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Skeptobot



Collecting together links to bad science and super natural nonsense so we Renaissance men and women can point and laugh.



Updated: 2017-12-13T08:31:22.718+00:00

 



Good bye old friend.

2011-07-21T10:24:56.284+00:00

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Today we are less than yesterday.


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Co-op VS Christian Voice, Good: Visa VS Wikileaks, Bad - keeping cognitive dissonance in check

2010-12-29T02:54:22.649+00:00

An important disclaimer: If I had to wrap my positive feelings about Christian Voice to place under the Christmas tree then I would end up being visited by three ghosts, who would proclaim me a scrooge. They would take me to the past, present and future of Christian Voice before apologising for wasting my time, shaking my hand and heading off to pick on its director, Stephen Green.Christian Voice (CV) are a diminutive, pointless, homophobic group given a ridiculous amount of undue exposure in the media, due to an honourable but badly applied understanding of what balance requires. I do not believe they represent the views of the average Christian – but at the same time I wish moderate Christians were a lot more vocal in distancing themselves from them. So hopefully no one can mistake this article to be in anyway supportive of CV. They’re dicks.I say this because I’ve noticed something interesting on twitter this evening. My timeline (a typically skeptical and rational group) has become inundated with people congratulating Co-op on their treatment of CV. In short, Co-op refused CV banking and asked them to leave due to CV’s homophobia. The CV’s version of events can be read hereIf I ran a bank, the last people I would want opening an account are the CV. Obviously. But the support for the actions of the Co-op that I saw on twitter seems easily given and without due consideration.Especially considering the story is from 2005 and is currently bubbling up again as old stories are want to do.It was only the other side of xmas that the same feed was outraged that VISA, Mastercard, Amazon and Paypal decided to cancel Wikileaks ability to bank and receive donations.It would be easy to become distracted now about the reasons behind the cancellation of services provided to Wikileaks and crucially to anyone who wanted to donate to them. Whether it was due to Government pressure; and/or the fear of cables related to banks*; or even claimed ToS violations**The cognitive dissonance between these two view points should be apparent. As rational thinkers it should be obvious that we can not simultaneously support and condone banks for restricting financial operations to organisations based purely on whether we like that organisation. Should British Gas also request Christian Voice get another energy provider?No matter the reason for the retraction of service it doesn’t justify the actions that were taken. In either case.There is currently a battle to preserve and promote Net Neutrality and deal with the idiocies of the Digital Economy Bill. In which people were, rightly, horrified about the idea that people might lose their internet access on accusations of copy right infringement. This is an important issue because it is nearly impossible to function without an internet connection. You lose your voice, your access to knowledge and the ability to function in society.The same is true with banking facilities. Without access to money your ability to function becomes impossible. An issue which becomes ever more significant with the move away from physical to digital money.The counter argument is that as an ethical bank, Co-op was merely sticking to it’s principles. However, ethical banking means that the banks commits to investing your money in organisations and actions which are consider ethical. To ensure that it does not use your money to profit from actions you consider unethical. It does not, and should not, mean that you have to pass a morality test to join; because that places the bank (and not consumer) as the arbiter of what is ethical.If we find it acceptable for the Co-op to refuse to allow homophobes the right to bank then it is only fair that we consider it acceptable for a non-ethical bank to refuse homosexuals the right to bank.Regardless of your position towards Christian Voice or Wikileaks it is crucial that organisations are allowed to function and can not be neutered and censored by corporations acting outside the law.Democracy stands by the assertion that you don’t censor people [...]



The time I saw a ghost.

2010-12-20T23:45:09.393+00:00

It is christmas and that means we need a ghost story. This is mine.So as a kid I was obsessed with the paranormal. Properly obsessed. UFOs, ghosts, supernatural powers, the whole deal. It was pre-internet so all this arcane knowledge had to be deciphered from from tatty second hand books pilfered from car boot sales and dusty shops.Eventually I headed to secondary school and where I was lucky enough to encounter some tremendous science teachers. They infected me with the scientific method and, surprisingly, it didn't immunise me from the paranormal at all. It strengthened my belief in it. For I knew I could use the scientific method to prove it all true. But over time being skeptical and scientific knocked down the crazy things I wanted to be true. One little piece at a time. I saw the contradictions and intentional reproductions of previously admitted hoaxes and began to lose faith in the paranormal community.But then I saw a ghost.I would often walk down by the canal near my house. The entrance was especially pretty with trees overhanging the path that opened up to a view of a metal bridge and the canal itself.Then one day as I walked up to that path I saw a man with his back to me. He was wearing jeans, and a top that was a green, or maybe blue. He had dark brown hair and he was clearly staring at the water from the bridge.I was certain he was going to jump and try to kill himself. Completely certain. I remember my heart leaping. Striking my chest like a solid punch. I actually shouted out to him, but he ignored me. I was so worried I was routed to the spot. Eventually I snapped out of it, shouted again and rushed towards him.He disappeared.I don't think I've ever felt fear like I did when the suicidal man disappeared. I was rooted to the spot again with fear. I was physically shaking; a sudden cold washed over me and I didn't know what to do. So I just stood there.It all made sense, it was a ghost of a man who jumped to his death. It wasn't a tall bridge, but the water was full of junk and he was bound to have got caught on a trolley or something, been unable to resurface, and drowned. As it was suicide he had never found peace and was stuck repeating what had already happened.As shaken as I was I suddenly realised I was right, and I was damn well going to use science to prove it. And so, on little more than a whim, I started pacing around the area I had been standing before I moved.I must have looked a little strange.I stood there inching around and moving my head this way and that for maybe 5 minutes. Which is a very long time to be acting like that. And it all seemed fruitless. But science requires rigour and so I stuck at it.Eventually I got the ghost to return.The branches of the trees were crossing the bridge in such a way that they outlined a crude shape of a man. The colour of the canal, grass, sky and concrete filled in the shape with jeans and a top, and gave him a reasonable head of hair.As the wind blew the trees the image came and went and never had the absolute, complete reality that it's first appearance had, but even now I knew what was happening, it was a damn impressive optical illusion.I was astonished at what a complete picture and story my mind had created with just this simple nudge from a random arrangement of the environment. If I was in a rush and had to keep walking, if I couldn't have spent all that time tilting my head this way and that like a moronic bird then to this day I would still be willing to bet my life, and that of my families, on the existence of a ghost on that bridge. I also realised that not once in the retelling of the tale would I ever think to mention the overhanging branches and soon I would forget they were even there. No skeptic, no matter how talented, would be able to solve the mystery from the most honest testimony I could give. But I had the time, the good fortune, and scientific curiosity to stop and stare and rock back and forth and to test. And so I managed to disprove my very own ghost, and in doing so I go[...]



Julian Assange & Wikileaks

2010-11-30T21:40:24.102+00:00

So I haven't made my mind up about Wikileaks latest release. I believe Wikileaks is hugely important and yet I see some valid criticisms about the cables release. But that's ok, because you don't have to immediately have an opinion about things. At the moment I think the good outweighs the bad. If only because whenever a member of the government tries to use the argument "if you've done nothing wrong you've nothing to hide" we can reply "so you support wikileaks?"But I reserve the right to change that opinion. In politics thats called flip-floppig and frowned upon. In science it's just being sensible.Nevertheless I've seen a few interesting links around (mostly via reddit) that I would like to share.1) The Internet Archives copy of Julian Assange's old blogAssange's blog is only a few years old and makes interesting reading. My current favourite quote being:Wed 03 Jan 2007 : WitnessingEvery time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whos hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering. Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them. The first part of which hits home with a great deal of pain. I type this whilst people starve, or are tortured, or denied medical care and I do so little about it. I find it interesting how, at least in my opinion, The Internets collective response to such a blog would have been cynicism, criticism and accusations of being 'emo' and self-indulgent. When instead it is the thoughts of someone with the conviction to change the world.2) A TED talk by Julian Assange on why we need Wikileaks.Haven't watched this yet, but I'm currently downloading it for tomorrows commute. 3) Sarah Palin wants to hunt Assange like a terrorist.Or at least according to the star. She's a wonderful person.[...]



Crop Circles

2010-11-15T08:04:58.945+00:00

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The standard argument for crop circles is so preposterous that it borders on a straw man — that they are too complex to have been created by humans. The fact that crop circles are almost always documented by ELECTRONIC EYES being wielded by people flying inside GIANT HOVERING METAL BUGS so that the believers in humanities inadequacies can talk about them via A HUMUNGOUS INTERCONNECTED NETWORK OF MILLIONS OF TURING COMPLETE MACHINES is rather conviently forgotten. Hence this little comic.

EDIT: This image is currently the top post on skeptic board over at reddit. Here is the comment thread which includes some great discussion on what oil is made from. I will be needing to update my pic I think.

You've no doubt noticed the complete lack of action by myself here on the site, or on Twitter. Real life has not been kind recently and so I've not been left with any time or energy to write. The cause of this absence would make a good post in itself, but I would rather wait till events settle.

I've always tried to hold myself to high standards on this blog, but at the moment that means writing nothing at all. So I'm trying a new approach. I will attempt an update every sunday or monday - but it can be as silly and throwaway as this one.

Better than nothing I guess?



Being an atheist has nothing to do with my protest of the pope today.

2010-09-18T12:04:35.110+00:00

Trying to write more - so here's a quick missive before I head out the door to todays protest. Whilst ill as a very ill thing.

I find it fascinating that it appears assumed that most people protesting the pope will be atheists. Is it true?

Either way that assumption allows Joseph Ratzinger to diminish all criticism as being the work of 'aggressive atheists' hating God.

This morning as 'thousands' head towards Hyde Park Corner to protest the easiest way that our comments can be ignored is by people being able to diminish the protest as purely atheist in nature.

That as an atheist I can't criticise the sexist treatment of women, or the luddite and murdering approach to contraception (especially with the regards to HIV and Africa), or the systematic and calculated cover up of the abuse of children because deep down I'm really complaining that these people believe in God.

I find this absurd. But, listening to the words of the ppe during this trip, in all his silly hats surrounded by pomp and parade, I've realised something. His comments against the 'secularising of UK society' and 'marginalising of faith' in this country is not a plee to become a Catholic. Although obviously he would like that. The reason for all these strong words is to fence off the secular and atheistic view point in the minds of the general public.

I think he wants to remind people that religion is magic, and thus so criticising it is dangerous, and even if you are apathetic towards it you need to respect it.

In addition, the unfair position that the Pope has been given due to his position as 'head of state' (of a citizen-less state no less) is a reason to protest today all by itself. If we gave state visits to the heads of every faith then this would be acceptable, but as it stands the Pope has been given a position above any other faith to come to the UK and criticise our way of life. Which we will pay for the pleasure for.

So, that being the case, a defence of our way of life is just.

It isn't due to my lack of a belief in God that I protest today – but because I do believe that, for all it's flaws, when it comes to equality, family planning and religion this country is progressive and civilised and as such closer to any God than the man that today will wear a silly hat inside a stupidly named car who preaches famine as contraception and that no women can ever equal a man.

Even though, in my opinion, no God exists. Obviously.



A skeptical look at TAM:London

2010-05-23T17:53:12.516+00:00

I'm pretty certain The Amazing Meeting (TAM) is an awesome event. I say pretty certain because I've never been able to afford it. It's in the USA and is part of that Las Vegas Big Conference wizz-bang that puts it out of my price league. Surprisingly becoming a Doctor of Astrophysics didn't create the defacto independently wealthy lifestyle one might expect; Doctor Who lied to me.But now that it has come to London.... and, well, I still can't afford it.I state this not to moan about the price (although I will discuss it) but because I write from a position of ignorance and want that to be understood from the start.First, I think it is important that I take a few paragraphs to emphasise how important the James Randi Educational Foundation is to me (but feel free to skip to the nitty gritty).After reading swift for what seemed an age I joined the forum back in January 2002 (eons ago in internet-time). It was the foundry that pushed me into becoming a blogger.As a child I was obsessed with the Paranormal/UFOs and the like. I had so many books on the subject that they filled a giant 6ft chest. My first Wünderkammer. This was pre-internet so I would rummage around boot sales and 2nd hand shops picking up exciting looking tomes of forbidden knowledge; everything from Ancient Civilizations to Zombies via Ball Lightning, Cryptozoology, Kirlian Photography, Psychic Plants and so on.Then later, starting 'big school' a series of excellent teachers awoke within me a love of science. Now science is not a series of facts but a process. Once it gets under your skin your can't help to apply that logic to every aspect of your life and interests.And so my obsession with the paranormal met the scientific method and piece by piece it crumbled. I took my beloved interest and tore it down piece by piece day by day.But it wasn't tragic or sad. It was enlightening. I was working out how wonderful the real world was - not this make believe one I inhabited previously. My only frustrations were aimed at the authors who I could see intentionally recycling claims long ago disproven. I felt alone and voiceless; there was this community of paranormal researchers and I had no voice to hold them to account with.And the JREF changed all that. It wasn't until university that I personally acquired a consistent internet connection (a statement that on reflection seems preposterous) and would waste so long in the library hoovering up not just information but the realisation I was not alone. James Randi - my god damning hero.Now there is such a huge skeptic and new-atheist movement that it seems crazy for someone of that inclination to be so isolated. But I was.The JREF's outreach activities directly lead to this blog and to who I am today. I briefly met Randi at 'An Evening with James Randi and Friends' and it was a huge moment in my life.So lets make this clear — the JREF and James Randi are massively important. Not just to me personally but for our society.But one of skepticism's strengths is self criticism. So lets be critical.Lets start with the price. The ticket for TAMLondon, is £220. Some people have argued that this is extortionate. An Evening with Randi and friends, had 11 speakers and cost £11 for about 300 people. A five fold increase in seats and the cost rising by a factor of twenty is quite shocking at first glance.But it is preposterous to argue that JREF are ripping people off because: a) they are holding the meeting in a central London Hilton Hotel which doesn't come cheap, b) there is an International line up of speakers to fly in and c) it's raising money for the charity that is the JREF. d) the first TAM:London cost £150 (ish) and sold out not in days, but in hours. The demand, even at those prices is there.So the price is well justified, despite how counter intuitive it first appears that as attendance numbers rise so do the costs. That said I do think there are a numbe[...]



A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill: A deal with the devil worth making

2010-05-12T22:27:45.886+00:00

I doubt many of the readers of this site will be that happy with Cameron in power. I know I'm not. But, I contend that 5 years of Cameron is worth it. Even if he looks like his greasy carapace might crack open at any moment to release a David Icke Lizard Man.Because the protection of civil liberties that this new parliament will provide is more important in the long term than the damage he may do to our public services. I was too young during Thatchers years to really appreciate what she did to the country. It was only during Major that I started to (crudely) understand the pain and inequality they brought to my (strangely tory voting) parents. Blair's new labour were the only labour party in power I had experienced, so their new nomenclature was more or less irrelevant. And whilst many people had hope for this new way, by the time I could vote the reality of Blair's government had made itself apparent to me.As such for many of us this election has been extremely difficult. The continual, systematic, piece by piece dismantling of civil liberties by Labour since the Twin Towers attacks has been such a tremendous long term threat to our freedoms that the idea of allowing them to continue unabated with another term was unthinkable.As unthinkable as allowing the Tories back in.And with the corrupt First Past the Post system preventing the Lib Dems from holding a number of seats in anyway representing the 7 million votes they would eventually receive it seemed we were doomed.But the hung parliament and the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition has produced a unique chance to undo so much of this mess.The overlap in the venn diagram of Lib Dem/Con policies is such that any areas on which they do they agree are areas they need to push with all their strength in order to convince the public (and themselves) that they are a strong and stable government. This is the best situation we could have possibly hoped for — as if their is one area where these parties do agree it is Civil Liberties. I now quote from the full text of the coalition agreement document produced by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. §10 is a doozy.10. Civil liberties The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion. This will include: A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill. The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database. Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission. The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency. Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database. The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury. The restoration of rights to non-violent protest. The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech. Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation. Further regulation of CCTV. Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.I began to bold the most important parts of that list. But I stopped, because each and every part is so very, very important.The end of the system to systematically record every email sent and every url visited. The end of ID Cards. A commitment to libel reform. It's pretty much everything I've talked about on this blog.As such I wait with bated breath over the future of the Digital Economy Bill (and, of course, voting reform). With Clegg we have a liberal deputy prime minister who stated that he would break the law and lead a campaign of civil disobedience over ID cards. It is also reassuring that he will admit to being an atheist. We've been at a truly fundamental turning point in our history. On[...]



Insane Clown Feynman

2010-04-20T15:10:44.008+00:00

I'm guessing you've seen the music video 'Miracles' by the Insane Clown Posse? If you haven't pop off and watch it now, otherwise this blog post won't make sense. We'll wait.

I'm obsessed with it. It's funny, but yet still quite inspiring and despite reeking of Poe's Law it somehow consolidates and captures the mindset of those who celebrate the 'wonderful mystery of ignorance' — that scientists are evil lying people who somehow drain the beauty of the world by trying to understand it.

So here's my rebuttal, which I made by borrowing the wise words of Richard Feynman:

(object) (embed)
Incidentally in doing so I've just broken the UK's Digital Economy Act - I'ld be guilty till proven innocent if a copyright holder took offence. And to prove it was fair use I'ld have to be able to pay....





The Digital Economy Bill passed: The internet watched live as a handful of MPs ignored democracy in their attempts to control that which they don't understand.

2010-04-08T09:01:17.660+00:00

Yesterday we watched the 2nd reading of the Digital Economy Bill. Today we watched the 3rd reading. In short: Democracy wasn't present. Those wishing to censor ideas have been given a most powerful weapon. Culture will suffer. Whilst creators will gain nothing.My girlfriend and I gathered on the couch. Laptops out. Phones out. TV on. Twitter buzzing, Youtube satirising. Forums racing. People don't merely consume anymore. To just consume doesn't even make sense.During the minuscule 2 hours the 2nd reading took one man mashed up the #DEBill twitter feed with the parliament feed onto his TV to avoid having to multitask so much. He published his work so others could do the same. Remixing, reusing, editing.Overnight one excellent person remixed one particularly inane part of the 2nd reading to make a very important point:Remixing, reusing, editing.Open letters were written. Crowd sourced lists of the MPs in attendance were pulled together.20,000 wrote to their MPs. Thousands protested or rang MPs. #DEBill became the top trending topic on Twitter.Globally. There are 646 MPs. About 40 turned up for the second reading. About 16 made it to the end.The third reading has been just as bad. Almost Empty. 2 hours given to debate amendments to 50 clauses. The first clause took 1hr. The last 49 were glossed over in the last hour. Ten minutes before the vote labour MPs put down their drinks, pulled themselves out of the bar and stumbled in to vote for the Bill. Having listened to nothing. Disgusting.WikiLeaks has been releasing hugely important videos this week. The USA has been trying to shut them down, for leaking footage of an american helicopter killing Reuters Journalists in Iraq. John Hemming MP (Lib, Birmingham) is a member of the BPI. His money comes from media. If anyone should support the bill it should be him. But instead he calls it 'Absurd.'Why? Because he states that the Bill will allow the USA (or others) to claim copyright on that video and shut down the website and forbid sharers of it access to the internet. Despite it's important worth.John Redwood MP (Con, Wokingham) agreed: "This is really about Censorship on the Web" - John Redwood MPThe true hero was Tom Watson (Labour MP) who quickly came to be the people's champion. His criticism of the bill didn't stop with the preposterous technical issues (ip address are not fingerprints) or the equally preposterous human rights violations (guilty till proven innocent, child downloads musics - dad loses the internet he needs for his job). He went on to point out that remixing copyrighted works is part of culture now.His example?The remixed Ashes to Ashes poster that Labour and the Conservatives have been having so much fun with over the last few days.Remixing, reusing, editing.They all fall foul of the bill they've just passed.As do you for reading this page.Today was a huge failure for democracy. A bill was passed, unread and unanalysed by computer illiterate MPs who didn't attend the debates. Here are what I feel these are the most terrible consequences of the last 48 hours.A bill that makes the ricockulous DMCA look sensible has passed without proper debate or democratic process.The internet generation, who cares deeply about this matter was watching.They saw the empty parliament.They heard the ignorant comments.They saw democracy fail.They are not pleased.Scientists, Journalists and Skeptics are working so hard to fight the abuse of Libel Laws to stifle debate and censor criticism. The existence of the Digital Economy Bill will allow so many avenues for censorship that we need to start all over again.Piracy is a serious concern to the mainstream media, and yet remix/reuse of material is part and parcel of our culture today. If the bill works then MPs will make so many innocent parties criminals and it will be a disaster for the UK.[...]



Dear London SITP goers, fancy a Ninja Skeptical Science Nomadic HQ monthly meet up for Schemes and Adventures?

2010-03-07T23:26:55.273+00:00

Heard of “tuttles“? From what I gather they’re basically a chance for people into ‘social networking’ to meet up and work on ideas together. I suspect they talk about things like ‘The Cloud’ and ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Synergy’ and stuff. Anyway that’s not important right now. The point is it gave me an idea.

How about, once a month, on maybe a Saturday afternoon, we meet up somewhere in Central London. Somewhere with free wifi. We bring laptops. And we work on schemes and skeptical ninja projects.

Want to blog about your awesome research, some bad science or some skeptical matters? Well we’ll help you set that up one of them there blogs and that.

Want to bounce some ideas around for a project or blog post? Well, they’ll be a bunch of people in a similar place.

Want to get some stuff actually done? Then it’ll be a place to knuckle down with people of a like mind.

Want to brainstorm/piss about with some like minded fools? Well you’ll be in good company.

Want to get some willing accomplices for some cunning scheme or shenanigan - be it merely splitting up FOI requests to full on, mass attack, ten23 style super events? Well then there would be like minds to help out.

Want to hack up a new way to access public data for the skeptical cause? Well maybe we could take a leaf out of the excellent Rewired State meet up that happened last year.

Maybe we could record a noisy rambling podcast. I know James O'Malley (who puts together the excellent Pod Delusion) might be able to help out (Well, if your still interested James?).

So this would be entirely what we make it, but a hacking/blogging/adventuring/scheming/podcasting/FOIA’ing meet up would almost certainly be excellent. Hell, if it gives a few people like me a chance to actually finish a few of their blog posts away from the chaos of real life then it’s worth it.

I'm willing to organise all this if there is interest. I’ll sort out a place we can all meet with free wi-fi and coffee (and booze?). Then you just turn up with a either a fully charged laptop, an idea, or a willingness to help out someone else. I’ve got webspace to donate and I can throw up forums, sites and files as needed.

Remember this isn’t meant to be some elitist, cream of the crop only event (if it was, I wouldn’t be allowed to organise it!) but something where we could all do something. Anything. Create rather consume and all that.

Interested? Then please comment below. Or discuss in on twitter. I suggest the hashtag ‘#skuttle’ to get started.



Skeptobot stumbles into Twenty-Ten

2010-01-10T19:20:30.239+00:00

Twenty-Ten, Twenty-Ten, Twenty-Ten, finally we hit a decade where we can go back to sensible pronunciation. It's also the fifth year of Skeptobot's irregular postings, which is nice. So it seems like time I summed up what is happening.

Despite the blog being quite things are on the up:

  • The leg is healed (though it seems I'll always have a slight case of 'kruger foot').
  • My work means I'm still suffering from little internet access till at least April, but...
  • I have a fancy iPhone now, so I've got my RSS feeds and twitter for my commute, which should help keep me in the loop.
  • I even have web hosting, so a lot more is possible. I'm even musing an occasional Herrin and Collings style lo-fi podcast.

The web hosting is currently a mirror of Skeptobot at

www.rockpaperskeptic.net

and I'm still pondering how best to use it all.

I like the idea of Skeptobot publishing content I've made, and RockPaperSkeptic being a combined feed of skeptobot posts, informal posts, posts about other peoples stuff and even tweets. The honour of being syndicated on badscienceblogs means I'm always hesitant to make 'trivial' posts.

Any advice how best to achieve that (RPS is running Wordpress, Skeptobot uses Blogger) would be most appreciated. Likewise for any other suggestions you might have.

Thanks for continuing to read my infrequent rambles, I'll be endevering to post more this year as thanks, so happy new year and that.

- Bill





Being an atheist at Christmas.

2009-12-13T19:47:04.934+00:00

Every year, around this time, I get a rather itchy case of cognitive dissonance. I'm an atheist enjoying Christmas.Invariably a friend, who will typically have no religious beliefs themselves, will ask why I celebrate the festival when I'm not religious. This is the little spiel I reel off in defence to my cloudy thinking:When I celebrate Christmas I follow a festival that is currently generally considered to be Christian but that at previous times has been Norse, Roman, Greek and Pagan, all the way into prehistory. Like all those people I have co-opted the same festival to represent my own beliefs. Just like all those before me I've stolen and adapted it to suit my own thoughts and my own needs. Christmas is originally the celebration of the Winter Solstice (21st - 22nd December), which rather than being a day for pagan magic, is simply the peak of winter — the day with the longest night. When the earth is cold, and dead, when the trees are bare and the Sun can't quite warm your skin, it makes sense to celebrate the warmth you still have on this worst day, knowing it will only get better from here on out.That warmth is our friends and our family; the new members and the ones we miss. I think it's foolish to say that an atheist does not need these traditions. I think we need them more. I've a finite, limited time with those I love, and Christmas reminds me of that. Reminds me to make the most of this. All of this.So with all possible respect, whilst we both should join each other on enjoying our decorations, our trees, our winter days and our presents. We should all be hoping for 'Peace and Goodwill to all men.' But, you can keep your tales of Christ in a pig trough, your magic flying super-intelligent creatures, your wise men and your acts of baby genocide. And I'll keep my Christmas alive — just like you will.Furthermore, Christians might currently own Christmas but at best they are mearly custodians, the temporary baton carriers of a festival that stretches into prehistory. It would preposterous to tell me that I can't connect to the history of our species because a certain fraction of people with certain specific beliefs are, as of yet, refusing to hand over custody to capitalism, scientology, atheism or whatever new group will take it upon themselves next. It doesn't work that way.No greater proof of this can be more forthcoming than the damnations Christmas receives in the old testament itself. Before the birth of christ the old testament when to great pains to damn to hell those who celebrated in the old pagan and roman ways as we can read in Jeremiah 10 1-51 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. The Christmas tree was a pagan and roman celebration of life (it is easy to see how a vivid green tree at the peak of winter would raise the spirits) and as such was a symbol of competeing faiths, and so condemned in the Old Testament.However in the years that followed as Christianity spread north these people who celebrated in the harshness of winter, were won over and converted to Christianity. But these people needed this festival in the same way we do today. They couldn't bare to abandon this important gathering of friends and family, so they moved the birth of Christ and made the festival about that so that the important aspects of it could survive. They hid their festival in the trappin[...]



The REAL Daily Mail Churnalism Generator

2009-09-18T14:38:34.885+00:00

Crispian Jago has written a thorough and exhaustive exposé on the state of science journalism as a result of the Goldacre V Drayson debate. HOWEVER I can EXCLUSIVELY REVEAL that the Daily Mail doesn't use hi-tech applications when determining it's science output. As any one with even a MODICUM of sense knows, Windows was created by illegal immigrants as a way to allow child yobs to upload happy slapping videos to youtube for paedophiles to watch. The Daily Mail wouldn't get caught dead using one to deduce the exciting breakthroughs of the day.

Instead I can exclusively reveal THIS is how the Daily Mail investigates it's stories with The Patented Skeptobot Churnalism Generator.

AKA Cause and Effect Dice!

(image) Whats not well know is that in 1998 teh Daily Mail had to invest in geeky D10 dice in an increasingly competitive market.

Anyhow, now that

The Cause Dice

(image) The Effect Dice

(image) An aside, I actually made these yonks ago - before I burnt the hell out of my leg - but Crispians excellent post reminded me about them. Let me know if anyone makes a pair.

Oh and there shouldn't be any issue with the images showing up now because... well maybe you can work it out?





An open letter to Lord Drayson

2009-09-16T20:22:49.761+00:00

A brief email I've just sent to Lord Paul Drayson on a minor comment he just made during the excellent debate he had with Ben Goldacre earlier this evening at the Ri. Whilst this topic is funny, the genuine fear I've seen in people means that I must mention it.

Dear Lord Drayson,

Firstly, congratulations with the debate. I think you raised some very valid points. Furthermore, I commend you for reaching out via such debates and twitter.

However, I feel I must quickly raise an issue I had with a comment you made at the end of the debate. Just minutes ago, you declared that the media's coverage over whether the LHC could pull the Earth into a black hole was a GOOD thing. You suggest that it got people 'interested' and 'thinking' and that this 'sensationalism' was good for science.

I must strongly disagree. I have a PhD in Physics and as a result, during the course of my work (and in the course of my blog) I have had to explain, comfort and reassure numerous members of the public that they were not under threat from Physicists stepping on the toes of the gods. People have come to me explaining that their children were in tears and couldn't sleep with fear. Whilst we all found it funny, It was not a joke to them.

I might even go further and suggest that you believe that these outrageous statements are justified because deep down no one really took the media's story seriously. In doing so, you are relying on the very same mistrust of the media that you earlier claimed did not exist.

Whilst I do not wish to inflate the importance of this issue, I do feel you should know the pain it caused a small minority of people and the issue this presents for mainstream media. The coverage of the LHC was lacking. I shall be posting this email as an open message on my blog tomorrow.

Best Regards,
Bill

Just a comment about the blog, it's NOT dead. My excuse is that I have been suffering from severe 2nd degree burns on my leg and foot and so have been in and out of hospital for FAR TOO LONG now. As I get better the site should come back to life.





6000 years of Uranium

2009-07-07T08:58:53.769+00:00

Here's a wonderful out of context clip apparently of Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen casually mentioning the age of the Earth as she talks about Arizona's plans to mine Uranium.

(object) (embed) It's terrifying to think that we've developed the skills to turn Uranium into both energy and bombs but there are still people in charge of things so clueless.

As science progresses we can't just bring some people up to speed with how the world works. We have to bring everyone. Otherwise we get situations like this.

via The Bad Astronomer





Wolfram Alpha is amazing, but it has a fundamental flaw.

2009-05-20T14:20:24.028+00:00

Wolfram Alpha is amazing. Go play with it now. Some people really, really don't get it. They are frustrated that it isn't google, which of course it was never meant to be. If you're not sure what it is then I recommend the (overlong) intro video.But basically, It's a data engine. A fact machine. It lets you pull and push and manipulate data.For instance you could compare the mean wage of chiropractors vs journalists in seconds (topical!). Or do some maths. Or do lots of things.It's some topical data about two professions. And this is all the info your are given for your 'source' It's finicky and has plenty of holes in it, but it's only just gone live and it is brilliant. I can't stress that enough. Now on to why it sucks. The cultural effects of a 'computational knowledge engine' that can both quantify and manipulate data is huge. But the ability for it to be misused is also huge. We all love wikipeida, but when journalists use it for their primary source of info it gets a little worrying. To offset that Wikipedia has a big list of references at the bottom of every page.Rather than establish itself as an authority figure (despite the wishes of some of the more 'enthusiastic' admins) Wikipedia works hard to tell you how it knows something to be true, otherwise [citation needed] rears its head.I don't get that same feeling from Wolfram Alpha. Firstly, the references are tucked away from view in a little pop up window rather than being an inherent part of the page. Secondly, the Primary source for everything I've tried so far is:Wolfram|Alpha curated data, 2009Which just isn't good enough. It is setting Alpha up to be an authority figure for data. But this isn't information that Wolfram et al. have discovered and published. This is information that Wolfram has collated.Now, to be fair, 'background' sources are listed. And whilst they are most likely the true source of the data presented, no single study or report or finding is indicated to be where any specific fact came from. For example Alpha has decided that the UK produces 1.8 billion barrels of oil a day. Has it taken an average of the studies it looked at? Or has it weighted them? It doesn't tell me.Every piece of data when fed into Alpha should have been tagged with details of where it came from. But it isn't. It's a mind boggling strange omission. So much so that I can't help but feel this, may possibly, add weight to widespread opinion that Stephen Wolfram is a little bit, erm, arrogant. This letter that Richard Feynman (apparently) wrote to Stephen Wolfram is rather illuminating on the subject. The cynic in me whispers that Alpha wants to be your reference, not your intermediary. Wolfram|Alpha is an amazing achievement, and one I will use an awful lot. (even if it is just to plot nonsense) Stephen Wolfram should be immensely proud of it.But I can't help thinking how much more important Alpha would be as a proper research tool if it was a little bit more willing to explain where it learnt to be so clever.[...]



The Skeptic's News Fart Digest #2

2009-05-17T19:33:51.264+00:00

Here we go with the second round up of the 'skeptish' news of the last week.REMEMBER: This material is presented as is. A skeptical interpretation of the material is left to the reader. I haven't read everything I've posted here in detail, so if you take anything here on face value based on it being linked here you've messed up.When invading a country like Iraq it is extremely important to not make it look like a religious war. I mean putting Bible quotes all over your Top Secret reports would send a bad message. So I'm glad Rumsfeld et al. didn't do that.Oh.And the posters are here.and more stuff here.George Carlin on UFO believers VS Religious Believers.The Daily Show on the LHC (thanks Naomi!)Ackward Questions about Jesus from the brilliant Outnumbered. Outnumbered is a bit depressing because by liking it I feel a bit old.Been catching up with Mormanism this week. It see,s to be a bit, er, mental. As this 7minute cartoon will attest.Child won't say 'Amen' so a woman along with One Mind Ministries starve the boy to death thinking that when he resurrects the demon possessing him will be gone.Armando Iannucci sneaks into US state department. Just like how he has sneaked into my heart.No goggles were needed for old chemistry sets. And they are beautiful. Relatedly here are some amazing magazine covers.Who would be a female under islamic law?Remember last week there was a guy who was sued and lost because he was critical of creationism in a science lesson? He's responded to what happened on Salon. I haven't read enough about this to settle my mind one way or the other, but if you have a secular school (which is a good thing) then being critical of religion is the same as promoting it.Church literally being worn away by sin. Religious speech writers must be creaming themselves with tortured metaphor possibilities. Don't shoot the scientistsThe American Patriot's Bible exists. Hell you can buy it on Amazon.Witch hunts, murder and evil in Papua New Guinea.BNP members don't existCardinal Cormac Murphy thinks that I'm not fully human. Well I think he's a big stupid poopy head. EventsTonight (monday) is the meeting for Simon Singh's response to the libel ruling against the BCA. In The Penderel's Oak in Holborn, London. I'll be going and reporting back, so say hi.Jack of Kent's blog is covering it all and the facebook page has details of the event.Wednesday sees the normal Skeptics in the Pub night. Which looks to be a cracker:Edzard Ernst's team of 10-15 researchers have tried for the last 15 years to critically evaluate “alternative medicine”. Much of the resulting evidence has now been summarised in the book ‘Trick or Treatment’ by Simon Singh and myself. As it turns out, alternative medicine is more “trick” than “treatment”. In my talk, I will report about some of the often amazing milestones on my long journey toward the truth.[...]



Generation Rescue's Insane Video. Jenny MCarthy and Jim Carrey fight vaccinations and MMR.

2009-05-14T09:34:25.822+00:00

Just a quick heads up. Generation Rescue is Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey's anti-vax and autism site.

Watch this video. I've never seen anything, anything like it.

(image) I haven't time to talk about it in depth. And it has left me speechless. It's tragic, sad and insane and I can't give it the response it deserves. But by pimping it here I hope the better qualified BadScienceBloggers will snap it up.

I've heard rumours Oprah is giving McCarthy her own Chat show. Please, please, please, please, please don't be true.

A few highlights for those that can't watch the video:

  • Vaccines contain Mercury, Aluminum, Ether, Antifreeze and Human aborted fetal tissue.
  • Kids eating Dairy & Gluten is the same as them smoking a joint.
  • The Secret works
  • When IranandIraq attacks the brain in turns on Rambo mode and then kids can't think.
OK, i'm taking the last one out of context (not that the context makes it better). But bloody hell.
EDIT: Also I still seem to be having picture issues for some people (but not all). Sorry.





BBC appoints Muslim as head of religious broadcasting: Daily Mail begins the idiocy.

2009-05-13T14:18:15.424+00:00

This is Aaqil Ahmed. He is a practising Muslim. And on Monday he was appointed Head of Religious Broadcasting for the BBC. This will be FUN.Anyone who has ever read the Daily Mail knows that it doesn't like 'the BBC', 'the Muslims', Immigrants, being 'politically correct', and crucially any deviation from a bizarre belief in a cultural Golden age that ran from 1935 to 1955. One where there was NO CRIME, teenagers loved their mothers and we all went to an ENGLISH Church.So you can imagine the fallout that this will cause in certain circles. Personally I can not WAIT for The Christian Voice's response. They've probably thrown up a lung whilst clasping a copy of the BBC recording of 'Jerry Springer The Opera' to their chest.Anyway this is the Daily Mails article:Why can't the BBC understand that we are STILL a Christian country?By Stephen Glover. After lots of heartfelt disclaimers that he isn't a racist (which I'm sure he isn't) he then goes on with a few choice comments: I imagine that having a Methodist preacher at the heart of the BBC was more than it could stomach.The BBC does not like God, unless perhaps it be a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh version. And best of all:At every possible opportunity it will wheel forward one of those professional atheists who are not happy to live silently with their own non-belief but are determined to shove it down everyone else’s throats. One of the most popular religious stance in the UK (i.e. that of none) being represented in religious programming is balance. Sorry it is lodging in your throat Steveo. He goes on to blame this appointment on the "secular tide" that is taking over the BBC. Apparently atheists prefer Islam.For all I know, Mr Ahmed may prove himself remarkably sympathetic to the sensibilities of Christians in his new job. One cannot, however, count on that, and it is interesting that he has said there should be more coverage of Muslim matters in the media. Will this, on the BBC, be at the expense of an already reduced number of Christian programmes? In all kinds of ways the publicly funded BBC does not reflect the views of the public it is supposed to serve. No doubt its secular suits assume that Britain is as anti-Christian as they are. They’re out of touch again. In appointing Aaqil Ahmed they do not simply offend against this country’s Christian heritage and traditions. They also further weaken the hold and authority of the BBC. I have to put up with lots of religious programming. But I also have to put up with 'My Family,' Horne and Corden' and 'Three Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps.' The BBC caters for a bunch of audiences less mentally coherent than myself* but in return I get Outnumbered, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and, and... No sorry. I can't think of an equivalent 'good version' of Three Pints. It's like trying to find the good version of the HIV**. I have no doubt that a lot of people in the UK do like to think of ourselves as a Christian Nation, but not in any sense that applies to people who are actually religious. If you will allow me a tortured metaphor It's akin to red phone boxes. Religion, yesterday.Christianity in England is like a Red Phone Box. We all love the Red Phone box. It is part of our heritage. But you wont catch us using it unless we really have to. It looks nice as you pass by it, but once you actually get inside a phone box it gets really creepy. Full of dirt and urine and weird sexual promises. But despite the fact we never use them (except when a tourist friend wants you to photograph them in one***) I'm sure we all w[...]



The Skeptic's News Fart Digest #1

2009-05-11T01:39:45.204+00:00

Welcome to the first News Fart Digest collecting all the interesting skeptical nonsense I stumbled upon in the last 7 days.It's just an idea I'm trying on for the next 4 weeks to see how it goes. Let me know what you think.Oh and one last thing, don't assume that just because something has been linked here that it is true, or it's opinions supported. The volume of links means that I've not had time or inclination to properly vet them. So treat them skeptically and pipe up in the comments if you find anything interesting.Anyhow, link dump ahoy. A 'Martian Skull' has been found on Mars by 'UFO spotters' or so claims the Telegraph. It seems some people were pissing about in a forum somewhere and they've been turned into an Silly Story for the Telegraph. Sans references to obscure anything of worth. Daily Mail Commentors freak the hell out when a pop-sci article informs them that their ancestors were once black. I get countless emails asking to see masked Mexican wrestlers like Renegado and Mr. Tempest looking at an image of the Virgin Mary emblazoned onto a griddle. Well your prayers have been answered.Harvesting the power of prayer. By putting dynamos in prayer wheels. The Catholic churches works hard to promote Dan 'The famous man looked at the red cup' Brown's Demons and Angels Movie by getting in a huff about it.Jonathan Myerson trots out the 'If you have nothing to hide you've nothing to fear' idiocy like it even looks like a valid argument. And that's before you realise he's talking about DNA, a database of which would produce massive amounts of false positives. On the flip side here is AC Grayling being a bit more sensible. Chris Matthews interviews Republican Mike Pence on Evolution and Science. "Do you believe in Evolution?" leads to 5 minutes of squirming. How do you pretend to be pro-science when you try to appease religious fundamentalists? Nine month old girl dies when parent only treat her eczema with homeopathy. Tragic. Important to note that the Dad was a homeopath. It is too easy to get the impression that homeopaths are quacks and con artists. But it is more complicated than that - he truly believed in what he preached. And we must bare that in mind when we interact with CAM.The View (basically an American version of 'Loose Women') once again makes you fear for humanity. The 'pretend there is a debate' argument from IDers is really working.Jokes about atheists. Oooh you been served dude.Pilots sit inside the heads of giant iron birds and fly them through the sky. Which is awesome. Pilots wear cool uniforms whilst sleeping with attractive people all around the world. Which is awesome. Pilots tell the 'voluntary' ID card scheme to bugger off. Which is awesome.Ergo - Pilots are awesome. The pilots' union has protested to ministers that the £18m scheme cannot be regarded as voluntary when they are being told they will not qualify for an "airside pass" without them: "ID cards will have absolutely no value as far as security is concerned. This is nothing other than coercion and promises that ID cards would be voluntary have been broken," Jim McAuslan, Balpa general secretary, has told ministers. "We will resist."'Teenager successfully sues teacher for criticising creationism. America's young are giving up on organised religion.Pope Benedict XVI, who you may remember for being at the heart of the global cover up of child abuse before he levelled up to pope, has talked in the middle east warning them about the misuse of religion.I mean I pretty much agree with what he said but[...]



A mind blowing example of Poe's Law: It's like Brass Eye....ON ACID!

2009-04-20T23:17:10.699+00:00

The Rational Wiki defines Poe's Law as follows:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

Of course it works both ways, often I stumble over religious material so insane that I believe it to be parody, but which is, in fact, genuine. For example here are some church websites. I should warn you that they are both visual and noisy. But it still won't prepare you for what you are about to see. They are amazingly awesome.

After watching all these I'm so stoked I could fight a bear. I genuinely think they are amazing. They all seem to have been produced by SharperFX who specialise in making websites. Websites for insane churches.

If Chris Morris was to create a Brass Eye Episode about these churches, his parody would be interchangeable with the real thing and no one, on either side, could tell.

And that kinda makes me happy.

(via reddit)





Dutch news piece on Biblicaly Correct (B.C.) Tours

2009-04-16T22:54:21.521+00:00

So a German Dutch speaking film crew went to film a B.C. Tour. The very first part is in German Dutch (or at least I think it is germa it is if you are ignorant) but afterwards we are good to go.

(object) (embed) I last talked about this lot here. It's depressing to be reminded they still exist. I think it is significant to note that an organisation that promotes complex 'science' like this and gets worldwide attention has a web site that looks like this:

(image) 'Win every argument' indeed.

(This post was also a sneaky test of the site - hopefully, the images, embeds and text are now all hunky dory - please let me know if you are still having problems)





Skeptobot is being a bit funny when it comes to pictures

2009-04-13T15:02:27.581+00:00

(image) The site's imagehosting has gone a bit screwy. So I'll be using this update to fix it.

As way of apology here should be an image that I made using this billboard generator - which is a staggeringly great tool to satirise this farcical bit of propaganda.

I'm using some new blogging software which up till now has been great. If it is working you should be able to click through the thumbnail above to see the full sized image.

Update: A google around seems to suggest that this is a problem that has been causing trouble for a number of picasa users. Hopefully it will correct itself in due course.





Open-mindedness

2009-04-08T18:53:40.465+00:00

This was sent to me by the wonderful Dr A & it is ace.

(object) (embed) Of course you might say that he's arguing against a straw man, but I don't really think that is the point. A wonderful primer on how skeptical thinking doesn't mean close-mindedness.

But actually means you are 50s intellectual man hunk. Or something.