Wednesday 27 February 2013

Weekly Round-up w/e 24/02/2013 (ish)

It’s the weekly round-up and we’re back with our usual mix of stories, news and views from the worlds of science, skepticism, religion and anything that amused us and we can shoehorn into this post.

We’ll start off with a good old piece of skeptical fair with a couple of articles on spontaneous human combustion. Firstly a Dickensian tale of exploding drunkards and then a contribution from Steve Novella bringing it right back up to date.

A bit of a cavalcade of Catholicism starting with the New Statesman as it asks whether a documentary forced the Pope to resign. We get an atheist’s perspective of the main runners in the pontiff dash from Sara Lin Wilde. If you’re wondering where the Atheist Camel sits on this you might get a clue from the title, Why I Despise Catholicism and Those Who Keep it  Alive. Newsthump were somewhat prescient with this tongue in cheek satire of Cardinal O’Brien just days before his resignation.

Here’s some word’s from about tonight’s SitP speaker John Sweeney and how the Internet could be the scourge of Scientology. And here is a good example of the phenomenon.

Forget Skeptics in the Pub, how about Skeptics in Papua New Guinea? Mind you if you were setting up a new SitP wouldn’t this be the perfect venue?

Fantastic images here of the wiring of the brain. And Gizmodo take us through what happens in there when you get black-out drunk.

Francis Wheen has a go at homeopaths in the Daily Mail, while the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission takes them to task over their anti-vaccination stance. They’re not alone though as fellow Aussie Stephanie Messenger promotes Melanie’s Marvelous Measles. (Feel free to join in the review section). John Stumble’s adds further light to this story.

The Twenty-First Floor provides this handy guide to posting on the Internet for Quacks.

Edzard Ernst re-examines the dangers of spinal manipulation by chiropractors. You probably remember that it was Simon Singh’s entanglement with the BCA that threw full force behind the Libel Reform movement. Well here’s the same paper, same photo but not such a happy development.

Mirror mirror on the wall who’s the most gullible of them all?

Apparently you can’t believe everything you read in the beauty ads, who would’ve thought it? How about combining your ablutions with your caffeine intake?

A real life story of vampirism from Turkey.

Gruesome but beautiful (upside down) images of zombie ants.

Apparently religion is rational. Not all would agree, especially if you want to take it into the classroom. Mind you it doesn’t make much sense in the field of dating either. I wonder what the Dalai Lama has to say on the subject of homosexuality.

It’s a miracle, God doesn’t heal paralysed boy!

I was trying to work out the name of the logical fallacy in this post by Ray Comfort. I think it’s the Total Bollocks Fallacy.

Very moving and worth a watch as we take time to consider the way that an outsider’s view of the earth has affected astronauts. We haven’t put anybody in orbit around Mercury, but if we did it would look something like this.

Dalek designer dies. (No not Davros!)

Can’t decide what to do with your hair, you’re lucky you’ve got a choice.

When you’ve finished with this website here’s the new one for the Rationalist Association that you might be interested in.

How many unique English tweets are possible? How long would it take for the population of the world to read them all out loud?

As mentioned we have John Sweeney tonight, and in two weeks time we’ve got the excellent Andy Lewis on the subject of Steiner Schools. Not long after is the third in our very popular and successful book groups discussing Thinking Fast and Slow. Keep an eye on this page and all our other outlets for upcoming events and news.

I had the pleasure of meeting the people behind this brilliant little robot recently. Here’s a really interesting potential application of the technology in our final video.

This week’s round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond but would not have been possible without the immense help of Roy Beddowes.

Monday 25 February 2013

John Sweeney - Inside the Weird World of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub

A picture of John Sweeney losing his temper and shouting at scientologists
On Wednesday 27th Feb at 7.30 pm John Sweeney will be coming to talk about The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology. We have no way of knowing for sure how many people will turn up but we suspect that this will be a popular one, so as before on such occasions this is what we’re going to do:

The doors of the room will open for the general public at 7pm and we will try and resist the imploring looks of people begging to get inside before this.

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 do our best to make sure everybody has a great night.

John  is bringing a suitcase of the books along to sell so if you want a signed copy make sure you have your pennies ready and get in the queue, they're going at £10 a piece, even cheaper than Amazon.

See you on Wednesday.


Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Weekly Round-up w/e 17/02/2013(ish)

Welcome to the Birmingham Skeptics special Quantum Weekly Round-up. You know it’s going to be the best ever because we’ve inserted the word quantum in the middle and that’s the scientific equivalent of painting go faster stripes on your Sinclair C5.

There’s been some cracking dissection of pseudoscience this week. Steve Novella does his usual stalwart job in this piece about chiropractic neurology. Here’s another great piece as a proper science based geologist runs up against those over at the Discovery Institue.

I’m sure that the huge numbers we had for Robert Llewellyn were because there is massive interest in electric cars and not just to see the man in his non-rubberised flesh. Just for you lot, here is another example of dodgy shenanigans in the electric car evaluation process in similar vein to the Top Gear motley. For those that missed the talk you can get a feel for the night over at the blog site of fellow organiser Simon Brettel, or you can get the beautifully crafted DVD from our website

We can combine technology and evolution in one handy article now with robotic four-legged friends that can learn.

Michael Marshall off of the Merseyside Skeptics takes us through some of the swathes of PR nonsense around Valentine’s Day.

You might have noticed that the top job at the Vatican is coming up. Amongst the many applicants throwing their little round caps into the ring is our old friend Dean Burnett. Hopefully the selection process will go along these lines. As Dean isn’t actually a Catholic and since he is a nice guy he might need to have his moral compass ripped out and reoriented to survive ecclesiastical life.

Evidence of how an NHS website was pressured into weakening criticisms on homeopathy. Andy Lewis shows how you can take action to put pressure on them in a more positive direction over at the Quackometer.

Homeopathy on the NHS got a bit of a pasting up in Lothian too as our friends on the 21st Floor tell us.

James Randi is one of those iconic figures for many interested in skepticism. Excerpts of an interview with Will Storr have brought up some pronouncements of his that if as reported have provided ammunition for those that are not fans and are hard to defend by some that might be more sympathetic.

An interesting article over at ScienceBlogs on the XL Pipeline. Climate change arguments are always amongst the most polemic, glance down the comments section in this story of denialists. If you need help knowing whether you’re a skeptic, denialist or whatever then have a glance at this.

A fascinating and disturbing watch with the Dark Gospel of the Good News Club
Ask a silly question get a reasonably sensible answer.; nose candles.

I know you’ve all been waiting for an update on the Big Foot DNA, well here it is.

Kate Middleton, Ghosts and Princess Diana, it can only be the Mirror.

First off the LHC bring us the Higgs but what else might it have in store. Not all super sexy expensive experiments are underground though. We’ve had some great ISS pass overs in the UK the last couple of days and on there is Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer about to release its first results.

Fortunately the ISS is content to go round  the earth, but there was much excitement as something else from space came crashing down towards it, here’s Plait’s reaction to the event. For your added pleasure here is a handy  guide on Earth-bound rocks.

When is rape not rape? When you have a ridiculous and nonsensical definition of the term.. This is an incredible story of a brave woman’s ordeal and campaign.

I love this melding of internet technology and puerile humour. There are so many to choose from but I think my favourite so far is in Kentucky.

Our first of two encounters this post with Carl Sagan now as we think about pie.

Couple of wonders of nature next, firstly the sea slug with the amazing detachable penis, and secondly some mysterious structures appearing in the Kalahari desert.

You can find science most anywhere you look, even in a mosh pit.

Julie Burchill’s appearance on Desert Island Disks prompted Jon Ronson to pen this piece about psychopath spotting.

A bit of fun if you ever find yourself stuck in a creationist lecture.

Bit of a plug for upcoming stuff here so get your diaries out. We’ve got Jon Sweeney taking us Inside the Weird World of Scientology on the 27th of Feb. Just two weeks later Andy Lewis will be telling us What Every Parent Needs to Know about Steiner Schools on March 13th. We’ve had two great book clubs already and we’re all set for a third with Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman on March 17th. There’s plenty more already up and more to come so keep an eye on our website, Facebook, and Twitter

And finally that second encounter with Sagan. This is inspired by Neil Dennys’ recent talk for us and his interview with Ann Druyan. After reading Marsh’s post earlier it’s good to get a little proper romance.

This post was put together by Patrick Redmond with much help from and kudos to Mr Roy Beddowes

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Review: Skeptics on the Screen 1-5

Full Text is within the image for those using screen readers.
REVIEWS  SKEPTICS ON THE SCREEN Birmingham Skeptics DVDs by various speakers Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub  Birmingham Skeptics host one of the most well-attended Skeptics in the Pub in the country. They also have one of the best websites, which includes a must-see weekly round-up. All in all, a powerhouse of skepticism.  So it's not surprising that they've also taken the initiative to film some of their speakers, and publish the results on DVD. I've had a look at five great talks: When the Universe Came to the People by Alice Sheppard; What Are The Twelve Steps? by Danny Strickland; Juggling: Theory and Practice by Colin Wright: A Skeptical Look at Atheism by Andy McIntosh; and Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott.  Many of you will have seen these talks in the flesh, and that's fine because these DVDs are not intended to be a substitute for the real event. Brum Skeptics say they won't upload the content because they don't wish to dilute the talks' impact on future audiences. But if you've seen the talk and haven't taken detailed notes, these DVDs are the perfect way to enrich your experience.  The production standards are very good, with cuts between two angles to avoid an amateur 'staring' effect. Many of the slides are superimposed upon the live action so that you can read them as well as you would have at the actual event. There are rolling front credits to provide an introduction and great menus so you can choose between the main talk, the Q & A and the stills. The sections are further subdivided into chapters so that you can jump neatly to whichever section you'd like to see most.  All in all, I can't see why you wouldn't want to buy them. Great speakers, great render to DVD and great price – starting at £3 if you pick them up yourself from a SitP (£4 if you want it posted inland).  Available at the events and from the website . Highly recommended.  Deborah Hyde   Published with the kind permission of the Author and Editor of The Skeptic Magazine (Winter 2012) 
Published with the kind permission of the Author and Editor of The Skeptic Magazine (Winter 2012)

Well, you can't say fairer than that, but while we're here, just a few additions since the first 5 discs were produced:-

We now run on 3 (yes three, count 'em) HD cameras with occasional footage from a fourth (and for the technically minded the post-edit output is 720).

All of our discs can be purchased on our Webpage or via the DVD store on the Skeptical DVDs Facebook page for £3 plus (very reasonable) P&P.

A reminder: 
We set up Skeptical DVDs so that people can experience the joy of a Skeptics in the Pub whenever and wherever they want.

Although this is a slightly separate entity from Birmingham Skeptics it has the same ethos as all SitP activities in that it is a completely voluntary and not for profit venture. We thought it would be a good idea to be able to bring a bit of skeptical goodness to your living room and all profits are donated to Birmingham Skeptics.


Monday 11 February 2013

The Weekly Round - up w/e 10/02/2013.

Picture of a road sweeper.
Links! We’ve got so many of them accumulating in the corner of our inbox that it’s getting rather untidy around here. Coming up then, and to free up some room, here are some of the best of the sweepings up from the last couple of weeks. But first let’s see what’s happening at Brum Skeptic’s Central – upstairs at The Vic. And just where are my manners today? Hello and welcome to The Round-up.

This week we bring to Birmingham Sitp the fabulous Neil Denny, who’s here to tell us about The Little Atoms Road Trip – A Scientific Odyssey across America. Here's Neil's kick-off article from last year's Guardian to give you a rough idea of what to expect. If you miss him on Wednesday you can pick him up during his current odyssey of Sitp venues across the country.

Daniel Kahneman’s Fast and Slow Thinking is the topic of our upcoming March book meet at York’s Bakery CafĂ©  . Click the link for a little teaser to whet your appetite. Are you coming along? Decide now or think about it later. Whichever method helps you come to your conclusion we hope the answer will be a resounding YES!

Plagiarising the idea from a popular tax avoiding web site as a lead into a book recommendation: Customers who bought the above item also bought - Dan Gardner: Risk. One for the book club list I think. Added.

Last week we reported on the barbarians, who were also Islamic, and the destruction of Timbuktu’s priceless ancient manuscripts. Meet the brave group with a plan who saved many of them from destruction. Librarians save books eh! Whatever next?

How about haunted talking pebbles?

Well everybody's heard about the bird! Bird bird bird, the bird is the word! Unless it’s a dinosaur! I’ll take a portion of PZ Myers’ explanation please. Hold the Ham!

One of the lesser known Darwin-Wallace stories, though quite appropriate as a Skeptic’s article, as the co-discoverers of natural selection took opposing sides in the trial of spiritualist “Dr.” Henry Slade. Darwin had nothing but contempt for the “clever rogues” who preyed on grieving relatives whilst Wallace was taken in by spiritualism. Happy Darwin Day/Week BTW – with a Carl Sagan video to boot.

An asteroid the size of an office building will zoom close by Earth next week, but it's not on a collision course, NASA says. The consequences of this could be very, very serious according to somebody.

Your brain has a new lobe and a dark patch where evil lurks… No prizes for guessing where this sensationalist bilge came from.

The usual suspects again! A parenting guide aimed at drawing more girls into science lacks evidence and promotes old-fashioned gender stereotypes. Click through the article for some excellent studies into gender differences, except for the first two of course.

Looks like someone’s out for a dust up with Sir Isaac Newton as the Institute of Centrifugal Research bring you the Centrifuge Brain Project; features a series of absurdly designed and bonkers roller coasters that operate under the assumption that "gravity is a mistake." A mockumentary you say? Noooooooooooooo!

Would you trust the testimony of a witness who admitted to being drunk while observing a crime? You should. presents the 6 greatest acts of trolling in the history of science.

Time to break out your super reading powers in this hefty article as researchers investigate if using superpowers in virtual reality encourages altruism and pro-social behaviour in the real world.

The brain nibbling habits of murderous zombie tits. Clicking finger…..g-g-g-GO!

Technology - damages - brain. I can’t say I disagree with the article’s claim that karaoke machines can be harmful, although you could always murder belt out your favourite song whilst having technology scan your brain as singer Sivu has done in this excellent video.

Typical! You wait for one iconic atheist bus sign to come along then nine come along all at once. From the British Humanist Association on E-Bay. As we’re talking signs…

Austin Cline has a poll over at Atheists, do you believe any paranormal or supernatural claims?

Atheists more likely to prefer video games over board games and showed a much greater preference for the WYSIWYG virtual environment compared to the table top format wherein imagination is more central. The jury’s still out. Discuss.

Some serious and important news now from Scientific American as Researchers take a closer look at the most common and powerful life events that can trigger depression.

This guy is rarely off my playlists since first seeing him at 9 Carols in 2009. Mixing science, evolution and psychology to create original and witty hip-hop raps, Baba Brinkman’s Ingenious Nature  navigates his experience of the dating world in New York. Listen to “I Have a Gene”; contribute to his Crowdfunder; get cool goodies. Stems from an idea that originated, evolved and underwent peer review right here in Birmingham.

Product placement in a Round-up? Nah, just a particularly fine example of a clever advertising campaign. Smile please.

Music and singing is described as "a sin and cause for the sickening of the heart" according to a Qatari Muslim scholar, and warned young Muslims not to be tempted by it. Therefore, Jazz is evil.

Not sure if this is going to make your drive to work any more bearable this week, so don’t shoot the messenger: Researchers at the University of Utah have developed the Multi Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC), to shoot flakes in three dimensions as they float to the ground.

Pick of the crop from a short film competition called Faith Shorts, run by The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, comes this stop-motion animation Death Bed the Musical . Nice work there Liat Har-Gil.

Uh-oh, running out of space. Time for a link cluster: Key Westboro Baptist church member leaves; late surviving pterosaur; ‘The Character of Physical Law’: Feynman’s Cornell Lectures and The Troggs’ Reg Presley's’ preoccupation with esoteric science.

No alt-med stories from me this week so here’s some BS from Penn & Teller.

That’s better, all neat and tidy now. Have a great time Wednesday night.

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

Picture credit:

Wednesday 6 February 2013

The Round-up w/e 3/2/2012(ish)

Alfred Russell Wallace
So many lovely links to share, it’s difficult to know where to start? How about a local story, as a so-called Australian boffin believes he’s uncovered a history of Black Country crop circles. Mind you, I think that Tunbridge Wells have us beat with their big foots or big feet or whatever the plural is. The Youtube link within that article doesn’t work so here it is for ease.

Homeopathy often gets a bit of a kicking in the round-up and some people might think it’s an easy target and we should leave it alone, but not the chief medical officer. Mind you she gets some support in her views from a practising acupuncturist/herbalist for whom it seems that homeopathy is a step too far. In a vain and wholly false attempt at balance here is an incoherent defence of the treatment.

Talking of barely grasped understandings of the scientific process, did you hear the one about the astrology believing, homeopathy advocating, moon phase watching member of the Science Select Committee.

The ministers have voted and the equal marriage bill has moved on to the next stage with a 400 – 175 majority. As you can imagine there are people with not so sensible views on this subject, actually replace that with horrendously offensive views.

We all know that homosexuality is abhorrent to God, but then so is pork… hmmm pork. If you want a full list of all the stuff that God has a downer on then here you go.

The American Humanists Association are trying to introduce a National Darwin Day. This film on the Texas Text Book Wars shows that there is a bit of a need for it I think. Whilst they’re remembering Darwin let’s hope they don’t forget Alfred Russell Wallace, the Natural History Museum certainly don’t want them to. Mind you, if we are descended from…. How come there are still…?

Valentine’s Day is not too far away and it’s time to think of gifts for that special someone. How about the geeky cute crocheted Time Lords and the plain disturbing vampire babies?

Andy Lewis takes to task the magazine that claims to tell you what doctors don’t, i.e a total pile of BS about vitamin C. Mind you if you want a bit of ridiculous bashing of the medical profession look no further  than the Health Ranger who believes that  guns don’t kill people, doctors do.

Telescopes, Lucifer and Jesuit astronomers.
I watched a 3D printer produce a skull last week, it was pretty cool. Here’s the something on a whole larger scale, a printed house! And here’s an even better application of the concept as we reach to the moon.

After reading the account of the royal corpse divining rod that is Phillipa Langley, you might have thought that popular archaeology had peaked. You’d be wrong though, the ancient history of curry.

GlaxoSmithKline has put its support behind the AllTrials campaign. Here’s a great explanation of the need for this via one of our regular attendees Dr Anthony Cox using the unlikely but brilliant illustration of Aston Villa Football Club. (If you know about football please insert a suitable joke about how rubbish they are)

Here’s some interesting research that has finally made the link between alcohol consumption and unconsciousness.

Staying on the theme of beautifully illustrated science here is a wonderful account of why we have a winter flu season.

Hundreds of years of important manuscripts are in danger in Timbuktu. Here is a bit of an insight into the mind-set that can lie behind the destruction of cultural artifacts by Islamists.

I’ve long resisted the urge to join in with many of the “what is skepticism about” debates that happen, mainly because most of what needs to be said is said by somebody at some point. Howevert I will link to the views of Steve Novella on this, as I think that he approaches most every subject from a very rational point.

And to follow that here’s a short opinion piece by Penn Jillette on the relationship between atheism and religion.

Hyperdermics could go the way of the Betamax and the Huhne.

If you were God how would you cope with your own immortality?

An everyday story from Zimbabwe here that involves an exploding goblin. Apparently that’s not their equivalent of the Sunday Sport.

Should women soldiers serve on the frontline? Some alternative opinions.

Anybody that has ever read one of my round-ups before will know that I am a big fan of the What if? But how can you not love a guy that considers the science behind an interplanetary Cessna.

Time for the usual pluggage of events we have coming up. This month sees two talks and a book group. In order of appearance we have the marvellous Neil Denny describing his fantastic scientific odyssey (13th), Ben Goldacre’s BadScience (17th) and John Sweeney taking us Inside the Weird Worldof  Scientology (27th). If you’ve missed past talks don’t forget you can get hold our brilliantly produced DVDs with Robert Llewellyn’s about to join the catalogue any day now.

And finally a blast from the past with the Lunar Rover of Apollo 16:

The Round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) with substantial assistance from the wonderful Roy Beddowes