Archive for November, 2009

Darwin, Evolution, Hitler and the Public Misunderstanding of Science

Chuck D

Chuck D

Some of you may know that this year is the anniversary both of 200 years since Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of the Species.  That book was in fact published 150 years ago TODAY, 24thNovember 1859.  I’m afraid that this has turned into more of an essay than a blog post and for that I apologise.  I hope you think it’s worth it!  Given the occasion I think an essay on Darwin is forgivable…  First, I want to make a few specific comments about a newspaper article on the abuse of evolutionary theory.  I will then provide a brief summary of an article that answers many of the points raised in terms of science in general.  I’ll move onto a specific discussion on evolution before providing the other side of the evolution-ethics debate (too-rarely promoted) in the final section.

The Trouble with “Darwinism”?

An article on the Times website recently highlighted the links between high school shootings and the theory of evolution.  A point by point rebuttal of the article is not really necessary.  The piece is well-written and (on the whole) accurately reported.  However, it is also solely directed towards getting a controversial, narrow point of view across and is, therefore, extremely biased.  While an article on the good and evil associated with the theory of evolution would provide a fascinating read, the tramping out of menacing photographs of youths pointing guns at cameras, students in tears in the aftermath of a shooting and a shrine set up to the dead alongside quotes from those same gun-toting students, ignorant American celebrities and those who have a vested interest in discrediting evolutionary theory only serves to obscure and sensationalise the debate.  The author is simply piggy-backing on the emotional outcry that followed those earlier stories.    The dubious links between scientific theories and hypotheses and their application to the real world were the story of the twentieth century and continues to dog us to this day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Homeopaths: Conducting The Laws Of Nature

I was thinking about succussion today. You know, shaking and striking a dilution during the preparation of a homeopathic remedy. If we take a 12c preparation, it goes through 11 steps of striking and shaking.

The homeopaths argue that this process energises, potentises, vitalises the water to claim an imprint of the original substance. So the water itself becomes imbued with “original substance-ness”. This conveniently means that they don’t actually need any of the original substance in there for it to still be effective, if you believe their bullshit law of infinitesimals.

Further to this, the homeopathy is meant to work by having a beneficial effect on the vital force. The vital force is an energy field that doesn’t exist but underpins many forms of woo. See meridiens, auras and so on.

Today I was reflecting on the arbitrariness of succussion, the shaking and striking bit. There is a company in the USA eponymously called “Hahnemann laboratories” – formed by a chap called Michael Quinn, now deceased but somehow living on, more of which later. You get the impression from the site that he was a nice chap. I think they’re genuine believers in their woo. They supply a variety of markets. The retail market can buy direct, stores can buy wholesale and practitioners can buy kits to combine and make their own remedies for their targets, sorry, patients. It’s a very helpful website where you can suspend your disbelief for quite some time browsing many sections of interesting information. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are Green Beliefs Equal to Religious Ones?

Last year, Tim Nicholson, a sustainability officer with the property company Grainger plc, was dismissed from his job. His boss, Rupert Dickinson, maintained that Nicholson’s redundancy was solely driven by the operational needs of the company during a period of market turbulence. Nicholson, however, claims he was dismissed because of his strong views on man-made climate change, which his boss viewed as simply a lifestyle choice.

In a recent landmark court ruling on the issue, Mr Justice Michael Burton ruled that environmentalism had the same weight in law as religious and philosophical beliefs and granted Nicholson leave to appeal. Nicholson’s solicitor, Shah Qureshi, said:

“Essentially, what the judgement says is that a belief in man-made climate change and the alleged resulting moral imperative is capable of being a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by the 2003 religion or belief regulations.”

I can’t help feeling that this is a strange judgement. I can understand that Nicholson may feel that he was unfairly dismissed from his job, and taking this to court would be appropriate for him in that regard. What I struggle with is why he is happy for his environmental views to be put on a par with philosophical or religious ones. If the evidence for man-made climate change was vague or sparse then his belief could possibly be seen in this way. However, there is a huge amount of evidence out there, and Nicholson’s belief is simply a rational one. Don’t get me wrong, the evidence is not 100%, and there are some dissenting voices – but there is evidence none-the-less. Nicholson’s stance on man-made climate change is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to arrive at. Labelling it as a religious – or even a philosophical – belief implies a ‘choice’, a ‘decision’ to believe something for which you cannot claim to be objectively true. Nicholson didn’t just decide that he liked the environmental ‘philosophy’, he came to a conclusion based on evidence. It’s not like the evidence is hiding either. It’s not buried in the mists of time with only a few manuscripts to shine a light on its possible existence. It’s happening here, now. Read the rest of this entry »

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When Is Male Rape Funny?

‘They split his ring on D-wing, they’re all bummin’ Marlon King’

Those were the words offered by comedian Russell Howard to football fans on terraces across the country last week, in order to taunt Wigan Athletic striker Marlon King, who was recently convicted and jailed for assault after attacking a female student last December.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not defending Marlon at all – by all accounts he’s a nasty piece of work who was punished as he deserved, and the crime he was jailed for was particularly distasteful in its twin violence and arrogance. He’s the very embodyment of the stereotypical newspaper depiction of footballers as arrogant thugs.

Nor am I leaping on the bandwagon of lambasting edgy comedy – which has recently seen comedians Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr castigated for their various off-colour gags. I love a good, near-the-knuckle, edgy joke – as any one who manages to get hold of unedited recording of Skeptics with a K (or anyone who’s spent an evening in the pub with me) will probably attest to.

No, my point instead is about the subject of this taunt in particular – when, exactly, did male rape become funny? Has it always been funny? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Real Cost Of Psychic Tipsters

In a news item that made it into the papers pretty much across the board, a police force has admitted following-up leads provided by psychic mediums in their investigations into a man’s death. The revelation, which has led to wide scale derision and outcry, came from constabulary in the Dyfed-Powys Police force, regarding the investigation into the death of 32 year old Welshman Carlos Assaf. Whe he was found hangd in his home in March, the immediate assumption was suicide – but when the police were presented by the claims of self-proclaimed psychics, a wider investigation was launched. Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #009

Lots about religion, lots about psychics.  Emergency telephone numbers and (of course) Jesus’ cock.  What else could it be? It’s the latest Skeptics with a K!

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