Posts Tagged Merseyside

Can video gaming help save lives?

Gamers get a bad rep in society (no seriously, we did a panel on it at QED) but every year gamers of all kinds get together to do something brilliant: Extra Life. What is Extra Life? It’s a fundraising event started by gamers back in 2008 which has raised over $40 million for children’s hospitals. Each year from November 3rd people all over the world stream marathons of games of all kinds: from video games to Dungeons and Dragons. They do it not for prestige or fake internet points, but to fund lifesaving treatments for sick kids.

A blue background with a family (two parents, two kids, two grandparents) playing a board game. Over is white lettering saying "game day is November 3!" and the Extra Life logo with the tagline "play games, heal kids" plus the logo for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals'"

MSS have never been involved with Extra Life before, but this year more than any other it’s something I feel strongly about so I reached out. Why?

On April 28th a little boy named Alfie Evans passed away from an untreatable, progressive neuro-degenerative disorder. If you’re a layman like me, translation: he was born with a rare genetic disorder that affected his brain and got worse over time. You may have heard of Alfie Evans, probably not for the excellent work of the doctors and nurses who treated him during his 18 month stay in the ICU at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital here in Liverpool, but for the extended legal case between Alfie’s parents and Alder Hey which dominated the news in the early part of this year.

You can read more about the case all over the internet, but it is an unfortunate example of where religious agenda, poor media reporting and pseudoscience can harm not only patients; but hospitals and scientific institutions who become embroiled in their controversy. It is estimated that Alder Hey Children’s Hospital spent over £145,000 in legal fees during the case which concluded that continued life support was ‘unkind and inhumane’, and with pediatric ICU beds costing the NHS around £2000 per day that could amount to an additional £250,000 during the time where Alfie was kept on ventilators against doctors advice.

However, people’s lives are worth more than money: and the most heartbreaking thing about this case was not the NHS funds that could have been used elsewhere but the unnecessary suffering endured by Alfie himself, the exploitation of Alfie’s parents grief and the abuse of Alder Hey staff at the hands of misinformed protesters dubbed ‘Alfies Army’. My thoughts go out to Alfie’s parents, the families of seriously ill children everywhere, and I stand in solidarity with the medical professionals who work bravely and tirelessly each day to do what is objectively best for their patients. Even in the face of hostility from media and misguided public opinion.

A photo of Alder Hey Children's Hospital - the hospital was recently redesigned and rebuilt using ideas from children. Two of the blocks of windows are surrounded by coloured tiling and the roof is curved and sloped.

Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

So this year for Extra Life MSS are kindly donating £250 to Alder Hey, thank you! November 3rd has come and gone, but it’s not too late to join in by donating yourself, or watching and supporting an Extra Life stream to see what all this gamer stuff is about.

A photo of Lana's face. Lana is white with blondish red, straight hair just past her shoulders. She's wearing a black top and smokey dark eye make up. She is looking at the camera and smiling.

Lana Donaghy

Lana Donaghy is a former games developer and professional video gamer: spending years questing through Azeroth, competing with some of the world’s top World of Warcraft players. These days Lana works in software development and is still a devoted gamer who loves esports. If you want to read more of her ramblings and obscure video game jargon or see pictures of her cat you should check out her twitter @lanadonaghy

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Skeptics in the Pub: Deborah Hyde

Unnatural Predators

Deborah Hyde
by Deborah Hyde

When: Thursday, July 21st, 2011 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool

Deborah Hyde will tell us about cultural aspects of the religious and superstitious experience. This evening we will discuss and answer such questions as:

  • Why do the dead chew in their graves?
  • Why do vampires strike in autumn?
  • Why do ghosts live in electric clocks?

A gory talk full of the unexpected, it’s a round-up of the folklore of the macabre.

About Deborah

Deborah has been writing about the supernatural for nearly two decades. She blogs on ‘Superstition, Religion and Being Human’ as ‘Jourdemayne’ but often suffers from mission creep.

She’s also one of the organisers of Westminster Skeptics and is Editor-in-Chief of the Skeptic Magazine. Her daytime, grown-up job is a makeup effects coordinator in the film industry – more vampires and zombies, then.

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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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NHS Wirral and The North West Friends Of Homeopathy: A Typical Wednesday Evening Out

I’ve had a rather interesting evening. Last week, MSS member and local councillor Darren Dodds alerted me to the fact that Wirral NHS were holding an open meeting to discuss whether to continue funding homeopathy in the region, with the recommendation being very much ‘No, we absolutely shouldn’t’. Needless to say, I agree with this recommendation, and wanted to go along to let them know that I – and by extension the hundred or more local MSS members – applaud their step in the right direction. Interested parties should read the report they came up with, it’s really pretty good. Some highlights:

The paper concludes that the lack of evidence on efficacy and cost-effectiveness of homeopathic therapies means that it should not be a high priority for the PCT at this time. It is recommended that NHS Wirral does not commission homeopathictherapies.

The key risk is that NHS Wirral fails to maintain its reputation as an evidence-based commissioning PCT.

Excellent stuff. Still, it seems we weren’t the only ones made aware of the open meeting – also invited were patients currently or formerly using homeopathy, and the ‘North West Friends of Homeopathy‘. This latter group are most interesting, and I’ll come back to them a little later in more detail, but first it’s worth pointing out that I appeared on local radio with a member of the group on Monday morning, in an exchange that might amuse, and will certainly give a far better impression of who John Cook is than I could ever do justice with words. UK-based readers can listen here, it starts around the 2hour 13minute mark and lasts about 10 minutes. I’ll wait.

For those not able, willing or interested in listening, what we have from John is a charming ability to hog a conversation, and the maniacal insistence that the date of the meeting was aired. Clearly, John wanted his supporters to arrive mob-handed. Fair enough, he probably feels he has a strong case. As it was, when I arrived with a couple of other MSS members there were maybe 40 or so people present, a number which I presume to be in excess of the general norm for these meetings.

John, having lobbied for inclusion, was amongst the speakers, joined by Dr. Hugh Neilsen BA MA BM BCh MRCP FFHom (it’s worth pointing out that his name is actually Hugh Nielsen, and the NWFoH’s own website, while painstaking in it’s detail of Hugh’s many qualifications, mispells the name of their own president), and the panel was completed by two local GPs who were involved in making the recommendation, and who spent the evening ranging between bemused, compassionate and at times startled. Startled, not least, by the quite spectacular opening by John, the homeopath’s friend (which I imagine is rather like a Fisherman’s Friend, but lacking in clout), in which he directed a quite flattering string of insults at me directly, and at the Merseyside Skeptics Society. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dogs, Doom and Dictators

Last weekend, the Bluecoat gallery in Liverpool hosted a day of events under the title Views From The Grassy Knoll. It was a mixture of talks, screenings and performances covering everything from conspiracy theories and art, to science and politics. It also included an overview of what Skepticism is by Gavin Schofield from the Greater Manchester Skeptics, which I sadly missed but which I heard was a very good talk.

The headline lecture was 2012 by Dr Bill Aitchison, a performance artist and researcher. I was lucky enough to be able to make this one, albeit fifteen minutes late, and found it a very interesting and entertaining, if strange, experience. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Helping Hand Of God In The Unibond League

I’m about to do something a lot of you will likely frown on. I’m aware of this, and I do apologise. I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps all of those sugar pills last weekend scrambled my brain. Perhaps aliens visited me at night and implanted this wild, crazy and completely inappropriate idea into my mind (hey, at least they stayed up THAT end this time). Perhaps I’m just spoiling for a rumble. In any case, there’s no getting away from it, this is happening:

I’m going to talk about football.

I know, I know, IknowIknowIknow. You guys, our lovely readers, are scientists, science fans, and generally science types. As am I. But when I’m not talking Cold Reading with psychics, organising mass non-suicide or generally being a good-for-nothing skeptic, there are few things I love more than settling down to a good match. The poetry of movement, the grit of teamwork, the drama, the excitement, the cliches.

Oh, and the batshit lunacy.

I’ve spoken elsewhere about the superstition rife in football (it was my handy hook to hang the story of Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie’s horse placenta treatment on, you may recall. If you can’t recall, please head over and have a read. Horse placentas. Lol. Etc.), but this time I’m bringing things back home. We are, after all, the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and no amount of International campaign-running (yes, I’m going to milk 10:23 for all of the kudos I can get, what of it?) will change that. Which is why when I was sent this article by a listener to our podcast, I just had to take a look at it. Read the rest of this entry »

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