Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Weekly Round-up w/e 28/1/2013

You thought we'd forgotten about you, didn't you? Of course we didn't, we're just a couple of days late with it that's all. No need to worry, it's here now. It's been all go here at Birmingham Skeptics organising some interesting talks for you. As a result, we've got 2 talks for you in February. You'll find details hidden amongst the round-up, just to make sure you read it.

You might remember us mentioning the £4.25m Grade II listed mansion owned by the Church of Scientology in Moseley that’s been left empty for years. Well, it turns out they have a load of grand, empty properties around the world according to this article that details what some are calling a real-estate scam that’s alienating some of its most faithful followers. Thanks to @James_Rhead on twitter for the link.

On the subject of Scientology, we have Panorama’s John Sweeney popping along to The Victoria at the end of February to talk about his new book; The Church of Fear: Inside the weird world of Scientology.  Details of the event are here and here.

Thou shalt be more careful when carving words into granite.  A new monument in Oklahoma City honouring the 10 commandments has a couple of spelling mistakes. Does Tipp-Ex work on granite?

Aliens admit cutting down on visits to earth since the advent of camera phones.

The grand scientific institution that is the Solid Fuel Association have, with absolutely no vested interests of course, announced to the world the results of their in-depth study into climate change (or they might have copy and pasted some bullshit they found on the internet) in the form of “Ten reasons to reject the theory of catastrophic man-made climate change”.  Further down that page you’ll notice how suddenly man-made climate change appears to be a credible theory again when it helps their members shift more units; they announce “the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades.”

Cambridge researchers discover evidence of quadruple-helix DNA structures.

I’d rather be ‘cured’ by a placebo than rely on science and remain ill.

It looks like science is making a comeback in the Islamic world, at least according to the Economist.

STOP PRESS! Apparently, homeopathy is ‘rubbish’. Who’d have thunk it? Well, Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies thought it and said it. Magic water salesman, Dr Lionel Milgrom, disagrees though and wrote her a letter. Shame he didn’t use 30c ink.

Did you know, that the KKK were actually pretty nice guys? No? You’ve obviously not been reading creationist-inspired school books then, have you? Start here with 10 lessons from creationist-inspired school books.

Don’t forget that on Wednesday, February 13th host of the Little Atoms Radio Show and Podcast, Neil Denny, will coming to The Victoria to tell us about his road trip around America through the frontiers and the battle-lines of science. Details here and here.

You can’t refrigerate homosexuality like pork, so it’s still a sin says a confused man.

Struth! Australian boffin/expert ‘can’ ‘prove’ that Black Country crop circles are not a hoax the clever old beggar.

Reports of Bigfoot sightings are on the rise in Tunbridge Wells according to Bigfoot research UK. The caption below the picture asks ‘Is this a footprint of the Kentish Ape Man?’ Answers on a postcard.

Meanwhile, doctors have discovered that alcohol can help you pass-out.

and finally, did you catch Wonders of Life the other night? The answer talked over Eric Idle's song at the end, didn't she? Cuh, what are they like? Here is the updated song in full:

This week's round-up was put together by Birmingham Skeptics co-organiser Paul Bryant

Wednesday 23 January 2013

The Weekly Round-up w/e 21/1/2013

Welcome once again to the critically acclaimed Weekly Round-up (my mum said she liked it). You may have noticed we’ve had a bit of weather lately. Well actually we’ve been having weather for quite a while and with this interactive map you can check on the temperature changes in different regions from 1893.

Tony Pinkus of Ainsworths, purveyors of homeopathy, has been recommending homeopathic vaccinations. Andy Lewis and the Nightingale Collaboration have been less than impressed with response of the MHRA so far. But still, if homeopathic vaccines catch on perhaps books like these will become far more relevant.
Perhaps though there is one kindness that homeopaths can offer to ease that final passage

Back to vaccines and David Kirby presents us with the story of a vaccine court that has compensated children with autism. Is this an admission at last that vaccines cause autism? We’ll let Orac answer that.

I’m not sure if there are any detrimental side-effects to reading the round-up, but apparently Dean Burnetts blog can give you cancer! I dare you to click?

How about a super telescope hanging from a balloon the size of a football stadium? I wonder if it’s powerful enough to detect a Cox?

Love it or hate it there are some cool things that happen on Twitter. How about this for a fantastic exchange stretching across space and the (Star Trek) generations?

Astronauts get taller in space? And if you’ve ever wondered how they trim their nails, wonder no more.

Still with Twitter a great hashtag that gathered momentum amongst scientists was #overlyhonestmethods, revealing the often humorous truth behind experimental processes. @xtaldave points out some slight dangers amongst the revelry from those with an anti-science agenda.

Barnacle porn! (Bet that gets the most clicks!)

I think it would be a great idea if proper reason based scientists were to write horoscopes. Certainly much more accurate that the so-called proper astrologers. Should we regulate them, some people in India think so. If we don’t regulate them how about testing them?

Have you heard the one about the comedy psychic?

This one’s for Heston Blumenthal, cooking a steak by dropping it from a height.

Progress in a science career is all about ability, dedication and perseverance, nothing to do with gender of course.

Can money buy you happiness after all? Maybe it seems if you spend it wisely Whether it can or not, had I the disposable income I might be tempted to spend some of it buying myself some of them there lazer equipped Google glasses.

The Christian Right have been disappointed as they lost 3-1 away in Europe. Never afraid of saying what he thinks Peter Hitchens at the Daily Mail explains the nuanced implications of the rulings for British culture.

As eager as he is to maintain the state religion of this kingdom there are some pretty good reasons not to bring your child up a Christian.

We’ve just had our first book group and despite the snow and travel conditions ten hardy souls still made it into the city centre and had a great time. If you want to make it to the next ones the date for you diary is 17th Feb where we will be discussing Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and then the 17th of March for Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel  Kahneman. Both are at Yorks Bakery Café at 1pm, follow the links for the Facebook events.

It’s our social tonight, sorry if this is short notice but if you follow us on Facebook or Twitter you’ll get the info first. Our next speaker is the marvellous Neil Denny of Little Atoms who will be taking us on his skeptical odyssey

And because we really like you all we’ve put on a second event for February. John Sweeney (Yes that John Sweeney) is coming to take us inside the Weird World of Scientology. It will be a fascinating night, come and meet the man and maybe even buy a book off him and get it signed.

The final video isn’t exactly science or skepticism but I liked it and I’m putting this together so you’ll just have to give it a go.

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

Tuesday 15 January 2013

The Round-Up w/e 13th January 2013

Hello and welcome to the latest Round-Up.

Before we get going reminders that the very first meeting of our Book Club will be held on Sunday 20th January 2013 at 2.00pm at the lovely Yorks Bakery Cafe. It's not too late to grab yourself a copy of "Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson and come along and join in.

On Wednesday 23rd we also have our January Social at the Square Peg, Corporation Street. Feel free to come along, we're a friendly bunch. Give us a shout by email, or any other way you like, if it will be your first time so we can look out for you and make sure we meet up.

We had a great time last Wednesday with Robert Llewellyn (see the amazing photos by Simon Brettell and keep a look out for the forthcoming DVD) and are really looking forward to Neil Denny next month.

All of this sort of thing can be found on our newsletters so why not sign up (over there --->) and I won't have to type all of that again. But I will.

Right, off we go.

Some health stuff first. Those who have read Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma will be well aware of the scandal that is our drug trial system with pharmaceutical companies binning trials that don't show their latest wonder drug to be he best thing since sliced bread (amongst many other problems). To try and solve this, Sense about Science have launched the All Trials campaign to get them to pre-register trials to stop all of he fiddling. I hope you'll sign the All Trials petition.

Speaking of useful data, here's George Stoumboulopoulos on a nurse who requested someone to do a case study on a hospice patient. She was the patient in question and was terminally ill.

Those not in the know may not be aware that Prince Charles was allowed to write an editorial for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine just before Christmas. Margaret McCartney casts her eye over it (free registration).

Lastly we have a piece by Deborah Hyde on the connections (if any) between religiosity, spirituality and mental health.

The big news in astronomy is that the latest estimate is that there are a hundred billion planets in the Milky Way, with 17 billion (1 in 6) of them the size of Earth. Phil Plait analyses the news and here's NASA's take on it. One peculiarity has also been spotted which is the discovery of the largest known spiral galaxy - by accident. This has caused some to wonder why it wasn't spotted before but it has been patiently explained that the one's round here are small but that one is far away.

Following on from Robert's talk last week, the news reaches us that UK tida lpower has huge potential if only they'll tap it.

Lastly there may be problems associated with the mass of the standard kilogram kept in Paris due to contaminants as Peter Cumpson explains but that problem may be a thing of the past if this atomic clock can be constructed which may have a role in redefining the kilogram, the only basic unit of measurement not yet tied to a fundamental physical phenomenon.

Onto Alt-Med and it's the usual suspects this week with the occasional “old friend”.

Stanislaw Burzynski still hogs the headlines as Eric Merola who came up with the feature length advert “Burzynski” has contacted the Chancellor of Bob Blaskiewicz's University. Funnily his English is worse than his film-making. Merola isn't stopping there as David Gorski reports on Burzynski II: Return of the Killer Tomatoes (my title), the new documentary on Seán Ó’Laighin and the sad death of 4 year old Amelia Saunders.

Booksellers are starting to have a social conscience over the selling of “Melanies Marvelous Measles” which is reviewed here by Skepticat and although it is still on sale at Amazon at the time of writing it has received 82 reviews, all 1 star. On a similar subject Simon Tedeschi asks people to not be a pri(c)k.

A bit of a blast from the past as a man has been accused of trying to poison his girlfriend at a San Rafael nursing home with Miracle Mineral Solution. Yes folks, it's poison. For the uninitiated here's some background from Martin Robbins.

News from Australia as Reasonable Hank reports on Meryl Dorey, one of the most poisonous proponents of anti-vaccination who has stepped down as head of the Australian Vaccination Network. The eagle-eyed among you will recall we reported on them being forced to change that name. She has also announced that they are closing their magazine (that they barely printed anyway) leaving a lot of people out of pocket.

A quick shout-out here for the Nightingale Collaboration as the fourth tranche of adjudications on complaints submitted have been released on the adverts in the publication “What Doctors Don't Tell You”.

Our old friend Errol Denton continues his unpleasantness against bloggers Josephine Jones and Jo Brodie as a new sock-puppet Twitter account has appeared screaming unfounded accusations of racism. I'm beginning to wonder what it will take to make this man stop.

Not too much from the realms of religion thankfully. More than 1,000 Catholic priests have signed a letter voicing fears that same-sex marriage legislation will restrict religious freedoms and in France, François Hollande has urged Catholic schools to uphold the separation of church and state and for education officials to report any anti-gay views aired in school debates due to the increased risk of suicide among homosexual youngsters. Cue an orchestrated protest through Paris.

This week has also seen the publication of John Sweeney's latest book on Scientology although he had a remarkably difficult job to get itpublished at all.

A nice bit of news to finish on in that in Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, the crime of "insulting" someone through words or behaviour, is to be scrapped.

I'm reminded of Rowan Atkinson's impassioned speech at the Reform Section 5 Parliamentary Reception but I'd far rather leave you with the original sketch which, for a time, actually became reality.

This Round-Up was written by @christheneck.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

The Round-up w/e 6/1/2013

via @unboredme
Happy New Year and welcome to the first round-up of 2013. I predict it’s going to be another great year for Birmingham Skeptics and if you look at the speakers we already have lined up I’m sure that you’ll agree.

I don’t need psychic powers to for that particular prediction but how well did the people that claim to have them do last year? Here are a few stats. No psychic powers on the next forecast apparently, but past SitP speaker Nick Pope is being pretty specific on his speculations about the discovery of alien life. Not wanting to be left out of the prophecy game the BBC presents its Technology Teaser for 2013.

If you do find that you get uncontrollable urges to constantly consult the clairvoyants and their ilk, you might find help here.

We’ll change direction now and look back instead of forward for a bit. Ephphenom has rounded up some of the best stories from last year and put them in a blog. Wish  I’d thought of that! It’s a good list and regular readers might spot a couple we’ve included in there. Sense about Science bring us the celebrities that scored an F for science, and in a similar theme some dangerously influential dimwits.

If your waistline is suffering post festive celebrations and diet and exercise seem too harsh a solution, perhaps this is for you. If you do cut down though, don’t skimp on the bacon, it has amazing restorative properties. (Sorry veggies and piggies). If that hasn’t got the old taste buds quivering, how about a Pi Pie?

Here’s a sex text boot (sext book?) featuring hairy two headed babies.

If you missed Ben Goldacre on Radio 4 fear not, you can still download thepodcast.

 Another bastion in the fight against nonsense and quackery is Edzard Ernst who gives us some tongue in cheek advice on becoming a charlatan. In the interests of not getting sued I’d like to state that I’m placing this next link on Brain Based Therapy after the Ernst article for no reason other than aesthetics.

It’s incredible that something that has saved as many lives as vaccination should still be a matter of debate. One of the anti-vaccers many spurious claims is that vaccination is responsible for the rise in autism diagnoses. But no more, the real reason has at last been identified!

Maybe we should sign some of those anti-vaccination people to this pseudoscience class.

Pretty much all you could ever want to know about the narwhal followed by video of the wonderful and elusive giant squid.

There’s a bit of a witchy welcome in the hillside apparently.

I love a good bit of pareidolia me, but this is just cheating. Still if you want something nifty to feast your eyes on here is a great optical illusion.

Here’s some stuff on Big Foot evidence. I’ll say no more, watch it and make your own mind up before shaking your head in disbelief. I’m not saying that people who believe in the paranormal are mad though.

We’ve got Robert Llewellyn very very soon and we’re very excited about that. If you want to come then have a quick read of this. We also have our first book club coming up this month and a host of great talks in the offing. Like our Facebook page and get all the up-to-date news about our happenings first.

And now to finish on a song, hit it boys!

This week’s round-up was compiled by Patrick (@paddyrex) with much help from the indomitable Roy Beddowes.

Monday 7 January 2013

Electric Cars are Rubbish. Aren't they?

Hello and a Happy New Year to you all. This is just a quick post for those of you coming along to Robert Llewellyn’s talk, Electric Cars are Rubbish. Aren’t they? on Wednesday 9th of January. We have no way of knowing how many people will turn up but we suspect that this will be a popular one so this is what we’re going to do:

Doors will open at 7pm with no sneaking in to put your coat on a chair or hiding behind the sound system beforehand.  (You know who you are!)

We’ll collect your donation on entry to ease up the break period.

There will be a few less chairs to make more room for standees. If you know you are coming and you have a valid reason that means standing for the duration of the talk will be difficult, then please email us or let us know through one of the social network points; we’ll reserve you a seat.

This isn’t much different to usual to be honest and we'll squash as many of you in as we can and make it a great night.

Robert will be bringing a few books along to sell so if you're interested make sure you have your pennies ready.

See you on Wednesday.