Archive for May, 2010

What Is It? #12

Sorry it’s been so long since the last ‘What Is it?’ It appears we were wisked away by aliens and subjected to long-winded diatribes on the nature of change… or was that the election? Either way, we’re back, so throw on your thinking caps and get yourselves ready for another ‘What Is It?’   

Last week, we asked you who the man in this picture was:   

What Is It? #11

What Is It? #11 (Click to embiggify)


It wasn’t Paul Simon, Jim Carrey or a member of the Polyphonic Spree. It was Claude Vorilhon, facial hair enthusiast and self-proclaimed alien contactee, who changed his surname to Rael and founded the bonkers Raelian movement after his supposed visitation by alien beings.   

There was no messing about this time around. Rob got the correct answer with the very first comment:   

“Claude Rael – Founder of Raelian Movement and apparently the beneficiary of a visit by aliens. Also started Clonaid who claimed to have cloned a baby called Eve.”   

Hopefully, this week’s puzzle will give you something to chew over for a bit longer. It’s a classic ‘What’ rather than a ‘Who’ this time round. So, what is it we are looking at in the picture below? Answers on a postcard. Well, not really. On the comments board below will do nicely!  



Psychic Joe Power And The Two Man Mob – Revisited

Joe Power - psychic or not? You decide.

Joe Power - psychic or not? You decide

In the wake of Derren Brown’s stinging exposé on ‘Psychic’ Joe Power, I thought it worth sharing with the world a conversation I had with Joe back in June 2009, when the MSS was still young, and I was but a naive, innocent skeptic with a dream, and an application form for Randi’s $1million Challenge…

Cool drizzle fell onto the grey Saturday streets of Liverpool, a light breeze tumble-weeded a sweet wrapper down the road in a clichéd fashion, and I was becoming increasingly aware that this would be the strangest conversation of my life.  And I didn’t need psychic powers for that.  For I was in the company of ‘Psychic’ Joe Power, fresh from his latest in-store book-signing (signed copies of which, I add, are still on the shelves of Waterstones – supply quite exceeded demand it seems), and things were getting weird.

“The thing about you sceptics,” he said, standing on the step of a plus-size lingerie shop to raise himself to my eye-level, “is that you sit there, festering in front of your computers at 3am, thinking up ways to get at people.  What if I were to sit in front of your house and tell people you’re a paedophile?”

“Well,” I say, “that’s for you to decide to do if you want to but it’s not really the same thing – I’m raising questions over what you do and the service you claim to provide; insinuating I was a paedophile would be just a personal attack, and wildly baseless.  It’s not really the same thing.  At all.”

“Oh I think they’re very similar,” he answers, “because you’re there festering, at 3am, plotting to get at me, in the same way that paedophiles fester and plot to interfere with children – you both have to be sick in the head to do what you do.”

With Herculean effort to suspend my natural what-the-fuck? reaction, and with a curt politeness that in retrospect now seems other-worldly, I manage a swift retort:  ”Sorry, can I just clarify – are you comparing sceptics to paedophiles?  Could you explain that?  I mean, are you saying that paedophiles also ask questions of you, or what exactly?”

Skeptics with a K

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Joe:  ”I think most sceptics probably are paedophiles. I mean you’re sat around at 3am, plotting, aren’t you?  Do you deny that?”

An-incredulous-Marsh: “Do I deny what?  That I ask questions?  That I’m sometimes awake at 3am?  Or that I am a paedophile?  Could you please be clear what you’re asking me, Joe?”

It’s not often that you’re 5 minutes into a conversation with someone you’ve never met before and they’ve already played the paedophile card.  I had a feeling it was going to be one of those days.

>> Read the full account

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Popes and Jokes

As you may all have noticed, the Catholic Church has recently been creaking under the weight of its own paedophiles. That’s what happens when you keep hiding them. The glare of the media must have spooked the Church, because in the tradition of all large amoral institutions they’ve been trying to distract us with a story about virtually nothing. Well, I think they have… maybe I’ve just assumed it was down to them because it was so perfectly timed. It could just be coincidence that one moment everyone was shaking their heads in disgust at the sexual abuse of children and the next they were shaking their heads in disgust at a civil servant making a condom joke. I don’t know. There’s been a lot of Catholic-originated disgust and anger about in the papers, denouncing this affront… a few weeks ago every prominent Catholic was quiet for fear that the righteous fire of popular anger would burn their face off. 

I really can’t get to grips with the psychology at work here. Read the rest of this entry »



Question of The Week: What New Skeptical Events Can You Come Up With?

You’re never short of skeptical events these days. We have skeptics’ cruises through the Bermuda Triangle, Dragoncon’s Skeptrack, not to mention the infamous Amazing Meeting, which was held in London for the first time last year. On a more local level, here in Merseyside we have social and speaker events for both the Merseyside Skeptics and the Greater Manchester Skeptics, as well as other events and meetings of interest to skeptics, such as the scibar talks, cafe scientifique, philosophy in pubs and the Liverpool Humanists. We also have the recently started Ladies Who Do Skepticism meetups, the brainchild of Manchester Skeptics’ Janis Bennion. We simply can’t move for Skeptical events.

However, there’s always room for more, and that’s where you come in. We’re interested in your ideas for skeptical events. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a brand new idea, it can be something you’ve just heard of and thought was a good idea. Either way, we want to hear your ideas.

So the Question of The Week is this: What new skeptical events can you come up with?

Maybe you’ve been nurturing the idea of starting up a Skeptics In The Sauna, or have an idea for the perfect skeptical holiday. It doesn’t have to be an event. Feel free to branch out. It’s common for skepticism to advertise itself in the form of podcasts – maybe you have an idea for a new skeptical outlet? Whatever it is, let us know. Then we can steal it and get all the credit…

Please leave your ideas in the comments field below.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #021

Batman and the Health Ranger; Iron Man and Wheatgrass Juice; the Pope and the Civil Service; Scotland and Cannibals; and Fizzy Drinks and Old Age.


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Yet Another Bad Day For Scientology: Banned In Russia

In the latest thrilling instalment of a series I like to call ‘Scientology Lolz’, I’d like to take you to Russia, and to a report from the Moscow Times:

“Works by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard will be added to the country’s list of extremist literature for “undermining the traditional spiritual values of the citizens of the Russian Federation,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said Wednesday. The ruling is the latest use of the hotly debated law on extremism to target systems of belief that are not traditional in Russia.” – Source: The Moscow Times

The laws have been pretty controversial over in Russia since their introduction back in 2002, originally to try and curtain the rise in violence against ethnic groups and foreign citizens. However, much like similar anti-terrorism laws here in the UK, the boundaries of what counts as ‘extremist’ or ‘terrorist’ behaviour have proven to be so blurry that lawful citizens have been falling foul of them. Still, we’re not talking about everyday lawful citizens here, we’re talking about scientologists… whom the Russia court have effectively seen fit to ban. As the paper goes on to report:

“Prosecutors said they intercepted 28 individual titles, including books, audio and video recordings by Hubbard that were sent to residents in Surgut from the United States. The materials were sent for study to “psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists,” who determined that they should not be distributed in Russia, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.”

Individuals in possession of extremist materials can be jailed for up to 15 days or fined 3,000 rubles (which is round about £80 or so).

The ruling of scientology literature as illegal comes in response to a court case last year whereby the cult won the right to be called a religion in Russia, after an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. So it looks like something of a canny move from the law makers who seem intent on keeping the space-cult out of the minds of Russian citizens. Read the rest of this entry »

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