Posts Tagged science
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 »
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
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.
Liverpool and the Large Hadron Collider
by Phil Allport
When: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Vines (aka the Big House), 81 Lime Street, Liverpool
The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, including the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson.
Dr Phil Allport will be talking to the MSS about the involvement of Liverpool and other UK universities in the design and construction of the LHC experiments, as well as the schedule for the accelerator’s projected 20 years of operation.
Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
On the 14th January, Simon Jenkins published an article online at the Guardian’s Comment is Free section entitled: “Swine Flu is as Elusive as WMD. The Real Threat is Mad Scientist Syndrome.”, in which he criticised both scientists and the government for what he saw as scare tactics and misinformation in the handling of the swine flu outbreak. The article annoyed me a little, but I had food in the oven, and as I’m a man who lives on his stomach (to paraphrase Dr. Bruce Banner, you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry), I forgot about it and went about my merry way.
A week later, the article began to surface from the sea of my subconscious and I grew increasingly irked. I gradually came to realise that it was a much more frustrating article than I had initially given it credit for. Read the rest of this entry »