Posts Tagged science

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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Mad Journalist Syndrome

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 »

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Skeptics in the Pub: Anniversary Special (formerly Andy Lewis)

Anniversary Bonanza

When: Thu, Feb 18, 2010 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Vines (aka the Big House), 81 Lime Street, Liverpool

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances our booked guest speaker Andy Lewis is unable to make this event. However, all is not lost – in honour of the first anniversary of the Merseyside Skeptics Society we’ve decided to replace Andy’s talk with a number of short talks on a variety of topics:

  • Emotional Freedom Technique, by Allan Callister – a look at the latest craze for face-tapping therapy
  • Bad Logic, Mike Hall – examining logical failures, with examples from the world of religion
  • PR and the Media, Michael Marshall – how PR gained control of journalism, and where we go from here
  • How Science Works, Tom Williamson – what is science, how do we do it and how do we know it works?

Plus, a live recording of the Skeptics with a K show.

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Of Men and Pterosaurs

So there I was, roaming ‘teh interwebs’ one last time before entering an extended Christmas weekend and going off radar, when I came across a link tweeted by a fellow Skeptic. It referred to something called ‘Project Pterosaur’. Interesting, I thought. I wonder what that’s about? So in the interest of simple human curiosity I clicked on the link.

Oh, and what glories did I behold! This site is the most fantastically bonkers and bewildering woo-stew I have ever seen. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, vacate the Earth or simply join in the fun these people seem to be having.

The main site is something called objectiveministries.org, and it is an ‘educational resource’ for Creation Science. These kinds of sites are everywhere, the most well-known being answersingenesis.org. They’re all attempts to push very skewed versions of reality onto the public under the pretense that science is some kind of ungodly blight that hides the ‘truth’. This site is no exception. The link above takes you to a particular article on the site, detailing the aforementioned Project Pterosaur.

So, what is this project? I’ll let Dr Richard Paley, the leader of the project explain it in his own words:

“The goal of Project Pterosaur is to mount an expedition to locate and bring back to the United States living specimens of pterosaurs or their fertile eggs, which will be displayed in a Pterosaur Rookery that will be the center piece of the planned Fellowship Creation Science Museum and Research Institute (FCSMRI). Furthermore, the rookery facility will establish a breeding colony of pterosaurs in order to produce specimens that could then be put on display by other regional institutions or church groups.”

Yes, you read that right. Project Pterosaur is an expedition to kidnap living pterosaurs – a clade of creatures the fossil record implies hasn’t existed since the cretaceous period – and put them in a special zoo. Presumably with a big sign saying: “Nur nur! Silly Evolutionists!” Read the rest of this entry »

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I Wonder: Real Medicine

Sometimes I wonder about wonder. I’ll clarify – lately I’ve been hearing the same kind of sentiment expressed in many different ways, and from sources ranging from woo-peddlers to people I love and respect: ‘The thing that gets me about skeptics and skepticism is they take the wonder out of life’. The notion of taking the wonder out of life has never sat easy with me – for one thing, I feel like life becomes more wonderful when you take the mysticism and superstition out of it. What’s more, once you’ve removed those extraneous distractions you’re able to appreciate the world for how it really is, and see the wonder that exists in reality. And in my eyes, somewhat ironically, one of areas where the wonder of a mysticism-free reality is most apparent is the very same area that tends to get the most criticism leveled at it: the defence of real medicine against the pseudomedical.

Right now, here at the Merseyside Skeptics Society, we’re well underway with our plans for the 10:23 campaign – a campaign which will become more vocal in the early parts of this year, and one which has had a somewhat mixed response in some circles. The reason for much of the criticism (excepting that of the predictably irate and irrational homeopathic community), arises where perhaps the intention behind the campaign is misunderstood. Because we’re looking to ‘take on’ homeopathy and the claims made by homeopaths, this is seen by some as an act of aggression and negativity. Plaintiff calls of ‘Leave them alone, everyone has a right to believe what they want!’ and ‘People should be free to choose what they like’ ring out in our general direction. But I think these complaints perhaps miss the point being made – it’s not a case of attacking pseudomedicine, it’s a case of defending conventional medicine from the attacks of those of the alternative industries. While doctors and surgeons and nurses save lives, homeopaths and chiropractors and acupuncturists lambast what they see as the failures of medicine, to the detriment of the reputation of real healthcare. Read the rest of this entry »

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Evidence Check Evidence Check (or; What The Papers Say)

Over the last couple of weeks, the Commons Committee on Science and Technology held a couple of their “evidence check” sessions, looking at homeopathy.  Sessions such as this are held to examine whether there is evidence to support government policy.

The oral hearings take the form of witnesses with relevant backgrounds being quizzed by committee members.  Witnesses for the first of these sessions included the legendary Ben Goldacre, Edzard Ernst from the University of Exeter, and Tracey Brown from the charity Sense About Science.  Speakers in favour of homeopathy included Paul Bennett from Boots, Peter Fisher from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, and Robert Wilson from the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers.

The big thing that came out of this hearing, from a rhetorical point of view, was the admission by Paul Bennett that Boots did not believe homeopathy to be effective – but they sell it anyway because of consumer demand.  This lead to us here at Merseyside Skeptics drafting An Open Letter to Alliance Boots, calling upon them to withdraw the product.  If you haven’t done so already, or even if you have, please check out the letter.  Digg it, tweet it, repost it, write about it.  Help up make some noise!

Ahem.

The pro-homeopathy witnesses, when challenged, mentioned a number of studies which they claimed supported the idea that homeopathy has strong effects beyond placebo.  So I thought I’d look up a few of the studies mentioned and see what those studies actually say.

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