Archive for February, 2010

Surveys On Rape And The Need For Clean Stats

Recently we asked you what really pushes your buttons and makes you angry. You may have answered, you may not – I hadn’t, and didn’t intend to… but bugger it, my spleen needs venting. So here goes – I have a couple of thing that particularly piss me off: psychics are definitely one of them. Sexuality discrimination (in either direction) is very much a second. And another biggie? Bad stats, where it matters.

Now, I appreciate it might seem like a bit of a nothingness, after all. So some numbers get inflated to make it look like men are shitty to their girlfriends, or that knife crime is on the rise, or that more than half of teenage girls are pregnant – these kind of issues might seem relatively minor, if slightly sexist, sensationalist or downright stupid. Nobody’s getting hurt here, you might think, and after all more than 33% of statistics are made up, and over half of the remaining two thirds are meaningless cliche anyway. However, consider the following headline, from Tuesday’s Metro:

One in four women has been raped, a shocking new survey reveals

I think it’s fair to say the statement that 25% of women have been raped is a shocking statement. Truly. If it were, in fact, true. But is it? Well, it’s right there in the headline, and surely nobody running those figures could do so without being 110% sure of their accuracy, and at the very least they’d make sure they were about 4/3rds positive of the interpretation? Well, a little digging around and I was able to locate a summary of the survey this stat was taken from – it was an online survey of 1061 people in London, broken down into 349 men and 712 women. There’s no indication as to how that sample of 1061 people was put together, so any discussion of the stats has to be with the caveat that any potential bias is undisclosed. Interestingly, when looked at in terms of self-defined sexuality there were only 71 homosexual, 52 bisexual and 16 asexual respondents – yet the summary merrily extrapolates the data of around four dozen bisexual respondents into statements of comparative risk Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy Tappers

Ahh, to be a thirty-something minor celebrity (Sky 3 doesn’t really count, does it?), a feminist-married-to-an-Olympic-rowing-alpha-male and a hypnobirthing mother; It’s a post-modern fantasy that I think we all share.  I know I like to dress up in miniskirts, have my jugs half falling out on national television and claim feminism as my agenda while cuddling up to my hubby’s big muscley muscles… but only on Mondays.  Thankfully, we have a post-modern fantasist to show us what it is to have our fantasies brought into the clear light of reality.

Enter our hero of the hour, Ms/iss/rs(?) Beverley Turner, and her little excursion into something one or two of you will recognise…

Even though I have this feeling, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics in the Pub UPDATE: One Year Anniversary Bonanza

Happy Birthday Us!

Happy Birthday Us!

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances our guest speaker for this week’s Skeptics in the Pub – Andy Lewis – has had to cancel. Perhaps there are quacks that desperately needed -ometering, or perhaps he had unexpected work commitments that he really couldn’t get out of (the latter). Andy’s assured us we’ll reschedule the event in the future, but it left us with a space in our calendar…

…and that’s when we remembered we’re one year old as of this Thursday! Hooray, hurrah, they grow up so fast, etc! So, to commemorate this wondrous occasion, and to fulfill our venue obligations, we thought we’d put on something of an anniversary bonanza – as skeptical pick’n’mix, if you will. The evening will consist of four short talks on a variety of topics, as well as a special live edition of our Skeptics with a K podcast.

First off, MSS blogger Allan Callister will be talking Emotional Freedom Technique, something of an interest of his of late. Next, our great and glorious president Mike Hall will be examining Bad Logic, with examples from the world of religion. I’ll be taking to the mic next to explain How PR Took Over Journalism, and where we go from here, before MSS member and PHD Tom Williamson will be telling us all What This Whole Science Thing Actually Is Anyway, how it works, how we know it works and why it’s the bees knees. And then it’s a live, audience-participation-y recording of Skeptics With A K.

So, join us for a jam-packed evening this Thursday from 8, at the Vines Hotel, Liverpool, L1.

>> Further details.


Climate Change In Canada

In its continued exploitation of the oilsands of Alberta, Canadia may have recently surpassed even the US in its ability to ignore climate change science in the name of making economic gains.  It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail, a Canadian national newspaper, supporting the work of scientists as “square-jawed heros” of current crises.

Effectively a firm rebuttal of the idea that just because of a few poorly-worded emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia the entire climate science paradigm (or even the broader scientific establishment) has collapsed, the author highlights the vital work of scientists and the robustness of the system within which they work.

In the Hollywood version of how science influences policy, the brilliant scientist has a eureka moment in the lab and calls the president, who promptly dispatches a square-jawed hero to save the day. In the real world, both science and politics are enormously more complicated.

It is in this real-world context that we must place the imbroglio surrounding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s research. Breathless media claims that the scientific consensus supporting the reality of climate change and its causes has collapsed are simply untrue.

At its heart, the debate centres on the role and process of science in creating a platform for human progress. If anything has been “revealed,” it is the challenge of communicating complex science to a media world that requires scientists to reduce their research to a sound bite.

I highly recommend reading the full article.

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Pseudo-Pareidolia: I Spy A PR Pork Pie

Yes, Tommy Cooper, in a Steak Pie. What of it?

Yes, Tommy Cooper, in a Steak Pie. What of it?

Over the years we’re seen God in a toilet door, the virgin Mary on wet windows and jesus burnt into a cheese sandwich. Not to mention Mother Teresa the croissant, and all manner of other religious figures mystically coming through in a variety of unusual places, which is definitely down to the fact that God exists.

However, it’s not just the religious that get to come back from the grave to haunt our furniture, foodstuffs and everyday lives – a few months ago we covered on the show an image of the late Michael Jackson which had appeared in an ultrasound, so it seems of late it’s becoming easier to pass through the mystical doorway and re-enter this world, albeit confined to poor-quality images on mundane objects.

Which is why it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone to see this amazing, wondrous, blessed meat pie, complete with image of 70s comedy legend Tommy Cooper.

Yeah, Tommy Cooper. And yes, a meat pie.

What’s more, miraculously and in no way suspiciously, the pastry effigy was found in the village of Trethomas – just a couple of miles from Cooper’s hometown of Caerphilly. Which proves it’s definitely genuine. Honest. I mean, it even featured in the Daily Mail

Chip shop owner Crad Jones discovered the image when eating his pie and chips in his shop in Caerphilly, South Wales, which was Cooper’s home town.

Mr Jones, 45, said he called the manufacturers, Peter’s Pies, when he noticed the silhouette so they could document his find.

Of course, it’s in no way suspicious that the manufacturer of the pie gets a nice big mention right there at the start of the story. This pie coincidentally had a photo of Tommy Cooper in it – of course the first thing you’re gonna want to know is which company the late funnyman chose to bless with his image. Read the rest of this entry »

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Question of The Week: What Makes You Angry?

Being a Skeptic often means dealing with a huge amount of nonsense and woo. Most of the time, it’s not an issue. Generally, woo is harmless, or at least its harm can be easily identified and followed up on. Plus, it can be quite fun to research and examine strange claims and ideas, to try to uncover the truth, or lack of it , behind them. However, we all have our strong ideals and personal viewpoints, and sometimes woo isn’t simply something fun that you can play around with. Some of it can be downright dangerous, some of it can be mind-boggingly stupid, some of it just doesn’t make any damn sense. You can’t always respond with calm and objective kid-gloves: even Skeptics get angry.

So this week’s Question of The Week is this: What woo makes you angry? What pushes your buttons? What can’t you deal with? Maybe it’s the harm that can be caused by extreme religious beliefs, or homeopaths who claim to be able to cure AIDS. Maybe it’s just the fact that your brother/sister/husband/wife/parents just won’t listen to reason over something silly. Maybe psychics just piss you off. Maybe your best friend never makes it to the pub because he/she is too busy chasing UFOs.

Whatever it is, we want to hear about it. So feel free to vent your spleen in the name of Skepticism via the comments section below.