Archive for July, 2012

Skeptics with a K: Episode #077

Celebrating three years of podcasting! This is the podcast version of the show we streamed live over YouTube on Monday 23rd July 2012. Featuring sticky tape, skin, cats, dogs and Des Lynam. Plus pies, pirates, animal husbandry and a turkey cock. Crazy like a fox — it’s Skeptics with a K.

You can read the ASA adjudication on Kinesio tape at



Skeptics with a K: Episode #077 live recording

This is the raw, and totally unedited recording of our live show, celebrating three years of podcasting.

Or watch it on YouTube.


Guest Post: Pondering Evidence-Based Policy and the Geek Manifesto

Dr Benedict Michael is a NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow (DRF). He trained in Medicine in Liverpool, and has helped set up the NHS Northwest Neurological Infectious Diseases Research Network and Brain Infections UK and is a main author for the ABN/BIA National Encephalitis Guideline. Here, he shares his take on our recent guest speaker Mark Henderson’s ‘Geek Manifesto’:

I recently attended an interesting talk hosted by the Merseyside Skeptics Society and given by Mark Henderson, author of the “Geek Manifesto”, and one main thing struck me: Why are so many of the greatest proponents of evidence-based approaches not scientists?! As a physician, NIHR PhD Fellow, author of over 20 peer-reviewed scientific publications and active author in the Cochrane Collaboration, arguably the most widely respected evidence-based institution, I can claim at least some interest in this!

Although I commend Mark’s efforts, the non-scientific authors and proponents, if I can call them that (and by which I mean authors not regularly engaged in peer-reviewed scientific research publications and nothing pejorative), are not always in line with the scientific community.

In fact, many scientists and doctors oppose a fully evidence-based approach to guiding policy and practice, and some have gone so far as to raise the alarm against a cryptofacist evidence-based hegemony in which they find their practice constrained.

Now before you grab the pitch forks and tie me to a stake, let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mark Stevenson: An Optimists View of the Future

When: Thursday, August 16th, 2012 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool

Mark Stevenson has been to the future a few years ahead of the rest of us – and came back believing we still have everything to play for. His voyage of discovery took him to Boston to visit a robot with mood swings, to an underwater cabinet meeting in the Indian Ocean, and Australia to question the Outback’s smartest farmer, had his genome profiled, and glimpsed the next stage of human evolution … then he tried to make sense of what’s in store.

The result was An Optimist’s Tour of the Future, which is finding fans from schoolchildren through to Nobel Peace Prize winners. Mark will talk of the future of humanity and how technology will help remedy some of these problems.

Mark combines two careers – one as a successful writer and comedian and as co-founder and director of the cultural learning agency Flow Associates and the science communication agency ReAgency, Roving Learner at The Age of Smart, a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and Nibmaster General for the Ministry of Stories.

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Skeptics with a K: Live Anniversary Show

As of the next show, Skeptics with a K is three years old–so to celebrate we will be streaming the recording of that show live over the Internet. You’ll be able to watch the show right here on our website, and interact with us live via twitter (tag your message #swaklive).

The show will be this coming Monday, 23rd July, from 7pm. We hope you can make it.


Exploring TCM: Dr & Herbs, Liverpool

Having a rare weekend free, and having the need to pop into town in order to buy secret things for my girlfriend’s upcoming birthday (July 22nd if you want to wish her a happy birthday, by the way), I chanced into St John’s Shopping Centre and came across the rather charming ‘Dr & Herbs’ Traditional Chinese Medicine outlet. Which I immediately dived into and immersed myself in, obviously.

I’d like to say up front, before I get into any real detail – the two people who seem to run the shop were helpful, kind and friendly. Unfortunately, they were also entirely wrong in a number of ways…

The first thing that struck me about the shop was the crude (and rather awfully-designed) posters in the window, listing various ailments and how TCM can help – the list was reasonably long, and didn’t include any more wild and dangerous ailments to treat, but I was able to grab shots of the claims for Thrush, StressEczema and Asthma.

Thrush: TCM treats this as a problem of damp in the body, usually internal damp caused by an infection or fungus; herbs are a very effective treatment.

While it’s true to say that thrush is caused by a fungus, it’s vague and bewildering to claim it a problem of ‘damp in the body’, and the bald assertion that herbs are a very effective treatment is an outright falsehood, unsupported by evidence.

Stress: According to TCM, Stress is due to too much dampness and heart heat from internal and external pressure. We can treat this by clearing the dampness as well as regulating your Qi (vital energy) through a natural process).

Here the issue is somewhat more fundamental – the notion of ‘stress’ is something favoured by pseudomedical practitioners because of its dual properties of vagueness and ubiquity. Many people believe they have stress; very few of them could quantify what they mean by the term. Fortunately, Dr & Herbs seem to know, and they’re pretty sure it’s to do with dampness – although, in fairness, dampness is their go-to diagnosis. That they can regulate this invented dampness – both internally- and externally-caused –  via the regulation of Qi is neither here nor there, given that Qi adds one more invented element to the pot. All in all, their claims to fighting stress don’t stand up to scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »

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