Archive for September, 2009

Testing Psychometrics

People I know, know what I’m like. I’m easy to read, in that respect, if you know me. People know I’m a bit of a talker, and I can be pretty tenacious with an idea (ie stubborn and loud, OK, I’ll admit it). They also know I write for a skeptical website, and as such I often get presented with things to look at, and explain. Sometimes it’s an ‘explain this then, Mr Skeptic!’, sometimes it’s more of a ‘What’s your thoughts on this?’ In the past I’ve been given contact details of tarot card readers, flyers from religious organisations who pray away HIV (more on that coming soon, by the way), palm readings, horoscopes, Chinese stem cell therapy and everything in between. I really am that easy to read.

Which brings me to an appeal I received from a colleague, who sent me a link to a 5-minute personality test he found on a recruitment website. “Mine was pretty accurate,” is all he said. He’s a man of few words, my colleague. So, obligingly, I gave it a whirl, skeptical as to the claims the site made:

Internet Based Psychometric Testing at Internet Prices…  Professional, personality profiling for recruitment, delivered entirely online… No consultants, no trainers, no sales people… Easy to use, fast and delivered at Internet prices… Complete the personality questionnaire and discover the power and simplicity of PeopleMaps personality profiling for yourself. Read your own report. You be the judge.

Testing at Internet Prices
Professional, personality profiling for recruitment, delivered entirely online.
No consultants, no trainers, no sales people.
Easy to use, fast and delivered at Internet prices.
Complete the personality questionnaire and discover the power and simplicity of PeopleMaps personality profiling for yourself. Read your own report. You be the judge.

“Oh”, says I, “I’ll be the judge alright”. But then again, they knew I was going to say that, they can measure my personality, apparently. Read the rest of this entry »



In Defence Of Conventional Medicine – View From The Vet

White GSD at the Vet, courtesy of Ildar Sagdejev (

Conventional Medicine: Natural, holistic, and safe

As alternative medicines seem to get so much media exposure, I thought it was time I tried to explain how the conventional approach to medicine works, as I think people take it for granted without really being aware of what is involved. Alternative therapists often promote their treatments as being natural, safe and holistic, when often they are anything but that!

As a vet I believe I take a holistic approach to how I practise veterinary medicine, and approach my cases. If someone brings an ill animal into the surgery, before I examine it, I take a detailed history, which includes asking questions about the animal’s diet and lifestyle…. What food does it eat? Any recent change in diet? How many animals in the household, indoor or outdoor, and how many are showing symptoms. Any recent stress factors (e.g. moving house, people moving into or out of the home, recent kennelling, trauma, accidents or fights; major renovations). I’ll look at its previous medical history and check if it’s on concurrent medication, and check if the owners have medicated it with ‘over the counter’ or their own medication. What flea and worming treatments are being used, and when last applied. Vaccination status. Body condition. The animal’s signalment, ie breed, age, sex, entire/ neutered, all of which affect the conditions it could be susceptible to. I’ll keep in mind that very young, or old animals, as well as those that are obviously ill, may not be able to tolerate certain medications, or procedures. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Truth About Water?

Homeopathic_medicineI was thinking about homeopathy today. Again.

Am I the only one who becomes enraged about this topic? I loved the recent Crispian Jago video, “If Homeopathy Works, I’ll Drink My Own Piss”. It was really funny and pointed an excellent finger at the truth behind homeopathy.

There are a number of examples around that make the truth about homeopathy accessible. Crispian’s film, in which he takes some pure piss diluting, discussing and succussing it through to the very common 30c dilution. At which point he drinks it. Fabulous. He points out and explains the Avogadro point too.

Then there is the now classic Mitchell and Webb video imagining with great comic effect a “Homeopathy A&E”.

What makes these films funny for a Skeptic is that we do actually understand the process well enough to mock it and take delight in that mocking. I will, like Tim Minchin, carve a legend on my most sensitive member with a compass if real evidence emerges of homeopathy working beyond placebo. So taking the piss out of the claims is easy.

But I genuinely think that most people don’t have the faintest idea of what the actual manufacturing process is. I say this because on the three or four occasions when I have explained it to a friend, they are invariably “No. Come on. You’re not serious”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do Angels Believe In The Telegraph?

Specialized Angel by KWC on Flickr ( thought I’d read it all when it comes to the Telegraph. Homeopathy to cure cancer? Sure. UFOs that are really really not Chinese lanterns? Uh-huh. The moon landing was hoaxed? Gotcha. Telegraph, thy mysteries bore me and thy secrets hold no shock.

Except, I was wrong. That’s fine though, I’m always happy to admit when I’m wrong (I am! What do you know, anyway?!). So it was with equal parts incredulity and glee I allowed my love/hate affair with the Telegraph to take me in its warm and scientifically-bereft arms with the headline ‘Do you believe in angels?

No, I don’t. Nor should you. Silly Telegraph.

Still, it’s been a while since we wrote about them, and it’s rude of me to deny the Telegraph their fun, so let’s see what it’s all about. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Dog Day For The Daily Mail

Last week wild-ranting, rabble-rousing, immigrant-hating Daily Mail columnist Richard ‘You couldn’t make it up’ Littlejohn was left somewhat ovum-visaged when his incredulous take on an unusually-monikered brood of quintuplets took a rather unexpected turn for. In his article for the Mail online, he wrote:

“Reader Nick Paterson-Morgan drew my attention to the following announcement in The Times:

‘Births:  On 27th August 2009 to Kate Pong, Newport, Shropshire, beautiful quintuplets, Beyonce Tyra Bobbi Barack and Earl’

My first reaction was that this must be a wind-up, probably placed for a bet by someone at the swine flu hotline with nothing better to do.  We rang The Times advertising department and they assured us it was genuine.  There’s no mention of a Mr Pong, or any father’s name for that matter.

If true, which I still doubt, somewhere out there in Shropshire is a single mother called Kate Pong with quins, variously named after an American pop singer, a model and the U.S. President.  You couldn’t make it up” – Source: Mail Online, 05/09/09

Well I’m not so sure that you couldn’t make it, but I do know you very easily could fail to do even the basic amount of fact checking and wind up looking like a fool. Ask Littlejohn, he’ll tell you.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Question of the Week: Birds or Monkeys? (For Perry)

This Thursday we host our first ever guest speaker in our Skeptics in the Pub series. I’m sure you don’t need to be told we’ll be having the excellent Professor Chris French along to talk all things anomalous, psychological and experiency in his talk ‘The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences’. It promises to be a corker, and we’d love you to come along.

The speaker series will not, never fear, signal an end to our hitherto-successful social-only events though. I can almost hear the communal sighs of relief! Fret not, I for one love our agenda-less, unstructured and mildly alcohol-oriented chances to meet, chat and share influences and heroes. It was in fact at the last SitP that I got chatting (as we always seem to at some point) about the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and the influence of the skeptical rogues on getting us into skepticism. And, inevitably, the question arose: When did you hear about Perry Deangelis, and just how upset were you at the time?

The answer, for me, is late on (I began listening maybe a year ago and worked patiently through in order from episode one) and immensely upset. I felt I’d lost a friend, a friend who was gone before I ever even knew he existed. And everyone who I’ve spoken to tells me the same – such was the influence of the man. Last month marked the two-year anniversary of his passing, and the skeptical community will always miss Perry.

But, if there’s one thing Perry was about (as much as a humble listener and fan such as I could say), it was a great sense of fun and wit. So with that in mind I ask you not only for your thoughts of Perry but also to add your voice to the age-old debate, in which Perry’s knowledge was peerless:

Just who would win in a fight – a bird or a monkey? Would the monkey indeed give the bird an almighty beak-flip? Or would the avian beak prove too much for the simian? Your thoughts below.