Archive for category science

A List of Skeptical Things…

People are always asking me what skepticism is. As this is a notoriously difficult question to answer accurately in a few words, I tend to mumble something incoherent and run away. The same goes for questions about what happens at Skeptics in The Pub events. Trying to dispel the notion that we simply get together for a few drinks and slag things off is difficult to do in casual conversation. Especially as Skeptics in The Pub does occasionally fit that description. I would rather never have to answer these sorts of questions at all. The problem is that at the same time, I do want to convey to people outside of our strange little world what it is exactly that we do, and why it interests me. Why do I go to skeptical events at all? What first grabbed  me and pulled me into this world that so many of my friends and family think is some kind of science cult for the culturally depressed? Read the rest of this entry »

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Science, Music and The Beauty Of Nature: Polar Live!

If you’re stuck for something to do this weekend, I strongly recommend you check out Polar Live, right here in Liverpool. It’s an awesome-looking project, where the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing over a beautifully-shot documentary about life at the poles, which will be shown on a HUGE screen in HD. Essentially, it’s going to be unique, unusual and utterly beautiful, I think.

Don’t just take my word for it though – here’s a clip which gives you a taste of what it’ll be like:

I can’t wait to go myself, it looks really brilliant – something of a stirring, wonder-filled way of saying ‘this is the only planet we have, and we’d damn sure better look after it’.

The whole thing is being organised by a brilliant chap who goes along to the Greater Manchester Skeptics, who explained the show to me:

As Jacques Cousteau said, it’s easier to protect what we love. Polar is, first and foremost, a great night out. The rest is there for the audience to discover, if they so wish.

Tickets are still available if you move fast. I have mine already, and I really can’t wait.

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New Diploma in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine

QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

Get your QED ticket now!

Here at the Merseyside Skeptics Society, we heartily endorse awareness-raising publicity stunts. Obviously. After all, we organised for nearly 500 people worldwide to ‘overdose’ on homeopathic products. Pretty hard to deny our love of a good publicity stunt, then. Plus, on September 14th our BBC documentary involving the creation and distribution of homeopathic ‘QED Vodka’ will be screened. So, yeah, publicity stunts are our thing, really.

So when I saw that the Voice of Young Science are to take to the streets of London to hand out qualifications in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine, I was very interested indeed. Unfortunately, I can’t make it along to the event, so my practice of traditional old-wives-tale remedies will have to remain strictly that of an unlicensed amateur, but if you’re around and free, why not pop along and get yourself a qualification? It beats spending 5 years learning to be a ‘Doctor’ of homeopathy, and leaves you just as qualified to treat people. Details of the event are below, and you can RSVP on Facebook too (if you do, tell them we sent you!).

New Diploma in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine

Do you remember how your grandmother thought burns should be treated?  What happens to your hair if you don’t eat your crusts?  If you think you can answer questions like these and your hands are clean, why not become a registered practitioner of Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine?

The Voice of Young Science School of Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine will hit the streets of London on Wednesday, handing out diplomas for people to practice Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine. Young medics and researchers in lab coats will be registering members of the public who can correctly answer questions about traditional advice and cures.

Find out if you qualify for a diploma at the Department of Health, Richmond House, Whitehall, SW1A 2NS, on Wednesday 8th September 11.30 – 12.30.

The VoYS Network is launching its Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine Accreditation Scheme to draw attention to the Department of Health’s proposed professional registration scheme for practitioners of traditional medicine, which will regulate everything except whether a practitioner has medical training or is practicing an evidence-based discipline. Read the rest of this entry »

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Simon Jenkins Versus The ‘Bishops’ of Science (Mad Journalist Syndrome – Part 2)

Back in February, I wrote this blogpost in response to a Simon Jenkins opinion piece in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section, in which he accused scientists of scaremongering over the swine flu pandemic. My particular issue with the article (I had many) was Jenkins’ suggestion that because things didn’t turn out as badly as they could have, then we should have ignored ‘scientists’ and played it safe (that was the benefit of hindsight unironically extolled by Jenkins there). To me, Jenkins’ suggestion completely missed the point. The precautions taken to deal with the pandemic were for ‘potential’ danger – no-one could know for sure exactly what would happen, it was what ‘could’ happen that mattered. It was a weighing up of risk. The whole of Jenkins’ piece seemed motivated more by an irrational hatred of scientists than out of any reasonable or rational concern. It was not the first time Jenkins had done this either (see here, here and here) – the piece was just one in a long line of anti-science rants which Jenkins seems to randomly publish in the otherwise science-friendly Guardian, like taking a shit in the middle of a gateau.

Well, he’s done it again. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is Someone Warping My Space-Time?

On the first of April, New Scientist ran an article on its site with the daft title ‘Time Lords Discovered in California’. That title was just one in a long list of pointless references to Doctor Who, despite the fact that Doctor Who had bugger all to do with the article. They were just trying to be topical and trap the unwary web-surfer I suppose.

Another possible attempt at topicality was the date – April 1st being April Fool’s Day of course. Instantly, my brain was on skeptic-alert. Am I about to be had? Will I fall uncritically for a story with as much basis in reality as the spaghetti harvest? I can be on occasion quite gullible, despite being a skeptic. I suppose my involvement with skepticism is probably due in some degree to a form of damage limitation. Like putting my seatbelt on. But I digress. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Power of the Placebo: a skeptical view

Something has always bothered me about the placebo effect. And I don’t just mean the way it is co-opted by advocates of pseudomedical bollocks to justify their claims. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard defend homeopathy or acupuncture with the statement “It does work – it just works through the placebo effect”.

Well, no. If something works as well as a placebo, that’s the same as saying it doesn’t work. If a plain sugar pill works as well as a homeopathically treated sugar pill then – whatever else might be helping the patient feel better – it is not the homeopathy.

No, my problem is why a placebo helps at all. How can actively doing nothing be different from passively doing nothing? Mind over matter? I’m skeptical.

Read the rest of this entry »

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