Archive for June, 2010

Question of The Week: If You Were Given A Million Pounds to Promote Skepticism, How Would You Spend It?


Once again our perennial Question of The Week has arrived, providing our lovely listeners/readers/trolls with the opportunity to take a break from their lives and have a good old skeptical think.

Many thanks to all of you who responded to our previous Question of The Week, which can be found here. We got some interesting answers. Like that one, this week’s Question comes via a suggestion from one of our listeners, long-standing visitor to this blog, DaveTheDrummer, who said:

“If you were contacted by a wealthy benefactor who was willing to fund the activities of the society and donate substantial sums of money to the cause, and by substantial I mean several tens of thousands of pounds, what would you do with those funds?”

What, indeed?

So this week’s Question of The Week is: If You Were Given A Million Pounds to Promote Skepticism, How Would You Spend It?

Would you set up a woo-fighting army? Maybe you’d send all the homeopaths away on a spaceship like Douglas Adams’ middle men were? Maybe you’d just give it all to charity or to your favourite skeptic? Whatever it is, we want to know. Just bear in mind that we don’t actually have a million pounds to give. In case you were wondering. And salivating.

We look forward to your answers!



Skeptics in the Pub: David Aaronovitch

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

by David Aaronovitch
When: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Vines (aka the Big House), 81 Lime Street, Liverpool


Our age is obsessed by the idea of conspiracy. We see it everywhere – from Pearl Harbour to 9/11, from the assassination of Kennedy to the death of Diana.

In his book Voodoo Histories, writer David Aaronovitch entertainingly demolishes the absurd and sinister conspiracy theories of the last 100 years. Aaronovitch reveals why people are so ready to believe in them and the dangers of this credulity.

Meticulous in its research, forensic in its reasoning, hilarious in its debunking, Voodoo Histories will arm anyone who has found themselves at the wrong end of a conversation about moon landings or the twin towers.

David will examine the need, when iconic figures such as Kennedy, Monroe or Princess Diana are killed, to construct an overarching explanation that mitigates the pain and anxiety of their loss – showing what happens when, as in the case of Diana, conspiracy theories actually make it as far as a court of law.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #024

“Don’t breathe on shit”; “I was addicted to pornography”; “He procured of the Devil a girdle”; “His head was given to a fish”; “The town of Cornwall, in England”; “He has to grow new feet”; “I’m angling for some free Pepsi”


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What Is It? #15

Last week, we asked you what this was a picture of:

No-one actually supplied the correct answer, although Johan Strandberg did post a link to a websearch he had done to find the answer, complaining that it was too easy to find. Which kind of defeats the point. We may be geniuses here at the MSS, but regularly defeating search engines is beyond our capabilities! It’s always possible to search quickly for the answer, but we want you to use your own knowledge to get the answer, not steal Google’s. So I propose a second rule to the What Is It? competitions, beyond the one in the title itself: no search engines. Dissenters will be poked aggressively in the shoulder with a disapproving finger.

For those who didn’t follow the link, the image is of an influenza virus, taken via a TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope). Special mention should go to Alex, who suggested Cowpea Mosaic Virus. Hopefully none of you out there are currently suffering the results of infection by this beautiful blue and yellow bastard (the flu virus that is, not Alex). If so, you now know the face of your enemy.

So, well done to, er,, apparently! Lets move on from flu and search engines and have a look at the next What Is It? picture. Put your thinking caps on, lean into your screen and tell us what it is you are looking at in the picture below:



Dowsing For Danger: ‘Grosvenor Scientific’ Raided

Last night I got a very interesting phone call, just as I was about to rush off to Manchester for the Greater Manchester Skeptics In The Pub talk with Simon ‘Quacklash’ Perry (which was, as expected, brilliant). The call was from a journalist at ITV, regarding the bomb detectors which don’t actually detect bombs, and what I knew about a company called Grosvenor Scientific. The answer, alas, was pretty much zilch, although a quick Google got me the following:

Exporters raided in bomb detector fraud inquiry

Police have raided three companies suspected of selling ineffective bomb detectors to overseas markets, in a case that raises questions of whether Britain has done all it can to curb the much-criticised trade.

City of London police said yesterday that they had raided five properties and planned to interview a number of individuals as part of an expanding investigation into the sale of the hand-held devices, which critics say have endangered lives in Iraq and elsewhere.

The police action was launched after Britain introduced a ban in January on the export of the devices, but applied it only to Iraq and Afghanistan because it said it lacked the power to extend it to countries in which UK and allied forces were not engaged.

The police said they executed five search warrants at premises in Kent, Devon and Nottingham linked to the companies Grosvenor Scientific, Scandec Inc and Global Technical, seizing a large amount of cash and several hundred explosive detection devices and their component parts – Source: Financial Times

Now, Global Technical I had heard of – in fact I wrote about their GT200 back in April. It’s great to see the police taking action, finally. Still, while we’re aware of the actions of ATSC (whose CEO Jim McCormick is still on police bail after his arrest earlier this year over the same charges these new companies now face), and both Scantec and Global Technical are well documented too, Grosvenor Scientific appear to be somewhat off the radar – with very little information to be found on them. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Is It? #14

Last week, we asked you what this picture was:

Most of you decided to make jokes about the severed heads, which is fair enough! Jo suggested it was an early ventriloquist double act, while Michael Gray offered the notion of a lost property auction. Jon D suggested the man on the left was showing off his homeopathic Roman legion. We’ve always room on here for a homeopathy joke.

Don’t worry though, someone did get the right answer. Paul Smout got in there early on with the second comment. It is, of course, the founders of Rome: Romulus and Remus.

The image shows the brothers marching triumphantly from Alba Longa. Romulus, on the left, bears aloft the head of his treacherous uncle Amulus, while Remus carries the head of the wild priest Camers, who counselled the King to drown the twins. The illustration itself comes from “The Lays of Ancient Rome”, 1881.

So there.

That one was got rather quickly, so let’s see if we can fox you all for a little bit longer with this week’s image. No severed heads in this one. You know the rules by now (there’s only one). See if you can tell us what this is a picture of: