Sunday, 27 November 2011

Weekly round-up w/e 27/11/11

Welcome to this week's round-up. First up, we are looking forward to hosting, David Allen Green, Lawyer, Blogger as Jack of Kent, Legal correspondent of New Statesman, media correspondent of The Lawyer, convenor of Westminster Skeptics, Brummie and Villa fan on Thursday 8th December (yes Thursday) who will be taking time out from his obviously empty schedule to talk on Birmingham and free thought - from Joseph Priestley onwards. Things kick off at 7.30pm at The Vic with drinkies and chat before, during and after so get yourself along. This is our last meet until the New Year when we will return to Wednesdays (and not Thursdays).

A lot has come up this week, some silly, some foolish and some plain vile but as always there's fun to be had along the way.

First up,

here's a wonderful little interactive thingamabob created by Colin Jenkins showing in stark detail the workings of herd immunity and the dangers of antivaxxers. Have a play, it's fun.

Less fun is the seeming eagerness for politicians to get their name and/or faces seen in inappropriate places. This week has seen Andrew Lansley appearing on hospital TVs every few minutes telling patients that their care really matters to him and the Department for Education has announced that a copy of the King James Bible will be sent to every school in the country with a foreward lovingly crafted by The Secretary of Education, The Rt Hon Michael Gove. Quite why someone would wish to be connected with a book in which genocide is fine and dandy but incest isn't and which gives you the rules for enslaving immigrants or selling your daughters is anyone's guess. The six-figure cost will be met by the taxpayer of course but as the DfE says the “bible continues to shape our culture” so that's alright then.

The Secretary of Education has also come under fire from chef and school dinners' campaigner Jamie Oliver because academy schools are not obliged to follow the basic nutritional standards for the food they serve to their pupils.

Meanwhile, in the machinery that is Westminster there is a petition requesting that the country's education system should teach Evolution not creationism. Should you need to make up your mind whether to sign or not, you would do worse than to review the arguments for and against as shown on Channel 4 this week (probably UK only, sorry). Both clips are about 1m50s long and may make you laugh for entirely different reasons.

You can also find an Early Day Motion from Keith Vaz. I'll merely draw your attention to the Amendment beneath it from Tom Watson.

A quick zip round a bit more religion now, as the Synagogue Church of All Nations has been found to have been advising HIV+ patients to stop taking their medication which has reportedly led to 6 deaths (so far). Video here from Sky. Meanwhile a village vicar has been told he has no legal redress against his employer due to alleged bullying by his parishioners. Apparently he's not employed by the church but by their invisible (or is that indivisible) friend, and you can't sue sky fairies. Who knew?

Elsewhere the National Secular Society is preparing for their test case on whether said deity should be implored prior to each Council meeting to ensure that Councillors don't make silly decisions, and the Girl Guides may be set to drop religious references in the Girl Guide 'Promise'. Judging by the comments under that Telegraph piece they may need some support. Sigh. Here's the petition.

A bit of the joy of stats now, as we find one of our previous speakers Matt Parker, writing in the Guardian, on a Facebook stats announcement. Needless to say Facebook is found wanting and Matt does a big “maths” on their parade. Also this week threw cold water on the evergreen standard news-pieces that do the rounds on the release of excess winter deaths figures.

The world of Alternative Medicine has been dominated this week by one issue, but before that, some great news as Power Balance LLC. the makers of a holographic “energy” bracelet, have been forced into bankruptcy by some great work not least by Australian Skeptics. Sadly, as I write, there still seem to be plenty on the market.

You may have heard this week of someone called Dr Burzynski. He first appeared on our radar via Keir Liddle at the 21st Floor, however at the weekend the good Doctor became a focus of attention when the Observer published a heart-rending story of Billie Bainbridge, a four year old girl with an inoperable brain tumour. A clinic in America had raised hope of a cure and the family and with the help of acquaintances including Peter Kay and Badly Drawn Boy were holding concerts to raise money for a trip to the States. They were asked and they, and many more, gave of their time and their property towards this aim. Who wouldn't.

The problem arises in that the “pioneering treatment” of which the Observer speaks has not been subjected to a scientifically rigorous peer review process and Dr Burzynski has been accepting sick people onto trials he has been running for up to 30 years. His fees for accepting people onto such trials are currently reported to be up to 6 figure sums. The Observer suggested £200,000 needed to be raised.

Another of our former speakers, Andy Lewis (@lecanardnoir), who runs the Quackometer website, blogged this piece detailing his concerns over the situation and unfortunately swiftly felt the need to pen another. The follow-up detailed the legal threats he had received from someone claiming to legally represent the Burzynski Clinic and threatened his family including his unborn child along the way. This person also asserts that “the rest of you Skeptics [sic] days are numbered”.

Needless to say this didn't go down well and thanks to the Streisand Effect these events have been blogged widely on both Alternative Medicine issues and Libel Chill/Reform, and on at least three continents (so far).

A fuller overview can be found here, written by Josephine Jones and SitP speaker Kat Arney has blogged from the Cancer Research Uk website amongst many others as listed here and here.

A petition to have the work of te Burzynski Clinic brought into the public domain can be found via this blog. In the interests of balance you can view Dr Burzynski's movie here but I should warn you not to read the critique on that page as it may be... well... a tad negative.

We can only wish the family well.

On a lighter note in the middle of this furore Andy both managed to find out that the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies appear to be sticking two fingers up at the ASA and, more importantly, did indeed become a father again. She is the prettiest thing you'll see.

That is unless you're a parent as I am, as we all know our kid is the best.

Or indeed as Robin Ince thinks as he explains in his long awaited TED talk.

Stop press. Another threat from Burzynski's 'representative'.

As it's almost nowhere near Christmas, I'll leave you with a new animated version of Tim Minchin's “White Wine in the Sun”.

This week's Round-up was put together by Chris Richardson (@christheneck)

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