Archive for category Question of the Week

Question of the Week/Fortnight/Miscellaneous Holiday Period: New Year’s Resolutions

Well, it’s the New Year! Almost. At time of writing, it’s still New Year’s Eve, we’re all partying like it’s two-thou-sand-and-nine and the decade still has time to surprise us with something. A bunch of flowers from the 24-hour garage would do – it’s the thought that counts. Round about this time of the year, everyone asks everyone else if they’ve made any New Year’s Resolutions, and everyone tells everyone ‘Oh, well, I don’t tend to do much because I know I’m not going to stick to any of it beyond the middle of January, but I am going to try to <insert wildly ambitious life-changing decision>’

I for one won’t be making any resolutions, except that I resolve to make a maths-based continuous/discrete gag every time someone tells me to be discreet, and also I resolve not to make wild resolutions that I’m never going to stick to in a month of Sundays. Or even one Sunday, for that matter. But what are we to do in the hideous gaps in conversations that will arise from having no resolutions to natter about at the water-cooler/generic-cliched-meeting-place when we all trudge back to work? Do we stand in silence? Do we mime speaking and hope our colleagues all assume they’ve been struck deaf? Here’s a better idea:

Make up some New Year’s Resolutions – the barmier the better, the more ludicrous the lovelier, the more x the y-er.

And have a great 2010, especially since we only have two years left until the Mayan zombie apocalypse draws an Asteroid made of CO2 into one of our volcanoes and triggers the end of the world. Or something. I never bothered watching that film, to be honest. I hear it’s good though.

(Regular readers may have spotted we’ve put nothing out in well over a week. Apologies, we’ve been lazily picking at what’s left of the Christmas Turkey, not because we’re hungry, just because it’s been there in the fridge when we’ve got the milk out for our cups of tea, and it’s rude not to, after all… Regular service will resume in 2010)


Question of the Week: Invent A Homeopathic Remedy

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but we don’t really like homeopathy here at the MSS. I know that shocking revelation will probably come as a surprise to a lot of our readers – I mean, it’s not like we make a big deal about it, do we? It’s not like we write lots of posts detailing how utterly implausible and ridiculous homeopathy is, or anything. And it’s not like we go around appealing to major high-street pharmacies to withdraw homeopathic products from their shelves. No, no – we like to be reserved. Under-played. Subtle.

So, with our subtlety and respect of homeopathy in mind, this week’s question of the week is:

What’s the weirdest and most ludicrous homeopathic potion you can think up? What’s ‘in’ it? And what does it treat?

Make us laugh and you’ll get a mention on our next podcast, plus non-homeopathic levels of our love and affection. Bonus points to anyone who actually manages to find their crazy homeopathic substance on the internet – because I’m pretty sure clause b) of Rule 34 that states ‘There is no homeopathic substance to stupid to already exist somewhere on the internet’. And just to let you know where the bar is set, bear in mind you can already get homeopathic Berlin Wall and homeopathic Milky Way

Oh, and by the way, 10:23.

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Question of the Week: Taxing Scientific Illiteracy

I don’t get a lot of time to read, unfortunately, which is why podcasts are so fantastic.  I can sit at work and listen to a podcast, but I can’t sit at work and read.  Audiobooks are the same.  Any authors reading this: please, tape your book as an audiobook and whack it on iTunes.  Or the chances are, I won’t get time to read it.  Please.  As a favour?  To me?

That said, on a recent trip down to Cheltenham for the Open horse racing festival, I found myself on a three-hour train trip (each way) and at a loose end.  So I took the opportunity to read the book at the top of my reading list; Ben Goldacre’s magnificently cutting Bad Science.  Truly fantastic book–if you haven’t read it, then you must.  Now.  Really!

One thing that surprised me, however, was Goldacre’s attitude to homeopathy and indeed alternative medicine in general.  Goldacre appears to take the view that alternative medicine represents a tax on scientific illiteracy.  If people are willing to go and spend a good chunk of money on what amounts to a bag of placebos, well that’s their choice.  I’m not sure I agree.  What do you think?

Should alternative medicine be viewed as a tax on scientific illiteracy?  Do those who know have a responsibility to educate those who don’t?  Should educators make special efforts for people who wear scientific illiteracy as a badge of honour?  Or should medical interventions, legitimate and pseudoscientific, be subject to state regulation and required to back up claims of efficacy with robust scientific data?

Answers on a postcard please.  Or, actually, just put them in the comments below.  Probably easier.


Question of the Week: Mac or PC?

Since the beginning of time (well, about 1976) one question has been at the forefront of the world of computing. Wars have been fought (on forums) in its name, and legions of computer users the world over are willing to fight to the death, or at least until their computer crashes, in its name. Maybe it will never be resolved, but never let it be said that the Merseyside Skeptics Society did not play its part in attempting to end this ancient and divisive dispute…

So, the Question of the Week is this:

Which is better: Mac or PC?

No other question seems to exercise the ire of computer users quite as much as this one. Is it true that macs are better machines, or are they just for vegetarians, communists and hippies? Is the lack of viruses worth the astronomical price tag? Has the PC always been better, but is the victim of a jealous pc-ist campaign? Who would win in a fight, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Why are they named after nouns?

Let’s put this issue to bed once and for all. Which is better: Mac or PC? You decide.

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Question of the Week: Papal Genocide

Earlier this year, the Pope rejected the use of condoms as a way of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.  Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worst hit region by the AIDS pandemic, with almost 25,000,000 reported cases and 2,000,000 deaths annually attributed to the disease*.  More than a couple of urban myths are propagating in the region, purporting to offer cures to the infected.  One of the most disturbing is the myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. This has lead to some infected men raping children in an attempt to beat the disease.

Although condoms will not cure the disease, the evidence shows that their use will dramatically reduce its spread.  This made it all the more appalling when the Vatican rejected the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, on the grounds that they believe their imaginary friend doesn’t like them.

With this in mind our resident physicist, Mik, has asked: Should the Pope be taken to the Hague and tried for genocide?  Is the Vatican directly responsible for every HIV infection brought about by its rejection of condoms?  Could the effects of the Pope’s rejection of the use of condoms be reasonably characterised as genocide?

*2005 figures

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Question of the Week: Enabling Alcoholism

Okay, so I completely forgot to publish  a question of the week.  Hey, but that’s okay.  It’s been a busy, busy week and I haven’t had time.  I’m sure you’ll all forgive me.  Well, most of you.  Perhaps.

This week’s question is one I’ve been pondering for a while, though I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfactory response to.  Maybe you can.  In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins argues that moderate religion is an enabler of extremist religion.  Sam Harris has been known to make the same argument, which runs broadly along these lines:

  1. Religious moderates and religious extremists share the same basic beliefs.
  2. If we attack the core beliefs of the extremists, we will offend the moderates.
  3. If we seek to avoid offending moderates, we cut ourselves off from being able to tackle the real problem: the irrational nonsense that forms the foundation of the religion.  Instead we are limited to criticising the actions of extremists, even when they are only taking those same foundation principles to their logical conclusion.
  4. To be able to properly tackle extremism we cannot, therefore, offer any special protection from criticism to the moderates.
  5. Therefore, we should subject religious moderates to the same level of criticism as the extremists.

This argument makes some sense to me.  And perhaps to you too.  But my question is this:

How is this argument logically different for alcoholism?  Don’t “moderate” drinkers (i.e. pretty much everyone reading this) enable “extremist” drinkers (aka alcoholics)?  If we are to criticise alcoholism for the damage it does, shouldn’t we subject moderate drinkers to the same criticism?