Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Australian Psychological Society shows its political bias

As a former member of the APS, their bias is no news to me. A reader writes:

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is apparently perpetuating the global warming myth, directing readers to Al Gore and Tim Flannery for authorative information (links provided), offering tips on how to indoctrinate children with warming mythology and even psychoanalyzing skeptics. The diagnosis of the APS is that denialism is a common reaction to global warming;
“Sometimes, if the information is too unsettling and the solutions seem too difficult, people can cope by minimising or denying that there is a problem, or avoiding thinking about the problems.

Being sceptical about the problems is another way that people may react. The caution expressed by climate change sceptics could be a form of denial, where it involves minimising the weight of scientific evidence/consensus on the subject. Or it could indicate that they perceive the risks of change to be greater than the risks of not changing, for themselves or their interests.”

I wonder if climate change skeptics need to be medicated or whether long-term psychological treatment is sufficient to cure an enquiring mind?

Rather than maintaining an objective and apolitical stance, as you might expect from a group of psychologists, the APS is in overdrive to promote its view of climate change, at the expense of objectivity and reason. As a mental health professional and skeptic, it is disappointing to say the least.

Rudd adopts failed British approach to hospital waiting times

"Targets" ("national standards" in Ruddspeak) were Tony Blair's brainwave. They doubled costs but still led to rushed care, dangerous neglect and death in some instances

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has kicked off a media blitz to sell his proposed shake-up of the nation's hospitals by promising to put a cap on waiting times. Mr Rudd has said that under the proposed new national standards, maximum waiting times would be in place for elective and emergency surgery.

"What we need through new tough national standards is for patients to have confidence that there will be maximum waiting times, that there will be absolute maximum waiting times for elective surgery and for treatments of accident emergency," Mr Rudd told Channel 9 today. "We don't have those standards nationwide at present," he said, adding that he would take ultimate responsibility for those standards being met.

Mr Rudd has said that patients would be sent to private hospitals, at public cost, if they could not be treated within the agreed time period. Patients have also been promised the same level of care regardless of where they live in the country.

A new National Health Hospital Network to be set up by the states will determine what services will be provided by hospitals and where patients will need to travel to access services. Under the plan, the most efficient hospitals will become "super providers" for elective surgery or maternity services. But some procedures will be stripped out of hospitals and put into communities so patients do not have to travel long distances.

States will be stripped of 30 per cent of their GST funding - about $90 billion over five years. Mr Rudd has said he can end the "blame game" because the Commonwealth will become the "dominant" health funder. He will ask the states to sign-off on the deal next month. If they don't they could face a referendum. Under the plan, the Commonwealth will pay 60 per cent of costs, set targets and be in charge of workforce planning. The states will pick up the remaining 40 per cent tab and maintain capital planning rights.

"Small hospitals hit"

Senior NSW Government sources told The Daily Telegraph that the plan would not put any more money into the health system. They said the 100 hospitals across regional and rural NSW would be financially unviable under the system, which would allocate funding on a per-procedure basis, because the volume of medical procedures in small hospitals was too low. "The state Government will have to make a decision as to whether it can continue to subsidise these hospitals or close them," the unnamed sources said.

Mr Rudd's office has said the reforms will not force any hospitals to close. "There will be loadings to recognise the needs of people in regional Australia," a spokesman said.

Most state premiers have said they will wait for more detail before committing to support or oppose the plan when they meet for the April edition of the Council of Australian Governments. The Prime Minister next month. But WA's Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has given an early "no" vote.

Second opinions

Most economists and policy experts have described the Government's health blueprint as promising but not an instant remedy. David Penington, senior fellow at the Grattan Institute, has said there is no way the necessary expertise can be developed embracing all of Australia's 753 public hospitals.

He has said there will have to be two levels of bureaucracy directly involved with the public hospitals and a new layer of management at the local network level. "It is hard to see that this will deliver better services, to address the need to greatly improve the interface between hospitals and primary care, rationalise duplication between hospitals, or solve the continuing problem of elderly patients occupying inappropriate beds in high cost acute hospitals," Professor Penington said.

Health economist John Deeble, one of the architects of Medibank and Medicare, has said the Rudd Government has identified the system's most pressing problem: the fact that health costs will soon outstrip state revenues. But he has said the proposal for a mosaic of hospital networks is "completely vague" and makes little sense in capital cities, where 70 per cent of Australians live. "Each of them will be competing for resources and each will want their own specialist centre," Professor Deeble said. "It (the plan) is not going to happen in a hurry, and it doesn't produce any more money for the hospitals as far as I can see - so it won't solve the waiting list problems immediately."

Stephen Leeder, director of Menzies Centre for Health Policy, has said the "Local Hospital Networks" that will be established in the plan will each comprise between one and four of Australia's existing public hospitals and risk being too small to be able to plan sensibly. "It's a bit like looking at a sketch for a new kitchen - it all looks good and the colours are nice, but the question is does the stove work and does it all hang together?"


Victoria says that more money is what is needed, not an administrative reshuffle

STATE Health Minister Daniel Andrews says the federal health reform plan short-changes Victorian patients. The proposal was all about administrative reform, but he said "health reforms need to be about more money" so more patients were able to receive the necessary treatment more quickly. Victoria remained $1 billion a year out of pocket since the blowout in the 50-50 split in state and Commonwealth funding, he said.

Under the plan, the Federal Government would contribute 60 per cent of all costs, up from its current 35 per cent. But Mr Andrews said there'd be no more money for Victorian patients until 2014, and even then it would be less than $200 million. The benefit to Victoria's health budget would gradually grow to $1.2 billion, but not for a decade.

Mr Andrews said that if the Commonwealth provided an extra $1 billion a year now, Victoria could almost double its capacity for elective surgery and build two hospitals in regional and outer suburban areas every year. "Our test has always been more money to treat more patients and to treat them faster," he said. "And we will continue to fight to get that."

He said the data showed Victoria had the best-performing health system, and only extra cash would improve hospitals. But the state might lose out under a federal model. "I wouldn't want to see (us) under a national scheme with Victoria's capital works program having to compete against those of other states," Mr Andrews said. "For instance, the $1 billion Royal Children's Hospital - would it be funded as it was, or would it have to compete against children's hospitals across Australia?"

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said the federal plan took with one hand and gave back with the other. "In Victoria alone, we need another 600 hospital beds; we also need another 187 each year to manage population growth. That needs extra funding now," he said. "Other states will see more changes. We already have case-mix; we already have local boards. "We need to ensure that we protect existing innovation in Victoria and drive reform."

Dr Hemley also questioned whether patients would be better off in the long run. "Doctors were hoping that health reform might involve patient care, rather than just governments' funding arrangements," he said.


'There are too many bosses', says patient Joan Maple

And Rudd wants to create more of them!

Joan Maple, 84, from Mt Martha has been waiting for a knee replacement for two years. "I have been waiting at least two years to see a doctor and have had problems for three or four years, but my knee just gets worse. I don't know who you blame - it is not the hospital's fault, it is not the doctor's fault, I think it is just the bureaucracy.

There are too many bosses and not enough workers, and I don't think they can see the little people for the trees. And I don't know if the Federal Government takeover is good or bad. I think the new plan is right, but I doubt they are capable of delivering it the way they are going at the moment.

Frankston Hospital is trying to do a wonderful job, but they just can't handle all the people who need handling. I need a new knee. I have had an assessment from the physiotherapist and every three months I have to fill out a questionnaire to let them know about my condition, but I still haven't even been able to see a doctor.

I have just joined a health insurance fund because I just can't wait any longer. I have to wait 12 months before I can have the operation, but I still think it will come around quicker than waiting in the public system."


New mathematics curriculum a feeble tool calculated to bore


On Monday, after almost two years of work, a draft of the new Australian national curriculum was released. As maths lecturers deeply dissatisfied with the state of Australian education, we were keen to see what would emerge. Keen, but pessimistic. We were concerned about the almost total lack of involvement of mathematicians in the writing process and unimpressed by the background documents, which displayed a disturbing ignorance of mathematical culture.

Our doubts have unfortunately been confirmed. We are convinced that implementing such a curriculum will do little to improve the woeful state of Australian mathematics education.

The substance of the draft, which covers prep to year 10, is in the year-by-year syllabus, with an "elaboration" of each point: the syllabus point indicates "what" is to be taught; the elaboration suggests "how" it is to be taught. The syllabus itself is divided into three streams: number and algebra, statistics and probability, and measurement and geometry.

These artificial divisions, while necessary, have led to an unnecessary dissolution of the syllabus; every part of every stream is addressed in every year. The few concepts in the statistics syllabus, for example, are continually drip-fed over 11 years. There is simply no reason for "data" to be collected and analysed over and over again.

A more central problem with the syllabus is what is emphasised and what is de-emphasised, or omitted entirely. To illustrate, consider the approach to calculators and technology. We shouldn't need to say it, but pushing buttons on a calculator is not doing mathematics: it may (rarely) be a "how", but is never a "what". Yet, "calculator" appears time and again as a core concern of the syllabus. By comparison, reasoning involving proof - the one compelling argument for teaching mathematics - is reduced to elaboration, just another method of getting to a (usually boring) fact. This technology ramming extends to advocating the use of calculators to introduce adding in prep, a suggestion so appallingly misguided it beggars belief.

The technology fetish goes hand in hand with another major problem with the draft curriculum: a preference for "practical" mathematics at the expense of more fundamental and ideal concepts.

As a consequence, number (mainly arithmetic) crowds out algebra, measurement crowds out geometry, and statistics swamps everything. This emphasis on supposedly useful mathematics is seriously misguided. The result is an unbalanced, ugly, bitsy, pseudo-applied curriculum. It will constitute woeful preparation for students continuing maths beyond year 10, and we predict it will bore the pants off everyone.

We have many specific objections to the draft curriculum. Here is but a sampling. We cannot see why times tables have been shoved out to make room for "multiplication facts", nor why multiplying by 7 alone is omitted from the year 4 syllabus, nor why the 11 and 12-times tables are never even implicitly referred to. We wonder why "theorem" - the central concept in mathematics - only ever appears with "Pythagoras", and why the proof of this one theorem is merely an elaboration. We wonder why pi and real numbers and irrational numbers barely get a mention.

We also wonder why there is a pandering to indigenous Australians while the major Chinese and Arabic contributions to mathematical wisdom are ignored. Why isn't Euclid or any mathematician (other than Pythagoras) ever mentioned by name? So much for presenting mathematics as a human endeavour.

Attempting to sell mathematics by imposing an artificial concreteness, by inflating the importance of calculating bank interest, is simply farcical.

Just as children best learn to read by experiencing the joy of great stories, they best learn mathematics by experiencing its beauty and the joy of mathematical play. But in this curriculum there is little sense of the fun and the beauty of mathematics. Not a hint of infinity, of the fourth dimension, of Moebius bands, of puzzles or paradoxes. Why? If mathematics can be taught as ideas, as something beautiful and fun, then why is it not being proposed? Because it is difficult to do. To teach real mathematics makes demands on the teacher, and it is risky.

What is proposed is little more than a cowardly version of current curriculums, a codification of the boring, pointless approach - which is "safe" but which has already failed a generation of students.

The draft curriculum begins by declaiming the beauty and intrinsic value of mathematics, and the elegance and power of mathematical reasoning. But as a means of unfolding all this before our students, the proposed curriculum is a feeble tool indeed.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Surgery waiting times are a superb gauge of the failure of Govenrment past and present to invest in the natural growth of services that must follow growth in populations. We cancel people who are literally on the table waiting to be anaesthetized, yet they can still find time to send us all for compulsory cultural awareness training.