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Insights 14: 27 April 2018
Upcoming event: researchED Auckland conference
 
Upcoming event: Dinner lecture with Katharine Birbalsingh
 
Latest report: Who Guards the Guards? Regulatory Governance in New Zealand

Freedom to teach and freedom of speech
Roger Partridge | Chairman | roger.partridge@nzinitiative.org.nz
Tracey Martin wants to regulate the meaning of a commonly used word. It is a breath-taking ambition, even for a politician.
 
The Associate Education Minister’s target is the word ‘teacher’. She thinks it would improve the status of the profession if Parliament restricts use of the term to registered teachers. And her private members’ Bill (technically now sponsored by her NZ First colleague, Jenny Marcroft) aims to do just that.
 
Neither appear bothered that the word has a wider meaning in the English language. (I thought I did pretty well ‘teaching’ my daughter to fish. And my son loved his guitar ‘teacher’.)
 
Nor is Martin concerned about the cost and inconvenience to countless dance, swimming, and music teachers around the country (to name just a few). While the Bill would permit them to call themselves ‘tutors’, or even ‘instructors’, all would have to change how they promote their services. Pity the poor piano teacher.
 
Occupational licensing is usually justified on consumer protection grounds – not to ‘bolster’ the status of a profession. But with this Bill, there will likely be no change to the quality of services offered by the ‘once-were-teachers’. And it is not obvious how picking on piano teachers will improve the status of the teaching profession.
 
Of course, many professions are regulated. It is illegal for someone not admitted to the Bar to call themselves a barrister. And there are restrictions on who can call themselves medical doctors, financial advisers, and even electricians.
 
But there are also countless professions where registration is not required. It’s open season if you want to call yourself an accountant, a builder, or even an economist. 
 
Open-entry professions deal with the absence of restrictions by creating their own designations - like ‘chartered accountant’ - as a mark of quality. Indeed, the teaching profession itself already has this type of protection. The Education Act makes it an offence for anyone to use the title ‘registered teacher’ when they are not registered.
 
But there is a more important objection to the Bill. Our language is ours. If we let politicians start changing the meaning of commonly understood words where will it end? What occupation comes next? Perhaps farmers? Or journalists? Or even political commentators?
 
Fortunately, the Attorney-General has recognised the danger. In his New Zealand Bill of Rights Act report, David Parker has found that the Bill would involve an unjustified limitation on freedom of expression.
 
We can only hope his Labour colleagues listen.


A Nicotine League to combat smoking
Jenesa Jeram | Research Fellow | jenesa.jeram@nzinitiative.org.nz
In the late 70s, an American public health council teamed up with DC Comics to create the villain Nick O’Teen. Nick O’Teen was an enemy of Superman. He had bad breath, was a ‘hijacker of health’ and a ‘foe of the fit.’ If you were a kid growing up at the time, the message was clear: smoking is not cool. Nicotine is evil.

Fast-forward to today, and the message that smoking is dangerous has certainly sunk in with most young people in countries like New Zealand. In fact, youth uptake of smoking has continued to decline here, with only 2.2 percent of Year 10 students smoking daily (down from 15.2 percent in 1999).

However, what has changed – at least in tobacco harm reduction circles – is the characterisation of nicotine. It is now well-acknowledged that people might smoke for the nicotine, but most of the harm caused by cigarettes is due to combustion.

You would think, then, that policymakers and public health experts would welcome the development of smoke-free products that still deliver nicotine but significantly reduce the harms associated with cigarettes.

You would think that New Zealand especially would embrace such products. After all, the government has expressed an aspiration to have the country ‘Smokefree by 2025’. In fact, the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990 (SFEA) was introduced in part to reduce the harms of smoking and the harmful constituents in cigarettes and smoke.

But alas, public health policy works in mysterious ways.

There is frustration that the Labour government have not yet expressed a position on e-cigarettes, despite the fact vaping is already helping many New Zealanders quit smoking. Legalising e-cigarettes could benefit consumers by broadening access. Perversely, given the current availability of e-cigarettes, legalisation with heavy regulations could also restrict the access and freedoms vapers currently enjoy.

New Zealanders also do not have access to other nicotine delivery products available overseas that are helping people cut down or quit smoking. Snus (tobacco pouches placed under the gum) and heat-not-burn tobacco products could also contribute to a tobacco harm reduction framework. Public health officials overseas recognise the potential of these products, New Zealand should do the same.

Tobacco policy has traditionally neglected the people it should be helping: smokers. Though the decline in youth smoking should rightly be celebrated, current smokers are not receiving the support and options they need to cut down or quit smoking.

Nicotine is not the bad guy, combustion is. And it might take a league of different nicotine products to some day make smoking obsolete.

‘Smoke and Vapour: the changing world of tobacco harm reduction’ is the latest report by The New Zealand Initiative and will be released in May. If you have an interest in the subject, do get in touch with Jenesa.


Monkey business
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director | oliver.hartwich@nzinitiative.org.nz
I have never been the greatest fan of PETA, the radical animal rights organisation (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”).

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, usually medium-rare.

But PETA’s opposition even to sheep farming for wool leaves me cold. Their science behind linking dairy products and autism is milky. And depicting women Playboy magazine-style may be an attractive but not necessarily effective way of protesting against fur.

However, PETA’s latest publicity stunt made me rethink my prejudices. The activists funded a lawsuit to help a smiling monkey called Naruto.

The crested macaque had used a photographer’s camera in 2011 to do what many people of a similar developmental level do. He took a picture of himself, grinning. Apparently, it allowed the owner of the camera to make some money from royalties.

PETA saw the crying injustice in this and, starting in 2015, took the unsuspecting photographer through the US legal system, claiming the royalties belonged to the monkey. Three years and substantial legal fees later, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that monkeys cannot hold copyright.

It is a sad ending to a story which would have deserved more thought. Because if monkeys can take perfect selfies, why stop at copyright?

For all we know, monkeys are skilled investors. In the 1970s, economist Burton Malkiel hypothesised that efficient markets should work so well that blindfolded primates throwing darts at a newspaper stock listing should make good choices. Years later, the Wall Street Journal tested it and saw the monkeys beat professional investors.

Research has also revealed that monkeys show a good understanding of ethics and justice. Try rewarding capuchin monkeys unfairly in experiments, and you get an appreciation of the moral roots of the Occupy movement.

But it is not just that monkeys are doing such impressive things. It is also that we human perform so poorly on cognitive tasks.

After decades of behavioural research, we know where our species’ limitations lie. Psychologists have by now identified not fewer than 175 biases. They range from “Ambiguity effect” (the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem “unknown”) to the Zeigarnik effect (that uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones).

Given all that, perhaps monkeys are the better humans?

In which case we should give them the vote and hope that they establish METH: Monkeys for the Ethical Treatment of Humans.
 
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