Wednesday 26 September 2012

Round-up w/e 23/9/12

It's round-up time again, lots of linkety goodness to gives your wits a treat.  It's our social Thursday night, come along, it's good to talk; especially with us lot.  Details are here. 

Ever sat at home wishing there was a Skeptics in the Pub in your living room?  We all have at some point, haven't we?  Well, your prayers have been answered with Skeptical DVDs.  Have a look at the Facebook group here, like it if you like.

Is it science or philosophy that can answer the big questions of life?  Philosopher Julian Baggini fears that, as we learn more and more about the universe, scientists are becoming increasingly determined to stamp their mark on other disciplines. Here, he challenges theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss over 'mission creep' among his peers.  Philosopher Massimo Piglucci feels Baggini was too soft on Krauss, so dissects the debate here to (a) poke fun at Krauss and (b) to learn something from these scientist vs philosopher skirmishes.

Are there some facts that are beyond the reach of science, even in principal?  Ian Pollock considers the thought experiment known as 'Mary's Room' to try and find a solution here in Fifty Shades of Qualia.

In light of the recent violence in response to THAT film, SA Hoseini argues that blasphemy should be censored.  He reasons that the lives of those who die as a result of the violence are more important than the right to say what you want in a movie script.  Tauriq Moosa disagrees, arguing freedom of expression means the freedom to insult.  Andrew Copson says an international blasphemy law must be resisted.  Meanwhile, a video mocking atheism is greeted with global disinterest by atheists.

A British team are developing a 1000mph car powered by a rocket with a Eurofighter engine bolted on.

The winner of this year's IgNobel prize for literature was the US General Accountability Office for "issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports"

A couple escape a prison sentence after being convicted of negligent homicide when they opted for prayer over hospital to treat their 16 year-old son's burst appendix.

Tickets for QEDcon are on sale, the gala dinner tickets are sold out already so hurry up and book in if you want to go.  The line-up is looking great, Richard Dawkins and Ben Goldacre already confirmed, see who else is confirmed here.

Homeopathy's value under the microscope.  Edinburgh Skeptics' Keir "Keith" Liddle takes on President of the Faculty of Homeopathy, Dr Sara Eames

The kiddies have returned to school and the discussion surrounding vaccination always seem to peak this time of year.  David Gorski discusses the problem of non-medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates.

Attention all exorcists, get yourself over to Poland, there's an exorcism boom going down.

Not content with just starting his own religion, noted nutcase L Ron Hubbard had a weird music career. Well, what other sort of music career would he have?

A former microbiologist has changed careers to become a visual artist.  He hasn't left microbiology far behind though as he creates artworks in petri dishes out of bacteria.

Iranian cleric gets a kicking from a woman who he told to cover up.

In gay news tonight, the Iranian media claim Jews are spreading homosexuality in bid for world domination.  And, the homophobic theory of dinosaur extinction.

Confessions of an acupuncture dropout.  Robin Askwith wasn't involved with this one.

This week's round-up with carefully put together by Paul Bryant.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Round-up w/e 16/09/2012

Splunding vurr thrigg Earthlings. And after that piece of retro nerdiness from my youth that does nothing to dispel the world’s perception of Skeptics as a bunch of geeks we’ll plunge on with the round-up.

I’m still riding on a high from our brilliant Open Mic night last week, but looking at the photos I think I might be showing those early stages of aging on my smooth youthful features. Good job Dean is around to point me in the right direction.

Newsbiscuit treats us to the crime fighting homeopathologist and the New Scientist explains how DNA might help us to create an image of a suspect’s face. Sometimes I have trouble spotting the science from the satire.

Another DNA based story here as we look at the predictive and ethical implications of unravelling this complex little molecule.

Space based fun next as you’re offered the chance to write your name in the stars by our good friends over at Galaxy Zoo. And if you want more (but less mature) fun then join the Skepchicks in porno astronomy.

Coming up on the right we have Pat Robertson with his words of advice on how to control your rebellious woman. Right alongside him and competing strongly for the Tool of the Week Trophy we have Virginia State delegate Bob Marshall.

I’ve long found religion to be inadequate for my personal needs, but now it seems I have some agreement from the Dalai Lama no less.

You may have noticed that there has been a bit of a stir around a certain film lately. Kenan Malik gives us a good analysis. This next picture, in reaction, sets out to be as offensive as it can be to some of the major religions in the world. Jesus and Mo gives us, as ever, a droll response to the response.

I don’t want you to get the idea that all followers of these world religions are paragons of tolerance, as Sean Rankin discovers when he interviews the cuddly Westboro Baptists.

Simon Singh has started up the Good Thinking Society, head over and see what it’s all about. One of the things that you can do on there is to nominate a quack for the Golden Duck awards. Far less ignoble are the winners of the Golden Goose though.

At first glance I thought this was an amusing piece of pareidolia, but on further reading it’s more than a little sad.

A more scientific analysis of a study on ESP here, I bet you can’t predict the results before following the link. The same study is used as part of this more in-depth and disturbing look at how scientific research can be taken off track.

Whilst we’re looking at studies of dubious phenomena here’s an article about one on, acupuncture.

The old saying is that you are what you eat, I really hope not given my post pub dietary habits. However bad my assorted kebab meat, curry sauce and suspicious sausage intake is, I think I’ll give this particular rock star diet a miss.

There’s been a jump in vaccination opt-outs at private schools in the States. It’s not just the kids that need educating. If you got chance to talk to them would you approach them in this way?

A bit of professional interest here for me, part of my day job is taken up by teaching people with a visual impairment to travel independently. I’ve worked with many incredible people over the years but have never come across anybody with the remarkable abilities of Daniel Kish.

Another from the BBC here as we look at the potential of boom and bust cycles to accelerate evolution.

Bored of videos of Curiosity landing on Mars yet? Well I’m not and this is a great one. It’s a good job they didn’t try that during a Martian snow storm. If you decide to head out into the galaxy here’s an appropriate snack for you.

There are plenty of great things to put into your diary. Our social is on the 27th of September and our next talk Hypnosis without Hypnosis is on the 10th of October. Oh and we're going to be doing a book group so keep an eye on this.

It’s not just us putting on fantastic events though, tickets for QED go on sale tomorrow and I for one will be there to mix the many excellent people that attend. Closer in both space and time the Festival of the Spoken Nerd is coming to Bromsgrove, that’s got to be worth a jaunt out. All being well we might even be found in the foyer trading our wares. If so come along and say hi.

The final video this week is by no means new but it was reposted on our Facebook page recently and it is so wonderful it deserves another play.

This blog post was compiled by Patrick (@paddyrex) with contributions from the Roy Beddowes and Paul (@thebigyeti)

Saturday 15 September 2012

Taking the Open Mic

A blog post by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex)

I really didn’t know what to expect to be honest. Yes, I’d communicated with all the speakers to get a rough idea of their talks but I had no real idea how it was going to go and so was just a little nervous. To add to this one of the speakers, Francis, had been sent away by work at the last minute putting us one turn down and the Vic had a brand new super spanking sound system installed, but the cable for the projector had disappeared.

The room was however full, the crowd expectant and the clock ticking. The excellent Jools of the Vic arranged to get a cable  taxied across town to us and I rounded up the speakers who could go on without a PowerPoint to start us off whilst we waited. And then the  night began, and what a great night it was.

First up we had Mil Millington who treated us to a story. A story that whilst being amusing contained within it a dark humour and a moral dilemma for the audience. It is a story with a purpose that demands a response and Mil is posing it to groups all over and gathering in their answers. Enigmatically we still don’t know what the intention of this project is but when we do we’ll post it up on this blog. We gathered up and sent on all the scraps of answers that people left behind but if you find that you took yours home and would like to send it in then email it over to us and we'll pass it on.

Next was Jade Quarrell talking about the harm that CAM and quackery can do. Jade shared her family’s experience, talking about cancer, illness, death and still making us laugh. It was personal, poignant and illuminating. The text of her talk can be found here and good as it is written down it was better live because it was Jade telling it.

To round off the first half Coventry SitP co-organiser Blake Hutchings took to the stage with his guitar and the Skeptic Song. Blake is filling that gap in the non-Australian skeptical songster market and is very very good. His song took an amusing sideways look at what it is to be a skeptic, how we fit into the world and how we might look to other people.

The second half kicked off with SitP relative newby Grant Carpenter. Despite only having been to two meetings before this one Grant offered to do a piece called Expanding our Skepticism, looking at pagan religions and asking how should Skepticism respond to them.  I’ve had several chats with Grant and he’s one of those people that researches topics thoroughly and this was no exception. Pushing his fifteen minutes to the limit (and beyond to be honest) he  gave us a brief but thorough introduction to the topic  and then invited the audience to respond, and respond they did. I had to cut the audience short in the end but I think Grant would have been happy to hold the stage all night given the chance.

Long-time attendee Simon Stanford took the stage with a look at hoax computer viruses. Sounds like it would be dry doesn’t it? Well you’re wrong, it wasn’t, at least not the way Simon did it. It was funny and fast and aimed most accurately at his target audience from beginning to end. As one of our organisers, Laura, tweeted at the time “Everyone, @simonstanford's talk for @brum_skeptics is hilarious nerdy and XKCD. You're missing out if you're not here.”

Convention demands that such a show should end on a song and far be it for us to fly in the face of this lyrical edict. Blake took to the stage once more and this time he  took on God and belief and believers with Yahweh's Last Stand, not short of ambition is Blake. He’s got a full talk in the pipeline and you can be pretty sure we’re going to get him back some time next year.

Those were the talks and I can’t possibly do them justice here and my typed words are also inadequate to convey the mood of the room. The crowd were amused, interested and entertained in good turn. A tweet at the time from another of the organisers, Neil, captures it better and more succinctly:

“So, tonight... faintly absurd, certainly unexpected, but overall pretty fantastic. @Brum_Skeptics is something special.”

Many many  thanks to those brave and generous  people who put  themselves forward and made the night what it was and to all those that came and created the atmosphere. If you want to see some of what it was like for yourself  then  check back on our DVD page here or on Facebook soon for it when it comes out. In the meantime enjoy the great photos by our very own Simon Brettell.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Round-up w/e 09/09/2012

Hello and welcome to this week’s gleaning of the Internet where, like a skeptical blue whale, we filter the plankton of reason from the seas of superstition. I really need to get more sleep. Nonetheless, on with the show.

You know how you wait ages for something on the placebo effect and then three pieces come along at once? For those that have time here’s a lecture by Harriet Hall on Fairy Tale Medicine and the Placebo Effect. Next we have a scholarly article by Andy Lewis on Chekov, Homeopathy and the Placebo effect.  And we’ll finish our triumvirate of articles with this look at an evolutionary explanation of this palliative phenomenon.

We’ll stay in the realms of alt med for a while as a new centre offering all kinds of CAM opens with the blessing of one of her majesty’s children, but not the usual suspect this time. I wonder if they’ll be offering didgeridoos there?

Hey look, Michael Marshall from the Merseyside Skeptics has only gone and got into the Guardian on the subject of Powerbands! I don’t care what he says there is nothing that is going to deprive me of my Jedpower. OMG!!!

A few stats on creationism  here. If some people had their way the figures might be even worse. They should take a cue from the Koreans.

The next couple of links come with a yuck warning. First off is a parasite that could make you blush. After reading this next one I felt that I had learned a lot, and learning is good, isn’t it?

An experimental approach to test quantum mechanics gets reported over at the BBC.

Our old friends over at the Mail are taken to task for the way they report about computer games. I’ll stick to board games, definitely less geeky, right?

Nasa test out a planetary lander that is just very cool. If you should ever venture into space don’t forget for cases of emergency you should always take your towel, an inanimate carbon rod and your toothbrush.

A couple of sad and serious stories next. Skeptical Humanities give us a good summary of the story about the young girl arrested for blasphemy in Islamabad with an interesting twist about the alleged actions of her accuser. Bigotry and belief seems to be behind the disgusting actions of this former medic too.

There are lots of great places to visit in London, I haven’t made it to the Grant Museum yet, but after looking at this it’s going top of my list.

A brief account of the appointment of the new health minister with the conveniently rhyming name can be found over at Stuff and Nonsense.

Tony Ortega takes an interesting angle on the pitfalls of Scientology’s investment in fame.  It mentions in that article that their drug rehabilitation centre in Quebec was closed down, but that’s not going to stop them offering their services out in Vietnam.

Coronation Street veteran Bill Roache does an Icke

All that’s left is to remind you all that Wednesday 12th of September is our open mic night with six wonderful speakers for your pleasure. If you’ve never made it to a SitP you should, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy yourself and meet some interesting people. Find your nearest one here and if there isn’t one why not start one?

We video some of our talks at Brum Skeptics for those that can’t make it or just want the chance ot go over the great talks at their leisure. Keep checking back here to see what we’ve got available and I’ll leave you with this teaser for our video of the amazing Colin Wright.

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

Friday 7 September 2012

Skepticism – the pioneers

A blog post by Adrian Bailey

I’m not an expert on this subject but I’m putting pen to paper in response to a question about the history of Skepticism. In a sense, there isn’t that much to tell. Until the formation of CSICOP in 1976 there appears to have been very little of it about. In the 19th and 20th centuries there was plenty of paranormal research, but it was instigated by believers. And the power of cognitive dissonance was very strong. Famous figures like Charles Fort and Harry Price discovered many charlatans, but this seems to have only stengthened their resolve to find the real evidence. It was left to people on the fringes, like Walter Pitkin and Paul Tabori (Price’s biographer), to see clearly what the others could not: you can’t find any evidence because these phenomena do not exist. To be fair to Price, by the end of his life (he died in 1948) he had become a Skeptic.

Looking at the titles of three early Skeptic anthologies, Paul Tabori’s History of the Science of Stupidity (1959), Walter Pitkin’s Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity (1934) and Max Kemmerich’s From the History of Human Stupidity (1912), you can see they all leant heavily on the classic of the (surprisingly small) genre, Adelung’s History of Human Stupidity. This mammoth work was written over several years at the end of the 18th century, and fits in with other works of that enlightened age like Bayle’s Dictionary and Diderot’s Encyclopedia. Adelung exposed all sorts of mystics and charlatans, but did this from the perspective of a Christian for whom all of these pseudosciences were a form of heresy. There is a lesson for me here that although I consider religious people to be misguided, their faith ironically puts them in a good position to be critical of other misguided beliefs.

It interests me that, despite the danger of imprisonment or even death, religious heresy grew spectacularly from that period on, but scientific skepticism stalled. This didn’t matter too much, since the growth of science was sweeping various misbeliefs away, but it was clearly doing so despite the intransigence of many people who called themselves scientists. The story of Semmelweis’s failure to get doctors to wash their hands is a good example.

When I think of the practical Skepticism of Simon Perry, Andy Lewis and co, I’m reminded of the Carlills, who gave us the memorable case of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company (1893). But, considering the tens of thousands of panaceas on the market then and afterwards, it had almost no effect on the mismarketing of placebos. Even today lawmakers are loath to stem the tide.

Magicians are perhaps better placed than most of us to spot what’s going on, and Harry Houdini was probably the leading Skeptic of his era, his Magician Among the Spirits (pdf) (1924) relating his encounters with Arthur Conan Doyle and the charlatans the latter patronised. When J B Rhine decided to rechristen psychical research as parapsychology in the 1930’s it sounded more scientific and looked more scientific, but Rhine wasn’t a Skeptic and simply falsified many of his results to avoid coming to the obvious conclusions.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries the freethought movement grew, through Unitarianism, the Quakers, Ethical Culture, through to the foundation of modern Humanism in the 1950’s. But it was only later, in the 1970’s and 80’s, that the first true Skeptical organisations were founded, namely CSICOP in the US and ASSAP in the UK. Two books which really gave impetus to this were Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) and Donald Menzel’s UFOs: Flying Saucers - Myth - Truth - History (1953). The publication of such books made rather more enemies than friends for their authors, and Skeptics still risk ostracism today.

Adrian organised the original Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub events and is currently the Chair of Birmingham Humanists.

Monday 3 September 2012

Round-Up w/e 2nd September 2012.

Raindrops on spiders and skylights that glisten
Bright uranium sculptures and Newton momentum
Dodgy prescriptions with not one active thing…
These are a few of our favourite - stories included in this week’s Skeptics in the Pub Round-up.

First off, a plug for our forthcoming event, and this is one we’re extremely proud of; our first open-mic night, now rescheduled to the more usual second Wednesday of the month slot (September 12th). There will be a few familiar faces, special guests and some songs about science. Come along. It’ll be fun.

A song about Science? What a great idea! Dig out your old cheesecloth shirt, love-beads and flares, and then go swing your pants.

How many times does one hear someone make the mistake of assuming that because something is natural it must be good and also be safe? Edzard Ernst at the British Medical Journal Science Blogs: The natural equals safe fallacy.

Steven Novella at Science Based Medicine rips into The Huffington Post  for consistently publishing anti-science and anti-vaccination blogs, then pops up again as producer of this riotous Skeptics Guide to The Universe video Passing Away. Who needs sneaky headphones when you can play spirit charades?

The Huff Po redeems itself with this piece on Homeopathy from Cara Santa Maria at Huff Post Science, with some additional input from Ben Goldacre. Leave the video running for more familiar faces and interesting articles. Ben’s new book Bad Pharma is released later this month too. Let’s hope it’s as good as BadScience, his brilliant exposé of quacks and hacks.

More homeopathy news as Andy Lewis at The Quackometer poses questions to Boots the Chemists over the FDA’s decision to put Nelsons, UK manufacturers of such products as Bach Rescue Remedies, onto their red list; Boots, initially, unconcerned.

Some fascinating Tetrapod Zoology of a fictional entity: The science of Godzilla.

For those that missed our superb talk on Darwin’s Predecessors last month, there’s another chance to see Rebecca Stott fairly locally at Erasmus Darwin’s House in Lichfield on 18th October. Free entry to the museum until the end of this week too.

Allah cries if you eat a particular fruit: Tomatoes are Christian warns Egyptian religion. It all depends on the way you cut it.

Just putting my shopping list together: That’s one E. coli; a couple of tropical diseases; a petri dish full of acne pimples and a flesh eating Streptococcus. Diseases have never been so cute: Giant Microbes – pass them on.

Mars rover update: God built man, man built Mars rover. Therefore, intelligent design, global flood - gut methane panspermia – is true. Sometimes I sigh a little.

Richard Dawkins has a four page spread in Playboy Magazine this month. Thankfully it’s not a bellybutton stapled centrefold but actually quite a good interview and some questions of substance - damn those NSFW distracting sidebars. Maybe he should now have his own porno pseudonym. How about Rawhard Dickins?

Bill Nye (The Science Guy) has created a stir with an online video at Big Think in which he says adults who deny evolution and teach a literal biblical view are hurting America’s future. Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist website picks up the story and assesses The Creation Museum’s response.

Tesla coils – Sweet Ohm Alabama. Bzzzzt!

A species of ape has been observed in captivity making and using flint tools , the first time this level of technological sophistication in tool use has been observed in non-humans. Only 99 more apes to go before critical mass is achieved. Meanwhile, over at Longleat…

Creativity comes from without, not within: From the excellent Brain Pickings site, Kirby Ferguson’s recent TED talk about his Everything is a Remix project, exploring remix culture, copyright and creativity. I’m having that Henry Ford picture for my work board.

As seen in Digbeth. Nice work there mystery artist.

Another example of faith trying to trump science: A California school district is teaching 39,000 students that a good night’s sleep can help prevent them from contracting HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. Apart from being untrue it’s also against California state law. Bring on the Lawsuit.

Jesus plasters can heal a shotgun blast to the head, apparently, and they never run out. More excellent product reviews over at Amazon. All I need now is a packet of these, a bottle of this, and my first aid cabinet can handle any major catastrophe.

Nasa has announced that the landing site of Curiosity is now called Bradbury Landing, in honour of the science fiction author who died earlier this year. Click through for a similar story on Douglas Adams and THGTTG.

Do humans and gorillas both make the same cold stethoscope face during medical examinations? For some of you this will be just like looking in a mirror…

Under new reform legislation in Florida, services such as acupuncture and massage therapy will no longer be covered by car insurance. Chiropractors and acupuncturists fear victims of accidents will not receive adequate treatment after an accident go boo-hoo.

Egg yolks as bad as smoking? The conclusion isn’t supported by the data it presents says Skeptical Raptor.

Scientology blamed for deaths of three patients who underwent treatment at Narconon, the home of Scientology's drug treatment program.

Taking a swift break to wash and disinfect hands after handling a Daily Mail link – here’s one of my favourite places on YouTube: Qualia Soup. Take a look at Skewed views of Science to get you going.

From the exceptional Science Daily: Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study.

One of the many interesting articles at Freethinker: The view of two leading doctors from Great Ormond Street hospital is that Religious parents who believe that “divine intervention” will save their terminally ill children are subjecting them to torture by putting them through aggressive but futile treatments.

We have more fascinating talks lined up for you over the next few months as well as our usual socials. Make a note of these in your diary, we’d love to see you - Hypnosis without Hypnosis on October 10th and How Science is Redefining Sex on November 7th.

Signing off and rounding up with this magnificent and touching time-lapse video. Some great well I never moments in there.

See you on the 12th.

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