Archive for February, 2010

Question of The Week: Which Question Do You Want to Answer?

Last week we celebrated the one year anniversary of the Merseyside Skeptics Society with a special Liverpool Skeptics in The Pub, which included a live recording of our podcast Skeptics With a K. In a change from our usual dictatorial style, we asked the audience for suggestions for a Question of The Week, and ended up with two of them!

Questions that is, not audience members.

In the interests of fun, and because it means we don’t have to make a decision about it, we’ve decided that instead of choosing only one of them as this week’s question, we’ll let you answer both. Think of it as a Question of The Year as well as a Question of The Week, an extra special gift from us to you!

So this week’s Question(s) of The Week, courtesy of Andrew Johnston and Tom Williamson are:

1/ If you could have three dinner guests, one living, one dead and one ‘woo’, who would they be?

2/ What ‘woo’ presents have you received?

Maybe you have a thing for white beards and want to have dinner with James Randi, Darwin and Santa; or maybe you once recieved a ‘genuine’ Mayan crystal skull from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever it is, we want to know. I’ll leave the definition of ‘woo’ here deliberately vague, so no-one feels limited. It’s up to your good selves whether you answer one or both questions.

Please leave your answers in the comments section below.

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What Is It? #6

What Is It? #6

What Is It? #6 (click to enlarge)

It’s time once again to put your peepers to the test, with the latest edition in our ingeniously-titled ‘What Is It?’ competition. By now I’m sure you know the drill, and if you don’t it’s kinda self-explanatory, but here’s what you do: 

1. Look at this photo
2. Tell us what it is 

Pretty straightforward stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. And cheers once more to Prof. Dowling for the image. 

Last week we got all mushy and asked you what this photo is. As usual we got a good set of responses. Most got pretty close, although unfortunately for Barra, there was no doomed Martian lovers involved:

Is it the famous heart cliffs of mars? Where ancient alien civilisations used to jump like lemmings to the rocks below expressing their love for each other?

And no liquorice allsorts either; apologies to Ross Clark:

Is it a sample from the abortive Bertie Bassett factory at Sellafield?

What it actually is, is a rather cool Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM) image of palladium atoms. Amazingly, the heart is roughly a nanometre across.

No fully correct answers this week, but nearly all of you got most of the way there. Sophie, Jon d, Tom Williamson and Ellie all recognised we were looking at something very small, probably an STM image. Unfortunately, nearly everyone claimed we were looking at carbon nanotubes, and not Palladium, so no 100% pass rates today.

But you know what, as you were all on the right track, and as the image was in honour of Valentine’s Day and we’re all loving souls here at MSS, we’re going to credit you as having got this one right. So… well done, everyone!

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Liverpool Skeptics In The Pub: One Year Anniversary Bonanza

One Year Anniversary Bonanza at The Vines

It’s hard to believe, but come the end of this Month, the Merseyside Skeptics Society will have been going for just over a year. In that space of time we have gone from not existing at all, to hosting regular social events in Liverpool City Centre (at Doctor Duncan’s pub, for those interested), hosting regular Skeptics In The Pub nights with speakers such as Ariane Sherine, Chris French and Simon Singh, and to masterminding the 10:23 campaign, which went from strength to strength, spreading from Liverpool to other cities across England, Wales and Scotland, and then to numerous countries across the world! Amid all this we’ve also somehow managed to produce two popular podcasts, Skeptics With a K and InKredulous, and get name-checked in everything from the Pod Delusion and The Skeptic Zone to The Independent and The Guardian. Not to mention you could hear Mike and Marsh’s dulcet tones gracing the airwaves on more than one occasion, arguing with UFO enthusiasts, psychics and homeopaths to name but a few. You can also hear Marsh on the podcast Righteous Indignation.

It’s been overwhelming. So overwhelming that we almost forgot it had been a year since we started. When we did notice, we realised we should do something to celebrate this personal milestone, and so we organised a special Liverpool Skeptics In The Pub: One Year Anniversary Bonanza! Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #016

In this special episode of Skeptics with a K, recorded in front of a live audience at Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub, Mike, Marsh and Colin discuss the Liverpool Mind/Body/Spirit festival, Otto Von Bismark, dinner party guests and shooing away broken bones.  Plus, a special bonus lecture from Marsh on PR and the Media.

Play

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Sci-Tech Report Slams Homeopathy… But Did It Stop Short?

This week, the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report on Homeopathy came out. Homeopathy did not do well. Think of the report as a fishmonger and homeopathy as a fish, and you’ll get a good idea of the kind of evisceration we witnessed on Monday morning.

I could talk at length about how great the report was, how well it communicated its points, the extent to which it backed every one of our issues with the 200-year-old-quack-therapy, the way it dismissed like cures like as nonsense, waved aside the law of infinitesimals as if it were meaningless (it is, after all), laid the smackdown on the MHRA for failure to regulate properly, proposed labeling regulations so strict that only the partially-sighted would fail to spot that these tablets are nothing more than sugar, outright accused the homeopaths of cherry-picking evidence to suit their cause, utterly demolished said cherry-picked evidence and generally all-round gave Hahnemann’s magic a good kicking – but I won’t. Partly because that sentence was long enough as it is, and partly because a full and thorough dissection of the report has been done far more competently and comprehensively elsewhere than I could muster.

Instead, I’m going to ask the awkward question – the one nobody dares to ask. I’m the kind of brave, rebellious, devil-may-care health-rangery-type of non-conformist who’d go ahead and do that. By which I mean this:

Did the report go far enough?

Yeah, that’s right, I’m asking the question we’re all thinking. Because while the recommendations in the report pretty much destroy every shred of credibility homeopathy has had, and leaves almost no stone unturned in its aims to take away the rocks that homeopathy’s been hiding under, I think there are some key suggestions it failed to put forward. Namely:

  • Anyone who uses animals to prove homeopathy works to be henceforward treated exclusively by vets
  • Anyone who genuinely believes that the process of diluting liquids makes them stronger to be banned from working in cocktail bars
  • Subscribers to the notion of ‘like cures like’ to be forbidden from becoming firefighters
  • Tate and Lyle to be forced to carry warnings on their packets stating ‘Granulated sugar containing no homeopathic vibrations’

We can only hope such vital measures are put in place in the coming months.

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What Is It? #5

What Is It? #5

What Is It? (click to enlarge)

Last weekend was Valentine’s Day, as you’re doubtlessly aware. Well, we’re not really the mushy sort here at the Merseyside Skeptics Society, so we thought we’d hold off on the love hearts, the the rose petals, and the rainbow-farting unicorns and let you all wallow in your skepticality.

Well, that was the plan, but then the Prof sent us this fantastic image for our What Is It? competition, so we figured bugger it – let’s embrace the love, people. So, what is it? Leave your answers below, as ever.

Last week we showed you this photo and asked you what it was. Contrary to what a lot of people might believe, it wasn’t ghosts, fairies, orbs or spirits… it was simply dust, lit up by the camera flash. Lot’s of you knew the correct answer, so we’ve a few winners this week – first off the mark was Lukasz, with:

I would say it’s dust on lens/negative. Or scratched negative before processing. I didn’t use Google!

We also have honorary mentions for this comprehensive effort from Jon D:

Fair and square I think we’re looking at light from the camera’s flash reflected off particles of dust suspended in the air and bounced back into the camera lens. You see it more often these days because the flash is mounted closer to the lens on compact digital cameras and the cameras are so complex people can’t work out how to switch the auto-flash off. They look blurry and possibly a bit 3 dimensional because they’re out of focus due to being too close to the lens.

What is it? #4

Last week's photo

As well as this from Hampshire Skeptics founder DaveTheDrummer, who was first on our Facebook page:

It’s a dude reflected in a mirror.Perhaps I’m missing the point… With some crap on the mirror that’s reflected the flash you can see in the top right. Which is exactly where it should be for the view point.

Well done!

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