Recently my Dad was diagnosed as having arthritis in his knees. Now I should say right from the beginning that I am skeptical even of this, given that the diagnosis apparently just involved my Dad telling the GP that his knees still hurt after a fall he had a few weeks ago, the GP looking at my Dad’s trousers for a few seconds (he never so much as asked him to roll up his trouser leg) and then noting the fact that my Dad is over 60 and so concluding that the pain is therefore the result of arthritic knees. But I am not going to focus on this aspect of the story as it is what happened next that really got my skeptical juices flowing.
Continue reading Magnetic Madness
As I am sure you have already heard the Pope has once again been offering up reasons why the sexual abuse of children by an alarmingly large number of Catholic priests isn’t all that bad after all. This time he has gone for the “Well they did it first” defence.
In his Christmas speech the Pope addressed the subject of child abuse by saying that “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children”. Yup, apparently in the 1970 everyone was just fine and dandy with the sexual abuse of children and so the Catholic Church, I’m guessing in an attempt to try and seem relevant and keep with the times, decided to start abusing children as well. See, it is all the secular worlds fault, they did it first, the Catholic Church was just going with the crowd. Seriously Catholic Church, if the secular world jumped off a bridge would you do it too?
Continue reading Hey if everyone is doing it then why not?
Firstly let me apologise for not having posted a blog entry in ages. I have simply been stupidly busy and haven’t really had a chance to do any of the things I have wanted to lately. That out of the way I thought I would come back with a bang. Now that they have finished shafting students with a 300% increase in tuition fees the UK Government are aiming to screw us over by changing something that will have a far more penetrating effect upon many of our lives – They want to take our porn away. Well to paraphrase Charlton Heston “From my cold dead, slightly callus, right hand”.
Continue reading So what else are we meant to use the internet for?
Yes, it is time for another ill-conceived and most likely fundamentally flawed online experiment to test something that in all likelihood no one else is remotely interested in other than me and which is presented with all the get up and go of a dead camel stung by a poisonous grave scorpion. Oh the fun. This time around we will be testing the pseudoscientific claim that by recording what we say and playing those messages backwards we can tell if someone is lying or not.
This strange claim is put forward by David Oates who runs an organisation called Reverse Speech Technologies. Reverse Speech is the idea that when we talk normally our subconscious minds encode messages into the words we choose that can only be identified by recording what we say and playing it backwards. These backwards messages are said to contain the true meaning of what we said as well as always speak the truth. Amongst the various uses for Reverse Speech Oates claims that Reverse Speech can be used to detect lies. Well them sound like fighting words to me and so I have put together a very simple experiment to test that claim. And that’s where you guys come in.
In order to test this claim I have put together a video, well technically two videos but who’s counting, that contains five statements, four of which are factual and one of which is a complete fabrication. After each statement is played you will hear it again only this time in reverse. If the claims of David Oates are accurate then you should be able to hear in the reverse versions of the five statements clues as to whether they are truthful or not. Once you have decided which of the five statements you believe is the false one then all you need to do is vote for that statement in the poll that you can access from a link in the information box below the second part of the video. Unlike my pervious experiment the results of how people have voted and the details of which statement is in fact the false one will be accessable immediately so you don’t have to sit around for ages waiting for me to make another video explaining how everything went.
Ok so it is not as sexy as testing psychic powers or debunking homeopathy, however as far as I can tell this is the very first time this specific pseudoscientific claim has been tested which means you will be a part of something no one has ever done before. To get involved, and I hope you will, go watch this video and simply follow the instructions you will find there. Sorry my video presentation is somewhat less than dynamic, that is really something I have to work on.
At this moment it is unclear if the proposed Burn a Koran Day will go ahead or not and I for one really hope it doesn’t. For those of you who have not heard about this the idea was dreamed up by Reverend Terry Jones, a Florida based pastor, as a protest against Islam and a memorial for those who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001, though obviously not for the Muslim victims. On the Facebook page for this event Reverend Jones has stated the following:
“On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm – 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!”
As I write this the latest on this story seems to be that, after stating earlier that the event would be cancelled, Reverend Jones plans to “rethink” the idea after local Muslim leader Imam Muhammad Musri denied that any deal had been struck to move the proposed Park51 community centre away, sorry make that further away, from the Ground Zero site. Jones has stated that on Saturday, the day planned for the Koran burning, he will be travelling to New York to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf about the proposed location of the centre. However it is unclear if the actual book burning part of his plan is back on or not.
Either way the reason I mention this is in order to draw attention to what I think is by far the best response to this proposed event that I have come across so far. International Read a Book Day. I love this idea, not just because I love reading anyway but because I feel it is exactly the sort of approach that should be taken against something stupid like Burn a Koran Day. It is a reasoned, measured reaction that clearly gets the point across, shows solidarity and respect for people who may believe differently than we do and promotes something constructive. What’s more is that the people behind this are Christians. Yup for once we see moderate Christians standing up against the more fundamental members of their religion. Here’s what Facebook page has to say on the matter:
“In July of this year, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida announced September 11 this year would be “Burn a Koran Day.” We believe that the burning of a Koran, or any other book, while it may be within the rights of free speech, is a tasteless and disturbing gesture that only communicates contempt and ignorance. Instead, we invite the international community to celebrate “Read a Book Day.” Burning books has never made a society better, but reading them has.”
So this September 11th I will be sitting down to read a book and remembering all those who died on that terrible day nine years ago. Will you join me?
So you have probably heard this story already, or if not other stories like it. In Kenya officials are trying to stem a growing panic caused by a rumour that ghostly red numbers are appearing on mobile phones and killing people. Many people in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have been forwarding this story on to their friends and families via text messages, warning them not to receive calls which will appear in red, resulting in the hysteria spreading to other major towns in the country. These messages read:
“Please don’t attend to any calls from 7888308001, 9316048121, 9876266211, 9888854137 and 9876715587, these numbers come in red colour…you may get brain haemorrhage due to high frequency”
Now this may sound crazy but it is still more believable than the version of this urban legend that popped up in Pakistan in 2007. Here it was claimed that listening to phone calls coming from red numbers would result in men becoming impotent and, get this, woman falling pregnant. Now I am no expert on reproduction but even with my limited knowledge I am pretty sure that’s not how things works. Meanwhile back in Kenya the Communication Commission have been investigating these claims and have put out the statement below, which prompted me to comment on this in the first place.
“Upon analysis of the messages, the Commission has established the warnings are a hoax generated by unscrupulous people bent on causing fear and despondency among members of the public. The listed numbers are non-existent as mobile, fixed or international calls,’
Maybe it is just my years as a battle hardened skeptic but I required no further analysis than reading the title of the article to know that this story was complete horse hockey. I think this just goes to show why skepticism and critical thinking skills are so important. In a world where everyone had a basic understanding of how to apply skeptical thinking to their daily lives things like this would simply never gain traction. This sort of thing, as well as a lot of email driven hoaxes, rely on the credulousness of the people receiving the messages in order to propagate. With something like this I don’t even think you need to have an understanding of the technology used by mobile phones to see that it is bunkum. It just requires taking a few seconds to see if it passes the sniff test.
But maybe my strong reaction to this story come not from the fact that I find it so amazing that people would fall for this, as reality tells us that there are a lot of credulous people out there, but rather because, to my mind at least, it represents something of a failure on our part. I know that we have to choose our battles and that there are a lot more pressing subjects that need our attention. But really things like this always leave me feeling somewhat depressed. Just as I think we are making progress a story like this reminds me just how far we have to go in getting the world to think skeptically.
This is a completely unintentional follow on of sorts from my previous post about how non-scientists and the general public are most definitely not the right people to be making decisions of a scientific nature. Now while the subject has nothing to do with synthetic biology this time round I think the underlying feeling of this story is pretty much the same.
Legislators in San Francisco are set to introduce new laws requiring all mobile phone retailers to post radiation emission level notices next to all the handsets they sell. Tony Winnicker, spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, claims that this “is a modest commonsense measure to provide greater transparency and information to consumers” and the proposal, which passed with a vote of 10-1, is likely to get its final approval next week despite the fact that there is NO EVIDENCE that mobile phones cause any harm to humans.
Continue reading San Francisco legislators clearly have irradiated brains
I came across this story on the BBC website this morning that, as a skeptic and someone with a keen, if purely amateur, interest in science, gave me considerable pause. A joint report issued by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) shows that the public is calling for the regulation of Synthetic biology. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, after all ever since Craig Venter created the first artificial cell it should have been obvious to anyone that this was coming, and it is not as though a bit of regulation is a bad thing. However what got me about this report is the level of control the general public is calling for.
The resulting report concluded that people wanted scientists who worked with the bits and pieces of life to do so with humility and respect for the material they were working with.
It also showed that people wanted to have a say in how the research was conducted and how grants were awarded. There should be consideration of social values as well as scientific merit, they said.
Now I don’t know about you but I can’t think of anyone who would be worse than the general public when it comes to evaluating the benefits of various areas of scientific research. I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who can’t help but read the words “humility and respect” and think “must not play God.” The general public as a group stopped getting itself vaccinated due to one ethically vile over reported paper. It now doubts climate change due to the use of the word “trick” in a couple of emails. And it spends millions every year on alternative medicine that, to put it bluntly, doesn’t work. This is hardly the right group of people to be making decisions about a new cutting edge area of scientific research. This is exactly what we have, oh what are they called, ah yes, experts for.
Ok, that is all. Please return to your daily lives.
So in case you don’t know today is Everyone Draw Mohammed Day, a day one which everyone is encouraged to draw a picture of the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a way of calling the bluff of the extremists that threaten violence against those that do just that. Now I have to admit that I am still in two minds about this. On the one hand I do think it is important to stand up to these people and show that threatening violence against people for drawing a picture will not be accepted and will not stop us from doing so. Freedom of expression baby. On the other hand I find the whole thing slightly off putting for reasons I can’t really put into words. I’m generally not a confrontational person and this all seems a bit too much like getting up in someone’s face for my liking.
Continue reading Pakistan makes our point for us
Ok so I’m stealing this directly from Phil Plait’s latest post so no points for originality here. But I just love this idea.
S.H.O.O.T. are basically militant atheists, tasked with hunting down supernatural creatures, especially those of religious significance, that they don’t even believe in….every time you read a comic about someone fighting the supernatural, they’re really doing it on the supernatural’s own terms. If you’re fighting a vampire, you bring stakes and holy water – that kind of thing. I don’t think there’s ever been a team like “S.H.O.O.T.” that basically thinks it’s all bunk, and just goes after any threat with science and bullets, and scientific bullets.
Scientific Bullets?!? AWESOME.
That said this does raise some interesting questions in my mind. Right there in the description of what this new comic is all about is the implication that atheists wouldn’t believe in something supernatural even as they were fillings its non-corporeal arse with scientific lead. This is an argument that often comes up when dealing with proponents of the supernatural, that atheists and skeptics are simply closed minded to the existence of supernatural powers and would thus dismiss any evidence that supported it…apparently even as they engage in a face to face, life to death fight with it!
To me this is a truly ridiculous idea. I for one know exactly what it would take to get me to believe in any supernatural claim. Evidence, good, honest to Darwin, stone cold solid evidence.* Show me high quality, scientific evidence that vampires exist and, no matter how incredulous that idea may be right now, I would accept it. The same goes any other supernatural claim, including those made by the various world religions.
I am not closed to the idea of the supernatural and certainly not to the point that I would reject it even as I bust a cap in its face. But you need to give me something here people if you wish me to take your claims seriously. I would love the supernatural to be real, I really would, but I am not just going to take someone’s word for it. You want me to believe you? Then show me the evidence.
* Though I guess technically if you presented evidence for the supernatural then it would no longer be supernatural but rather simply yet more natural. Hmmmm.