Archive for Aboriginal status

Nature highlights

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2016 by xi'an

Among several interesting (general public) entries and the fascinating article reconstituting the death of Lucy by a fall from a tree, I spotted in the current Sept. 22 issue of Nature two short summaries involving statistical significance, one in linguistics about repeated (and significant) links between some sounds and some concepts (like ‘n’ and ‘nose’) shared between independent languages, another about the (significant) discovery of a π meson and a K meson. The first anonymous editorial, entitled “Algorithm and blues“, was rather gloomy about the impact of proprietary algorithms on our daily life and on our democracies (or what is left of them), like the reliance on such algorithms to grant loan or determining the length of a sentence (based on the estimated probability of re-offending). The article called for more accountability of such tools, from going completely open-source to allowing for some form of strong auditing. This reminded me of the current (regional) debate about the algorithm allocating Greater Paris high school students to local universities and colleges based on their grades, wishes, and available positions. The apparent randomness and arbitrariness of those allocations prompted many (parents) to complain about the algorithm and ask for its move to the open. (Besides the pun in the title, the paper also contained a line about “affirmative algorithmic action”!) There was also a perfectly irrelevant tribune from a representative of the Church of England about its desire to give a higher profile to science in the/their church. Whatever. And I also was bemused by a news article on the difficulty to build a genetic map of Australia Aboriginals due to cultural reticence of Aboriginals to the use of body parts from their communities in genetic research. While I understand and agree with the concept of data privacy, so that to restrain to expose personal information, it is much less clear [to me] why data collected a century ago should come under such protections if it does not create a risk of exposing living individuals. It reminded me of this earlier Nature news article about North-America Aboriginals claiming right to a 8,000 year old skeleton. On a more positive side, this news part also mentioned the first catalogue produced by the Gaia European Space Agency project, from the publication of more than a billion star positions to the open access nature of the database, in that the Gaia team had hardly any prior access to such wealth of data. A special issue part of the journal was dedicated to the impact of social inequalities in the production of (future) scientists, but this sounds rather shallow, at least at the level of the few pages produced on the topic and it did not mention a comparison with other areas of society, where they are also most obviously at work!

Aboriginal status

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2012 by xi'an

On the plane from Alice Springs, I read a highly interesting article by Nicolas Rothwell in the Weekend Australian on the “indigenous” policies of successive Australian governments, especially interesting after having witnessed the sorry status of Aboriginals in Alice Springs, apparently destitute and unemployed, living in shacks on the outskirts of the town, sometimes begging for alcohol from passersby, as they are not allowed to purchase alcohol themselves. The paper, Revolution’s mosaic of success and failure, speaks of a “state of emergency” that seems quite appropriate. Obviously, it is impossible for me to draw a reasonable opinion from a few days spent in central Australia, however this column confirms that Aboriginals (or at least those from remote communities attracted to Alice Springs, “the epicentre of the intervention”) are still treated as second-class citizens in that they are very rarely in charge of their own destiny: those who live on social welfare see their support money handled by government administrators (NTER), their communities are not self-ruled but administered from outside by civil servants, living “under strange post-colonial arrangements”. Again, as a short-term visitor, I have no idea about the magnitude of the problem and the size of the Aboriginal population living in this status of “low social wellbeing”, nor about the presumably enormous difficulties in turning Aboriginal communities into autonomous entities, but the article is quite pessimistic about the prospect of a change for the better…

We also had a very different and personal experience when waiting for the sunset on Barron Falls: a local Aboriginal man was there for the same reason as us and we started talking together, first about local animals, then about traditions and the dwindling number of young Aboriginals following those traditions in this highly mixed region of Australia (with farmers on the Atherton tablelands and tourists flowing from Cairns). This conversation lasted way past sunset in this eerie surrounding, as this man had obviously thought (and read) a lot, and chosen his path of life in the most harmonious way…