A world Founded on Opinion Instead of Knowledge

By Hamid Sediqi

Recently I developed an interest in Archery. Now I don’t want to portray myself as some expert archer, actually quite the contrary. Archery is something I know very little about because I’m still a novice. Given my keen interest in shooting an arrow accurately and precisely, who do you think I should go to if I truly want to learn?

 

The answer to this question may seem very straightforward and obvious to you. And it is. At my current stage, anyone who has more knowledge than I do is worth listening to and learning from. However, the best person, of course, would be someone who has not only spent years, and thousands of hours perfecting their technique, but has also spent some considerable time coaching others, bringing them to a level of proficiency.

 

Now imagine having discussed the importance of learning from an expert to a friend. You highlight the fact that this expert has 20 years of years of experience, they have coached multiple world champions, and the utility of what they teach has been demonstrated beyond doubt. Having explained all this, your friend looks at you with a smile and confidently tells you that everything you’re learning from this expert archer is nonsense. Instead what you should do is to take instructions from a friend he knows; a person who has never picked up a bow in his life but has watched countless YouTube videos on the topic.

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Any sensible person, after hearing this from a friend, would respond with, “what are you talking about?”. “How does it make sense to assume that someone with no training at all has the ability and the knowledge to help me improve?”.  He might point out that a person doesn’t necessarily have to go through years of training, but instead it’s possible for a person to learn outside of the established paradigm of learning (i.e. training courses etc).

 

This is true to an extent. There are definite examples of people who haven’t had a formal education and yet made tremendous strides. But, this is the exception and not the rule! For every Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs that exist in the world, there are countless numbers of unskilled, ignorant, lunatics who know absolutely shit all.

What is worse is when these lunatics go out and get qualifications either from shady colleges which have had their accreditation revoked, or they get a qualification that is completely unrelated to what they are preaching. For you to appreciate the ridiculousness of such a person and such a situation, imagine if you went to an archery school only to find out it was run by swimming instructors.

 

Baffled, you ask for their qualification, but they dodge your question. When you push the matter further, they pull out their swimming medals and certificates, and insist that this makes them more than capable archery instructors.

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Can you imagine a world built on this type of logic as its foundation? A world where everyone’s opinions are thought to be equal, on all and every subject matter. A world where Joe Schomos opinion on building safe bridges is equally valid as an experienced engineer?

That would be a terrible world to live in. It would be a world where knowledge is no longer valued. A world where everyone feels justified of their opinion just because they have one. And yet, this is exactly what happens when it comes to matters of science.

 

One thing that charlatans love doing is claiming that the “establishment” is after them. That they have somehow found knowledge that the scientific community doesn’t want you to know. To appreciate the absurdity of this claim, let’s imagine if the ‘archery school’ you visited insisted that they had figured out some special knowledge that the archery ‘establishment’ was trying to suppress. What would you think? Would you be convinced? Would you go to an archery school that was run by swimming instructors for the rest of your life? I hope not!

 

Instead, what I would hope is that you recognise that you would need to test their self-proclaimed “special knowledge”. I would hope that you would compare it to what is being taught mainstream and see what is more effective. I would hope that you would see the wisdom in what Carl Sagan said decades ago:

“But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

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Dolphin visa narrative of Asia’s boat people: more than research and cause of creating new knowledge...

By Ahmed Abid

The influx of Asian boat people is not a new issue at all. Each year, in search of a better life, large numbers of poor Bangladeshi labourers or economic migrants and Rohingyas from Myanmar, attempt to migrate to countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia illegally through sea-routes frequented by human smugglers and traffickers. Most of them ended up in human Slavery. Nearly 150,000 people including Bangladeshis and Rohingyas have taken the risky boat journey in the Bay of Bengal between January 2012 and May 2015[i].  My doctoral study in ‘Human Rights, Society and Multi–level Governance’ is about this vulnerable group of people. Actually, male trafficking from Bangladesh, through the sea route using highly organized networks, is a common phenomenon. This illegal migration process is termed as Dolphin visa (by boat/ sea route), Tarzan visa (by road through forests and hills), and Dalal’s (by brokers syndicates and networks).

Minimal academic work to date has focussed on the psychosocial impact of trafficking experiences upon this population, or on how to support their re-settlement upon return. Amnesty International’s recent report revealed that physical abuse, such as beatings with steel rods, has caused physical disabilities as well as significant psychological trauma and other mental health effects on this group of people[ii].

Since I completed my second masters in Human Rights from Mahidol University, Thailand I have been working on this issue from 2005. First I made a documentary film ‘The Dreaming Vendors’ dreamingvendorsfilm.com in 2010. It was just after completing a Summer School on ‘Cinema and Human Rights’ from European Inter University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization (EIUC) in Venice, Italy. Unfortunately, it was not enough to attention of policy makers.   I started presenting my research at academic conferences (e.g. my research on awareness raising and my film at the Borderland conference in Hong Kong, 2014).  

The dreaming vendors.jpg

My recent project study, ‘Journey of Hope (2012-2014)’, sought to raise community awareness of this issue. I presented the narrative of two victims through my film, ‘The Dreaming Vendors’, to people of 11 districts (out of 64 districts) in Bangladesh and users of social media, especially Facebook and videos on YouTube. The consistent feedback from those who viewed the film was that it changed their attitudes towards migrant workers and their families, particularly among young, urban middle class people. However, my efforts to date have not been sufficient to attract the attention of all key stakeholders including the Government of Bangladesh.

To my surprise, making films, presenting papers in conferences or even raising awareness in the field, are not enough to draw the attention of policy makers in governments and development organizations! To contribute to this vulnerable community, I decided to carry out a doctoral study on the issue and looked for the right school and program. I started with this mission for my life in 2006, I have had to struggle 10 years to find the right place.

However, I am lucky that, Dr. Garry Stevens, who is a mental health expert, agreed to be my main supervisor. It is also my pleasure to get Dr. Nichole Georgeou from Humanitarian and Development Studies programme from the School of Social Science, as co-supervisor of my research project. Dr. Nichole Georgeou is not only Director of the Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI), Humanitarian and Development Studies, but also is an authority in development research and international human rights protection. In fact, I am not only in the right place but also in the right hands as well. This is a great opportunity for me to work with them and explore and contribute to humanity through this research.

 Shooting Boat People, Maesot, Thailand

Shooting Boat People, Maesot, Thailand

The recent exodus of 300,000[i] or more Rohingya’s from Burma to Bangladesh will resume the trajectory of human smuggling the Dolphin Visa narrative. In this modern time such act of heinous human slavery should be stopped.     

I think the outcome of this study will help policy makers, and especially concerned Ministries of the Bangladesh Government, which deal with migration and trafficking to help them develop concrete policies to support safe migration and resettle victims of trafficking. I am confident that this study will bring change for people who are victims and influence policy as well.

 

 

About Authour: Ahmed Abid is a filmmaker and research scholar. Ahmed is currently pursuing a joint Ph.D in ‘Human Rights, Society, and Multi-level Governance’; an interdisciplinary academic programme managed by University of Padova (Italy), University of Zagreb (Croatia), Western Sydney University (Australia), Panteion University, (Athens, Greece). He will be available on ahmed.khan@western.sudney.edu.au or skype: ah.abid

 

[i]  TRT World (2017). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/trtworld/

[i] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.), International Organization for Migration

(I.O.M.), and United Nations Office on Drugs and crime (U.N.O.D.C.), “Bay of Bengal and Andaman

 Sea: Proposals for Action,” May 2015, Retrieved from, http://www.unhcr.org/55682d3b6.html

[ii] Amnesty International, (2015). Deadly Journeys: The Refugee and Trafficking Crisis in

South East Asia.  Retrieved from http://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/deadlyjourneysasa2125742015webversion.pdf

 

 

Deciphering Bullshit with Brazilian Jujitsu and Science

For my science friends, you probably don’t have any idea of what Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) is or how it’s related to conducting science. My BJJ friends on the other hand, you have a clear understanding of what BJJ is, but you might not realise its connection to science.

In this short blog I want to explore the similarities between science and BJJ.

Throughout my life, I’ve seen people fall for bullshit and be tricked into believing things like the earth being flat, or that climate change is a lie that’s propagated by the illuminati to control the masses. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen for some of these as well, for instance, when I was younger, I was legitimately convinced that we hadn’t gone to the moon. And of course, I used to believe that climate change was total bullshit made up by people like Al gore to make money of the rest of us.

In retrospect, the reason why I fell for these beliefs was not because I was stupid, but instead, I lacked the skill of deciphering bullshit from truth. This is similar to what I was like before starting BJJ. I used to think that martial arts experts could kill you with their Chi or touch down on certain parts of your body (pressure points) to dismantle you without any effort.

I remember as a kid watching Kung Fu movies and thinking that if I focused hard enough I could probably fly and fight in the sky like the people in the movies. This sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it felt like it was totally legit.

Once I started training BJJ everything changed. Bjj was different from all the other traditional martial arts, in that it was testable and falsifiable. In other martial arts, you would usually expect minimal sparring with the instructor or with other students. This was especially apparent in traditional striking martial arts such as Kung Fu. Consequently, there was no way of determining if a technique was actually effective or completely useless. It was all based on what people thought would happen.

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Conversely, in BJJ no matter how old the instructor, students readily spar against their professor. Because of this, it becomes very easy to find out if someone is full of shit. A person in BJJ claiming that they have some magical deadly technique that can never be used because of its effectiveness, will always be met with scepticism.

Practitioners of BJJ would require a demonstration, and try to test it in many ways to find any weakness or error. They wouldn’t take it at face value. This is what I love about BJJ; it’s different from all the other martial arts because it’s testable and falsifiable.

 Tai Chi master unfortunately gets a reality check by an MMA fighter. Knowledge vs Belief.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUOXGQ0MqP0  

Tai Chi master unfortunately gets a reality check by an MMA fighter. Knowledge vs Belief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUOXGQ0MqP0 

 

Science is very much like BJJ. It separates what we want to believe to be true from what is actually true. Very much like how BJJ is an effective tool for combat, science is an effective tool for discovering truths. The scientific method is like BJJ, it enables us to find out what is effective (true) and what is ineffective (false).

 

Just like there are fundamental truths in BJJ (for e.g. mount is a superior position than guard), there are also fundamental truths in science (e.g. the universe is expanding, and the earth is not flat). We only come to realise these truths by testing what we think might work. Again and again!

 The only way to ensure that you don’t fall for bullshit is to only believe what you can demonstrate and test. Without testing our beliefs, we will always be prone to falling for nonsense.

So the moral of the story is: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself, because false beliefs ain't good for your health”