Thursday 27 December 2012

The Round-Up w/e 23/12/2012

Apparently the Mayan gods had popped round to Harold Camping’s for a cup of tea and totally forgot to destroy the world. Oh well, I suppose I’d better get on with putting another round-up together. They may not happen when you expect them but we're more reliable than the Mayans.

Did you all have a good Christmas? I hope you all did, although some people would rather the atheists amongst you didn’t. Talking of not celebrating Christmas, here’s an interesting missive from fantasy game supremo Gary Gygax on why he didn’t celebrate Christmas. You could strike me down with a +5 feather of disbelief.

Still this is the season where people are supposed to experience good will to all, that is unless you’re in a same sex relationship, you’re celebrating a festival from outside the dominant religion, or part of a hate propagating Christian sect.

In the wake of the sad story of the woman who wished to explore alternative treatments rather than put her son through radiotherapy Andy Lewis issues Homeopaths a challenge.

Hopefully you have something to be grateful about this festive season, and that’s a good thing. We’ll stick to psychology for a bit with some very psychological chocolates, Oliver Sacks on our propensity for myth making and one year on the Brain Bank legacy of Bruce Hood’s Christmas lectures.

I would love to have seen this live! Here’s a chance for you to check your scientific knowledge courtesy of the Observer Science Quiz. If you don’t score to highly you can always boost your scientific credibility by pasting a picture of a laboratory behind you.

For all you haters of brassica oleracea here’s another excuse to avoid those little round green beasts.

Here are some good bad comic reasons to be a Christian. And here’s an almost comic but really just bad example of one hijacking the Sandy Hook tragedy. Mind you he’s not the only one to use that traumatic event as a bolster for an insane set of beliefs, cue the Health Ranger.

Mind you there are plenty of other religions to choose from that have quirky and sometimes bizarre beliefs. Some that can cause you to become increasingly superstitious, some that are amongst other things a bit unhygienic and at least one that you can bop your head to. If you don’t see anything you like just bake your own God.

Anti-vaccers are still getting their arguments across in Congress and the press despite the evidence being against them.

Let’s look at some pretty but informative things. Fantabulous infographics followed by magnificent diagrams.

NASA go to infinity and beyond with their new range of space suits.

We three kings of Orient are….. walking in circles and all over the place apparently.

Here’s a discussion about the merit of the skeptical/geek movement. It’s not new,  it’s been said before, it’ll be said again. The comments are interesting so have a read of them.

Before the end of blog video I’d like to point you in the direction of our next event on January 9th with Robert Llewellyn. This should be a popular one with few seats, so if you have a problem standing then let us know and we’ll reserve one for you. Remember our DVDs are still available at a very reasonable price with Aarathi Prasad’s coming as soon as the covers turn up. And finally our inaugural book club is on January 20th.

To end I’d like to pay tribute to Gerry Anderson whose creations fuelled my young imagination and seemed to work animatronic miracles in the days before we were used to CGI and all that fancy malarkey.

This week’s round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond with  much help from  Roy Beddowes.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Weekly Round – Up w/e 16th December 2012

It’s Round-up time. There’s no need to be afraid...

Hello and welcome. After a brilliant 2012 we’re already lining up another year of interesting talks  to challenge and entertain you. And this is where you’ll get to hear all about them, receive updates on our  DVD releases , dates of our Sitp socials, and any local events of a skeptical or scientific nature; not forgetting our new book group starting in January. So share our blog, come along to our talks, tell all your friends about us too. Do they know it's Round-up time at all?

This week’s Round-up is liberally decked out with links of a festal nature. Here’s the first of our fragile myth baubles just ready to be dashed to tiny pieces:-

From the BMJ - Mistletoe as a treatment for cancer:  Many in the medical profession do not believe mistletoe has any effect on cancer, and think it should not be prescribed, citing a lack of good quality evidence.

North Korea claims to have unearthed a unicorn lair. Oh yes they did. ……. Oh no they didn’t!

Ladies and Gentlemen, a toast. Raise your glasses and drink to ‘you’re a nation’: Edzard Ernst points a placebo at the porcelain in taking-the-piss.

This story of the three wise men has been bothering me a bit lately. Why they had to follow a star to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is beyond me as, according to Google Earth, it’s only a piddling 4.5miles away; approximately 1.5hrs at camel pace. It's not like there wasn't an abundance of nocturnal flock-watching shepherds loitering on every sand dune to point them in the right direction either. Jeez! Besides, the wise men would probably have walked their camels to Jerusalem, as watching them run would have been just too hilarious.

The world’s smallest snowman: At 10 µm across, 1/5th the width of a human hair, with a nose measured at .001mm diameter made of ion beam deposited platinum. There’s a technical term for that; Ooh, that’s so cool!

Look at what Einstein got for Christmas. Well, if they’re good enough for him… No guarantees of an instant IQ increase if you wear a pair though. There just might be something in that hypothesis as Northwestern University researchers say that our clothes affect our psychological processes.  Unusually, I’m putting this together during my lunch break at work, rather than at home, whilst wearing my usual white lab coat, and I’m finding it so much easier! (WIGO?)

Get your free Christmas cards from New Humanist here, drawn by top cartoonist Martin Rowson. Download the pdf then print away. Make a donation too if you’re feeling generous.

Kingdom Hall door knockers have been down my way telling me that Darwin was a racist, therefore, evolution is too. No way. Yahweh! (Evo Wiki! Why haven’t I seen you before?)

Some creative ideas for alternative Christmas trees should you fancy a challenge: The simple but very effective Dalek Tree; the lab based Chemistree and several versions of Booktrees. The sight of those volumes laid open on top of one another, spines akimbo, makes me very uncomfortable. I’ll stick to hanging miniature copies of atheist books to my fake fern, topped off with a festive bobble hatted Darwin; though if you’re a Kindle user after a cheap e-book for Christmas, this is a steal at 99p.

A must watch video on Synthetic Biology now as Cambridge University undergraduates spent the summer genetically engineering bacteria to secrete a variety of coloured pigments , visible to the naked eye. That E.chromi yoghurt in the developing future scenario looks fascinating.

500,000 pairs of fat blaster pants sold in Australia. Warning! Article contains massive portions of indigestible woo. That’s a Biopromise. Nope, even spellchecker tells me that word is utter nonsense.

The Huffington Post, one of the biggest political websites in the world is a proud supporter of quackery says Tom Chivers at the Telegraph. There’s a fair bit of good old fashioned mud-slinging in the comments section if you like that kind of thing.

Brazilian radio station, Band FM, broadcast a high frequency 15Hz tone under its music to repel mosquitoes, allowing listeners to relax in the open air without fear of getting bitten. Does it work? Definitely not, say scientists - and mosquitoes.

I don’t care if it makes me go cross-eyed. I want a wearable hummingbird feeder for Christmas.

Highlighting a sharp increase in arrests for "blasphemy" on social media this year, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has produced the first report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people.

Jesus taunted by baying mob again - at a darts match! Shame about that, I’m sure he could have done something miraculous with five portions of chips and two baskets of scampi.

Love and tolerance take a back seat to death threats and condoning murder as the Mormon Church get uppity about women wearing pants; whilst the conduit of inaudible voices, intangible entities and undetectable forces blesses Uganda’s Kill the Gays minister (Some NSFW rage vented therein).

Just a few words further along there’s a nice little 12 question Christmas quiz put together by Skeptical Money. Do you know your bible genealogy from your gospels?

Twinkly lights and some pretty planets aren’t the only reasons I’ve included this talk in the Round-up. There’s also some really nifty electronic engineering involved. From Leah Buechley as part of the TED series: Sketching with electronics.

That’s it. I’m done for this year - maybe forever, as I can’t say the weather’s looking too good this week according to the Mayan forecast. Or will we be witnessing the harmonic convergence of a full on Gangham Apocalypse?

If you manage to make it through both of those, have a
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster on me.

It may be a bit of an oldie, but it’s a goodie. Here’s a spot of natural history to start your holiday:

This week’s Round-up was compiled by SitP regular Roy Beddowes (sometimes Burrowes).

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Weekly Round-Up w/e 9th December 2012

Hello and welcome to the latest Round-Up. 

We're really looking forward to the visit of Robert Llewellyn in January but if you can't wait that long or fancy buying a Christmas present for the nerd in your life you might consider buying one (or more) of our past talks, all lovingly edited and packaged by several of the Brum Skeptics organisers under the name of SkepticalDVDs. It's all linked to Paypal and they've kept the postage costs to a minimum and the Royal Mail says we should be OK to post up to Tuesday 18th December. Needless to say it's all voluntary and the profits go into the Brum Skeptics pot.

Maybe the biggest story of the week is the death of astronomer Sir Patrick Moore who hosted The Sky at Night on BBC TV for over 55 years. He has an incalculable effect in popularising science but many were unaware of his unpleasant views on a variety of subjects including immigration and women in the workplace. Kash Farooq puts forward the idea that it's OK to admire the work but not the worker.

The other big story of the week was that of Sally Roberts who disappeared with her 7 year old son Neon to prevent him from receiving follow-up treatment after an operation to remove a brain tumour. Her preference was for something more natural (and ineffective). This led the Express to run a piece detailing the options given by various alternative medicine regimes. Needless to say they got most of it wrong which is unsurprising as their 'expert' is not a medical doctor but a “practitioner of health in its broadest sense”. Although there was dialogue between Sense About Science and the Express they are yet to issue a correction or publish Sense About Sciences letter, so they corrected it themselves (pdf). There's not much left of the original.

It's not just newspapers who get it wrong. Asthma UK have put up a webpage on Complimentary Therapies that is enough o make you wince. They really should know better. Also the American Psychiatric Association has approved DSM 5, the approved list of mental health conditions but this has been highly criticised for a number of failings.

We've come across yet more unpleasant reports on Stanislaw Burzynski from one family and Orac responds to the father of another Burzynski patient.

It's not all doom and gloom however as the UN has finally passed a resolution condemning Female Genital Mutilation and the American Veterinary Medical Association have announced that in January they will consider a resolution to kick homeopathy out of animal treatments as it “has been conclusively demonstrated to be ineffective“.

We've also heard that a homeopathy beliver actually sent a nice letter to a skeptic. Here's the letter and the response from Mike Hall detailing how evidence can be skewed.

More evidence based links now (well what would you expect?). Firstly Dave Hone in the Guardian details what actually is, and isn't, ascientific debate. The slightly tongue in cheek flipside of that argument is given by @sceptiguy – teach the controversy, but be honest (like that's going to happen). These arguments don't stop people like Stephen Doughty spouting codswallop in the Mail though. Apparently it's chilly therefore climate change is bogus. No Stephen, that's weather you're talking about, not climate. Sigh. 

@enniscath in the Guardian also has something to say about conspiracy theorists, this time in the realms of cancer quackery and the ever reliable Dean Burnett (@garwboy) has a pertinent and very funny analogy as to how pseudoscientific arguments usually run.

Next up is a scathing article from the New Yorker claiming that the current state of the UK economy proves austerity economics doesn't work. I'm sure it gives everyone a warm glow inside to realise that we may be all part of a big experiment?

Some solid facts now about which supplements and vitamins will actually give any benefit here from Science-ish, Steve Novella gives a comprehensice review on craniosacral therapy, Podge Murphy takes apart some of the claims of Irish anti-abortionists on the Galway Skeptics blog and, in light of the proposed increased use of technology between doctor and patient it's interesting to find surprising evidence of what would happen if they proposed that you could email your doctor.

A brave and uplifting vlog here as the idea is put forward as to the consequences if people were actually happy to expose their mental health problems in public. Would be rather nice.

Not too much on the religion front has caught our eye but the Netherlands has approved a move to scrap their blasphemy law as it is no longer relevant to society. 

There was also a distressing incident in the Dominican Republic where a magician was set on fire in a television studio by the host using a flammable cologne as a “blessing”. Some blessing. The host is now complaining he's being treated like a criminal.

A nice article was published in the Guardian this week from Deborah Hyde on vampire legends that refuse to die. Although we don't need an extra reason to trumpet the work of one of our previous speakers it's nice to see a research credit for Brum Skeptics' very own @notjarvis.

Also, a the Press Gazette reports that a date has been set for 'psychic' Sally Morgan's libel case against the Daily Mail. It will be interesting to see how she demonstrates professional damage to her reputation to be able to talk to dead people without, err, proving she can talk to dead people.

If you can stomach another link to the Daily Mail it has reported that Prince Charles has triggered a surge in cosmic farming (?!). If you can set aside the knowledge that farmers will be 'treating' their sick animals with ineffective treatments it might be worth it just so you can point and laugh at the peculiar nonsense peddled by Chuck however it should be noted that he “has been pioneering agricultural techniques over 30 years and continues to do so”.

Some last bits of fun to finish off with.

The folks over at the Rationalist Association are running a series of fun and funny Advent Podcasts.

This came to light from our previous speaker Colin Wright's twitter stream and is perhaps the most startling piece of juggling I've ever seen from Yann Frisch.

If you can't get to Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People coming up in London shortly you might like to know that the third 'Godless' show from this time last year has just been released by Go Faster Stripe and they also sell the previous shows.

I'll leave you with a New Miracle Life-Cure. And maybe this one will work...

This Round-Up was written and compiled by @christheneck with some additional links from Roy Burrowes.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Announcing the First Book Club Meeting!

Here it is folks, the first Birmingham Skeptics Book Club. 

We've set the first date as Sunday 20th January 2013 at 2.00pm
at the lovely Yorks Bakery Cafe.
The book up for discussion is Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Still plenty of time to get it on your Christmas wish list!

We'll also be having a chat about how you want the book club to run as well as picking the next few please bring suggestions with you or pop them below. We'd also be very happy to hear any thoughts about when the
book club should meet.

Find out more about the book here.

The Yorks Bakery Cafe is at the top of Newhall St. and they'll be expecting us. We could do with knowing what sort of numbers are likely to turn up so give us a shout either on our facebook event page, via twitter (links to the organisers below) or via our email contact page
If it's your first Brum Skeptics event and you're not sure who to look out for we'll have some sort of sign, but feel free to drop us a tweet/message and we'll look out for you!

If you have any suggestion for books that you would like us to cover in future please let us know.

Click here to go to suggestions page

The Birmingham Skeptics Book Club is organised by Laura Creaven and Jade Quarrell

The Round-up w/e 25/11/12

Hello and welcome to Brum Skeptics round-up of the Internet’s good the bad and the subject to individual aesthetic taste.

When I was a kid dinosaurs were big scaly things that chased women wearing furry bikinis but there is more and more evidence of how wrong I was.
There were feathery ones that chased the bikini clad maidens too.

Mark Twain described golf as “a good walk spoiled.” I bet he wouldn’t have been so dismissive if there had been
dinosaurs on the course.

Conflict over the so-called Holy Land is much in the news but is hardly new as this
animation ably illustrates. Despite being referred to in the Bible as “a land flowing with milk and honey” I much prefer these ones of bread and chocolate.

Here is a much better use for those
machine guns.

We already knew that the
2012 Apocalyptic beliefs were stupid, right? Well now that view is supported by the Pope and he knows a lot about irrational and ridiculous ideas.

Firstly an argument that you should hold ideas based on what you
can argue and not what you believe. If you want a classic example of how to put an argument together you could do worse than have a listen to the Copleston vs.Russell debate on the Cosmological Argument. As much as I enjoy a bit of metaphysics I think this Priest got a bit carried away.

There are no good arguments for the
limitation of rights and the mutilation of children based on gender and religion.

He may have to go to Russia but we finally have a party that
David Icke can get enthused about.

I love this story for two reasons.
A mystery code from World War 2 that can’t be cracked is pretty cool in itself. But the other thing is that because of it I found out that there is a pigeon museum!

Burzynski news,
and it’s not good.

Feeling hungry? How about some
infinite bacon followed by a bullshit fetus burger.

they can spread disinformation but are little modern day miracles in themselves.

A teacher questions
how to approach students that doubt evolution. Perhaps one way in would be to give them this book on the importance of the scientific method as a present.

At last,
proof that extra-terrestrial intelligent life exists. How do you spell pareidolia again?

An article of professional interest for me here. I spent weeks learning to read Braille and never managed to do it fluently by touch, I had to use my eyes.
Very similar but very different to this person in fact.

I have some random links left over so please help me out by thinking of some vaguely relevant and/or amusing connecting text for these:

Fear Cancels out Placebo Effect

Lung on a Chip

Did Jesus Die for Klingons?


God told her to drive at 100mph

For those that came to Aarathi’s great talk here’s a recent post from her on the
changing attitudes to sex. You can buy her book from here and some time very soon the DVD of her talk here.

December is a bit of a lazy month of us Brum Skeptics, no speaking event. We do have a
social tonight though which we would love to see you at and there will probably be another in December so check back for the when and where of that.

2013 is looking mighty fine. We’ll be kicking off with the wonderful Robert Llewellyn, as long as his electric car gets him to the venue on time. We also have the inaugural Birmingham Skeptics Book Group so get reading.

I’ve had my head stuck in reports and write-ups  all week and have barely read anything else so a massive thank you to Roy Beddowes for passing on the vast majority of these links. We’ll finish with a great little video on the phases and libration of the moon.

This week’s round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex)

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Round-Up w/e 18th November 2012

Welcome to this week’s Round-up. Our collection of scientific and skeptical fluff plucked from the deepest, darkest corners of the internet’s umbilicus.  In which we invite you to delve into this week’s concentric circle of furriness and have a good old firkle around. Don’t be shy.

Someone has to poke around in the jungle that is your navel’s ecosystem, and the folks at the Belly Button Biodiversity Project are just the people to do it; analysing the flora of 500 participants who mailed in their navel swabs. Their conclusions are here at PLOS/one.  I hope they’re going to follow this up with a toe-cheese study.

With our talks over for this year you still have a couple of chances left in 2012 to meet up with your skeptical homies (and hopefully newbies-gentle nudge there) at one of our Sitp socials. November’s  is at the Square Peg on 28th at 19:00, with the December date still to be finalised.

Just in case you missed our newsletter, we’ve a book group launching on Sunday 20th of January at 2pm at Yorks Bakery Café on Newhall Street, where Laura and Jade will be discussing Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson’s - Mistakes were made (but not by me). If that doesn’t draw you in there’s a fine looking carrot cake with lime mascarpone frosting on Yorks Facebook page. You’re only allowed a piece if you’ve read the book mind.

There are some links that just stop you in your tracks such is their awesomeness, so I’m going to quietly leave this ‘100,000 stars near Earth’ link just here. Come back when you’re good and ready. (Btw – this may slightly challenge your computer’s processing power)

Meat-eaters "easily cheat, lie, forget promises and commit sex crimes", according to a controversial school textbook available in India. Those year-round hunters, Eskimos, are also accused of being lazy, sluggish and short-lived because they eat mainly meat! Hmm, creating a mental picture of the Arctic I never visualise fields of sprouts, carrots and turnips. Wonder Why?

Were the countless cases of “demonic possession” that have frightened people through history actually manifestations of a rare immune system disorder? Susannah Cahalan chronicles her experience with the less poetic sounding anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis in Brain on Fire.

For a moment there I thought this was the Creation Museum’s attempt at a Lego set until I saw the missiles on the Pterodactyl. That’s some badass dinosaur! From the Brick Brothers: Great American leaders riding terrible lizards.

MIT’s game lab has a new project called A Slower Speed of Light, to help players learn about special relativity effects conceptually, rather than mathematically. Download the game, collect orbs; get freaky!
More interesting stuff about Einstein has been released this week, with photographs showing that his brain had unusually elaborate brain folds, which may reveal clues to his genius.

Did Einstein have a brother?  Over at B3ta  someone seems to think so. He’s ALIVE!

Something for the skeptical knitters out there (I distinctly remember someone crocheting at one of our talks once); here’s a couple of interesting sites to visit:  The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art and Woolly Thoughts. Not forgetting that there are some skeptical twitchers in our ranks; the first ever family tree for all living birds.  

Over at Creation Today Eric Hovind answers the most embarrassing question ever.  Without resorting to colourful expletives or three letter acronyms (okay, just one – SRY), I’m going to adopt the Helen Flanagan method for exiting this twisted link. I’m an atheist - get me out of here!

Something to get your western mind around: Researchers grappling with the best ways to diagnose Autism are finding that they have to adapt their tests and interpretations due to worldwide cultural differences.

More WTF than WWE here as we reveal that Hypnosis is the most illegal move in wrestling! Bit disappointed now that no one was doing the worm at Martin Taylor’s Sitp talk.

Evolution is occurring right under our noses: The Big Apple has a cadmium resistant worm according to field biologists studying urban evolution in the lab known as New York; Evolution still not occurring  in Louisiana, however.

News from The Nightingale Collaboration: Of the 26 complaints submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority about adverts in WDDTY, the first two of the informally resolved cases are published.

A fascinating and timely new article now as David Colquhoun explores  the persistence of non-useful medicines as reported in Which? Magazine’s article ‘Health Products You Don’t Need’. Click through for the Which report.

Today’s equation: R.E.M plus vasodilation plus a full bladder = The science of morning wood. No need to reach for that CD. It’s not the rock band.

Got my name in the credits and contributed (via Crowdfunder) to something meaningful, scientifically educational, and thoroughly entertaining. Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Evolution videos are now available to download or just watch online.  Darwin’s Acid is sublime. Baba would make a great Sitp speaker!  Organisers? Huh! Hmm.

Channeling spirits shuts down part of the brain reveals new research at Thomas Jefferson University.  Evidence found of talking to spirits in the study? Not a sausage. Bugger all.

Neuroscientists also find a brain region that does absolutely nothing in this piece of satire from Collectively Unconscious. Oh dear. Judging by the comments section some people seem to have missed the joke.

From the creator of Spamalot: Eric Idle’s ‘What about Dick?’ presents Asstrology.  Spelling is correct; meaningless labels applied to your existence - same as astrology.

Almost at my word quota now so I’m going to finish with the second Russell Brand video that’s dropped into my inbox this week, in which he interviews Steve Drain and Timothy Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church.

Have a great week.

This week’s Round-up was compiled by SitP regular Roy Beddowes.