Sunday, February 7, 2021

Jordan Peterson and Bill C-16: What does each side argue?

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Raya Tripathi

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Jordan Peterson and Bill C-16: What does each side argue?

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Global Views 360

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February 7, 2021

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Jordan Peterson speaking at a Free Speech Rally at the University of Toronto

Jordan Peterson speaking at a Free Speech Rally at the University of Toronto | Source: Wikimedia

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist by profession, shot to fame in 2016 when he began protesting against the Bill C-16. He released his own video lecture series on the subject as well—which garnered millions of views. Some people support him, while others oppose him, but who is Jordan Peterson and what are his ideas? And what is it about Bill C-16 which divided the public opinion about Peterson?

These are the questions which this article will uncover.

Who is Jordan Peterson? And what are his ideas?

Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical Psychologist by profession and was a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He rose to intellectual stardom after taking a stand against “politically correct culture” and Bill C-16. He started protesting against the excesses of the cultural left. He has written several books including 12 Rules For Life, Maps of Meaning, Political Correctness, etc. While most of them are Self-help books, some are also on the idea of political correctness and its criticism, and where the left has gone wrong. He released his video lectures online on YouTube which have gathered massive views and followings, and gave him the celebrity status. Peterson’s videos on C-16 and political correctness racked up more than 400,000 views on YouTube within about a month of posting.

Although several newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have described him as “conservative” and “conservative-leaning”, Peterson calls himself a “Classic British Liberal” and a “traditionalist”. He has said that he’s commonly mistaken to be a “right winger”, which he denies.

The University of Toronto said it had received complaints of threats against trans people on campus. There are complaints from students and faculties that Peterson’s comments are “unacceptable emotionally disturbing and painful” and have urged him to stop doing it.

On the other hand, Dr Peterson is concerned proposed federal human rights legislation "will elevate into hate speech" his refusal to use alternative pronouns. He argues that terms like "gender identity' and "gender expression" are too broad, and will be used by “radical social constructionists” to bully their opponents into submission. "One is silent slavery with all the repression and resentment that that will generate, and the other is outright conflict. Free speech is not just another value. It's the foundation of Western civilization," he told the BBC.

Many feckless young men have started following him—often using his ideas against the transgender community. Fans of Peterson and his ideologies saw the video as proof of his genius and bravery; Peterson was the avatar of reason and facts pushing back against irrational “social justice warriors” (SJWs). There were rallies both for and against Peterson in Toronto, and he made the rounds on Canadian television.

What is Bill C-16?

The law is an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination. That makes it illegal to deny services, employment, accommodation and similar benefits to individuals based on their gender identity or gender expression. A person who denies benefits because of the gender identity or gender expression of another person could be liable to provide monetary compensation.

Similarly, the law also amends the Criminal Code by adding "gender identity or expression" to the definition of "identifiable group" in section 318 of the Code. If there’s evidence that an offence is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, it can be taken into account by the courts during sentencing.

It would also extend hate speech laws to include these two terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” and make it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender, publicly inciting hatred or advocating genocide.

Peterson and Bill C-16: Arguments from both the sides

Apparently, not everyone is convinced that Peterson is a thinker of substance. Last November, fellow University of Toronto professor Ira Wells called him “the professor of piffle”—a YouTube star rather than a credible intellectual. Tabatha Southey, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Macleans, designated him “the stupid man’s smart person”.

Dr Peterson's University of Toronto colleague, Dr Lee Airton, argues he is being alarmist and indulging in "slippery slope fallacies" on the limits of free speech.

"If you actually listen and you parse out the arguments, it becomes very clear that this not about freedom of speech, that this is about reducing transgendered people's needs as excessive and illegitimate," he told the BBC.

The bill was passed in the Senate. Before it was passed, there were a lot of debates and deliberations on the bill and what kind of effects it may have.

Senator Grant Mitchel | Source: Canada Senate Website

“This bill is not only about the protections it provides, but also the message that the Parliament is delivering to all Canadians about the need to treat everybody equally,” Independent Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell, who is also a longtime advocate for trans rights, said after the bill’s passage.

Few conservative senators voted against the legislation. Conservative Manitoba Senator Don Plett has called it a threat to free speech. He alleged that he feared the bill would force him to use gender neutral pronouns when addressing trans people. There is also a largely refuted myth among conservatives that this law will allow “men to pose as women to attack them in the bathroom”. Conservative Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak said, “As a woman, why would I support Bill C-16 when feminists have fought for so many years to protect women from the violence perpetrated against them by men. This will allow men to go into women’s change rooms and bathrooms across the country.”

This bill has been intensely debated, and as the trans community is happy that the bill would provide their vulnerable community, the feminists fear it could bring threat to spaces reserved for what they refer to as “female-born women”.

Critics have also voiced concerns that the law will penalize citizens who do not use specific pronouns when referring to gender diverse people.

Brenda Cossman from University of Toronto | Source: CBC.CA

Brenda Cossman, law professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, told CBC, “The misuse of gender pronouns, without more, cannot rise to the level of a crime,” she says. “It cannot rise to the level of advocating genocide, inciting hatred, hate speech or hate crimes … (it) simply cannot meet the threshold. Would it cover the accidental misuse of a pronoun? I would say it’s very unlikely. Would it cover a situation where an individual repeatedly, consistently refuses to use a person’s chosen pronoun? It might.”

The Canadian Human Rights Act does not mention pronouns either. The act protects certain groups from discrimination.

But now the question was, if a person disagrees to use the pronouns for a person repeatedly on purpose, will it land that person in jail? To this, Jared Brown, commercial litigator at Brown Litigation, who often works with corporate clients on employment law and human rights disputes, told CBC, “It is possible, through a process that would start with a complaint and progress to a proceeding before a human rights tribunal. If the tribunal rules that harassment or discrimination took place, there would typically be an order for monetary and non-monetary remedies. A non-monetary remedy may include sensitivity training, issuing an apology, or even a publication ban. If the person refused to comply with the tribunal's order, this would result in a contempt proceeding being sent to the Divisional or Federal Court. The court could then potentially send a person to jail “until they purge the contempt,”” he said.

Furthermore, he said that the path to prison does exist—but only in extreme cases—and it’s not that easy to get there, he mentions “The path to prison is not straightforward. It’s not easy. But, it’s there. It’s been used before in breach of tribunal orders.”

Conclusion

A law to protect transgender rights and allowing them to identify the way they are comfortable is indeed a progressive step for Canada. Although the laws do not impose any threat on the citizen’s safety or freedom of speech, some parts of it as argued by Mark S. Bonham is a little vague. Therefore, solutions to the problems should be addressed by the government of Canada.

However, what is also clear that Jordan Peterson’s action is just spreading misinformation and hysteria among people who are unaware of the law and are contributing towards a transphobic discourse.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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