Thursday 31 March 2011

The New Age of Discovery

By Patrick Redmond

When I was a child, like many other people before and since I’m sure, I used to look at the stars and wonder what it was like on the planets that circled them. I was naive and untutored in the ways of astronomy having acquired most of my knowledge in that area from Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Dr Who. It was obvious to me from these limited but entertaining sources of information that the universe was teaming with planets, many of which were capable of bearing life.
Well I’m still pretty much untutored but I read a bit more science with a little less fiction and I came to realise that such planets were not so common after all. In fact until fairly recently planets outside of our own system were

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Adam does Alpha

By Elaine Pickering

Following my attendance at TAM London in October 2010 I wrote this short piece about one of the talks which I found especially interesting. On reading Patrick's post about his experiences of the Alpha Course I thought it might be a good time to share it here.  

Writer, broadcaster and co-editor of Nature Adam Rutherford gave a highly entertaining talk at TAM about his noble undertaking of a local Alpha Course, a Christian initiative purporting to welcome anyone wanting to explore the faith in

Monday 21 March 2011

The Return of the Alpha Skeptic

By Patrick Redmond

This is a rather belated follow up to my Alpha Skeptic post. There I described how I started the Alpha Course ran by a local evangelical church and I promised to follow up and report how I did. Well, basically, I failed. How and why I failed is a little confusing and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I was very open about my atheism in what I thought was a nonaggressive way, but I think that the problem was in my initial hopeful and naive conception of what the Alpha Course was for.

According to the advert it was for people to come and find out about Christianity and to ask questions. It said that you could come to all or dip in and out, which is what I was going to do. It also said that there was no need to make a commitment.

If you read the account of my first session the experience was positive, lots of debate and openness. My second session was not so. My life is full of ‘stuff’ and so I had missed out some weeks and came back in on

Friday 18 March 2011

The Best of the Web w/e 18th March 2011

A weekly round-up of things we liked that we think you'd like also.

We at Birmingham Skeptics are now famous.  Brian Deer popped in, unannounced, to see us at The Victoria last week.  He featured us in an article in the Sunday Times about the growing influence of Skeptics in the Pub.  We won’t let the fame go to our head though, we’ll continue to operate from our underground bunker 300 metres beneath the Rotunda.  What else was happening this week?  Well, here's our round-up of interesting things:

  • Skeptics groups often get accused of being pessimistic.  Patrick Redmond wanted to find out if it was wrong to be optimistic.  He spoke to Mark Stevenson, author of “An Optimist’s Guide to the Future” to find out.
  • Are you a ‘homosexual struggler’?  Well, there’s an app for that, you’ll be on the straight and narrow in no time.  I wonder if there’s one for heterosexual strugglers in the works.
  • It’s supermoon time, this is when the moon expands and is noticeably bigger in the sky.  Steve Owen has a more rational explanation on the Dark Sky Diary entitled The Moon Illusion.
  • Do you know the difference between science fact and science fiction?  Try this BBC quiz.

This was compiled by Paul Bryant (@thebigyeti) with lots of help from Chris Richardson (@christheneck)

Monday 14 March 2011

Is it Wrong to be Optimistic?

By Patrick Redmond

One of the common accusations or misconceptions levelled against people that call themselves sceptical is that they are necessarily cynical or pessimistic. Now any evidence that I have to the contrary is purely anecdotal but of the many people that I meet at Skeptics in the Pub I generally come away with a very positive feeling. However, when I first read the title of Mark Stevenson’s book “An Optimists Tour of the Future” I had reservations because of that word “Optimist”. Is this because I have been jaded by over exposure to the negative forces of scepticism?

The book looks at the current horizons of some of the most cutting edge and exciting developments in science and technology and asks “what comes next?” But, and it’s a big but,

Friday 11 March 2011

The best of the blogosphere w/e 11th March 2011

A weekly round-up of things we liked that we think you'd like also.

Space invaders, Eclipses (or is it Eclipsii?), nutters, threats to silence Members of Parliament, Lego, a quiz, threats to silence authors, history, success, failure and Pi the musical; this week's round-up has it all and much, much, more.  Don't take my word for it though, read on:

Monday 7 March 2011

The Framing Effect and Bad Decision Making

A blogpost by Kash Farooq

I recently attended a Science London talk given by UCL Neuroscientist Dr Benedetto De Martino. The talk was titled “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions” and was about a phenomenon called the framing effect.

Due to the framing effect, the same option presented in different formats can change the decisions people make. This effect can influence anyone. It is particularly interesting when dealing with how risk is presented in medicine; present identical data differently and doctors can be influenced about the worth of a treatment.

Basically, the way a question is framed can influence how the question is answered.

There is a famous example that

Friday 4 March 2011

Songs from the Scientific Cabaret - A Podcast Posting

Listen to the Podcast Here and Subscribe on iTunes Here

By Patrick Redmond

Dr Martin Austwick is a physicist and a very sociable one at that, which leads nicely onto one of his many web guises, the man behind the blog The Sociable Physicist. This is a good example of what I like about him, he doesn’t shut his science up inside a test tube or hide it behind a spectroscope, he  makes it accessible and he demonstrates the creativity of thought that can lie at the heart of science behind the necessary but sometimes less exciting  process of experimentation, analysis and repetition. We need that data but we also need minds that can make connections and leaps of imagination to apply them in ever inventive ways.
One of his other internet nom de plume is as Martin the Sound Man on the Sony Award winning comedy podcast

The Best of the Blogosphere this week

A weekly round-up of things we liked that we think you'd like also.

Some people sit in the front of the computer all day and all night in a ceaseless and hopeless attempt to read the whole internet; Allah forbid they miss something.  Others have things to do.  This post is by the former for the latter.  We’ve waded though the slurry to find you this week’s gems you probably missed while out enjoying your lives.