some way natural, the way things are supposed to be.

Today we supposedly know better.  We had our revolutions and political changes against that system, and slavery died in the perception of the West.  The only problem is, the slave owners realised they are not able to operate without slaves.  Well, ingeniously, the current system allowed them to have the best of both worlds.  Instead of having to look after the slaves, feed them, house them etc, they can now tell the slaves they are free – no political or ethical issues – and pay them less that what it would have cost to house and feed them.  Now the slave has the illusion of freedom (which I might add is valuable, and definitely more ‘free’ than what it was).


A hundred years ago futurists were saying that at the rate of technological discovery and machination we would only have to work a few hours a week today.  That obviously did not work out.  Greed stopped us from wanting a sustainable lifestyles, to just wanting more and more and more all the time. The earth can’t sustain us, we are working her and ourselves to death.

Here is another blogpost that reflects some of my feelings on this subject:

Then and now

overpopulationMy parents had it good. Actually they have it good. They have it much better than I have it now compared to when they were my age. I know, most of the older folks would disagree with me, but stick with my argument. How many people were living on planet earth when my dad was 21? Any guesses? Well, less than 4 billion. When I was 21? More than 6 billion. In the ‘70’s not many people traveled, today moving across country boundaries for a job is not a big issue anymore.

So what does the world population have to do with my parent’s work ethic and hard work over many decades? We need to take a broader sociological approach before you will understand what I’m saying.  Then we can see the bigger pattern, or the forest for the trees.  In our own, personal situation it might feel that our success is due to our own ingenuity and hard work.  We see the phenomenon on a daily basis.  If I fail this math test, it is not because I did not study, it is because the teacher set the test too difficult.  On the other hand, if I passed the test, it is obviously due to my superior intellect and hard work.  If Johnny throws a packet out his car window I immediately ascribe his fundamental nature to the act.  I believe that Johnny is a filthy polluter who doesn’t care about the environment.  What I do not do is to consider any other motives Johnny might have had.  He might have discovered a snake in the packet and rid himself of the danger as soon as possible.  But when we find ourselves in a similar situation we can obviously justify our behaviour.   We call this the fundamental attribution error in social psychology.  It is a tendency for people to overestimate their own personal dispositions and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining the end result.  Also see the actor-observer bias.  So how does this explain my parent’s hard work and my apparent laziness?  Our parents (baby boomers) do not think it is the situation they were in (global economic / population postwar factors) which contributed to their wealth, they believe it is due to their hard work and diligence.  Sure they probably did work hard, but if the system is working with you, it is much easier for many more people to reach those lofty goals. Unfortunately with the system working against you, your chances, statistically, are much slimmer.  Well, quite a lot. We live in a globalised world today where all these new people compete with me for resources. In my parent’s day they competed with fewer people, and less globalisation. A masters degree among my parent’s peers were nearly unheard of. If you had a degree, you had it made in life. Some of my uncles only had a grade 10 education, and they are financially well off today.

Today, when applying for the position of ‘bus boy’ in a restaurant, they actually want you to have experience – really? It makes sense when you are competing with 100’s of others who have been doing the job in a volatile economy. Want to be a new bus boy, well, bad luck. Today it is hard for someone in the social sciences field, after 5 degrees, to find work in their field because they have to compete with thousands more people who all have PhD’s. How do you pay to get to that level? Well, you have to compete with generational wealth. Many of generation X’s competitors might still live with their parents, or in accommodation owned by their family, their studies are easily subsidised because their overhead costs are close to zero, they have another generation supporting them until they eventually reach the top of their game, which is much higher than where the top was for their parents.

Having just moved to Melbourne I’ve noticed something intriguing. The invasion of the Chinese (and the rest of Asia as well) into Australia. When apartment hunting you compete with a rich Chinese mother renting an apartment for her son who will probably end up finishing his PhD in a few years. This Chinese mother just waits for all offers to be made, and then says she will double whatever the highest offer was. Who can compete against that? In Melbourne, 25 years ago, middle class people who owned a house could easily and safely borrow against that house and buy a second investment property, which many did. Today they own the rental market. Their children become property barons, and today no middle class person can afford to buy, unless you shackle yourself to a life long, overpriced, interest volatile mortgage. The people who survive easiest are the ones who have extensive family support and family wealth (or dubious means and connections). There is property handed down by generations, established businesses handed over to the children, and these family structures thrive. Unfortunately many people don’t like operating in this way, and their children have no choice.

It sounds like I am complaining. No. I’m observing. I think there are two things which I would wish for. Firstly, I wish that as a planet we could become more responsible. We will not be able to sustain the current world population indefinitely. The earth’s resources are running out, and we are increasing in number. How we solve this problem is beyond me, but if we don’t solve it, it will probably solve itself in a way that most of us will not like. Secondly, I hope that if I ever have a child, that I would be able to sustain them past the point where I was supported, because they will live in a very different world to the one I found my feet in.