Archive for April, 2011

Skeptics with a K: Episode #044

Easter Special! Mike, Marsh and Colin discuss the story of Easter, the zombie apocalypse, snoring, smurfs and swastikas. Plus, vomiting in a bin, free tea at 13,000 ft, Colin’s missing day and the Raggy Dolls.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #043

In this fracking episode of Skeptics with a fracking K, Mike, Marsh and Colin talk about a Christian’s view of fracking atheists, the effects of religiosity on your fracking mortality, and an earthquake in fracking Blackpool. Plus, Jonah, homeopathy on the Wirral, General Zod and (of course) fracking.

If you want to register as an organ donor, visit:
http://www.uktransplant.org.uk/ukt/how_to_become_a_donor/how_to_become_a_donor.jsp

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Are you a selfish bastard?

There are plenty of people who are critical of skepticism, both from within and without the skeptical community. We’re accused of being closed-minded, grumpy, bearded doubters and nay-sayers.  We’re accused of armchair skepticism, of ivory tower skepticism, of ‘scientism’, and of being in the pocket of a mysterious large farmer.

Some people think we aren’t pro-active enough.  Some people say we should let people believe what they like.  We’re accused of preaching to the choir, of living in an echo chamber, of not meaningfully engaging with the other side of the debate.  We’re accused of being dicks, or of not being dickish enough.  We’re accused of both accommodationalism and fundamentalism.

Some of these criticisms are valid, some are bogus. Some seem to assume that there is only one way you should behave if you’re a skeptic, when really – it takes all sorts.

So here is something positive we can all do.  It doesn’t get in anyone’s face, it isn’t dickish, it isn’t fundamentalist or accommodationalist.  And I’d actually be pretty surprised if any skeptic had a serious objection to it:

Become an organ donor.

It’s easy. It’s free. You won’t get anything out of it until after you’re dead, except perhaps a smug sense of self-satisfaction.  But if you don’t do it, you’re probably just being selfish.  Your kidneys are no good to you after you’ve wrapped a car around a lamp-post, but they may just save the life of one of the four people who die in the UK every day because of a lack of suitable organs.

So get on with it… register as an organ donor now. No ifs, no buts. Chop chop.

(With thanks to the Prof for suggesting we champion this.)

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Homeopathy in the Wirral: RIP

As I’ve covered previously, the position of homeopathy on the NHS in the Wirral region has been under review, with the Professional Executive Committee evaluating the future continuation of the 200-year-old non-science in the wake of dwindling patient interest.

Following the open meeting of March 10th to discuss proposals to cut homeopathy from the budget, the PEC collected their thoughts and formally presented them to the Wirral NHS Board. This meeting took place on the 22 March 2011, and unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the North West ‘Friends’ of Homeopathy, whose very vocal envoy John Cook persuaded the board to allow him to present his objections to their proposal. Readers of the previous blog or listeners to Skeptics with a K will know John well, and his forthright advocacy style.

Fortunately, a local councillor is a supporter and friend of the MSS, and he was able to equally persuade the board to allow an external voice of support into the meeting to counter the objections of the homeopathic lobby – which is why I found myself called upon to give a 5-minute speech in favour of disposing with the sugar pills once and for all.

The exact text of the speech is presented below, and my opportunity to present it came immediately after 5 minutes from the homeopaths, in which the main thrust of their argument was:

  • The consultation process had not been as robust as one would hope (essentially attempting to get off on a technicality)
  • Homeopathy does indeed work and there is science to prove it
  • Homeopathy is used by 10% of the population (a somewhat spurious figure brilliantly put into context by the board, who pointed out that the 60 affected patients in the Wirral each year are in fact just 0.02% of the population)
  • Those who seek to end funding for homeopathy are in fact attempting to ban it, with similar zeal to the calls to rid the world from smallpox.

I’ve no doubt that John will be able to offer a fuller clarification of these points below, and I welcome him doing so if he so wishes. Following this argument, I took to the rather official-looking table with it’s little microphone, the eyes of the board upon me, and began: Read the rest of this entry »

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Skeptics in the Pub: Chris French

Haunted houses, telepathy and UFOs: Investigating the extraordinary

by Chris French
When: Thursday, April 21, 2011 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool

Over the last decade, the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of Goldsmiths University has investigated a wide range of weird and wonderful topics, including alien contact experiences, sleep paralysis, haunted houses, dowsing, and telepathy. Many paranormal claims have been scientifically tested under properly controlled conditions along the way. This overview by Professor Chris French will present some of the results of such investigations.

About Chris French

Chris is head of the APRU, and appears frequently on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and writes for the Guardian’s online science pages.

This is a different lecture to the one delivered for us by Chris in September 2009

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God, Japan and the Meaning of Life

The following article previously appeared as a segment on episode #042 of our podcast ‘Skeptics with a K’. Subscribe via iTunes

On Friday 11 March 2011, a dreadful earthquake struck Japan.

The scale of the disaster was shocking and disturbing.  Perhaps equally disturbing, however, were the messages which appeared on Facebook and twitter in the aftermath of the earthquake, suggesting it was ‘payback’ or some kind of karmic reaction to the Japanese alliance with Nazi germany during World War II. Specifically, they claimed, it was due to the unprovoked Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

My initial response to this, and this is meant sincerely, is “fuck you, you obnoxious pig fucker”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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