Is Western science is finally catching up with Traditional Knowledge

File 20180213 44639 3u1lt4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A team of researchers in northern Australia have documented kites and falcons, “firehawks,” intentionally carrying burning sticks to spread fire: It is just one example of western science catching up to Indigenous Traditional Knowledge.
James Padolsey/Unsplash

George Nicholas, Simon Fraser University

Our knowledge of what the denizens of the animal kingdom are up to, especially when humans aren’t around, has steadily increased over the last 50 years. For example, we know now that animals use tools in their daily lives. Chimps use twigs to fish for termites; sea otters break open shellfish on rocks they selected; octopi carry coconut shell halves to later use as shelters.

The latest discovery has taken this assessment to new heights, literally. A team of researchers led by Mark Bonta and Robert Gosford in northern Australia has documented kites and falcons, colloquially termed “firehawks,” intentionally carrying burning sticks to spread fire. While it has long been known that birds will take advantage of natural fires that cause insects, rodents and reptiles to flee and thus increase feeding opportunities, that they would intercede to spread fire to unburned locales is astounding.

It’s thus no surprise that this study has attracted great attention as it adds intentionality and planning to the repertoire of non-human use of tools. Previous accounts of avian use of fire have been dismissed or at least viewed with some skepticism.

While new to Western science, the behaviours of the nighthawks have long been known to the Alawa, MalakMalak, Jawoyn, and other Indigenous peoples of northern Australia whose ancestors occupied their lands for tens of thousands of years. Contrary to most scientific studies, Bonta and Gosford’s team foregrounded their research in traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge. They also note that local awareness of the behaviour of the firehawks is ingrained within some of their ceremonial practices, beliefs and creation accounts.

The worldwide attention given to the firehawks article provides an opportunity to explore the double standard that exists concerning the acceptance of Traditional Knowledge by practitioners of Western science.

Traditional knowledge

Our knowledge of the world comes from many sources. In my field, archaeologists have long depended upon ethnographic sources of information — detailed observations or information derived directly from communities studied — to help develop or test interpretations about past peoples’ lives.

In recent years, many scholars have become aware of the large body of information known as Traditional Knowledge (TK), Indigenous Knowledge (IK), or Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), amongst other terms. These knowledge systems, developed over countless generations, are based on individual and collectively learned experiences and explanations of the world, verified by elders, and conveyed and guided experiential learning, and by oral traditions and other means of record keeping.

Traditional Knowledge has today become a highly valued source of information for archaeologists, ecologists, biologists, ethnobotanists, climatologists and others. This information ranges from medicinal properties of plants and insights into the value of biological diversity to caribou migration patterns and the effects of intentional burning of the landscape to manage particular resources. For example, some climatology studies have incorporated Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) to explain changes in sea ice conditions observed over many generations.

Despite the wide acknowledgement of their demonstrated value, many scientists continue to have had an uneasy alliance with TK and Indigenous oral histories. On the one hand, TK and other types of local knowledge are valued when they support or supplements archaeological, or other scientific evidence.

However, when the situation is reversed — when Traditional Knowledge is seen to challenge scientific “truths” — then its utility is questioned or dismissed as myth. Science is promoted as objective, quantifiable, and the foundation for “real” knowledge creation or evaluation while TK may be seen as anecdotal, imprecise and unfamiliar in form.

Multiple ways of knowing

Are Indigenous and Western systems of knowledge categorically antithetical? Or do they offer multiple points of entry into knowledge of the world, past and present? There are many cases where science and history are catching up with what Indigenous peoples have long known.

In the past two decades, archaeologists and environmental scientists working in coastal British Columbia have come to recognize evidence of mariculture — the intentional management of marine resources — that pre-dates European settlement. Over the course of thousands of years, the ancestors of the Kwakwaka’wakw and other Indigenous groups there created and maintained what have become known as “clam gardens” — rock-walled, terrace-like constructions that provide ideal habit for butter clams and other edible shellfish.

To the Kwakwaka’wakw, these were known as loxiwey, according to Clan Chief Adam Dick (Kwaxsistalla) who has shared this term and his knowledge of the practice with researchers.

Kwaxsistalla Chief Adam Dick with a butter clam.
(Nancy Turner)

As marine ecologist Amy Groesbeck and colleagues have demonstrated, these structures increase shellfish productivity and resource security significantly. This resource management strategy reflects a sophisticated body of ecological understanding and practice that predates modern management systems by millennia.

These published research studies now prove that Indigenous communities knew about mariculture for generations but Western scientists never asked them about it before. Once tangible remains were detected, it was clear mariculture management was in use for thousands of years. There is a move underway by various Indigenous communities in the region to restore and recreate clam gardens and put them back into use.

A second example demonstrates how Indigenous oral histories correct inaccurate or incomplete historical accounts. There are significant differences between Lakota and Cheyenne accounts of what transpired at the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn) in 1876, and the historical accounts that appeared soon after the battle by white commentators.

The Lakota and Cheyenne can be considered more objective than white accounts of the battle that are tainted by Eurocentric bias. The ledger drawings of Red Horse, a Minneconjou Sioux participant in the battle, record precise details such as trooper’s uniforms, the location of wounds on horses, and the distribution of Indian and white casualties.

Untitled from the Red Horse Pictographic Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1881.
Red Horse (Minneconjou Lakota Sioux, 1822-1907), Graphite, colored pencil, and ink. NAA MS 2367A_08570700. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institute

In 1984, a fire at the battleground revealed miltary artifacts and human remains that prompted archaeological excavations. What this work revealed was a new, more accurate history of the battle that validated many elements of the Native American oral histories and accompanying pictographs and drawings of the events. However, without the archaeological evidence, many historians gave limited credence to the accounts obtained from the participating Native American warriors.

These examples, along with the firehawks study, demonstrate the reliability of Indigenous knowledge.

Opportunities at the intersection

As ways of knowing, Western and Indigenous Knowledge share several important and fundamental attributes. Both are constantly verified through repetition and verification, inference and prediction, empirical observations and recognition of pattern events.

While some actions leave no physical evidence (e.g. clam cultivation), and some experiments can’t be replicated (e.g. cold fusion), in the case of Indigenous knowledge, the absence of “empirical evidence” can be damning in terms of wider acceptance.

Some types of Indigenous knowledge simply fall outside the realm of prior Western understanding. In contrast to Western knowledge, which tends to be text based, reductionist, hierarchical and dependent on categorization (putting things into categories), Indigenous science does not strive for a universal set of explanations but is particularistic in orientation and often contextual.

One key attribute of Western science is developing and then testing hypotheses to ensure rigor and replicability in interpreting empirical observations or making predictions. Although hypothesis testing is not a feature of TEK, rigor and replicability are not absent.

Whether or not traditional knowledge systems and scientific reasoning are mutually supportive, even contradictory lines of evidence have value. Employing TK-based observations and explanations within multiple working hypotheses ensures consideration of a variety of predictive, interpretive or explanatory possibilities not constrained by Western expectation or logic. And hypotheses incorporating traditional knowledge-based information can lead the way toward unanticipated insights.

The travels of Glooscap, a major figure in Abenaki oral history and worldview, are found throughout the Mi’kmaw homeland of the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada. As a Transformer, Glooscap created many landscape features. Anthropologist Trudy Sable (Saint Mary’s Univerity) has noted a significant degree of correlation between places named in Mi’kmaw legends and oral histories and recorded archaeological sites.

Indigenous peoples don’t need Western science to validate or legitimate their knowledge system. Some do appreciate the verification, and there are partnerships developing worldwide with Indigenous knowledge holders and Western scientists working together.

This includes Traditional Ecological Knowledge informing government policies on resource management in some instances. But it is nonetheless problematic when their knowledge, which has been dismissed for so long by so many, becomes a valuable data set or used selectively by academics and others.

The ConversationTo return to the firehawks example, one way to look at this is that the scientists confirmed what the Indigenous peoples have long known about the birds’ use of fire. Or we can say that the Western scientists finally caught up with TK after several thousand years.

George Nicholas, Professor of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia is missing the Closing the Gap employment target by decades

Zoe Staines, Queensland University of Technology

Australia is missing its target to halve the unemployment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia by several decades, according to the latest Closing the Gap report.

The report also highlights many other problems with current Closing the Gap targets. For instance, the unemployment target misses other aspects of economic life, such as income. The targets need to be rethought so that they address economic well-being and more closely guide strategy and policies on the ground.




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The unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is going down. But 2016 Census data show that it will take until 2031 to halve the gap, and until about 2051 to close the gap entirely. Even New South Wales, which leads Australia on this measure, won’t meet the target until about 2026.

One reason why some states are doing better in tackling the unemployment gap is that different opportunities are available for urban and rural Australians. In 2014/15, only 5% of the NSW Indigenous population lived in remote areas. This compares to 21% nationally, 79% in the Northern Territory and 19% in Queensland.

CC BY-ND

Under the Indigenous Procurement Policy, 3% of all federal procurement contracts go to Indigenous businesses. This is a big part of the federal government’s plan to achieve the employment target.

However, while there may be some success stories, a recent report also warned that “the policy’s target measurement system greatly exaggerates its success”.

For instance, in 2015-16 Indigenous suppliers won 2.9% of government contracts but these contracts accounted for only 0.94% of total procurement spending.




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The latest Closing the Gap report highlights the continued importance of Indigenous leadership in this space and the need for government to actually listen and truly partner, rather than just talk about it.

Only through empowerment and ownership by Indigenous Australians will we see serious improvements against a revised Closing the Gap framework, or any other standard for that matter. Mere rhetoric is not, and never will be, enough.

Tremendous gains yet to be made

While Closing the Gap focuses on hitting a target employment rate, there are other aspects to economic well-being that are not considered.

The framework fails to address the widening gap in weekly personal income between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, for example. This shows that even if employment rates are improving, Indigenous Australians are still earning comparatively less.

Economic well-being also collides with other facets of well-being in a number of ways. For instance, an adequate income means earning enough money to access quality health care and education. But it’s also important to derive satisfaction and meaning from employment.




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Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing


There is also no clear strategy for how the targets filter down into ground-level approaches that are evidence-based and actually work. The federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy tried to link activities to outcomes that aligned with the Closing the Gap targets, but was found to have performed poorly across a number of areas.

Without a stronger evidence base and a clearer strategy for how the targets are meant to inform on-the-ground policies and programs, we simply don’t know which approaches to amplify and which to abandon.




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The current process to refresh the Closing the Gap targets and framework is under way and might consider some of these issues. However, it already faces problems with poor consultation and partnership.

This is ironic, given the repeated sentiments of the last ten years of Closing the Gap reports that relationships are being strengthened.

The ConversationAlthough the latest report has shown that some areas are improving, there are many more metrics that show little or no change.

Zoe Staines, Research Consultant; Research Assistant, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Three reasons why the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians aren’t closing

Francis Markham, Australian National University and Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University

This year’s Closing the Gap report tells a more positive story than the 2017 report on the seven measurable gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the areas of health, education and employment.

According to the government’s figures, the targets relating to Year 12 attainment, early childhood education, and child mortality are on track to be closed. In last year’s report, Year 12 attainment was on track, but child mortality wasn’t. Early childhood education is a revised target, and 2018 is the first time trends can be monitored. The previous early childhood target was not met.

But the targets related to life expectancy, employment, literacy and numeracy, and school attendance are not on track to being met.

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There has been steady improvement in absolute terms on most of the measures over the last decade, even if gaps have not closed at the desired pace.

Despite the symbolic importance these targets have gained and their precise numerical definition, progress toward meeting them remains remarkably hard to measure. This can lead to confusion and a sense that data is being constructed or interpreted to fit prior assumptions.

Low numbers of child deaths in a given year mean child mortality figures fluctuate across years in a way that doesn’t reflect real change. So, the child mortality target was on track, then it wasn’t, and now it is again. Policy parameters, however, haven’t changed much over the period.

For early childhood education, the number of Indigenous children attending preschool and the total number of eligible children come from different data sources. As those sources are revised (for example with new population estimates), it can look like rates are higher or lower than they actually are.

Care needs to be taken in interpreting progress, and ascribing this to actual policy change.




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Three reasons why gaps aren’t closing

Given its inability to meet such precisely defined targets, the Closing the Gap policy has been widely described as a failure. There are at least three important reasons why this is so.

First, laudable policy ambition was not matched with a radical change in how business is done in Indigenous affairs.

It has been clear since 2008 there would be little prospect of closing gaps in health and employment within a generation if business-as-usual policymaking continued. That same analysis showed closing the gap in educational attainment was more realistic if trends predating Closing the Gap continued. The latest report has vindicated this forecast.

However, without significant changes to how Indigenous policy was made, funded, and implemented, it seems the Closing the Gap policy was always destined to fail.

Second, governments’ stated policy goals have not always matched their policy actions.

An example of the mismatch between words and deeds can be found in employment policy. The abolition of a key job creation program – the Community Development Employment Projects scheme – has led to declining employment rates in remote parts of Australia. This reform has stalled progress toward closing employment gaps, not assisted it.




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Closing the Gap has also been hampered by competing policy priorities, such as the attempts to eliminate the federal budget deficit. It is likely the repeated cuts to the Indigenous affairs budget – especially in 2014 but also more recently with the apparent shortfall in the remote housing funding – has hobbled potential progress.

Similarly, evidence suggests one of the most significant Indigenous policy initiatives in recent years – the Northern Territory Intervention – may have directly widened health and school attendance gaps.

These negative outcomes are worse still when the opportunity costs of the immense amount of money and policy attention devoted to the Intervention are considered. As well as disempowering Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, the Intervention cost time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.




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Third, measures intended to achieve the targets have rarely been subject to careful evaluation and revision. Evaluations when they do occur rarely capture causal impact. And they often don’t capture the voices of those who were affected by the policy.

While there has been much talk from successive governments about the importance of evidence-based policy in Indigenous affairs, the promised focus on high-quality policy evaluation has yet to materialise.

Most importantly, the Closing the Gap framework has never tackled head-on the most important gap of all: the gulf between the political autonomy and economic resources of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Arguably, the framing of Closing the Gap as a technical problem – reported on with a barrage of statistics, targets, measurement discussions and the like – serves to hide the extent to which Indigenous disadvantage is a political problem requiring structural reforms.

The apparent sidelining of reforms that Indigenous people have long argued would help to close gaps should lead us to question whether depoliticisation is the Closing the Gap policy’s real “target”.




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The ConversationThere has been little in the Closing the Gap agenda that has empowered Indigenous people to implement local solutions to the issues that they identify as being problems. If the promised “refresh” of Closing the Gap does not put resources – and the power to direct them – into Indigenous hands, the prospects for closing socioeconomic gaps are likely to remain distant.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A sports car and a glitter ball are now in space – what does that say about us as humans

Alice Gorman, Flinders University
Two controversial objects have recently been launched in space, and their messages couldn’t be more different.

One is Elon Musk’s red sports car, a symbol of elite wealth and masculinity, hurtling towards Mars.

The other is a glittering geodesic sphere in Earth orbit, designed to give humans a shared experience and a sense of our place in the universe: the Humanity Star.

 




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A red car for a red planet

On February 6 2018, Musk’s private space company SpaceX launched the much-vaunted Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Centre – from the same launch pad as Apollo 11 in 1969.

It’s a test launch carrying a dummy payload: Musk’s own personal midnight cherry Roadster, a sports car made by his Tesla company. The driver, dubbed Starman, is a mannequin in a SpaceX spacesuit.




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For the ultimate road trip soundtrack, the car is playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

The car will enter an elliptical solar orbit, its furthest point from the Sun around the distance of Mars.

Musk thinks of it as future space archaeology.

Reactions include waxing lyrical about the speed the car will reach, lamenting the lost opportunity for a scientific experiment, and celebrating it as an inspirational act of whimsy.

Fear of flying

The Tesla Roadster might be an expendable dummy payload, but it’s primary purpose is symbolic communication. There’s a lot going on here.

There’s an element of performing excessive wealth by wasting it. Giving up such an expensive car (a new model costs US$200,000) could be seen as a sacrifice for space, but it’s also like burning $100 notes to show how how little they mean.

In the 1960s, anthropologist Victor Turner argued that symbols can encompass two contradictory meanings at the same time. Thus, the sports car in orbit symbolises both life and death. Through the body of the car, Musk is immortalised in the vacuum of space. The car is also an armour against dying, a talisman that quells a profound fear of mortality.

The spacesuit is also about death. It’s the essence of the uncanny: the human simulacrum, something familiar that causes uneasiness, or even a sense of horror. The Starman was never alive, but now he’s haunting space.

In a similar vein, the red sports car symbolises masculinity – power, wealth and speed – but also how fragile masculinity is. Stereotypically, the red sports car is the accessory of choice in the male mid-life crisis, which men use to rebel against perceived domestication.

A related cultural meme holds that owning a sports car is over-compensation. Have we just sent the equivalent of a dick pic into space?

Space graffiti

The brainchild of Peter Beck (founder of the New Zealand-based Rocket Lab), the Humanity Star was launched on 21 January 2018, but kept a secret until after it had successfully reached orbit.

In contrast to the lean and slightly aggressive lines of the sports car, the Humanity Star is a geodesic sphere of silver triangular panels. It’s a beach ball, a moon, a BB8, a space age sculpture. Its round shape is friendly and reassuring.

Similar satellites – with reflective surfaces designed for bouncing lasers – are orbiting Earth right now. But this satellite doesn’t have a scientific purpose. It’s only function is to be seen from Earth as its bright faces tumble to catch the light.

Astronomers weren’t happy, saying that it would confuse astronomical observations. It was even called “space graffiti”, implying that its visual qualities marred the “natural” night sky. Some lambasted Rocket Lab for contributing to the orbital debris problem. Instead of inspiration, they saw pollution.

Through the looking glass

Beck wants people to engage with the Humanity Star. In his words,

My hope is that everyone looking up at the Humanity Star will look past it to the expanse of the universe, feel a connection to our place in it and think a little differently about their lives, actions and what is important.

Wait for when the Humanity Star is overhead and take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect. You may just feel a connection to the more than seven billion other people on this planet we share this ride with.




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This is the “Overview Effect” in reverse. We can’t all go to space and see the whole blue marble of the Earth from outside, inspiring a new consciousness of how much we are all together in the same boat. Beck has tried to create a similar feeling of a united Earth by looking outwards instead.

In nine months or so, the Humanity Star will tumble back into the atmosphere to be consumed. It will leave no trace of its passage through orbit.

The medium is the message

Ultimately, these orbiting objects are messages about human relationships with space. Both objects were launched by private corporations, inviting Earthbound people to share the journey. However, one reinforces existing inequalities, while the other promotes a hopeful vision of unity.

Beck and Musk’s intentions are irrelevant to how the symbols are interpreted by diverse audiences. Symbols can be multivalent, contradictory, and fluid – their meanings can change over time, and in different social contexts.

The ConversationEvery object humans have launched into the solar system is a statement: each tells the story of our attitudes to space at a particular point in time.

Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in archaeology and space studies, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Governments have no excuse for keeping public in the dark on public housing deals

Matthew Palm, University of Melbourne; Carolyn Whitzman, University of Melbourne, and Katrina Raynor, University of Melbourne

The Transforming Housing research network recently held a workshop on how the Victorian government can maximise the social benefits of its Public Housing Renewal Program. The workshop attracted more than 100 participants – local government, non-profit housing providers, public housing residents and researchers. Despite being invited, the state government was notable for its absence.

This apparent reluctance to engage with stakeholders adds to a serious concern over government secrecy about social housing projects involving private developers. There are many basic pieces of information interested members of the public might want to find out but cannot.




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The number of private units versus new public units, and the size of the units, is just one example. Another example involves the government target of an increase of “at least 10%” in social housing units on former public housing land sold to developers. There has been no discussion of the rationale behind that figure.

The development potential of sites such as the old Northcote housing estate is clear, but the public has no way of knowing if the deals are good value.
Victorian government

Similarly, what prices will be charged for land currently occupied by public housing? The government forecasts Melbourne’s population will grow to 8 million by mid-century. This means any underutilised land in the inner city will become much more valuable.

By selling off public housing land in well-located inner suburbs, the government is forfeiting the future benefits of that land, including the opportunity to add to desperately needed public housing stock in these areas. How is the public supposed to evaluate the trade-offs between costs and benefits if critical information like the repair cost versus the costs of demolition and sale is kept secret?

More social housing is badly needed

What we do know is that the need for social housing is acute. The percentage of Australian families living in government and non-profit-owned housing (collectively called “social” housing) has declined from over 7% in 1991 to a little over 4.2% in 2016. This is the lowest proportion in 35 years. Victoria would require almost 70,000 more social housing homes over the next 20 years to meet the needs of lower-income households now facing severe housing stress in the private rental market.

As public housing represents such a small proportion of total housing stock, only the most vulnerable households that are least able to pay rent are eligible to live in this housing. At the same time, federal government subsidy shortfalls have created a maintenance backlog for an ageing public housing stock.

Successive reports by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office in 2010, 2012 and 2017 have identified the absence of a sound and sustainable mechanism for maintaining, let alone expanding, non-profit housing stock. A year ago, the independent state government advisory body Infrastructure Victoria recommended as one of three infrastructure priorities that the government repair existing stock and create new social housing.

Many questions about public housing renewal

In the context of low government funding and high repair bills, it is understandable that the Victorian government is seeking partners to renew estates. New South Wales is taking a similar approach with its Communities Plus program and it’s central to the US Choice Neighbourhoods program.

What is less understandable is why the state government is selling public housing land in nine central Melbourne estates to private developers in return for very low increases in social housing. The requirement of “at least” 10% of 1,110 units – the quantum being “renewed” – amounts to just 110 units.

That’s a drop in the ocean of need in exchange for selling off irreplaceable, well-located land. Moreover, there is a push towards demolishing four-bedroom homes and replacing them with one- and two-bedroom units. The result could be fewer beds for those in most need.

Our comparative research, covering Australia and overseas, shows that renewal with much higher social housing returns is possible in partnership with non-profit housing providers.




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The secure private garden on the redeveloped Carlton estate.
Kate Shaw

Evaluations of previous public housing renewal in Kensington, Carlton and Prahran estates also suggest the government undervalued the land and was not able to increase the amount of public housing as promised. The private developers created effectively “gated” private community features that did not benefit public housing residents.

Many submissions to a parliamentary inquiry by residents and neighbours of the nine affected estates express frustration and fear over the government’s secretive approach. One frustrated neighbour noted that he had to dig through the appendices of a traffic analysis to find out how many new market-rate units would be built near his home. As housing academics, we share residents’ frustrations at the unnecessary level of secrecy.

Concerns over the absence of a transparent cost-benefit approach to
infrastructure planning are evident as well in the debates over the West Gate Tunnel and the recent re-emergence of the East-West Link in the appendix of a budget report. The current government spent A$1 billion to bury the latter project three years ago. The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office also expressed concerns about misreporting costs, benefits and risks under the previous state government.




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Other countries show the way on transparency

In many American states, such as California, housing developers receiving government funds have their development cost details published before subsidies are awarded. Details include the cost of the land, numbers of subsidised and market units, and the costs of development. The evaluation of Choice Neighbourhoods is thorough and transparent.

Over the border in Canada, the funding and planning behind the large-scale Regent Park Public Housing renewal in Toronto is publicly available.

Developers and other providers interested in lucrative government contracts complain that transparency jeopardises their hard-earned trade secrets, and thus their businesses. We disagree. The transparency we see elsewhere isn’t stopping developers from doing business.

More importantly, should private firms that keep information about public benefit “commercial in confidence” be in the business of serving taxpayers at all? Shouldn’t those whose “business” is assured by the tax-levying powers of the state be able to be held publicly to account?

The ConversationGovernment officials assure us these deals go through complex layers of intergovernmental review to safeguard the public interest. We doubt that any amount of bureaucratic review can replace the accountability of simply revealing these deals to the public, and we suspect the public agrees with us.

Matthew Palm, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Transforming Housing Research Network, University of Melbourne; Carolyn Whitzman, Professor of Urban Planning, University of Melbourne, and Katrina Raynor, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Transforming Housing Project, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: a long history of celebration and contestation

Kate Darian-Smith, University of Melbourne

This is part of a series examining Australian national identity, especially around the ongoing debate about Australia Day.


Alongside the celebration, Australia Day also has a long history of commemoration and contestation, and this year is no different. In Western Australia, Fremantle council’s proposal to hold an alternative and culturally inclusive citizenship ceremony on January 28 was condemned by the federal government. The council was eventually forced to reinstate it to January 26.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s promotion of eating lamb on Australia Day continues to be controversial. Indigenous groups have been scathing about a TV advertisement that shows European invaders providing chops for a BBQ on the beach.

And following the recent removal of an Australia Day sign showing two smiling young girls in hijabs, a successful crowdfunding campaign will support the erection of this image on billboards across the nation.

Every year, the Australia Day holiday raises questions about our national identity and history. Colonisation, multiculturalism, social and cultural diversity and inclusion are at the heart of such debates. They ask us questions about what it means to be Australian – and “unAustralian”.

Like all national days, the significance attached to Australia Day has changed over time and the day has its own history. In May 1787, the British Admiralty sent the First Fleet carrying convicts and marines, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to found a penal colony at Botany Bay.

Amid a gale, on January 26, 1788, Phillip was rowed ashore at Sydney Cove, raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern half of the continent. The formal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales, and Phillip’s role as governor, followed on February 7.

In early colonial Sydney, almanacs began referring to “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day”. Successful immigrants – particularly ex-convicts – held anniversary dinners on January 26. In 1818, Governor Lachlan Macquarie formally marked 30 years as a colony with a 30-gun salute (a practice followed by his successors) at Dawes Point. Foundation Day continued to be commemorated, and an annual regatta in Sydney Harbour soon became its main attraction.

Other colonies commemorated their own imperial foundations. In Van Dieman’s Land – later renamed Tasmania – Regatta Day in early December jointly acknowledged the landing of Abel Tasman in 1642 and its separation from New South Wales in 1825. In Western Australia, Foundation Day on June 1 celebrated the arrival of white settlers in 1829. South Australia’s Proclamation Day was held on December 28.

In 1888, a week-long program in Sydney marked the centenary of British occupation. Anniversary Day — as it was then known — was a holiday in all capital cities except Adelaide. In Sydney, thousands attended the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria and the opening of Centennial Park. Representatives from all Australian colonies, and New Zealand, visited their “sister colony” to join the celebrations.

With 60% of the non-Indigenous population in Australia now “native-born”, the idea of a national day was gaining greater momentum. But views on what was being remembered on January 26 remained mixed.

Many felt that NSW’s convict origins were best forgotten. And there was little for Indigenous Australians to celebrate. The NSW governor, Henry Parkes, recognised that the day was a reminder to the Aborigines of how the British had “robbed” them.

The inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 strengthened the idea of a foundational holiday, and the Australian Natives Association took up the cause. In 1905, Empire Day was introduced on May 24, the late Queen Victoria’s birthday, to signal the continuing strength of imperial ties in the newly federated nation.

On July 30, 1915, an Australia Day was held to raise funds for the first world war effort. But Australia’s landing at Gallipoli earlier that year was to launch the commemoration of another national day: Anzac Day on April 25.

This date was first commemorated in London in 1916. By 1927 the day was a national holiday in all Australian states. During the 1920s, the Australian Natives Association continued to lobby for a national Foundation or Anniversary Day.

In 1935, all states adopted a common date and name for Australia Day, January 26. By the 1940s a national public holiday was in place.

The sesquicentenary of British colonisation was widely celebrated throughout Australia in 1938, particularly in Sydney. The re-enactment of Phillip’s landing and hoisting of the British flag at Sydney Cove was followed by an extensive pageant with motorised floats that demonstrated a march to nationhood. There was no representation of convicts, although the initial float depicted precolonial Aboriginal society. The white organisers had brought Aboriginal people from outside Sydney to perform.

In Sydney, over 100 Aborigines gathered at the Australia Hall for an Aborigines Conference to mark the “Day of Mourning and Protest”.

Jack Patten, of the Aborigines Progressive Association in NSW, chaired the meeting; other leaders present included William Cooper of the Australian Aborigines League in Victoria. Speeches protested against “the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years”, and asked for new laws to grant citizenship and equality to Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Day of Mourning, 1938.
National Museum of Australia

In the second half of the 20th century, the federal government began to take an increasingly prominent role in organising Australia Day. It established the National Australia Day Committee — which became a federally funded council in 1984.

The council aimed to promote national unity and was boosted by the preparations for the Bicentenary in 1988. Australia Day celebrations in Sydney included the arrival of tall ships from around the world, and a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. A huge protest march of over 40,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Sydney disputed the “celebration of the nation” as a day of white invasion. This drew national and international attention to Indigenous rights in Australia.

Public participation in Australia Day events — including concerts, fireworks and other community gatherings — has increased since the 1990s. Most Australians welcome the public holiday, which has come to mark the end of summer and the return to school.

But the day has continued to be one of Indigenous protest, with Invasion Day and Survival Day rallies held across the nation.

Elsewhere in the world, foundation days commemorating European colonisation are similarly contested. In the US, for instance, the national institution of Thanksgiving marks the autumn feast of the Pilgrims, but Native Americans have long considered it a “national day of mourning” and a celebration of cultural genocide.

Any decision to change Australia Day to an alternative date or disband it altogether would need to be made by the combined federal and state governments.

That seems unlikely to happen. Suggestions from time to time that Australia Day be moved to another date have met with little enthusiasm.

It should be noted, though, that in the frenzy surrounding the centenary of the first world war, Anzac Day has increasingly come to be seen as Australia’s more significant national day.


The ConversationCatch up on other pieces in the series here.

Kate Darian-Smith, Professor of Australian Studies and History, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why does the UK have so many accents?

Natalie Braber, Nottingham Trent University

Where we come from matters. Our origins form an important part of a distinctive personality, which can become a group identity when we share these origins. More often than not, our use of language, especially our dialect, is an expression of that distinctiveness. In addition to distinctive words and grammatical patterns, which may not follow the rules of Standard English, people have accents – many English language ones available to listen to here – related to their pronunciation when they speak which can articulate their identity.

Dialects and accents developed historically when groups of language users lived in relative isolation, without regular contact with other people using the same language. This was more pronounced in the past due to the lack of fast transport and mass media. People tended to hear only the language used in their own location, and when their language use changed (as language by its nature always evolves) their dialect and accent adopted a particular character, leading to national, regional and local variation.

Invasion and migration also helped to influence dialect development at a regional level. Just take the Midlands, for example. The East Midlands were ruled by the Danes in the ninth century. This resulted, for instance, in the creation of place names ending in “by” (a suffix thought to originate from the Danish word for “town”), such as Thoresby and Derby, and “thorpe” (meaning “settlement”), such as Ullesthorpe. The Danes, however, did not rule the West Midlands, where the Saxons continued to hold sway, and words of Danish origin are largely absent from that region.

From a town ending in ‘by’.
Shutterstock

Who am I?

Dialects and accents are not restricted to UK English, of course. In the US, Australia and New Zealand, where English has been spoken for a much shorter period of time than in the UK, you would expect less variation as English has been spoken there for a shorter period of time. But even there, dialects and accents occur and the linguistic influence of settlers who came from certain parts of the UK such as Scotland or Lancashire helped to determine local varieties.

A similar phenomenon appears in the UK. During the 1930s, Corby in Northamptonshire received a big influx of Scottish steelworkers. Here, there are features in the local language – for example, pronunciation of vowels in words such as “goat” or “thought” – which we think of as typically Scottish that are still used even by townsfolk who have never been to Scotland.

Other factors influence language use, too. One of them is social class. Very many local accents are now associated with working-class speakers, while middle and upper-class speakers tend to use a more standardised English. But this is a relatively recent development. Indeed, until the standardisation of English from the 16th century – when one variety of English came to be used in official situations and by printing presses for the wider publication of books – it was acceptable for speakers of different social classes to speak and write in their own dialects. Then, Latin and French were regarded as prestigious languages, applied by the elite in education, law and literature.

Dialects and accents are changing and will continue to change. After all, language never stands still. Some traditional dialects are disappearing, but new urban and multicultural varieties continue to arise. Some accents are deemed “better” than others and certain features may become fashionable.

This can be influenced by music. At the moment, linguistic features of “black English”, associated with hip hop, grime, R&B and rap music – such as “bae”, “blood” or “brother”, which can all be used as forms of address – are regarded as “cool” and are adopted by other speakers.

In addition, people change the language they use depending on who they are talking to, and why they are talking, for example formally in a job interview or casually to friends and family at home. People also change the way they speak to make themselves understood more easily, a phenomenon called linguistic accommodation.

Ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and age can all affect language usage. And there are also personal reasons for using dialects and accents to identify yourself. I have lived in England for 16 years, but you can still hear my Scottish accent and that is unlikely to change.

All the same?

Speakers’ language varieties can converge (become more similar) or diverge (become more different). And as the modern world becomes increasingly connected, linguists have wondered whether dialects and accents in general are bound to disappear.

There is certainly such a thing as “dialect levelling” – differences between dialects appear to be vanishing, which could be a consequence of the rise of mass and social media. But while there is much discussion about the disappearance of dialects and accents, public interest in the subject is growing.

Plymouth: sounds nothing like Liverpool.
Shutterstock

A consensus has not yet been reached. In UK English, some features may be spreading like wildfire through the country, such as people saying “free” instead of “three” – a linguistic change known as th-fronting. But differences persist, and speakers in Liverpool still sound very different to speakers in Plymouth.

The ConversationIn my opinion, dialects and accents are here to stay. Humans enjoy being part of groups, and we can consider language as a key means of expressing the perceived differences between “us” and “them”.

Natalie Braber, Associate Professor, Linguistics, School of Arts & Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Where do the names of our months come from?

Our lives run on Roman time. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and public holidays are regulated by Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian Calendar, which is itself a modification of Julius Caesar’s calendar introduced in 45 B.C. The names of our months are therefore derived from the Roman gods, leaders, festivals, and numbers. If you’ve ever wondered why our 12-month year ends with September, October, November, and December – names which mean the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months – you can blame the Romans.

The Philadelphia Experiment

by Majik

This little story was brought to mind only recently by a workmate by the name of Philly. As I was new to a position I was being introduced to a number of people and normally I am terrible at remembering names. To give me a bit of an edge with this I try to associate the name with something that gives it some substance in my mind. This called a memory mnemonic like the rhyme, 30 days hath September. This is all good and easy to understand unlike the near urban myth of the Philadelphia experiment which is purported to have occurred in Philadelphia sometime around October 28 1943 at the U.S. Navy’s Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard. The U.S Navy Destroyer Escort USS Eldridge was claimed to have been rendered invisible or cloaked to enemy devices and human observers for a short time. It has also been referred to as Project Rainbow.

It seems then that in 1955 an astronomer and UFO believer Morris K. Jessup received two letters from a Carlos Miguel Allende. He claimed that he had witnessed a secret test at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia. In this experiment, Allende claimed as outlined the above scenario but added that the Eldridge teleported to another dimension where it encountered aliens and teleported through time resulting in the death of several sailors, some of whom were fused with the ship’s hull. Jessup dismissed this claim as the work of a nutter.

This dismissal is more than likely a normal reaction and would end the matter. This was so until 1957 when Jessup received a communication from the Office of Naval Research in Washington stating that they had received a paperback copy of the book The Case for the UFO that was annotated in three different shades of pink appearing to be the work of three individuals as a correspondence. After an examination. the work was attributed to one author, Allende, and contained many references to Jessup’s previous work on UFO propulsion, different types of aliens living in outer space as well as references to the Philadelphia Experiment.

It has been said the test had managed to render the entire ship ‘out of phase’ with the surrounding universe, which is why it was able to travel from Philadelphia to Norfolk more or less instantly. This phasing effect had drastic effects on the crew members. During the experiment, crew members found they could walk through solid objects, and when the field was shut off, men were found embedded in the bulkheads, decks and railings of the ship. The results were gruesome enough that some men went mad. Afterwards, several crew members simply vanished. A few disappeared into thin air; one, eating dinner with his family, rose, walked through a wall and was never seen again. Some men entered into what was called the ‘Freeze’. This is where a man faded from view; unable to move, speak or otherwise affect his surroundings. Initially, the Freeze effect lasted only a few minutes to a few hours. Interestingly enough, invisible crewmen were still visible to other sailors who had survived the original experiment.  The Deep Freeze could drive a man insane in very short order and was only able to be counteracted if other crewmen performed a ‘Laying on of Hands’ technique to give the victim strength and allow him to recover from his affliction. Unfortunately, two men burst into flames while Laying on of Hands, burning for 18 days despite all attempts to quench the fire.

The story is largely regarded to as a hoax. The United States Navy maintains that the story is a hoax and that the details contradict well-established facts of the ship and its whereabouts. The USS Eldridge was commissioned on the 27th of August 1943 and it remained in Port in New York City until September 1943. A reunion of veterans aboard the Eldridge were quoted as saying in a newspaper in 1999 they never made port in Philadelphia. The experiment took place while the ship was on its shakedown cruise in the Bahamas, the home of the Bermuda Triangle, which in itself opens another possibility of mystery as there are many cases of missing time, disappearance, and other strange phenomena from that area.

In 1984 the movie The Philadelphia Experiment was released, presenting a fictionalized version of the incident. A sequel was filmed in 1993, titled Philadelphia Experiment II, and, in 2012, a made-for-television remake was released. As with most investigations of mysteries we are left with more answers but many more unanswered questions. Suffice to say keep the mind open to the realm of possibilities.

To end where I started with Philly. I was reminded when reading this story again, especially in this season of the celebration of friendship and good will, that although we have good friends and acquaintances most of their character, feelings, wants and needs remain a mystery to us and occasionally we are graced with an insight that helps us understand more fully the interplay of these complexities.

I hope you all have a good festive season.

Majik

Does drinking hot tea in summer really cool you down?

Steve Faulkner, Loughborough University and Katy Griggs, Loughborough University

I remember as a child, on the rare warm days that we used to get in Britain, my grandmother telling me to “have a cup of black tea … it will help cool you down”. As a seven-year-old, this seemed like a crazy idea, especially when all I wanted was a cold lemonade and another ice cream. But it appears that this old wives’ tale may actually be more Stephen Hawking than Stephen King.

The idea of drinking hot drinks in warm weather goes back hundreds of years. Tea, or “chai” is one of the most popular drinks in India, and many of the leading consumers of tea per capita are in tropical or desert regions. Recently, evidence has begun to emerge that drinking hot drinks may really help to cool you down, too.

In 2012, Ollie Jay published the first of a series of papers to see if drinking a warm drink can actually lower the amount of heat stored by the body compared to a cold drink. In this first study, volunteers were asked to cycle at a relatively low intensity for 75 minutes in around 24°C heat, 23% relative humidity, while consuming water at either 1.5˚C, 10˚C, 37˚C or 50˚C.

The change in core temperature was slightly greater when 50˚C water was ingested compared to 1.5˚C and 10˚C water. However, when the authors considered the effect of drink temperature on body heat storage, which is a better indicator of total body temperature, the results were very different. Following the ingestion of the warm drink, overall body heat storage was actually lower following exercise than with cooler drinks.

The sweat factor

An explanation for these findings appears to be related to how sweating may be influenced by drink temperature. Sweating, and more importantly the evaporation of this sweat, is one of the key avenues for modulating body temperature and maintaining heat balance.

Due to the increased heat load from drinking a warm drink, there is a compensatory increase in overall sweat output, which outweighs the internal heat gain from the warm drink. Consistently, a 50˚C drink results in a higher whole body sweat loss (around 570ml vs about 465ml for 1.5˚C). In practical terms, this means that more sweat is produced which is evaporated from the skin surface, increasing heat loss from evaporation and reducing body heat storage.

Cold water: should he drink it?
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Importantly, however, this study was conducted under conditions that allowed complete evaporation of sweat – in other words dripping sweat was limited by maintaining a good airflow and keeping humidity low. The results would likely be different in conditions where sweat evaporation is limited, such as in hot and humid conditions. In fact, drinking cold drinks may be more favourable in these circumstances, minimising inefficient sweat losses – dripping sweat – and consequently aiding an individual’s hydration status.

Mouth or stomach?

In a second study, Jay aimed to establish the effect of drink temperature on local sweat rate, and to determine the location of thermoreceptors that may influence sweating. They demonstrated that with differing drink temperatures, colder drinks (1.5˚C) resulted in reductions in local sweat rate compared to when warm drinks were ingested (50˚C), despite identical changes in core and skin temperature.

Interestingly, however, differences in the sweat response were found when fluid was either swilled around the mouth or delivered directly to the stomach via a nasogastric tube. The data showed that only when cold drinks were delivered directly to the stomach did they result in reduced local sweat rate. This data indicates that the sensors responsible for influencing the sweat response, and therefore regulation of body temperature, reside somewhere in the abdominal cavity.

In a third study conducted in their lab, the team asked people to consume either 37˚C fluid or ice during exercise. In agreement with their previous work, they showed that there was a reduction in heat loss following ice ingestion compared to fluid at 37˚C, as a result of reduced sweat evaporation from the skin surface.

This has implications for endurance performance in the heat. In essence, where changes in body temperature are known to influence performance, ice ingestion could result in an increase in body heat, negatively influencing endurance capability. The ingestion of an iced drink prior to exercise and in hot and humid environments, however, should be beneficial.

The ConversationSo, depending on your environmental conditions, maybe reaching for that cup of tea isn’t such a crazy idea after all. Plus the moral of the story: listen to your grandmother’s advice – it’s based on years of experience.

Steve Faulkner, Research associate, Loughborough University and Katy Griggs, Research Assistant and PhD student, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.