Wednesday 31 October 2012

Round-up w/e 28/10/12

Welcome to the Halloween edition of the Round-up. Even if most skeptics don’t believe in ghosts, vampires and werewolves the whole subject area is fascinating and the supernatural is one of the great topic areas for Skeptics in the Pub, we love talking about all that stuff. In fact if you want to Talk About Strange things then follow the link where Hayley Stevens has provided a great resource on the supernatural that also gives you a chance to contribute to the arena.

You probably remember that Hayley also has
Project Barnum looking at the world of psychic trickery. Well the psychic links have been piling up in my inbox this week. It’s the anniversary of Merseyside Skeptics Society’s original challenge to Psychic Sally. Again she didn’t pick up the gauntlet but two others did. You can hear our old friend Michael Marshall talking about it here.

Predictions are not just for the mystics amongst us, a scientific understanding of a phenomenon can help to predict some events. But sometimes the communication or understanding of that prediction breaks down with tragic results as with the
L’Aquila earthquake. Here’s Orac’s take on the same story and the plight of scientists caught between scientific process and public policy.

Some geeky stuff to play with and amuse ourselves now. Firstly your very own
orrery of both the Copernican and Tychonian systems. Moving out to the stars a wonderful zoomable stretch of the universe. And finally getting all elemental with the periodic table.

Edzard Ernst comes to the almost definitive conclusion that acupuncture is
almost certainly not effective for chronic pain. Over at Science Based  Medicine, Harriet Hall reviews The Medical War Against Chiropractors: The Untold Story from Persecution to Vindication. There’s no million dollar prize for predicting her thoughts on the subject.

Skeptic and atheist groups are not adverse to publicising their views in creative ways, remember the
atheist bus campaign amongst others? Christians can be just as original, sometimes scarily so. More Son of Chucky than Son of God I think.

There can’t be many of you out there that don’t realise the full unscientific futility of that practice that is homeopathy. But just in case you don’t or need a reminder, the Skeptical Raptor takes a look at the work of the Homeopaths without Borders.

If cows could photosynthesise.

There can’t be many people of my generation who didn’t bop around the dance floor to the strains of “Love will tear us apart again”. I still see people sporting the t-shirt of that iconic record cover but what’s the story behind that iconic and surprisingly astronomic image?

A brilliant piece of archaeological/anthropological investigative recreation with the walking moai.

Some suitably scary creatures now, with some freaky fishy fiends, a creepy cleoptera and a frog with big spikes. (I got bored of alliterating okay?)

In the run up to the big election there are questions that have to be answered. Have the Christian Right finally pushed God too far? Is Obama the Least Efficient Antichrist Ever?

Remember that old song? “You say potato, I say potato; you say tomato, I say tomato” Wait, that doesn’t work written down does it. Anyway let’s try the creationist version “ I say natural selection, you say design in action”.

Science and reason takes a step back in Pakistan.

If you’re the kind of person that sniggers at the name of the seventh planet from the sun, Flying Spahetti Monster alone knows what you’ll make of the penis worm and what it has to contribute to our understanding about evolution.

Remember how auction site eBay banned the sale of hocus pocus stuff. Well if you need to stock up on your occult goodies this is where the Magickals have gone.

Before the obligatory final video a few things to shamelessly plug. Our next speaker is Aarathi Prasad with her debut skeptics talk, should be another great night.  And if you can’t always make it to the speaker nights then you can get beautifully made DVDs of some our talks from here; keep coming back as we’ll be updating it whenever there’s a new one.

The final video is a trailer for a film that involves physicists, Cern and zombies. We’re hoping for a special early screening of the finished product with people involved at one of our socials, so keep an eye out for that!

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

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Round-Up w/e 21st October 2012.

Welcome all you super people to the Brum SitP Weekly Round-up. Let’s see what interesting things we have in store for you over the coming winter months? 

Our next speaker is Aarathi Prasad with ‘Like a Virgin’ – How Science is Redefining the Rules of Sex. Aarathi will be with us on November 14th with more speakers to be announced very soon for January and March. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the latest updates and information.

Coming up in 2013 we have talks from Neil Denny of Little Atoms podcasts and Rupert Sheldrake on The Science Delusion. To get you started here’s a selection of articles for you to dip into so you can get your questions and notes prepared early:-

Aarathi Prasad: It’s a wonderful mixed up world; Neil Denny: How rational is America?, and Rupert Sheldrake interviewed by the Fortean Times: The Science Delusion. Get scribbling people.

We love xkcd, oh yes we do. They modestly describe themselves as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." Find out more about the site and its creator Randall Monroe in this interview over at The Atlantic.

Those atom smashing  people at CERN have been busy of late; collaborating with Angry Birds creator Ravio to develop a "learning program" for kids aged 3 to 8; planning a debate with philosophers and theologians over the origins of everything, and  defending their safety reports from a very worried German woman who was convinced the world was going to disappear up its own black hole.

Ooh, argh. This is the first time I’ve composed a Round-up sitting up in bed, laptop on my knees. This sitting up position doesn’t half bring on fierce pins and needles in the old glutes though - urff! And what should I take for this condition? Well, I could always rely on the law of similars to sort it out. How about a split dose of Hedgehog 40C? Okay, as a non-scientist I might need a spot of help here. So, when homeopathic solutions or solvents (usually a water/alcohol mixture) are transferred to a sugar pill, the solvent then, of course, evaporates. Okay, right? Good. Does this mean the sugar pill then remembers the ‘transferred information’ the same way water does? Good grief! Tell everyone. Sugar has memory!

A while back we ran a feature on the atheist handmade shoe kickstarter project. After successfully reaching their target they’ve gone and launched a funky internet shop to sell their fabulously comfy and distinctive footwear. €125 for a pair of kitten testicle grey trainers – IWOOT, preferably two. Drop by their Facebook page  to see our favourite Australian, Atheist, songwriter, musician sporting a pair.

There’s no place like home: GPS take me home shoes - Via the kebab shop every Thursday night if Patrick’s Facebook page is anything to go by.

Oh, those amazing quacks from history and their radical cures. Normally we would advise shoving them where the sun doesn’t shine; however, these devices bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘widening one's circle of clients’.   Here’s the bottom line from the Quack Doctor.  More on this subject from with 8 terrifying instruments old time doctors used on your junk.

 "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” Mum donates stools for fecal matter transplant - saves daughter’s life. All is well.

Here’s our third and final number two related link if you want one, and topical too: How to keep that magic underwear clean - Tide for Mormons; leading nicely into some things you may not know about missionaries.

Let’s not dispense with the quack theme just yet as over in New Zealand a home schooled teen claims that if gay marriage is approved “ducks could take over the world”. Kneel before your Mallard Overlords!

Well I do like these: Modern stone & flint tools and Fractal kitchenware. Not available at your local Lakeland store – now!

Explore the tree of life with this new interactive website which shows a phylogenetic tree of everything, as zoomable as Google Earth. All you have to do is zoom in and out. Another great clickable tree of life representation here based on Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale.

Correlation/Causewaytion argument finally resolved.  Stop groaning at the back. Some additional and very interesting news has just arrived on this story.

We always enjoy a good sing-along – this isn’t going to be one of them: Astrology songs.  Can you make it through all twelve?

This is rather blooming splendid, and the planning and effort required etc.: A hand painted evolutionary time lapse movie on a massive scale – BIG BANG BIG BOOM.

Pareidolia Corner: A photograph of Muppets on Mercury or just a superposition of young craters over old taken from the Messenger spacecraft? Oh, alright then, just for you - COOKIES!!!

Noticing pareidolia can be tricky and a time consuming activity, so why not build yourself a robot  to do the hard work for you? Although it would be up to you to tell it what subject to look for; could be anything, you name it.

More robotic brilliance from just 20 or so miles away as Surgeons at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton have carried out the first ever robotic heart operation in Britain.

Over at the National Secular Society they’ve called on the Government to end the religious exemption to animal welfare legislation that permits animals to be slaughtered without stunning.

Feathered Dinosaurs drive creationists crazy: Ken Ham of the Creation Museum is saddling up his Triceratops and riding into town to take Dinosaurs back from his mortal enemy, the nefarious secular humanist gang.

Our second NSS link: In a blatant piece of religious discrimination, an 11 year-old boy is excluded from Scouts because he doesn’t believe in God.

It must be getting near Halloween again as over at The Guardian Chris French asks “Why won't psychic Sally Morgan accept our invitation to test her powers?” Click through the numerous links for the history behind the story, the challenge set to the top five touring mediums in the UK, and the obvious conclusions.

What to leave you with? Hmm, this was mentioned by Martin Taylor at the last Sitp event, Hypnotism without Hypnosis, and I can’t recall what he called it. Bah! Somebody please check the DVD - Click the colour and not the word. (This java game worked great on IE for me but not Chrome btw - Ed).

Have a great week.

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

Monday 15 October 2012

Round-Up w/e 14th October 2012

Welcome to the latest Round-Up. 

A swift reminder that our next Social will be on Tuesday 23rd October at the Old Contemptibles on Edmund Street. The details of our next talk have been announced too with Aarathi Prasad talking on Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex” on Wednesday 14th November. Also a quick plug too for Festival of the Spoken Nerd who are in Bromsgrove on Wednesday of this week. Hope you can make some or all of those.

First up, a bit of Bad Libel mixed in with Bad Pharma. (Bad Llama? ← Don't click on this!). Last week we highlighted the laughable but dangerous magazine “What Doctors Don't Tell You” and that Simon Singh had been threatened with libel action. There are a number of nice and polite things which can be done about this but unfortunately, as Josephine Jones tells us, W H Smiths don't seem to be taking it too seriously.

Solal Technologies a company working in the hotbed of alt-med quackery that is South Africa have gone one further as they have taken exception to a blogger pointing out dodgy claims in their magazine.

No libel in this story but Dr Martin Brunet highlights what appears to be a nasty opportunistic move engineered via a change in marketing of the well established epilepsy drug Epanutin. Little has changed but the price has gone from 2.5p per tablet to 56p per tablet, a change which the NHS will be expected to shoulder. The story has since been picked up by the Telegraph.

More alt-med now as a new meta-analysis on acupuncture has been published. Few surprises in that acupuncture has been shown again to have limited usefulness in long-term pain. Steve Novella though isn't convinced the authors aren't biased.

Over (under?) in Australia comes the unpleasant idea being peddled that homeopathy could be used to stop domestic violence. Needless to say this has caused an outcry being described as a dangerous andoutrageous money spinner.

This blues song nicely sums up the alt-med practitioner from The Damned and the Dirty: John the Evil Homeopath.

Speaking of dangerous and outrageous money spinners, we may have a new kid on the block, a certain Mr Errol Denton a self-styled “natural health warrior” who promotes some of the most bizarre quackeries on the market. Head over to his twitterfeed for a look. That is, if you can. Not only does he block people who may disagree with him but he scrolls down people's follower lists blocking them too. More information on Errol and some useful tips on how to view quacks' timelines when they would rather you didn't can be found on Jo Brodie's blog.

Some old hands are still around though such as our old “friend” the homeopathy advocate Dr. Nancy Malik or to give her her full title Nancy Malik. Here she is being taken apart. Again.

In a similar vein to the wibble being spouted by Susan Greenfield in the last few years another study has been released, trumpeted by Aric Sigmun, on the possible perils of too much children's screen time. Here's the takedown from Dr Peter Etchells. Also worth a read and a watch is Dr Ben Goldacre on his Newsnight meeting with Sigmun.

It would be difficult to have avoided the world record breaking jump of Felix Baumgartner on Sunday but, for those who were antagonised by the delays waiting for just the right conditions, here's the reason why they didn't launch in gusty conditions. A nerdy sideline to the jump though. I noticed that the speed being touted around for the speed of sound was low (690mph). It is usually quoted at about 760mph. Turns out the speed of sound is determined by the temperature of the air and not pressure as one might think and it's below -50ยบC up there so Mach 1 is 690mph after all. Up there. The fact that he hit 833.9mph (unratified) and would have broken Mach 1 at standard temperature and pressure is neither here nor there. Ho hum, but yay skepticism!

More laws of physics now, this time stupid ones as it has been proved that we'll never get test-tube dinosaurs. Boo. Also, if Congressman Paul Broun from Georgia is to be believed quite a few of them are straight from the pit of hell. I'm sure his religious book of iron age stories has some much better answers.

Ah yes, religious news. Much of this is odious so hold your noses and jump in.

Gay marriage is like Nazis says the Archbish of Canterbury. Or something. Martin Robbins in the Guardian. For a more lighthearted(?!) take here's the Daily Mash instead.

The Apple logo is anti-christian says Russian orthodox activists. Go figure.

Brazilian police stop religious mass suicide. (link to Daily Fail)

Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani schoolgirl shot in an attempted assassination by the Taliban. She championed education for girls. Now heading for treatment in the UK.

At least Christians don't mind a joke (too much). Better the... erm... devil you know.

Right, towel yourselves off (and/or swallow back that nausea) and watch this mash-up of footage from the Leveson enquiry by one of our previous speakers Rich Peppiatt.

All of the people featured said the right words. Just not necessarily in the right order.

This round-up was compiled by Chris Richardson (@christheneck) with additional links from Roy Beddowes.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The Round-up w/e 7/10/2012

It’s time for your skeptical something for the weekend. At least it would be if we got ourselves sorted in time to get it out for the weekend. Still, we’re here now so pull up a chair and enjoy the delights we have spread before you.

Simon Singh has gone and got somebody angry by calling out the claims they make as being pseudoscientific; sound familiar? There is a good overview of the details from Josephine Jones and some great parodies here.

I actually thought this was a parody, alas not.

Fascinating article here about how the introduction of bed nets to protect against mosquitoes might actually be influencing the evolution of those deadly critters. Somebody who would have had something to say on this is Alfred Russel Wallace. The man who first went into print promoting the survival of the fittest alongside Charles Darwin and has oft been overshadowed and forgotten. Now he may be getting a little more well deserved recognition.

Remember all the stuff about the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society being censured for offending Muslims last year? Well Reading University students have used a “blasphemous pineapple” to encourage discussion about religion and liberty and guess what happened.

The BBC has reported on a group of Christians that have claimed to heal Aids through faith. It’s hardly a new story though and I remember talking about this with the guys over at Cognitive Dissonance some time ago.

Another person I’ve had the pleasure of talking to and meeting is Narendra Nayak. He travels all over India teaching people about rational thinking and challenging mysticism and dangerous magical beliefs. Here’s an account of him doing just that.

Whilst we’re on the theme of people I’ve interviewed in the past one that I really enjoyed and one of my all-time favourite podcasters is Mark Crislip. I love the sardonic way he strips away the BS. Lest you think it only the purveyors of quackery that overestimate the positives have a listen to Ben Goldacre talking about his latest book Bad Pharma. Perhaps there is a way we can help them counter these over optimistic interpretations of the data.

Ahh Lego, is there nothing you can’t do?

The bee keepers were complaining here, but I think they missed out on a great marketing opportunity, blue honey, how cool is that!

At SitP we do like to mix science with drinking, but not in this way.

An article I have some mixed views on here. It’s a good piece satirising the nonsense that much of theology produces. I'm a bit defensive as I did a theology degree myself and I don’t remember it as being like that. We were taught to look at sources, criticise the evidence and put together an argument. It made me the atheist I am today. Perhaps there is more than one sort of theology course.

By the way, if you’re reading this whilst driving a car, operating heavy machinery or juggling babies, please don’t.

I'll have a guess and say that you’re probably into stuff like maths. And since you’re on the Internet observation would suggest that you’re more than likely into cats too. So let’s have some fractal kitties.

Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can.
Can he swing from a thread?
He mated the wrong species and now he’s dead.

From web slingers to bionics as Australian and American scientists increasingly perfect some pretty cool medical tech.

A disturbing report from Orac on the denial of Shaken Baby Syndrome by anti-vaccers to promote their cause.

They might not have cracked the Turing Test yet, but they’ve got some pretty nifty bots out there.

Chris Kresser looks at some fishy nutritional advice. (Did you see what I did there?) And whilst we’re on the subject of dodgy claims, here’s a good one.

Should we ever be faced by the reality of nuclear devastation, imagine how bad you’d feel if you didn’t know why that cloud was mushroom shaped.

When you consider thousands of years of religious slaughter, mass manic exorcisms and the beliefs of the Westboro Baptists as outlined in this interview with the son of the founder it’s hard to believe that an innocent follower of Pastafarianism should find himself in trouble.

Time for a very pretty space gif.

Non-human primates like a good laugh as much as the next person, apparently.

Scientist’s your gender bias is showing.

It’s been suggested that if you drive a car you probably hate cyclists. If you drive a car and ride a bicycle do you therefore hate yourself? That last question isn’t answered here but Rebecca Watson looks at some of the other hypotheses.

Here is a brilliant behind the scenes look at the world of cryonics.

It’s very close to our next event, Hypnotism without Hypnosis, it should be a cracking night. Don’t forget to have a look at our DVDs, we’re adding new ones all the time.

I’m going to finish with telescopes, because that’s the kind of wild guy that I am. First a super, fast and groovy new radio telescope in Australia and to finish a lovely time-lapse film from the imaginatively named Very Large Telescope. Cheers all.

This week’s round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) with contributions from the very wonderful Roy Beddowes