Sunday 26 February 2012

Weekly Roundup w/e 27/02/2012

It’s time for the weekly scientific and sceptical smorgasbord we like to call the roundup. So let’s grab a plate and elbow our way in before all that’s left is the pickled cucumber. I love it when predictions come true, not the Psychic Sally type (as you read this I’m getting an image of somebody called Mary… Marvin… Gavin… Kevin… John, that’s it John!) but the proper scientific type. All round genius and hero Alan Turing posited a theory over fifty years ago as to the mystery of how patterning occurred on animals. New research takes a step towards providing evidence for his idea.

We all know the mantra, if it doesn’t work properly check the cables, switch it off then switch it back on. The New Scientist brings us the latest on those faster than light neutrinos that had us so perplexed a while back. And from the same publication an exploding star casts its light over the story too. If you’ve got time pop along to the NewsBiscuit who put their own comic slant to the subject .

Creationism continues to try and work its way into the classrooms and from there the minds of the children of America. Fortunately there are still a number of people standing against superstition and irrationality. I wonder if one of those is Republican candidate Rick Santorum, he’s always had a keen eye for the real problems that stalk America?

And lest we get too smug with our skeptical selves Daniel Loxton takes a step back to look at what it means to even call yourself a skeptic in Tribal Skepticsm. Does he have a point?

Why don’t we do chiropractic next? Actually there are lots of good reasons not to do chiropractic and they’ve been in the news again.  Edzard Ernst reports as the President of the British Chiropractic Council writes about their decision to sue Simon Singh for Libel.

One from our conspiracy loving friends over at the True Activist about how Big Pharma are keeping secrets from you? When you’ve read that look around the site and you’ll find that there are all kinds of stuff that lots of people know that ironically is being kept a secret at the same time, such as the suppression of scientific advance. I think my IQ just dropped a couple of notches.

Little things please little minds they say. Before I descend into all too predictable innuendo lets divert into the world of nanotech and the promises therein.

Some say that atheists pick soft targets when they argue against religion. Soft targets or not sometimes the truth of what is done in the name of religion is despicable.

For somebody as busy as me (subtext – disorganised) sleep is something that I am often short of. I therefore found this article on the BBC website comforting as they challenge the myth of the 8 hours a night regime.

Let’s face it, Google are everywhere. They’ve probably been down your street, photographed your house, mapped out your garden and know what your favourite brand of cereal is. Love them or loathe them I spend acres of time on their sites and this is only going to increase with the announcement that the Great Barrier Reef is going to get the Streetview treatment on Google Maps. Make sure you have a look at the demo to get a flavour of the joys ahead.

So many people want to move away from that old fashioned stereotype of scientists as wild haired bespectacled professors. But sometimes you just have to embrace the fact that not all science communicators can be mop haired, smiley Mancunians and so let’s hear it for the wonderful Prof Martyn Poliakoff.

There’s a video at the end placed subtly to keep your interest in this bit where I plug things, so don’t stop reading. First off congratulations to our friends at UB:ASH who just held their fantastic Reason Week of events, a major achievement. Don’t forget that there is still just time to sign up for the wonderful QED Conference in Manchester, I was there last year and it was brilliant. We have a tab up above for the DVDs that we have begun to produce, so please click and have a look, more will be added as we do them. And don’t forget our next great event with the wonderful Deborah Hyde, Unnatural Predators: The Folklore of Fear.

We’ll end with Carry Poppy’s experiences of curing her cold with homeopathy. See you all next week.

This week's roundup was compiled by SitP co organiser Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) aided as ever by the suggestions of the wonderful Roy Beddowes.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Weekly Round-Up w/e 19/02/2012

Image: Tom Whyntie/CMS/CERN
Quarksgluonsred giantswhite dwarfs, big bang. There are eight billion stories in the naked universe, here are a just a few of them in the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub Weekly Round-up; trawling through space and time but mostly the global system of interconnectedness so you don’t have to.

Have you watched our Andy McIntosh talk on DVD yet? If you want to get hold of your own shiny boxed-up copy let me refer you over to the DVD page where Chris has handily laid out the contact and purchasing details. We’re still interested in your reactions and opinions so keep sending us your feedback.

Did you see that particularly snazzy looking solar system t-shirt Alice Sheppard was sporting for the last Sitp Talk? Well, here's another astronomical representation, except this is a box of chocolates, and it costs a hefty 3800 Yen; that’s £30GBP to you and me. Go on; indulge yourself with some chocolaty goodness and giggly Uranus puns. More space calories here and here. Resistance is Delicious.

Sticking with space stories: A Martian meteorite , an incredibly rare object, has been given to science to help unravel the Red Planet's secrets; Rock star Sting narrowly misses out on a having a Meteorite on his doorstep; and, with no need to reach for the Google incognito window, some elliptical dwarf on dwarf action.

Back on terra-firma, I don’t know how I missed this, call myself a Brummie! Apparently there’s something called The Dudley Bug. No, it’s not a virus that makes you talk funnaay, sorry, erm, funny; it’s a Trilobite, which also features on the original Dudley coat of arms. These critters can be found in the sedimentary rock exposures left over from old mine and quarry workings in the West Midlands; hard to imagine that this area was once covered by warm tropical shallow coral seas. (Tip o’ the hat to Birmingham University’s Mark Pallen for this nugget from The Rough Guide to Evolution.

If you’re an avid book reader then you may sympathise with Julian Smith’s obsessive feelings.

Studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Coffee enema vs. chemotherapy study and Energy Chelation are dubbed “brain-meltingly bad.", "magic, faith healing," and laughable.

Physicists have come up with an equation that explains and predicts the shape of a ponytail.

This is enough to make your blood boil:-

We’re a romantic lot here at Brum SitP (even though we know it’s really just a heady cocktail of chemicals at work) so we couldn’t let Valentine’s Day pass us by, especially when there’s some cool science references thrown in. Have a look at what CERN, The Bad Astronomer  and DNA Lab have lovingly put together. Click through on the CERN link to Suzie Sheehy’s excellent Valentine’s poem with an equation from SitP favourite Matt Parker.
Oh, the agony of de feet… Study debunks ionic footbath detox claims.

A faith healing television channel has been fined £25,000 by media regulator Ofcom over a series of breaches, including a televangelist who claimed that he could help individuals with serious illnesses using "miracle olive oil soap".

Well if we’re going to have a magic soap story then it’s only right that a magic water link should follow: Water twiddlers micro blog too - Free Homeopathy consultations on twitter. Hmm, can you recommend something for a severe case of RFI - Repetitive Face-palm Injury?

A couple of stories from over the pond: In an article from the Financial Times, Julian Baggini takes a look at Atheism in America, while in Texas, ex-Christian Matt Dillahunty from The Atheist Experience gives an impassioned response to a caller during a live discussion on The Real Cost of Religious Faith.

Get your irrational proposals here: An Irish Parliamentarian has proposed a change in the law regarding car registration plates, to allow motorists to avoid license plates that contain the number 13.

It’s only been a short while since my last tour of Nam, though looking at the line-up of speakers at this year’s Science Festival , Cheltenham is going to be worth a second visit between the 12th and 17th June. This year’s theme is ‘X’, from X-Men to X chromosomes. Download the comprehensive festival guide for more details.

From the Council for Secular Humanism: Hitchens from beyond the grave, in defense of Richard Dawkins.

Brain Pickings is an excellent resource for extraordinary and interesting articles. Here’s a lovely collection of six vintage-inspired animations on critical thinking aimed at children aged 8-10. The films are designed to promote a set of educational resources on critical thinking by TechNYou, an emerging technologies public information project funded by the Australian government.

Warning! Graphic depictions of morally reprehensible acts ahead. An amusing piece on why god hates checkered whiptail lizards.

An 83-year-old Belgian woman is able to chew, speak and breathe normally again after a machine printed her a new jawbone which has proven to be as functional as her own used to be.

Religion is being "side-lined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere", Conservative co-chairwoman Baroness Warsi wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph. Crispian Jago and the Daily Mash fire off a couple of satirical broadsides while Polly Toynbee and Martin Robbins respond from the pages of The Guardian.

Time to cosy up: Sam Harris-The Fireplace Delusion & Hate mails with Richard Dawkins.

From Sci-ence: Which embryo is human?

Iranian women ninjas:: In a society that treats them like children, sports and especially martial arts offer a way to express strength and independence.

Bringing this week’s Round-up to a close there’s just space to remind you that Deborah Hyde will be with us on March 14th where the theme will be Unnatural Predators, the malign supernatural and the folklore of fear. Don’t forget, we’ll also be clinking our skeptical glasses together for Galileo in the Old Contemptibles at our February Social.

Here’s a trio of movies to send you on your way: The excellent  Helen Arney with You and me and Walt Disney ; like a surreal Busby Berkeley movie, some quite bizarre formation dancing; and from KMel Robotics, a swarm of Nano Quadrotors.

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

Saturday 11 February 2012

Weekly Round up w/e 12/02/2012

Hello and welcome to this week's round-up. Plenty to get through with some big stories around.

Firstly, many thanks to
Alice Sheppard for her wonderful talk on Wednesday. That night also saw the first sales of our DVD of Andy McIntosh's talk and the first chance to get tickets to see Robin Ince do his first Skeptics in the Pub, with us, in May. The DVD will be available at future SitPs for £3 or you can order one online by emailing Prices are inclusive of p&p - £4 to the UK, £5 to the EU and £5.50 worldwide (They are region free). The DVDs are produced by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis and all profits are donated to Birmingham Skeptics. More tickets for the Robin Ince talk will be available at our next meeting which is Unnatural Predators with Deborah Hyde on Wednesday 14th March. Don't forget our Social at the Old Contemptibles on Wednesday 22nd February either.

The nominations for the
Skeptic Awards were announced this week, which I hope a lot of you voted for. Among the nominees you will find previous speakers and many of the websites we point to on our round-ups. Each and every one is worth a visit.

Following on from a link several weeks ago here are follow-ups to @jdc325's post on why people write about homeopathy, highlighting the
entertainment value and risks. This week people have pointed us towards pages where Homeopaths have prepared “treatments” for AIDS and remedies based on words written on a bit of paper. Worse still, World Homeopathy Awareness Week has been announced targetting infertile couples. I'm sure they'll claim success for anyone who happens to fall pregnant after being duped into buying sugar pills. Pity about all of the others though.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is hoist by its own petard here in an
excellent argument for its rejection as a valid medicine, and another article explores the fantasy of placebo as exploited by CAM advocates. From the Quackometer comes an article highlighting a new and highly expensive method of Autism “diagnosis” championed by Melanie Sykes and the BBC reports on a new programme to see if simple exercies will boost pupils' results. Exercise is good for you so the answer may well be yes. Let's just hope the findings aren't trumpeted as a triumph of pseudo-scientific twaddle or ignoring the simple effects of children receiving attention and resources. Speaking of pseudo-scientific twaddle, here we have a list of Doctors from Josephine Jones. Or are they?

Unfortunate news from Bristol as it seems there is an
unprecedented rise in Measles cases, unsurprising if this rampant case of Anti-vax denialism is anything to go by.

In Carmarthenshire a bogus therapist and his wife have been
found guilty of sexual assault and fraud using unpleasant methods I won't go into, and a teenager in Washington State was unfortunate enough to have faith-healers for parents. They've been charged with second-degree murder after he died from appendicitis.

Moving onto religion, it will have passed few people by over the last few days to see that Council's placing prayers on a Council agenda
has been officially deemed unlawful. It is unsurprising that it is outside a Council's powers to summons Councillors to pray, with penalties if they do not attend. (Judgement in full). This hasn't stopped front page screaming headlines from the Mail and Times (twitpics), both rather missing the point. This, coupled with the loss of an appeal against a judgement that two Bed and Breakfast owners shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals who wish to share a double bed led to frothing at the mouth from the Mail saying that gay rights trump those of Christians, Nadine Dorries claiming the removal of the Christian fabric of our society, and George Carey, former Archbish, claiming that their right to bigotry should be protected. Carey is also happy to back a psychotherapist who claims to be able to cure  homosexuality (as reported last week). Nice man.

I make no connection between those links and this one, which states that
Right-Wingers are more likely to be less intelligent than Left-Wingers (link to Mail again, sorry). Whether this stands up to scrutiny or not, Charlie Brooker's take on it is worth a read.

What most rabid commentators seem to miss is that the Council case predominantly relies on the Local Government Act 1972 and therefore doesn't apply in other situations however David Allen Green points out that a similar situation exists in that
oaths given in a courtroom are both required and have no effect at the same time.

Elsewhere, there is a go
vernment visit to the Pope to see what his particular invisible friend thinks about things, US Catholic Bishops seem to be out of touch (!) with US Catholics and there is some life-threatening religious bigotry going on in Indonesia. As for this guy, Nicholas Pfab, well, I'm not sure what to say about him. Here's a collection of some other things being done in the name of religion.

In Science news, it seems there is little likelihood of a
pardon for Alan Turing and the death of Roger Boisjoly has been announced. The name meant nothing to me, but he's one of the engineers that argued to halt the Challenger launch and had his career ruined for doing so.

The BBC has a report on the successful
setting up of the Very Large Telescope and here's a rather nice video from John Butterworth on entropy.

Following the announcement that Russian scientists have managed to
drill down to the sub-glacial Lake Vostok, it's nice to know that Vladimir Putin hasn't drunk any so he won't turn into a dinosaur. I'm guessing his maths is only 60-odd million years out. As for his logic...

Two pieces on writing papers now. The first highlights the
perils of bite-size science and the second is looking for reports of failed experiments for The Journal of Errology.

In libel news, Paul Chambers'
Twitter Joke Trial Appeal was heard this week. The judgement may be before Easter. Here's Al Murray's take on it in the Guardian.

Lastly we come to one of our previous speakers and the hero of the week. Matt Parker, the stand-up mathematician who challenged a thief stealing a phone from an unattended bag on a train. It's made national and
transatlantic news, (although they call him English) not least because Matt took a considerable length of video footage of the perp, who seemed happy for him to do so, so I'll leave you with one question. Do you know this man?

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

Sunday 5 February 2012

Weekly Round-Up w/e 5/2/12

Welcome, the round-up is here once again.  We’ve got lots of exciting things this week.  As well as the usual interesting things from around the web we have a few announcements of our own.  We have some good news about an upcoming speaker we’ve just announced.  Our very first DVD as well.  Details are all below.  For now, let’s get on with the round-up.

Let’s start of with the good news.  Comedian and organiser of the godless Christmas shows Robin Ince is going to be our May speaker.  His shows tend to sell out theatres so we expect it’ll be a tight fit in The Victoria.  Those who attended Jon Ronson’s talk will remember how uncomfortable it can get so this time we’ll be selling tickets to control numbers.  The tickets will only be £2.50 each, around the same level as the normal suggested donation.  You can get tickets from each of the upcoming talks, we won’t be selling them online so if you want a ticket, make sure you come along.

Many of us had chemistry sets when we were younger but some of us continued and went further, to the point of developing new medicines and splitting the atom in the kitchen.  Jon Ronson looks at the world of home experimenters and home experimentation gone wrong.

Nick Cohen talks Salman Rushdie and censorship.  The terror of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa has faded but the challenge it posed to artistic freedom has not, as a brush with the Indian authorities has shown.

So, what did you think of our visit from Andy McIntosh the other week then?  We asked for your opinions and you gave them to us.  Here’s a blog post with the rather interesting replies.

Did you miss the talk?  If so, fret not, we filmed the talk and will be selling it on DVD for £3.  If you want a copy, you can collect it on Wednesday night, let us know if you want one by emailing us at birminghamskeptics at and we’ll bring you one along.  If you want one posting to you, pretty much anywhere in the world, it’s the same price but you’ll have to pay postage. We’ll have full details soon, in the meantime just email us.

When you watch the DVD, one of the first things that’ll strike you, after your amazement at the quality of the mastering by Chris and the cover design by Paul, is the excellent music.  This was done for us by DJ, remixer and producer Nathan Jay.  Listeners of the Richard Herring and Andrew Collins podcast would know his work.  Have a look at what else he’s done here.

You know that health bill that’s going through that some assert benefits private healthcare providers?  Imagine if the minister in charge of it had received financial backing from a private healthcare provider.  No need to imagine, the telegraph has the details.

Galileo’s Finger by Peter Atkins is based around 10 great ideas of science that have emerged since the time of Galileo and covers evolutionary theory, genetics chemistry, quantum theory, cosmology and mathematics.  Former Birmingham Skeptics regular and now neuroscientist in Norway Tulpesh Patel reviews the book here.

Staying on Tulpesh’s blog, here’s a summary of a talk he attended on the weaknesses and strengths of the climate change debate.  Looks like he’s found a replacement for Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub in Norway. It’s OK, we always knew he’d find something else, we’re not upset. Excuse us for a moment, we have something in our eye.

Alternative medicine practitioners in Australia are fighting claims by a 400-strong lobby group, called the Friends of Science in Medicine, that techniques such as acupuncture and homeopathy are pseudoscience.  The article states that new research from the University of Adelaide has shown that when diagnosed with cancer, more than 50 percent of Australian men are turning to alternative medicine to help find a cure, or to improve their health.  No wonder the alternative medicine practitioners are up in arms, that’s a lot of business to fight for.

Want to brush up on your skeptical skills and knowledge? Well, you’re in luck, Token Skeptic has knocked up a skeptical reading list here in graphic form.

Them Catholics have got themselves a nice card which says what a Catholic does. It only mentions the nice things though. I didn’t see a line stating that ‘as a Catholic I promise to condemn millions to suffering and injustice to uphold traditions that will secure the politcial stability of the Vatican elite’.  Anyway, The Guardian asked folks of other faiths, including humanists, what would be on their card.

One of our previous speakers stirred up a bit of controversy this week.  Hayley Stevens found herself in the Daily Mail, Fox News and other grubby places after an ASA complaint she made was upheld.  She’s been accused of being a group generally opposed to Christianity and an unofficial media adviser for some reason.  Here’s her reasons for the complaint.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, is backing Lesley Pilkington who’s a Christian pychotherapist that offers to ‘cure’ gay men of their homosexuality.  Her therapy was described as "absurd" by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.  Who needs evidence when you’ve got bigotry?

‘Psychic’ Sally is suing the Daily Mail for calling her a scammer.  It’s one of those court cases that you’d like to see both sides lose.  The story in question was written by Paul Zenon (who’ll be speaking at QED).  Former Birmingham Skeptics speaker Ash Pryce had something to say on this.

Good old Brian Cox, he was credited with inspiring a surge in the number of teenagers studying maths and science at ‘A’ Level.  Now he’s been credited with sparking an interest in astronomy in Britain.  As you know, Brian Cox was little heard of until his picture was featured in The Sunday Times in an article about us at Birmingham Skeptics.  I think we should take a little of the credit.

Those who do love their astronomy are in for a treat, Alice Sheppard is coming to speak to us on Wednesday night.  Her talk is called ‘When the Universe came to the people. Citizen science for skeptics.’  You can find the details here.  Make sure you come along.

This week’s round-up was put together by Paul Bryant (@thebigyeti)