Saturday 7 January 2012

Weekly Round-up w/e 8/01/2012

Welcome to the latest round-up. Let's have a look what the first full week of 2012 has for us. Hmm.

A quick reminder first that Andy McIntosh will be joining us at the Vic for our
first talk of 2012. He's a Professor of Thermodynamics but also a devout Christian and Young Earth Creationist, so expect the night to be lively. Also later in the month we have our first Social of the year on Tuesday 24th at the Square Peg in Corporation Street, and make a note of future dates as we have Alice Sheppard (@penguingalaxy) in February and Deborah Hyde (@jourdemayne) in March.

In local news  a new group called
Birmingham Girl Geeks launches on Saturday 21st January at the Urban Coffee Company in Church Street with guest speaker Denise Jacobs and Birmingham now has a MathsJam which meets on the last Tuesday of the month at the Tap and Spile in Gas Street. It clashes with our Social this month but you can go next month can't you?

Slightly further afield, the speakers at
Thinkcon on 17th March in Cambridge have been announced with an impressive line-up (FB & Twitter). It's a week after QEDcon in Manchester, so for those who wanted another QED the weekend after last year's, here's your chance.

Skeptic news on the net includes the launch of a monthly page of actions to familiarise yourselves and others of psychic's tricks and scams. This month is on
newspaper astrology & Barnum statements.

Also just released are
Professor Bruce Hood's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. All of them appear to be up and here's the first.

One of the big stories of the week is the instigation of legal proceedings by the disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield who claimed a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism and was struck off for unethical procedures carried out on children from which they gained no benefit. He claims his reputation has been, err,
damaged by an article published a year ago. A running round-up of articles is being collated by @lizditz here and for those of a legal bent I'd recommend the thoughts of the Skeptical Lawyer and of Ken at Popehat highlighting Texas's new anti-SLAPP statute designed to stop actions like this. There are some interesting theories on why Wakefield might be taking this action using a non-specialist lawyer despite his small chance of success. As Orac says, the plot thickens.

This case may seem far removed from us, however libel threats and actions continue to surface on a weekly basis. Vaughan Jones from Nuneaton has a case going through the High Court as I type. There's more on the case here, but as the review and articles in question have been removed from public view we'll have to wait until matters conclude to see what all the fuss was about. We wish him well. Here's his take on the state of our current libel laws and why it should matter.

Also this week, news has reached us of William Foxton who has lost his job at Chamber Report, a magazine highlighting the great and the good (and the bad) in the legal profession, for green-lighting a story in which the facts do not seem to be in question. The story involves an individual who, despite having been hung out to dry by his own legal firm in Dubai, has an awful lot of money.
It's a desperately sad indictment of how our libel laws currently work. After reading that I'll just leave this here. It's the homepage of the Libel Reform Campaign. They have a donations page. Just saying.

There is also disquiet in the psychiatric profession as preparation of DSM5, the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders referred to by Jon Ronson when he visited us in July,
seems to be being hindered by the legal insistence of confidentiality clauses and commercialism.

Right, let's point and laugh at things religious for a bit. Always fun, but the first are not aimed at the believer but at the atheist or skeptic. Many will have heard of the fact that radical islamic extremists who blow themselves and others to pieces in the name of their deity ascend to paradise to be greeted by 72 virgins. Well, I say “fact”. If I were you I'd take a look at
this from skepchicks. Maybe those who recently explained to someone how Christmas was stolen from the story of Mithras or Dionysus or Horus should have a wee look here and here too.

The Telegraph reported this week that
Scientology “is becoming a hollow moneymaking machine run by an autocratic ruler” as yet another senior devotee takes a pop at the top dog claiming that the cult longer adheres to the “teachings” of L Ron Hubbard. Here's hoping they implode.

Some outright idiocy now as someone muses as to what
would have happened had Jesus not existed. It reads like it should be a Poe, but I suspect not.

Lastly, as we're talking religion, there's obviously some nastiness as highlighted in this piece on the practise of
muddying the waters between science and religion to indoctrinate children.

A wonderful blog now, from Richard Wilson (@dontgetfooled) on the problems of “policy-based evidence-making”, how those in public life cherry-pick evidence with no qualms and what is being done about it.

A question sometimes raised at Skeptics in the Pub meetings to speakers who are active in the realms of alternative medicines is why skeptics seem to gravitate towards alt med and not take on broader spheres such as politics, The reasons why the latter are difficult is discussed in the above blog however, specifically, people blog about CAM because the mainstream media in this country predominantly give it a free ride as shown here by @jdc325

I suppose that now gives me licence to point out that taking Vitamin D will not help people avoid heart attacks or cancer and the horrendous unpleasantness of publishing a book aimed at “4-10 year olds on... ...the ineffectiveness of vaccines” (sic).

On a slightly related note, this is one reason why
you shouldn't have certain New Year's Resolutions.

As for the mainstream and printed media you could learn from the Telegraph (again) that there are no longer any homeopathy degree courses in Britain and that other CAM courses are in steep decline however it is bewildering to see that Nature seem to have allowed inclusion of a supplement in their magazine on Traditional Asian Medicine (sic) and seem happy to state that they carry “sole responsibility for all editorial content”. I wonder if the cash was worth it.

Following on from Sense about Science's
Celebrities and Science pdf as mentioned last time (worth a look if you missed it) we can now bring you the Climate Crock BS of the Year Awards. There are some fun (and occasionally funny videos)  and the usual suspects are there although there is a slant towards Americans. And Republicans. And Christians. And people with lots of money and oil companies. Prepare to facepalm or headdeak (your choice).

This last blog blows a hole in the “more expensive is better” meme that seems to permeate society but this time in music. Do you think you could tell the difference between a Stradivarius violin and a new one? Ed Yong shows that you can't,
and neither can the experts. That said, to some people especially Paypal, value matters.

As I mentioned virgins above, I thought I'd leave you with a video of a virgin birth in fact the fourth virgin birth in four years. There's the minimum of pain and gloop though, very little intervention during the birth and it is unlikely to give anyone nightmares.

Unless you're a shark.

This week's round-up was written by Chris Richardson (
@christheneck) with additional links provided by Roy Beddowes.

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