What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?



A major theme of my master’s thesis1 was the idea that if we want to conceive of human research protocols through the framework of a marketplace, then human research protocols are something that economists would call “credence goods.”

Credence goods are products, like drug trials, whose quality is difficult for its consumers to judge.2 Markets for credence goods are marked by learning constraints and information asymmetry.3 That is to say, there are practical constraints that prevent most consumers from learning what they need to in order to make a good judgement about whether they want a product. So, while it might not be impossible for a person who wants to participate in a trial of a drug to get a medical degree to better evaluate it, it’s not reasonable to expect the market for drug trials to function properly if that’s the level at which one has to be educated in order to participate. Financial products are other examples of credence goods, and it is (generally) non-controversial that these need to be regulated in order for their markets to function.4

A popular metaphor and justification for freedom of expression is the “marketplace of ideas”—the notion that the truth will emerge from market-like competition in free, transparent, public discourse.5 Part of what makes this marketplace metaphor compelling is the idea that, over time, the best ideas will beat out their competition. The best response to bad speech is good speech. Consumers will, over time, identify and reward the best ideas, and the market itself will regulate what is expressed without the need for heavy-handed interference from the state.

Have news articles become credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?

This idea of a marketplace of ideas seems great, except that it is getting harder and harder to sift through the bad products in the news marketplace these days, and it’s taking more and more time and expertise to find the good ones. Sure, anyone with enough time and training and education can figure out when a particular news story is fabricated, but who has the time to do that?

Post-truth is the word of the year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. By some measurements, fake news stories have greater impact than legit ones:

Facebook engagements

Facebook engagements

Just today, we went from this tweet:

Original tweet

Original tweet

To this one:

It's a faaaake!

It’s a faaaake!

And before the day was even done, we came nearly full 360 back to this:

It's real!

It’s real!

For myself, I’m at the point where I don’t have the ability to figure out what’s going on anymore. I don’t even have the rubric of “common sense” to fall back on at this point. If you had shown me 4 years ago a news article that says Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States, I would have assumed that it came from a fake news site. There’s part of me that’s honestly still hoping this is all a prank.

Unintended consequences

As we all know, well-intended interventions into markets can have unintended consequences.6 So even though I’m frustrated by not knowing what is going on anymore, and I’m generally in favour of market regulation, I’m worried about what is going to happen next.

I don’t know what we should do, but I have a feeling that whatever backlash is coming against the “fake news,” it’s going to have exactly the opposite of its intended effect.

My fear is that any attempt to correct the trend of fake news is going to amount to censorship of the things that don’t get covered the way that they need to be through normal channels. (E.g. Youtube videos of police officers murdering racial minorities.)


The marketplace of ideas is having a market failure. How do we fix it without making things worse?


1. Carlisle B. A Critique of Phase IV Seeding Studies on the Basis of a Non-paternalistic Justification for Subject Protections in Human Research. McGill University Libraries; 2011.

2. London AJ, Kimmelman J, Emborg ME. Beyond access vs. protection in trials of innovative therapies. Science. 2010 May 14;328(5980):829-30.

3. Carpenter D. Confidence Games: How Does Regulation Constitute Markets? l. Government and markets: Toward a new theory of regulation. 2010:164.

4. Wikipedia contributors. “Credence good.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Aug. 2016. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

5. Wikipedia contributors. “Marketplace of ideas.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

6. Wikipedia contributors. “Unintended consequences.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.


    title = {What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-18,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 18 Nov 2016. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 18). What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/

Shooting in the US vs stabbing in China


Let’s talk about firearm regulation

Yesterday, there were two parallel atrocities happening on opposite sides of the planet. In the US, there was a school shooting, while in China there was a mass stabbing. Both were done by individuals, and in both cases, the victims were children while at school. This is an interesting situation, because these terrible events line up well and allow for a convenient comparison. It would be a disservice to the memory of the children who have suffered or died if we didn’t try to learn something from what happened, and if we didn’t do our best to try to prevent it from ever happening again.

When something like this happens (and this has been happening more and more often) and there is a general call for regulation of firearms in the States, it is common for gun rights advocates to say some of the following things:

  • It is “too soon” to politicise this issue
  • Regulating firearms more strictly may make everyone feel safer, but it will infringe on some basic rights
  • Stricter regulation of firearms will not prevent events like the one in Connecticut on Friday (either because a shooter will find a way to illegally obtain firearms, or because someone who is intent on doing harm will find a way to do so, even without one)

I will deal with each of these in turn.

Too soon

Calling “too soon” is not being intellectually honest about the issue. To say, “let’s not politicise this out of respect for the victims,” is just another way for a gun-rights advocate to say, “you care about this issue now, and there is momentum working against my position, so let’s wait until this issue is so old that no one cares about it, and there is no political will to change the status quo by the time I have decided that it would be respectful to discuss it.” This is dishonest, because the “too soon” response is actually just a subtle way of politicising the issue in favour of the status quo.

If anything, it’s way too late to start talking honestly about gun control. Gun-rights advocates called “too soon” after Columbine and after Aurora, and here we are again.

Basic human rights

The “right to bear arms” is not an actual human right. There are lots of things that are dangerous and regulated by the government, and we think that’s all right, and that it isn’t an infringement on our rights. Not everyone is allowed to drive a car, for example. You have to be licensed. That licence can be taken away under certain conditions. It is not a human right to drive a car.

Similarly, it is not a human right to have or use a gun, and the state should have the powers to regulate their sales, ownership and use. Part of the American constitution has been interpreted to say that its citizens have a right to guns. I admit that I am neither an American nor a constitutional lawyer, but I feel like even the framers of the American constitution would agree that their government should have the powers to curb the sales and use of firearms.

Effectiveness of firearm regulation

Finally, gun-rights advocates often make claims that stricter regulation wouldn’t prevent events like the shooting in Connecticut. This is where the parallel event in China becomes very interesting to me. At a first glance, it appears that the gun-rights advocate is right. China has much stricter gun control—Chinese law largely prohibits the private ownership of guns, and yet there was still a similar attack at an elementary school on the same day.

On closer inspection, a comparison of the two attacks on Friday would undermine such an argument.

First of all, the gun-rights advocate usually makes a claim that regulation of firearms is a futile task. She claims that no matter how stringent the laws or how well-enforced, people who mean to cause harm will always find a way to get their hands on deadly weapons. The case of the stabbings in Henan on Friday show that this is not necessarily the case. At least for Min Yingjun, he either was unable, or it was too much trouble and cost for him to get a gun (or many guns) for his deadly attack.

Second, a gun-rights advocate will say that an attacker without access to guns can equally cause harm. The parallel attacks on Friday give reason to think otherwise. I do not mean to minimise the damage done by Min Yingjun at all, but given the choice between being murdered outright by a man with a gun and being stabbed by a man with a knife, the choice is clear. In China, there were no deaths among the nine students admitted to hospital. In Connecticut, there were 27 killed in total, 20 children.

After making one or both of the above arguments, usually the gun-rights advocate tries to point the finger at single mothers, video games, abortions, the gays, or not-enough-Jesus-in-Amurrica.

I think it’s time we moved past these inevitable and dishonest talking points and started having an honest discussion about what can be done to control the dangerous and irresponsible gun culture that has evolved.


    title = {Shooting in the US vs stabbing in China},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-12-15,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/15/shooting-in-the-us-vs-stabbing-in-china/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Shooting in the US vs stabbing in China" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 15 Dec 2012. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/15/shooting-in-the-us-vs-stabbing-in-china/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Dec 15). Shooting in the US vs stabbing in China [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/15/shooting-in-the-us-vs-stabbing-in-china/

Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP


Dear Andrew Williams and Randy Pettapiece,

Recently, my father was hospitalised for schizophrenia in the psychiatric ward at the Stratford General Hospital. This was good news. It was a welcome change after months of increasingly abusive and dangerous behaviour on his part that affected the entire family. Not only was he suffering from disordered thoughts and paranoid delusions, he lost his impulse control with regard to money (and some other things as well). Due to his condition he lacks the ability to deal with his own finances. He was admitted to the Stratford General Hospital and shortly thereafter, a medical tribunal determined that he was not competent to make his own medical decisions. My mother was assigned to be his medical decision-maker and power of attorney.

Yesterday, we found out that some unscrupulous lawyer visited the Stratford General Hospital to arrange the papers so that my dad could transfer his medical decision-making and power of attorney away from my mother, and give it to another patient on the psychiatric ward. As far as we know, this other patient is just some guy that my dad met less than two weeks ago when he was admitted. The name sounds made-up, though, so for all we know, it’s not his real name. This “other patient” could even be a delusion of my dad’s.

Needless to say, we were upset.

We contacted the lawyer to ask him what he thought he was doing. He said he didn’t do anything—that it was my dad who made it happen, and that he had training to determine when someone was competent to make such decisions. We will be inquiring about what legal options we have against this individual.

When we told our own lawyer about the problem, his administrative assistant broke out laughing, because it was such a ridiculous turn of affairs. He advised us to get a letter from dad’s psychiatrist, and on the basis of such a letter, it would be possible to have this transfer of power of attorney reversed. This seemed reasonable. On contacting the doctor, we were told that he could not release such a letter, since my dad has requested that his medical information not be shared with us (one of his paranoid delusions is that we’re out to get him), and my mother no longer had her status as his medical decision-maker and power of attorney.

In the face of this Catch-22, we’re not sure what to do next. As of today, the doctors at the Stratford General are still refusing to provide a letter indicating my dad’s condition, because they are afraid of being sued.

I’d like to emphasise at this point that the unscrupulous lawyer got paid for what he did. Paid with money. He came in to the locked ward of the Stratford General and walked out substantially richer, thanks to money he took from a person who was determined by a medical tribunal to be incapable of making his own medical decisions.

If someone walked into a hospital and found an old woman with dementia and exploited her condition for his own financial gain and gave her nothing in return, that conduct would be reprehensible, but it still wouldn’t be as bad as what this lawyer did to my dad yesterday. Not only did he take money from someone whose mental condition renders him incompetent to handle his own financial affairs, but he made it a thousand times harder for us to get my dad back on his meds to stop the paranoia and abuse.

But the really perverse part about this whole system is that if I were to march into his office and punch his face in like he deserves, somehow I would become the bad guy. (For the record, though, I would never do this.)

I have two questions. One for the CEO of the hospital and one for the MPP for Wellington-Perth.

Andrew Williams: When do your doctors plan on doing the right thing for their patient and his family?

Randy Pettapiece: What pressure are you going to bring to bear on this situation? Can you help us to ensure that the lawyer is dismissed from the bar in Ontario, and that my father receives the care he needs?

Yours angrily,

Benjamin Carlisle MA (Biomedical ethics)

Cc: Leona Aglukkaq MP, Deb Matthews MPP, Dr Brian Goldman (feel free to spread this around)

(Edit 21h00—the original version had more cursing, but as my friend advised, “Try not to swear so that your interlocutor doesn’t have an excuse to dismiss you.”)


    title = {Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-11-16,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/16/catch-22-in-mental-health/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 16 Nov 2012. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/16/catch-22-in-mental-health/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Nov 16). Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/16/catch-22-in-mental-health/

How seriously should I take my clinical evaluation?


In nursing school at McGill, after every semester of clinical, there is a summary evaluation of my performance in the clinical setting. This evaluation includes a checklist of different things we’re graded on, divided into sections like “professionalism,” “technical skills,” “patient collaboration,” etc. Under each section, for every category, one receives a mark ranging from “unsatisfactory” to “meets expectations” and all the way up to “well above expectations.”

I have been sceptical about this mode of evaluation since last semester for a couple of reasons. First, I have a problem with the idea that one has to exceed expectations in order to receive full marks in a class. If I were to exceed expectations in certain ways, it would be very bad. Imagine if I took it upon myself to exceed expectations in the area of my technical skills and administer an IV medication. (This is something I have not been trained to do.) I would probably be expelled from the programme on the spot. But the biggest problem with this philosophy of evaluation is that you can’t, by definition, expect someone to exceed your expectations.

Setting that aside, my other major worry was that all the categories of evaluation were very subjective. I had no way to know if the marks I received were anything more than a reflexion of how much my clinical instructor liked me.

Fortunately, at the end of last semester, I noticed that there was one item on the checklist that was completely objective: The third box under “professionalism and responsibility” is an evaluation of punctuality—whether or not I showed up to clinical on time. This particular evaluation admits of absolutely no subjectivity or judgement on the part of the evaluator. It is something that I should be able to self-evaluate with complete accuracy, and there should be no variation between the mark I gave myself and the mark my teacher gave me. After all, my mark in this section should be a function of the time at which I arrived for clinical.

And so, I decided to do an experiment. I arrived at least a half hour early for every single clinical day this semester. There was not a single clinical day where I showed up on the floor and in uniform less than half an hour in advance of our starting-time. I didn’t do this in secret either. I made sure that my clinical teacher knew that I was there before she was, and that I was reviewing the chart before the day began.

My thinking was as follows: if I get anything less than “well above expectations” on my evaluation for that category, it means that there is some major disconnect between my actual performance and the grade I was assigned.

I received a mark of “meets expectations” from both my obstetric and paediatric teacher in that category. This was doubly shocking, because they had both explicitly commented on the fact that I was always early for clinical in the “comments” section.

I pointed this out to each of them in turn, and they were both very willing to change my mark. In the end, the difference between “meets expectations” and “well above expectations” doesn’t matter that much for this course. Clinical is pass/fail, and so if I had received a 100% in the course, I would get the same “satisfactory” mark on my transcript as if I had received a 65%.

That said, it’s hard for me to take evaluations seriously now. If even the grade I received for punctuality was coloured by the biases of my teachers, how much more were the grades I received in the more subjective categories affected by their prejudices?


    title = {How seriously should I take my clinical evaluation?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-04-13,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/04/13/how-seriously-should-i-take-my-clinical-evaluation/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How seriously should I take my clinical evaluation?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 13 Apr 2012. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/04/13/how-seriously-should-i-take-my-clinical-evaluation/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Apr 13). How seriously should I take my clinical evaluation? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/04/13/how-seriously-should-i-take-my-clinical-evaluation/

Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?


Today I received the following letter in the post from the OIIQ (the Order of nurses and man-nurses of Québec) which I will quote at length.

Le 22 décembre 2011

Monsieur Benjamin Gregory Carlisle,

Subject: Return of your registration certificate

Your name did not appear on the lists of students registered in nursing that we received from the educational institutions. Accordingly, please return your registration certificate as soon as possible in the enclosed return envelope.

Conversely, if you are still registered, contact your educational institution without delay so that they may confirm that information to us.

For any inquiry, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

We thank you for your cooperation.


This sort of thing makes me wonder at what point I should start thinking that I fell for one of those “cash for degrees” scams. On the one hand, the classes that I took were held in buildings on the McGill campus, but on the other hand, I don’t think I ever asked my teachers for proof that they work for McGill. In fact, if I wasn’t actually enrolled at McGill, that might explain the terrible difficulty I’ve been having with Financial Aid at McGill and with OSAP.

I sent an email to the administrative assistant for nursing at McGill, but she is out of the office until January 9th. I guess I’ll find out then what’s going on.


    title = {Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-28,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 28 Dec 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 28). Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/



The following is a long and angry post. To get some of the back-story, you might also want to read my post from September, Gambling with OSAP. Basically, this is a timeline of many of the ways that OSAP, the National Student Loans Centre and McGill Financial Aid have been screwing around with me all semester.

Email from me to Financial Aid at McGill, October 19, 2011:

Hi there,

I came in last week to speak to someone about the state of my OSAP. I repaid a $2222 loan overpayment in September, and I was told over the phone by the NSLC that they would let OSAP know that the overpayment was dealt with.

When I went in to see someone in person at McGill Financial Aid last week, I was told that someone would email OSAP to find out what’s going on with my student loans, and that I would be emailed as soon as they send an answer.

Could you advise regarding the status of this inquiry?

Benjamin Carlisle
MSc(A) Nursing Student

I never got a response to that email. I went in to see them in person on October 24th, and demanded to know what was going on with my student loan. After much confusion, eventually they told me that the information I received from the National Student Loans Centre was inaccurate. It turns out that I had to get them to fax a proof of payment to McGill, who would then fax it to OSAP for processing.

I would like to emphasise at this point that I phoned the National Student Loans Centre on September 15th, 2011 to ask them specifically if I needed to do anything so that OSAP would know that I dealt with the overpayment. They explicitly told me that, no I did not have to do a blasted thing. This was a lie.

Two days later, on October 26th, I received the following email from Financial Aid at McGill:

Hello Benjamin,

Just wanted to give you an update on your OSAP status. The following message is the one I received from OSAP when I inquired about your file.

Documentation was received Sept 21, but has not been reviewed.

With regards to LOP [Loan Over-Payment] the student must provide a letter from NSLSC indicating the amount that he repaid and the date of repayment. This should be sent to the ministry marked clearance.

Please note I have received your received your proof of payment and the copy was faxed to OSAP today.

While your file is being sorted out, please note should you require emergency funds kindly meet with one of our financial counselors and we will be happy to process a loan to assist you with emergency aid.

In addition, I strongly encourage you to fill out the continuation of interest free form found at the following link https://osap.gov.on.ca/prodconsum/groups/forms/documents/forms/tcont003388.pdf and return it to me by fax or as a scanned email attachment. Please note this will prevent you from going into re-payment mode as of November 1st.

Our fax number is 514-398-7352 and my email address is [removed].

Best regards

I went back in to the office and asked how long I should expect to wait for an answer regarding my loan. The answer at the desk: four to six weeks. Six weeks later, on December 7th, I went back in to the Financial Aid Office and asked them what the status of my loan was. I was told that the only person who could possibly help me with this would only be available on Tuesday, 6 days later.

Keep in mind that I have been waiting for fully 3 months, not knowing whether I should expect any financial assistance at all. By this time, I had actually received my bill for next semester’s tuition. I was getting very antsy about this.

Tuesday, December 13th rolls around, and I receive the following email:

Hi Benjamin,

We re-faxed your proof of payment to OSAP today.  The Financial Aid counsellor also provided you with a tuition deferral for fall and winter.


I would like to note a couple of things at this point. This email was worse than unhelpful. It raised more questions than it answered and it illustrated clearly that the people at Financial Aid had no understanding of my situation.

First, there is no explanation of why my proof of payment was re-faxed. Did OSAP say they never received it? Did McGill fail to fax it in the first place? I emailed twice to ask, and they have not responded.

Second, a tuition deferral at that point would have been of absolutely no help to me at all. Tuition deferrals are helpful only if you know that you have some money coming, but you need some time for it to be processed. Tuition deferrals are not helpful in the slightest if the NSLSC, OSAP and McGill have been collectively screwing around with you for the last 3 months, and you have no guarantee of any kind that even a single penny will be coming in the form of student loans. It’s not like OSAP told me that they would be sending me a large sum of money, and I just didn’t know when. I was still waiting for them to assess me for eligibility for a loan. If OSAP decided not to give me money, or if OSAP decided to give me an amount that isn’t enough for me to live on, then a few more weeks to pay my tuition would not have helped—I would have needed to drop out of school to find a job!

I went in to the Financial Aid Office to explain this to them. I told them that the tuition due in January was a sum greater than my current total assets in the world. The person at the desk said that she would see if she could encourage OSAP to work on this faster.

On December 15th, I received the following:

Hello Benjamin,

Please note I have been following up with OSAP and have asked them to expedite your funding and provide me with an update on your OSAP application, the latest email I received from them is as follows:

I have just processed Benjamin’s file. I am unable to determine what his assessment will be. Please have him check back at the end of the week.

If I hear anything further I will let you know. In the meantime if you need emergency aid feel free to come by to schedule an appointment with an advisor and we will assist you until your funds come in. In the meantime I have processed a fee deferral for the Fall and Winter tuition fees.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards

What’s surprising about this email is the offer of “emergency aid.” In September, I asked about “emergency aid” from McGill and received the following email:

Hello Benjamin,

We are unable to assist you at this time. Please contact us later on in the semester. Remember to update your Financial Aid Profile if your situation should change.

That email, by the way, was in response to a request for a meeting to discuss my financial situation. That’s right. Financial Aid at McGill declined even to meet with me about this.

I did check back at the end of the week as the email suggested, and I was told by the person at the desk that she couldn’t find any notes about my case, and that there was no reason for me to have come in. I stayed and insisted that I received an email telling me to come in at the end of that week, and it was only after I showed her the email on my phone that she asked one of her colleagues about it.

Finally, I was told that on Wednesday the 21st (today), my loan documents might be at McGill for me to pick up, and I could expect my loan to be processed by early January.

I’ll believe it when the money is in my bank account.


    title = {OSAP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-21,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/21/osap/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "OSAP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 21 Dec 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/21/osap/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 21). OSAP [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/21/osap/

Every time I speak with my pregnant patient …


As a nursing student I’ve been assigned a pregnant woman to follow for the course of her pregnancy, and every single time I speak with her, I have to resist the urge to ask, “Have you ever considered making cheese out of your breastmilk?”


    title = {Every time I speak with my pregnant patient …},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-11-30,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/30/every-time-i-speak-with-my-pregnant-patient/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Every time I speak with my pregnant patient …" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 30 Nov 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/30/every-time-i-speak-with-my-pregnant-patient/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Nov 30). Every time I speak with my pregnant patient … [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/30/every-time-i-speak-with-my-pregnant-patient/

Things that any Tom, Dick or Harry would know how to do


“John Smith,” “Bob,” and “George,” are very “common” names. That is, they were probably common once, but now, even though they have largely fallen out of use, we all still have a cultural memory of them being “common” and “normal-sounding.” We even use them when we’re trying to think up non-specific names for use in examples or clever aliases. Who among us wasn’t given a set of dummy data to enter into a spreadsheet in grade nine business class that included names like “Bob,” “George” and “Harry” in the “names” column? (Side note: the next time I need a clever alias, I’m going with “John Q. Taxpayer.”)

This summer, I started composing a short list of things I don’t know how to do. Of course, there are lots of things I don’t know how to do that could have gone on this list. It’s easy to come up with specific professional skills that I don’t know how to do: I don’t know how to commit brain surgery, milk a cow, draft legislation, pilot a Tardis … the list could go on indefinitely. But those sorts of things are not what I had in mind with this list.

This list was specifically for “common” skills—skills that are common in the way that the names “Harry,” “Bob” or “George” are common. That is, we think of these skills as being ones that most people know how to do (more-or-less), but in reality, they have fallen out of common use, or maybe never were very common.

For example, in books or movies, when someone is thrown a rope and told to tie a person or a boat or something up, every character instantly knows exactly what knot to tie and how to do it, without thinking, even if it was totally implausible for that character to know how to do that at all. In other movies, cars are hot-wired in seconds. Locks are picked with the use of only bobby pins, and by people who you would not expect to be able to do that. If you drop any character from any movie in the woods, after a brief montage, she will have caught a fish, and be frying it over a fire that she started without matches.

As for me, if I ever even lost the keys to my own apartment, I’d have no flying clue how to get back in.

For the record, I do realise that I shouldn’t aspire to master a set of skills simply because it would make me more useful in an action-adventure movie. That said, there’s a saying, that if you only have a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. I wonder how many inefficiencies I have endured and problems I have left unsolved simply because the set of skills or tools I possess is limited. I remember my Grandpa Searles always used to carry a knife around with him, and it was useful to him all the time.

With the exception of juggling, I have no concrete plans right now to learn how to do any of these things, but they are all things that I would eventually like to know how to do. After finding this list again, I’m strongly tempted to start carrying around a pocket-knife, a length of rope and a bump key set. Maybe I can look up some YouTube videos for interesting ways to use them.

Here’s the list for your consideration.

Things I don’t know how to do

  • Clean a fish
  • Sharpen a knife
  • Juggle
  • Do handsprings/backflips/etc.
  • Drive a car with standard transmission
  • Change a car’s oil
  • Change a flat tire
  • Anything related to automobile maintenance, really
  • Diving (I can swim a number of strokes decently well, tread water and even do flip-turns, but I could never make myself dive)
  • Do my taxes (I just go to an accountant. Let him deal with it.)
  • Start a fire with only rocks
  • CPR (I had to take a course on this before starting nursing)
  • Tie knots
  • Tie different kinds of ties (I only know one)
  • Tie a bow tie
  • Hot-wire a car
  • Pick a lock
  • Dance

If you have some other suggestions for things that most of us probably don’t know how to do, but might be a useful thing to know in certain contexts, please leave it in the comments.


    title = {Things that any Tom, Dick or Harry would know how to do},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-10-19,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/10/19/things-that-any-tom-dick-or-harry-would-know-how-to-do/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Things that any Tom, Dick or Harry would know how to do" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 19 Oct 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/10/19/things-that-any-tom-dick-or-harry-would-know-how-to-do/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Oct 19). Things that any Tom, Dick or Harry would know how to do [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/10/19/things-that-any-tom-dick-or-harry-would-know-how-to-do/

A scary email to receive less than a week before the thesis submission deadline


I bet you thought I was done posting about my thesis. Last Friday (6 days ago), I received this email after I had the pleasure of submitting my thesis electronically.

[Your supervisor] approved your e-thesis on September 23, 2011 at 11:51.

If your thesis has been accepted by all your supervisor(s), it has been sent to GPSO for processing.

If your thesis has been rejected, please make the changes requested by your supervisor(s) to your original document*, and create a new pdf, delete the file on the server, and upload the new file.

You can track the progress of your thesis on Minerva.

Hooray! It was good news to receive this email, and I tweeted about it immediately, of course.

Then, this morning, I received the following email.

Dear Benjamin, … We [at the philosophy department] have been told that you haven’t submitted your thesis electronically, and this is one of the graduation conditions. Can you do this immediately? The conditions have to be met by Tuesday, 4 October. Best wishes.

October 4th is on Tuesday (5 days from now). I’m pretty sure that my thesis has been submitted electronically. Here is my evidence:

  • Minerva lists my thesis as being uploaded and approved
  • I received the aforementioned email from the e-thesis computer

So I really don’t know what this fuss from the philosophy department is all about, but now I’m nervous that something’s messed up.


    title = {A scary email to receive less than a week before the thesis submission deadline},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-09-30,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/30/a-scary-email-to-receive-less-than-a-week-before-the-thesis-submission-deadline/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A scary email to receive less than a week before the thesis submission deadline" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 30 Sep 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/30/a-scary-email-to-receive-less-than-a-week-before-the-thesis-submission-deadline/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Sep 30). A scary email to receive less than a week before the thesis submission deadline [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/30/a-scary-email-to-receive-less-than-a-week-before-the-thesis-submission-deadline/

E-thesis final submission


This week, my goal was to make final submission of my thesis. All the actual work on the document was finished. I just needed to figure out how to hand it in. As per instructions on the GPS website, my thesis has to be submitted in PDF/A format.

For those of you who are unaware, a PDF/A is not the same thing as a PDF. What’s the difference? It’s more expensive of course.

The thesis has to be converted to PDF/A using special software to ensure that it can still be opened in the future. So, in order to submit my thesis, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies recommends that I buy Adobe Acrobat Pro, at a cost of $101.38 with tax—and that’s the reduced student price.

And the most frustrating thing about this? According to the instructions, “Standard PDF files will be rejected unless the thesis was written in LaTeX.” For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you will recall that up until February, I was using LaTeX to typeset my thesis, and it was a painful and scary transition for me to move to Microsoft Word part-way through.

So ultimately, it came down to a choice between trying to convert my thesis back to LaTeX, or spending $100 to avoid all that hassle.

Laziness won, of course.

On Thursday, I went in to the bookstore and bought the software. When I first installed it and tried to convert my thesis, I got an error. Acrobat couldn’t convert my thesis. This seemed strange, since there wasn’t any strange formatting in it. I fiddled with the settings, tried restarting, but the very expensive software wouldn’t do it. Fortunately after a half hour, it auto-installed an update and after that, the conversion went as planned.

So as of yesterday, I have submitted my thesis to McGill. It’s over! Those are all the requirements for my master’s in bioethics! The only thing that’s left is my supervisor clicking “accept.”

By the way, one of the most satisfying things about making final submission of my thesis is the fact that I can take the ugly EndNote app out of my computer’s dock. It was such an eyesore! :P


    title = {E-thesis final submission},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-09-23,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "E-thesis final submission" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 23 Sep 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Sep 23). E-thesis final submission [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/


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