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 CafĂ© 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.

Monday 12 November 2012

Weekly Round-up, week ending 11/11/12

What's the time? it's Round-up time. That's right, put your boredom aside for a bit and get a load of this.

Did you know we have Dr Aarathi Prasad, author of Like a Virgin, coming to talk to us about how science is redesigning the rules of sex on Wednesday night at the Victoria.  Details here.

What do you do with all the junk mail that comes through your door?  How about cutting them into pieces and making a Carl Sagan mosaic.

According to Brian Cox, BBC bosses feared alien discovery could breach editorial guidelines.

Do multi-vitamins have any effect on cardio-vascular disease? (no)

Performance-boosting drugs, powered prostheses and wearable computers are coming to an office near you. Is that a good thing?

Which American state has the most racist post-election tweeters?  Find out here.

Have you ever doubted that the Daily Mail is irredeemable shit?  Here's Martin Robbins to help remove that doubt.

Uganda to officially pass ‘Kill The Gays’ bill. Disgusting.

Know your science from your pseudoscience.  Here are 10 questions to help distinguish between the two.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Britain's first contribution to space exploration. Royal Mail is celebrating with a set of six commemorative stamps featuring images from European Space Agency missions.

As the rest of India celebrates Hinduism's festival of lights on Tuesday, unscrupulous witch doctors known as “tantriks” will sneak into the country's dark corners to kill some owls.

Spotting the International Space Station fly over is fantastic sight, wouldn't it be great if NASA could send you an email to let you know when it is just about to fly over.  Well, they do, here.

A discovery for you drinkers out there.  The first gene for beer foam could improve froth.

If you're looking to give up smoking, this useful review of available treatments will help you find the most effective.

Have you 'liked' our Skeptical DVDs Facebook page yet? 

That'll be that then. Hopefuly see you Wednesday night at the Victoria for Dr Aarathi Prasad's talk.

This week's round-up was put together by Birmingham Skeptics organiser and part-timer, Paul Bryant.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Round-Up week ending 4th November 2012

Welcome to the latest weekly Round-Up. 

We are really looking forward to our next talk with Aarathi Prasad on the 14th and looking further into the future we can reveal that in January we will be visited by Robert Llewellyn (yes that one) who assures us he will be travelling to us by electric car and in March we will have Andy Lewis of the Quackometer that avid readers will know we have linked to many times in the past.

More exciting news is that we now have a cracking new DVD page on both this site and over on Facebook. Head over there and give us a like! Our latest disc of Martin Taylor's "Hypnotism without Hypnosis" talk will be available at Aarathi's talk and can be ordered, along with our increasing back catalogue from either page if you can't pick up a copy in person.

First up, the results of the Turing's Sunflower Project, set up to mark the centenary of the mathematician's birth, are in and it looks like the code cracker was right. Just up the road from us the 70 year old but little known story of Tamworthian Colin Grazier recounts how some of the Enigma material that aided Turing and shortened the war was recovered.

More code cracking as the Y chromosomes of just 36 men has provided new insights into the history of modern humans and predicts a major expansion of the ancestral human population not previously identified. Yet more DNA news as Vaughan Bell highlights the possibility that DNA testing may not be as objective as we might like to think it is.

News of a new book out as Oliver Sacks, author of the excellent and accessible “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat” describes how he wouldn't have so much empathy with patients who suffer from hallucinations if he hadn't experienced so many himself.

Two final science links now as David Robert Grimes looks at the supposedly scientific claims made by pro-life advocates and Tim Harford makes the case, as Ben Goldacre has previously, for the need for a drugs trial register.

This next link should under the science umbrella too as it is to a pubmed page, but unfortunately a certain amount of bull gets through the net, well bull semen at least. Apparently you can “take” samples from 4 bulls, then give them homeopathic sugar pills, then “take” samples again and, hey presto, apparently homeopathy works. Apparently. Or maybe with no controls and such a low sample size the true answer may be a lot closer to the (NSFW) slogan on this Daily Mash homeopathy t-shirt.

This week we've come across everything you might possibly want to know about reiki which is so mindblowingly peculiar it has to be seen. Who knew that “Divine Love and Light flows down the right leg and into the earth”? You can also check how valid graphology is as a recruitment tool and take a short test to find out if you're psychic. If you're extrovert, sensitive, arty and, above all, gullible then congratulations you'll be as good as the best mediums in the world. Which may not be that good after the Merseyside Skeptics' Halloween Challenge as reported in last week's Round-Up. As you can see from that link the psychics tested were perfectly happy with the tests but, as Chris French discussed when he came to talk to us, when the results were known the psychics suddenly (and expectedly) changed their tune.

Talking of psychics, Simon Singh has collected the initial documents relating to “Psychic” Sally's legal action against the Daily Mail. The sticking point may well be her claim that she is a “professional psychic”. Just how will she prove that? I'm getting popcorn.

While we're on flights of fancy, here are a couple of pie in the sky ideas. Anyone want a black box that produces huge amounts of energy via an as yet unknown form of nuclear energy? This convicted scam artist has one. You could also get your hands on a “Superhuman Encoder” wristband which will... Well, have a look. Needless to say it's “quantum”.

To tip you totally over the edge here's what it's like to spend an entire day at a David Icke event. This guy did so you don't have to. It may be fun to point and laugh occasionally but there is usually a serious side to the barmpottery preached by such people as shown by the increasing worry that Australian pilots and their planes may be targeted by people who are convinced that their airliners pump out mind-altering chemtrails.

Not too much in the very loosely named religion section (thankfully) this week. Scottish Catholic leader Cardinal Keith O'Brien has been named by Stonewall as its Bigot of the Year which has caused a bit of a stink from politicos and church leaders who claim that labelling people bigots is counterproductive. Have they considered that public figures spouting bigoted views may be counterproductive too? O'Brien crops up in the New Humanist Bad Faith Awards too where you would think he is a strong contender but looking at some of the others I wouldn't be too sure.

I've picked just one of the Hurricane Sandy is a punishment from god stories in that muslim clerics are blaming that stupid, crappy film concocted by a US coptic christian. Feel free to peruse the others. A google search only gets 4 million hits.

More furore this time in Camden as there are objections to the proposed statue of Christopher Hiotchens due to his “islamophobia”. Who knew?

Finally, the residents of Winnipeg, the murder capital of Canada, will be able to sleep safely in their beds knowing that their new Chief of Police is convinced that prayer will play a “significant” role in reducing crime. At the end of his tenure will he be saying that the prayers worked or that not enough people were praying hard enough? Only time will tell.

I'll leave you with a rather nice video from the folks at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. It looks like pseudo-science has a new enemy.

So grab another pack of godis skum and enjoy...

This Round-Up was compiled by Chris Richardson with additional links from Roy Beddowes.