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Comparisons I would like to see

February 28, 2012

It is often claimed that using nuclear power is irresponsible towards future generations, since the waste material needs to be stored securely for X thousand/million years before the radioactivity has died down to background level. While the argument certainly has merit, it would be even more interesting to hear a figure for the amount of time needed to let the radiation levels die down to the levels of the original uranium ore. That time is bound to be shorter. And what if we dilute the waste with the leftover slag from the mining process? How long would the wait be then?

The Swedish public debate is often occupied with the question of equal rights for men and women. For the moment, the view of “fairness = equal turnout” is dominating. Personally, I think that “fairness = equal opportunities” is a better concept for this particular problem. Anyway, a favorite is to complain that “only X % of (some high and mighty category of people) are women”, where X is a number smaller than 50. One variety of these complaints that particularly annoys me is the “University So-and-so has Y % female students, but only X % female professors”, where Y is a number greater than X and ideally greater than 50. The comparison I would like to see here is: what was the proportion of female students twenty-five years ago, when the current crop of professors were students themselves? Now that would be relevant!

Another favorite one from the same topic is to complain that men don’t take responsibility for their children, as measured by the metric of number of days on parental leave. In Sweden, every child comes with a (rather generous) parental leave period. If two people (usually the mother and the father) have shared custody of the child, each of them get half the days, with a possibility of voluntarily transferring your days of leave to your partner. If one person has sole custody, that person gets all the parental leave for herself (or himself). I think the turnout of this system is that of the day used, 23% are used by men and the rest by women. So, not exactly an equal turnout, which is seen as a great problem by the people who think unequal turnouts are problems. However, I’m pretty sure that even if no father would give up a single day to the mother, the turnout would still not be 50-50. You see, according to Swedish law, if the mother is married then she and her husband gets shared custody of the child per default. If she is unmarried, the default is that she gets sole custody. She has to voluntarily and actively state that she wants shared custody with the father for it to happen. If she doesn’t – even if the father is known, even if they live together – the only recourse for the father to get partial custody of his child is to sue her in court. This system likely means that a majority of parental leave days are made available to women. It would be really, really interesting to know the exact figures here.

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