Saturday, August 26, 2006


Two current articles below

Government dentist HIV positive

Up to 500 people are to be tested for HIV after a female dentist working for Queensland Health tested positive for the virus. Clinics at Bowen and Collinsville hospitals will be open from today to test people treated by the dentist since December 15. The dentist, employed by Queensland Health last year, was the only public dentist employed in the region. She worked in clinics in both hospitals and also treated a small number of patients at school dental clinics in the region and a small number of patients at Ayr hospital.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the HIV test being offered would give people a response within 48 hours. Dr Young last night reassured patients that the risk of contracting HIV from the dentist was "very very low". She said there was no known case of transmission of HIV in Australia between a dentist and patient.

Queensland Health last night revealed few details of the dentist who started work for Queensland Health "some time last year". Dr Young said it was believed she contracted the disease in late December and ruled out that it was caught from one of her patients. Queensland Health yesterday began going through all medical records to trace former patients who will be contacted and offered a HIV test. A 1800 hotline has been established and more information is available on the Queensland Health website.

Dr Young said Queensland Health required all staff who undertook exposure-prone procedures to be aware of their HIV, Hep C and B status. "Dentists put their hands into people's mouths . . . They could potentially cut themselves and there is a risk blood could go into a patient's mouth."

Dr Young said Queensland Health protocols required dentists to wear gloves and a mask when treating patients and all medical equipment was sterilised after use.

Australian Dental Association Queensland president Dr Robert McCray last night said former patients of the dentist should not be alarmed as the risk of infection was "almost zero". "Dentistry within Queensland is performed under a set of guidelines," Dr McCray said. "The likelihood of transmission from patient to dentist or dentist to patient is very low in the extreme unless standard operating procedures were not followed. There has been no known case in Australia. "The public should have total confidence that the likelihood of transmission from dentist to patient is virtually zero."


Truth penalized by corrupt government

A health whistleblower who was demoted after exposing the "Jayant Patel" of dentistry is demanding his job back, claiming he has been vindicated. Former Gold Coast Health Service District principal dentist Dan Naidoo was disciplined last year after speaking out about the alleged rogue dentist and the poor state of public dental services on the tourist strip. The dentist he exposed - accused of botching procedures and "torturing" patients to the point of tears - had strict conditions placed on his practice by the Dental Board of Queensland and has since been sacked. One female patient was left with a hole in her jaw and needed nasal reconstruction after a procedure in what she described as the dentist's "torture chamber".

But after suspending the dentist and alerting the media, Dr Naidoo was demoted and sent to a suburban dental clinic in what former health inquiry commissioner Tony Morris described as a classic case of Queensland Health's "shoot the messenger" culture. Now working for NSW Health, Dr Naidoo says he has been vindicated and wants his senior Gold Coast job back. "I just feel cheated and I feel a great sense of injustice," he said yesterday. "I stopped this dentist from torturing patients and yet I was punished and demoted."

An internal Queensland Health email obtained by The Courier-Mail reveals a decision was made in April last year to remove the dentist from clinical work "in the interests of patient safety". But Dr Naidoo said the dentist was allowed to continue operating despite complaints from patients and staff. He later suspended the dentist after hearing one of his patients "screaming in pain".

Surfers Paradise Liberal MP John-Paul Langbroek, himself a dentist, has raised Dr Naidoo's plight in State Parliament and said he should have had whistleblower protection. "He was trying to protect patients and he was cast adrift by Queensland Health," Mr Langbroek said.

But in a letter to Mr Langbroek, Premier Peter Beattie said Dr Naidoo was disciplined for making "inflammatory and untrue" statements which had "undermined public confidence" in Gold Coast dental services. Mr Beattie said Dr Naidoo had been warned that he could be disciplined for speaking out, and was given an opportunity to defend himself. Dr Naidoo had not appealed against the decision or sought legislative protection afforded to "true whistleblowers", Mr Beattie said.


Science education in Australia

Some works of literature have titles so powerful that it seems unnecessary to read the work itself. E.M. Forster's Two Cheers for Democracy is like that for me. Democracy may be a poor system of government, but it is the best we've got. It is always struggling and its results are not always inspiring. One of the deeper purposes of education in a democratic country must be to help merit the third cheer. A democracy has millions of decision-makers, some wise and well informed, many who think they are, and some who don't even try, but all vote. One of the outcomes of education is that children are indoctrinated in their social and political heritage.

Anyone who knows schools knows this indoctrination will happen by default; it is better if it is controlled. It should be intentional, purposeful, and should develop Forster's two cheers: critical minds and a variety of thinking. Sound education can also earn democracy my third cheer: for good decision-making, the sine qua non of a strong and ethical government.

This was a big week in Canberra for education and good decision-making. First, speaking as the Minister for Science, Julie Bishop, who is also Minister for Education, made the important statement that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes. Pointing out that ID does not belong in the science curriculum at all, she has taken a firm stand and given leadership that will strengthen our science teaching.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Australian Council for Educational Research held its 11th national research conference, this year focusing on science teaching and learning. On Thursday was the history summit, attended by the Education Minister, former "history premier" Bob Carr and an impressive list of historians and history teachers. The two conferences were tied together by themes: Science for Citizenship in one and History for Citizenship in the other. I see the two coming together in a wonderfully productive symbiotic relationship.

Science for Citizenship is a research focus of Jonathan Osborne, a professor at King's College, London, who gave the first keynote address. He sees the early specialisation of science teaching to cater for potential career scientists as deadening to the majority, who have needs as future citizens but will not study science after secondary school.

What plagues democracy is that pesky tradition of involving everyone in decision-making. As Osborne told the science conference: "Society is confronted with a dilemma that the majority of people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice."

Having strongly suggested that science is the greatest cultural achievement of Western society, he argues that science must attempt to communicate "not only what is worth knowing, but also how such knowledge relates to other events, why it is important, and how this particular view of the world came to be".

It does not take much science to understand the water cycle and that H2O is H2O, yet the good people of Toowoomba recently decided they could not drink purified used water. It is worth knowing what water is and the role it played for millennia before it came into our brief lives. This is just one example of how good science teaching can make people better voters and citizens.

It is important to understand science that explains the case as it is, not as we might prefer it to be. Gravity is inconvenient to a child falling out of a tree, just as global warming is to all of us today. Scientific research and political decision-making share the need for rational, evidence-based argument. The science classroom is one place where these higher-order thinking skills can - indeed, must - be effectively taught to young citizens of our democracy. To be effective, we must start with the young. Our primary schools, almost without exception, miss the boat completely.

Science might be in the primary curriculum, but what is taught is usually warm, fuzzy and concentrates more on what is cute than on developing disciplined thought. This is not surprising as almost no Australian primary teachers have studied science as part of their university degree and not many have been interested enough to have studied it in the last two years of secondary school. They are monumentally unprepared to teach facts (or understand what a fact is in science - think of phlogiston (more later) - and even less prepared to help young minds develop sound scientific thinking. A survey of how many primary teachers go to a homoeopath or care what their star sign is gives a quick indication of the parlous state of science teaching in our primary schools.

Yet young children observe the world very closely and ask questions. They poke and probe and experiment: scientific behaviour that is often mistaken for naughtiness. They love to count and take surveys. They are young scientists. As they see patterns emerging in the world around them, they discover where they fit. Science makes sense. We urgently need full-time specialist science teachers who are given time, rooms and resources to teach our children from kindergarten to Year 6. After such an introduction, science might be able to compete in high school with "fun" courses such as design and technology or drama, which are fun because they teach children how to explore aspects of life hands-on, just as science does.

Back to phlogiston. Joseph Priestley, one of the best late 18th-century scientists, discovered phlogiston and knew that it assisted combustion and respiration better than air. Dephlogisticated air, known to us as carbon dioxide, suffocates fire. The phlogiston theory was the best theory going until Lavoisier offered oxygen and started a battle with Priestley and a revolution in chemistry. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, whereby Lavoisier ended up on the guillotine, what story could offer more: excitement, science, revolution in chemistry and politics, and impact on our lives today?

The phlogiston story is one among many that demonstrate how science searches for evidence-based explanations and can change its mind when evidence is compelling. The competition for glory, the sharing of ideas, the influence of one person's work on another, the impact of events outside the science laboratory: all are common themes in the history of ideas that shaped our world.

Is the phlogiston story science or is it history? Of course it is both, but open to study through the prism of each discipline in a somewhat different mode. History and science are not so far from each other; both require a chronological framework, knowledge of facts and development of skills for their full power to be appreciated and the importance to our lives to be convincing. Recent television programs on the history of science, for example on Darwin's The Origin of Species, penicillin or the introduction of sewers in London, show vividly the human drama that accompanies great developments in science. Knowing such stories, the science behind them and its impact on our daily lives leads to citizens better prepared to use their judgment.

Osborne called for "the study of the history of ideas and the evidence on which they are founded" to be the core of the curriculum. In such a curriculum we develop critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making. We can earn the third cheer for democracy.


Shameful inaction: Children must be rescued from wicked parental neglect

And to hell with the politically correct social-worker doctrine that children must stay with their parents

The tragic death of 11-month-old Wade Michael Scale in Western Australia is another sad reminder that not all parents have the best interests of their children at heart. Equally shocking, but not unexpected, is the state Government's response, to hide the full extent of its own incompetence.

Baby Wade was found drowned in a bathtub with the adult prescription sedative diazepam in his blood. West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope could not tell if the drug-addicted parents had given Wade the drug to keep him quiet. But the Coroner heard enough to criticise state welfare for failing to offer protection in light of repeated warnings of parental neglect from the child's grandmother.

Wade's death appears to be the tip of a nightmarish iceberg. But we do not known how big because the West Australian Government has suppressed details of an investigation into other children who died while being monitored by the Department of Community Development. Wade's case has echo's of the death of a three-year-old boy in NSW who was raped and then electrocuted by a pedophile his mother had met at a train station. In that case, complaints of abuse by the boy, and his six-year-old sister, were ignored. As were repeated warnings of neglect despite the mother's documented history of handing her children to predators.

This issue clearly haunts all state governments. In Queensland, after campaigning in the 2004 state election to fix its appalling record on child welfare, the Government admitted that 4544 of the 11,896 child abuse reports received last year had not been passed on for investigation. In NSW, dozens of children, many known to be at high risk, die each year because authorities are too willing to accept promises by mothers that things will improve.

In Western Australia, the evidence is that wicked acts have thrived on inaction. A common theme remains the wrong-headed policy of keeping children with their natural parents at any cost. The rights of the parent must give way to the safety of the child and state governments must be accountable for the terrible things that happen because of their inaction. Public exposure is the first, necessary, step.


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