Saturday, 25 October 2014

Hots Potato

This post has been a long time in the making dating back to an email thread we received from one of our SitP attendees in July 2012 but a recent occurrence shows the issue isn't going away any time soon.

Shortly before that time the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had upheld a complaint made by Hayley Stevens against an organisation called “Healing on the Streets – Bath” who had been handing out leaflets in May 2011: Our correspondent had found a similar organisation, The Crossway using similar wording, on Harborne High Street, Birmingham and, being the good skeptic that they are, had made a similar complaint to the ASA against them.

For those unfamiliar with Healing on the Streets (HOTS) it was originally an organisation founded in Coleraine, Northern Ireland in 2005 to “simply invite people to sit on chairs so we can pray for them”. Okay, that could be thought of as merely a little bit strange until you realise that they claim that “God loves you and can heal you” presumably through the power of their prayer. Many organisations have bought into the HOTS ethos which can be extremely lucrative (HOTS – Bath have taken in £137,000 in the last 4 years).

It is a well known phenomenon that any interventions can have a placebo effect and many people may assume that sugar pills, saline injections and sham therapies of all kinds may be responsible for an improvement in fairly trivial conditions. They ignore the many reasons that a condition may improve in favour of a belief that it was caused by the intervention. One classic case is that treatment for a long-standing condition which comes and goes, such as a bad back, will be sought when pain and immobility is highest. The fact that the sufferer has a lifetime's experience of knowing that the condition improves with time (and without intervention) is thrown out of the window if they take some pointless pills, or receive some other attention (such as being prayed for) when it is at its worst.

This wouldn't matter too much if people working under the HOTS banner limited their attention to bad backs and similar minor and self-limiting ailments but they don't. The leaflet given to our correspondent asked if people suffered from “Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction, Cancer, Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Migraines, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias or any other sickness, illness or injury” and offered “Healing on Harborne High Street”.


So anything then. Pneumonia, diabetes, sepsis, meningitis, AIDS, Ebola? You name it, they'll pray for you. Needless to say relying on prayer over medical expertise can have dreadful consequences.

 
In their adjudication the ASA noted that HOTS – Bath had not provided any evidence that they, or anyone else, could heal using prayer and upheld Hayley's complaint about the leaflet adjudging the claims to be both misleading and irresponsible. They also adjudged that the ads could discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. This adjudication made international news.

In the summation for action the ASA said:

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told HOTS not to make claims which stated or implied that, by receiving prayer from their volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions. We also told them not to refer in their ads to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.”

So pretty much cut and dried then. Another organisation had used almost exactly the same wording with a list of medical conditions they have no hope of healing so our correspondent awaited the adjudication against The Crossway.

They didn't get one.

The ASA contacted our correspondent saying that the issue had gone to their Compliance Team, an arm of the ASA which deals with repeat offenders. When this was queried they were told that:

The Crossway’s website demonstrates, in our view, that they are distributing the ads that you have objected to under the name of Healing on the Streets: http://www.thecrossway.org.uk/healing-on-the-streets/. Also, Healing on the Streets’ own website shows that they are a national organisation, who can assist church groups to set up local branches: http://healingonthestreets.com/. The similarities between The Crossway’s literature and that of other leaflets produced by Healing on the Streets, in addition to their use of the blue “Healing” banner, which is used by other H.O.T.S. groups, also suggests that they are a local group who are endorsed by the national H.O.T.S. organisation.



In the course of their response to this complaint, our Compliance team will contact The Crossway to inform them that the advertising they are handing out is in breach of our Code, but we would consider that the advertiser is Healing on the Streets. We will also contact them and demonstrate that a local group affiliated to them is still using adverts that are not compliant with our Code.”

This would be fine if it worked however it appears that it had already happened and this was already a repeat offence:

Furthermore the message still didn't get through and it looks like it won't any time soon:


(October 2012, Oxford)

(October 2014, Bishop's Stortford)

The latest breach was last weekend.

Although we have been keeping our eyes open for breaches (posted on Twitter or Facebook for instance) it is inconceivable that there aren't some we've missed and indeed a much larger number that won't have been spotted or posted at all. Also an appeal against the original complaint confirmed that the websites of these different groups running HOTS activities do not fall under the ASA's jurisdiction so HOTS could not even appear on the ASA's Non-Compliant Online Advertisers List.

We know that some of these breaches have not been reported to the ASA. Of those that have you will find no public record of them being dealt with by the ASA as they have not been adjudicated upon. The ASA has a system of reporting “Informally Resolved Cases” whereby an advertiser agrees to stop using certain wording in their adverts but it appears that this is also not being used. It's almost as if they don't want these further breaches to be mentioned anywhere. Indeed, our correspondent received this from the ASA when asking if the Harborne breach could be publicised:

As the previous adjudication was made public, we have no recourse to prevent you from making our response public, should you so wish. I would like to point out of course, that any large scale public disclosure of the breach could potentially affect the advertiser’s willingness to comply with our Codes, as part of the ongoing compliance work we are doing with regard to Healing on the Streets.”

We can only hope, that due to this blogpost, any willingness of HOTS organisations to comply with the ASA's codes hasn't been damaged too much.



A small aside: 

Although this issue seems a bit complicated the initial complaint by our correspondent took only 10 minutes and many issues of dodgy advertising are cut-and-dried. Also, anyone reporting such issues are guaranteed anonymity by the ASA by law. We have continued this in this blogpost by not naming our correspondent at their request.

We are currently setting up a Birmingham Skeptics Activists strand and one of our possible aims may be to police the West Midlands area to weed out dodgy advertisers such as this.

If you think you can spare the occasional 10 minutes then please consider giving us a shout.



Saturday, 4 October 2014

SKEPTICAL ACTIVISM - A CALL TO ARMS



If your goat has been got by a scam, fraud, or woo then please read on.

Some of you may have attended the Birmingham SitP talk by Michael Marshall of Merseyside Skeptics Society, and Project Director at Good Thinking Society.

For those who weren't there, amongst other achievements, Michael was instrumental in organising the 10:23 campaign, which successfully spread the word about the ineffectiveness of homeopathy.

You can find out more about Good Thinking at:

http://www.goodthinkingsociety.org

That talk inspired me to want to develop an idea that has been been running around in my head since I started attending SitP a couple of years ago.

Having taken part in a few skeptical activist activities myself (e.g. carrying out a survey of attendees at a Colin Fry show in London; campaigning against Gary Mannion , 'psychic surgeon'; and establishing a campaign in the U.K. to expose and help bring an end to the fake explosives detectors trade - see ADE651 and GT200; I am interested in setting up Birmingham Skeptics Activists as a spinoff from the main group.


B.S.A (Bull Shit Annihilators; just kidding!) will be a group of people who are prepared to take part in campaigns to combat the panoply of nonsense that surrounds us. It may be pseudoscience, quackery, 'psychics', or creationism in schools. One example that still resonates with me was the talk by one of the speakers at the first open mic night on cancer quackery, and how her dad was sadly taken in by people in the area offering false hope via quack 'cures'. Targeting, exposing and bringing people like that to justice is a compelling motivation. Campaigns may involve anything from emailing your M.P., protests, leafleting, blogging or other coordinated action.

I recognise that not everyone has the time or the inclination to take part in skeptical activism, but I am sure that some of you will want to get involved.

What we need:

What we need is a bit of your time every now and then.

What we don't need:

We're not after your cash, in fact we'll be looking to cover any expenses and you don't even have to be close to the centre of Birmingham as there are plenty of things going on almost everywhere. We're also not looking to drag you along to a load of committee meetings either.

Depending on the level of support, over the next couple of months we will look to establish Birmingham Skeptics Activists and agree how best to move forward with this initiative.

If you are interested please let me know. I will also be at next SitP featuring Chris French on the 8th of October, or feel free to email me on rgns(at sign)hushmail.me.

Richard Sutherland

Monday, 16 December 2013

Round-up Week ending 15/12/2013

In order to finance production of his Skeptoid material, which includes podcasts and books, Brian Dunning regularly asks fans to send him donations in the form of monthly “micropayments”. This week he published a comprehensive balance sheet for his new Skeptoid book clearly feeling the need to justify every dollar donated. No doubt having pleaded guilty back in April to wire fraud, he now feels this level of transparency is necessary to help rebuild his credibility. You have some bridges to build though Brian as despite your earlier denials that you made little money, the FBI disagree and believe you defrauded Ebay to the tune of $5.2 Million.. Much as I admire Skeptoid, until you come clean over your finances I for one will not be donating micropayments anytime soon.

The latest DNA evidence for the earliest humans appeared this week with fossil samples placing on the timeline at 400,000 years ago. This is a four fold earlier extension on the previous best DNA evidence. How is the science doing at the other end of the timeline though, the contention that various Cryptids are surviving relict populations of extinct humans or human like animals? Unsurprisingly, not at all well with no meaningful evidence despite years of "research". Leaving aside Brian's Dunning recent behaviour there is much to admire in Skeptoid and his podcasts on the Almas, (surviving Neanderthals), the Yeti (relic populations of Gigantopithecus) and the Orang Pendek (unknown human species) are well worth a listen.

Rbutr promises to be a useful new tool as you can use it to track down rebuttals and opposing view's to any online article you may be reading. Whilst I haven’t found it that effective yet, to be fair it is early days for this newly launched browser based extension. The “Rebuttals” are crowd sourced though so it will be interesting to see how the developers can maintain the high levels of quality control needed for it to be useful.

Rbutl did however source for me useful rebuttals to journalist David Dobbs recent attack on what he sees as the prevailing gene mutation dominated view of evolution. In “Die Selfish Gene, die” Dobbs argues that this dominant view is overstated and how genes are expressed is more important a driver of evolution than random mutations. He uses the example of the placid grasshopper contrasted with the aggressive locust. Whilst these animals differ in terms of both appearance and behavior they are in fact the same species and a single common genome shares the genetic instruction for both. Whether the genome is “read” for grasshopper or locust is dependent on environmental factors. Similarly consider how a single bee genome can variously be read for drone, queen or worker in order to make up a fully functioning hive. 

The natural world is full of other examples of a single genome producing variation in this way and Dobbs's point is that the importance of this gene expression has been marginalized as the focus is on teaching how gene mutations are the main drivers for evolution. As he puts it, it's "how the book is read rather than what is written " that is most important. Whilst the article did find it's supporters notably PZ Myers, most rebuttals were negative for example from Jerry Coyne. And then Dawkins himself chimes in and accusing Dobbs of trying to create controversy where none exists; most evolutionary biologists have accepted the importance of genetic expression and Dawkins had already said as much way back in "The Selfish Gene”.

A new study shows that due to the gravitational effects of Jupiter, Europa’s oceans are most likely very turbulent and chaotic. This is good news for   Europa’s claim to be the most likely other place in our Solar system to support life as any life would benefit from the resulting nutrient stir and flow. Outside our solar system a gas giant orbiting further than expected from its sun has brought into questions our theories of planetary formation. Is the search for dark matter entering its final stages, or maybe it was already discovered in 1997 during an earlier study and nobody noticed?

The anti GM brigade lost their favourite study this week. The much hyped report that GM corn causes cancer in laboratory rats has been retracted – turns out to have been a crappy study after all.

On a final note, Lady Gaga announced she will be gigging in space by 2015!

This week’s round-up was provided by Steven Ebrey. If you would like a go at contributing to the round-ups let us know.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Round-up Week Ending 24/11/13

This week’s round-up has been brought to you courtesy of Jade Quarrel who you’ll find running our book group each month. The next one is on Sunday 15th of December and is covering Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to read the book, gen up on the ideas and join in the discussion. Keep track of all our upcoming events on our other website

I’ll now hand you over to Jade.

Top scientists reveals that science is mostly made up for the riches and glamour. Lets hope they don’t hear about it in Texas where they are on their way to approving textbooks containing the still disputed theory of evolution. Despite debates around the theory one of its earliest proponents (Wallace) has been honoured.

Those scientists have been researching the inheritance of fear and have found that mice inherit the fears of their fathers this research has been described as ground breaking and complete rubbish. .

 Research relating to how the brain operates is given a human feel by Voytek describing the sensation of holding a brain. Incidentally I saw the Welcome exhibition on the brain and Manchester science museum and was struck by how beautiful MRI scans can be (Katherine Dowson) Whilst Neuroskeptic ponders the neuroscience of everyday life and what (if anything) prevents neuroscience from explaining all human behaviour more is discovered about memory but I forget what and we learn more about how synthetics experience sex. If this inspires you then there may be an app to turn you into a scientist

In IT news something clever happened with a quantum computer and a world record but I don’t really understand what…And
the Smithsonian has released a new 3D modeling tool, complete with scans of some of its most famous objects so we now have the ability to print 3D mammoths (everybody likes mammoths). Whilst we are trying to recreate ancient life the US government are attempting to protect currently endangered species by destroying large stocks of ivory.

There have been plenty of things to look at this month; Open culture features the homes and studies of philosophers including Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. How did I not know that Nietzsche had a book called The Gay Science?  Shane Gehlert takes us on a tour of the solar system and this solar system gif is beautiful too. This time lapse map of every nuclear explosion on earth is informative, chilling and beautiful.

Christians are excited at a new way to hear the gospel (with thanks to Britney)  The restyling of the catholic church is causing some concern with the mafia. Changes in legislation are causing concern for the church with a Springfield bishop performing exorcisms on the day same sex marriage becomes law. The threat to marriage must seem very real with the news that atheist marriages may last longer than those sanctified in the church. 

This week’s round-up was put together by SitP organiser Jade Quarrell. If you'd like a go at doing it let us know.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Weekly Round-up Week Ending 17/11/2014

Welcome to the better late than never weekly round-up.

I want to start off by saying how grateful we are to Dr Tim Grant on his inaugural Skeptics in the Pub talk last week. It was a highly entertaining and illustrative exploration of forensic linguistics. For those of you that want to know more here’s a set of links that you’ll enjoy. First off is a paper Tim wrote on the linguistic analysis of SMS messages in the case of the murder of Amanda Birks. Here’s a more recent article on the linguistic clues that reveal your true twitter identity. This is the Gender Guesser webpage that he demonstrated in his talk. And finally link to the Centre for Forensic Linguistics.

Not one but two tales of university sports based misogyny made the news this week as first Stirling University Men’s Hockey Team and then Cardiff University’s Football team disgraced themselves. There was further dismay when Cellular Solutions revealed their unbalanced staffing structure. And whilst we’re talking of balance here’s a statement from their managing director on the subject.

Let’s move on the little explored territory of paranormal kitchen based phenomena. Firstly the mysterious case of the suicidal robot cleaner that apparently chose to end it all with a cooker and then the terrifying tale of spontaneous towel combustion. Actually, after reading those stories I can see why they’re little explored.

According to some scientists this is the fossil remains of the “oldest ever complete example of life on Earth”. Although according to others it might not be. But hey, that’s how scientists think as any baby would know. However, if you’re a scientist and you stumble across the oldest actual living creature, what do you do? Kill it of course mwuhahaha!

Here’s an article on quantum physics and the afterlife from the Daily Mail that I swear is word for word a conversation I had as a drunken student many years ago.

Here’s a little something for you cycling fans out there. A great set of films on the science of bike design.

Some visuals for you now starting with the photographically documented story of a family’s experience of werewolf syndrome. Click here for one of those eye bending optical illusion things. And not particularly skeptical but still oh so good, high speed photos of wet dogs shaking their heads.

Despite our best efforts, Birmingham Skeptics has yet to secure funding from Big Pharma so maybe there’s a chance from Big Alt Med. Perhaps we could get royal patronage, maybe Edzard can put a word in for us.

If you enjoy random linkage you really need to get liking our Facebook page. Roy Beddowes populates it with all manner of links that might be of interest to those of a skeptical and science bent. To give you a taste of what goes on there, and not in any way a shameless space filling exercise, here is a selection of the goodness recently posted therein:

The unexpected ways that animals use their genitals.
Imagining the post-antibiotic future.
Four new ways to smuggle information across the internet.
Toy robots picking fun at our smartphone addiction.
Girls and girls’ toys.
Don’t be too Northern for Ofsted!
50,000 generations of bacteria prove that evolution never stops.
Chickenpox nostalgia.
Behold the smelloscope!
The paranormal pursuit of life after death.

We’ve got an extra talk this month, no less than Simon Singh himself taking us through the Maths Secrets of the Simpsons. We expect this to be a popular event and any money collected on the night will be given over to Medicins San Frontieres. You can also sign up for our Christmas themed talk with the wonderful Mike Hall and our December Book Group who will be reading and discussing Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.

We’ve got events posted up for months to come and you can get details for them here. True some of the details are sketchy but that just means that these are new talks, being written and thought through just for us and you will be the first to hear them. We’ll fill in the gaps when we get the info.so keep checking back.

Although Simon’s talk is on the subject of Maths he’s happy to take questions on anything for the Q and A. perhaps you can ask him about his career as a pop song lyricist


This week’s round-up was assembled by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) with the usual help of the linkmaster, Roy Beddowes.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Round-up Week Ending 03/11/2013

As promised it’s another miscellany of the good, the bad and the geeky from Birmingham Skeptics. We hope that you escaped the spooky season unscathed and not too terrorised by the mobs of marauding younglings in their quest for sugary satisfaction. Whether you are a fan of Halloween or not the fact that you do or don’t celebrate it could have something to do with those good old British colonials, don’t you know. If you’re fascinated by some of the  myths and facts around that holiday here’s a bunch of articles from our fiends (yes, bad pun intentional) at Live Science.

Always with an alternative view to events we have comedian, skeptic and neuroscientist, Dean Burnett, with some science inspired Halloween costumes. We’ll move away from Halloween but stick with costumes and some fantastic photos of cosplay proponents at home in this collection by Klaus Pichler. Of course there are times even in this field that nature just provides a natural advantage.

Dean mentions transhumanism in his article, here’s a do-it-yourself example that’s only slightly disturbing.

You must have heard of What the Doctor’s Don’t Tell You, the online peddlar or dangerous nonsense. When it moved into the medium of print Simon Singh and others called for major high street vendors to boycott it. That battle is still on with Andy Lewis suggesting a bit of direct action that you can do to influence its outcome. And joining the battle this week we have the not at all confusingly named but still brilliant What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You. In the interests of balance (ironic though that seems) here is the view from the other side.

It’s been ages since we’ve had Chris French to Birmingham, and I’m wondering whether we should ask him again. He’s an extremely entertaining speaker and a lovely bloke too. If you can’t get to hear him speak though, you could do worse than buy this book he’s co-published with Dr Anna Stone on Anomalistic Psychology.

Since we’re on the topic of skeptical reads I’m going to cunningly and subliminally slip in the first of several events that you need to put into your diary. Birmingham Skeptics has an excellent book group that runs every month. November is a good month to try book club… We are reading Does God Hate Women by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Strangroom. This book has been described as ‘at once a joy to read and a call to arms’.It looks at the role of culture and religion in the subjection of women drawing on examples from many countries. At 177 pages it is small enough to read on the bus. Ophelia Benson is a columnist for Free Inquiry and was accused of being a feminazi after her appearance at QED conference where she discussed ‘A question of God?’ Even if you don’t think that you have time to read the book (and you probably do) you can still turn up for the great company and join in the conversation.

I saw Ophelia on that panel at QED and many of you will be interested and happy to know that once more that great skeptical event is due to happen, albeit at a different venue. The Gala dinner has already sold out but you can still get tickets to the event and I would totally recommend doing so. And here's a way to help some that perhaps should go but cant go, to go.

Change of course now as we head out to sea for the next few stories. This article presents new evidence for the kraken, though to my mind it’s sketchier than the picture used to illustrate it. Ever the fan of people that overthink non-problems we have five reasons that mermaids can’t physically exist. Far more frightening is the potential effects of over gorging on the apparently delicious but dangerous escolar. Only tenuously linked to the sea but still great fun is this yarn bombed tree squid.

God Vine reckons that the “miraculous” saving of this woman from her oversized sinking car is proof enough of God’s existence and goodness. What’s that, you’re not convinced? What would it take to make you believe? Being struck twice by lightning in the same day was enough for this literal clown.

Jann Bellamy takes us through her experiences of energy medicine. We may as well continue through the looking glass of healing with this bizarre tale of pastor prescribed hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

If reading stuff like that makes you want to scream you could probably do with assembling one of these nifty doodahs in order not to disturb your neighbours. You could practice your alphabet of alien sounds in there.

Talking of making things, if you are the kind of person that likes to put things together and work on projects, you could do worse than get involved with the people over at Fizzpop with their Makerspace/Hackspace. True they tend to hold some of their events on nights that clash with us, but we like them so much that we’ll forgive them that. They’ve got a Make the Space event not yet up on the website that will be happening this Saturday the 9th, a good time to go and meet them; otherwise every Wednesday is an open day.

As somebody that tends to cough and splutter through the high pollen season I can at least take solace in the thought that there might be an evolutionary role to allergies.

Here’s a few experiments from the days when scientists were unencumbered by ethics committees and sanity.

Peru have reopened the The Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena. Well if you have an office with a cool name like that why wouldn’t you?

An interesting article here examining the evidence base, or lack of it, for psychological first aid.

For all you fans of palaeontology, the remarkable Hadrosaur tail that’s been unearthed in Mexico.

You can always tell when I’m getting to the end of my links as they get more disjointed and singular. Many of these were provided by Roy Beddowes who does an excellent job of populating our Facebook page with all manner of goodness. Like it now and join in the fun.

Before we get to the obligatory but ever so essential plugs of our upcoming events I’m going to cram in a What if, just because I’m a big fan and I’m the one writing this

Now get those diaries out and don’t you dare skip past this bit. Our next speaker is Dr Tim Grant on the fascinating subject of forensic linguistics. Make sure you’re along for that one, it’s a SitP premiere and should be really good. If you’re on Facebook let us know you’re coming on the event page. Only two weeks later we’ve got Simon Singh and to take us into Christmas the irrepressible Mike Hall.

Now shh and don’t tell anybody about the next bits but I’m going to give you a sneak preview into next year and it’s not even up on the website. All I’ll say so far is Charlie Veitch, Benn Gunn, vegans and veggies, and vampires.

I’ll leave you with a taster of Simon’s upcoming talk.





This week’s round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond with helpful links from Roy Beddowes.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Round-up: Week Ending October 27th

It’s been a long time, too long to be honest, but here is the return of the Weekly Round-up. The man who’s kicked it back into existence is SitP attendee Steve Ebrey. There’s a few of us who will keep it going along with Steve and if you fancy taking a turn then let us know; always happy to have more contributions and more hands to the wheel.

When you’ve finished reading the round-up don’t forget to make a note of our next event as Dr Tim Grant brings us the world of Forensic Linguistics. Now I’ll hand you over to Steve’s Round-up:

Possible made up disease of the week is Wind Turbine Syndrome . The description of the symptoms, suffered by a few people living near wind farms, are suitably vague; “headaches, ringing in the ears, insomnia and dizziness”. Also, I can continue to shun healthy smoothies in favour of caffeine as coffee is back good for us again this week. Oreos on the other hand are to be avoided as they have now been scientifically proven to be as addictive as cocaine. Or maybe not, the Oreos story turned out to be bad science, or more accurately bad logic.

Talking of junk science, have you checked your Sexual Market Value (SMV) score lately, which judges how valuable you are based on your sexual attractiveness? This anti-feminist, anti-science output from the manosphere is nicely taken down by PZ Myers here

Moving on to good science, specifically astronomy, the number of exoplanets discovered to date  passed 1,000 this week. The record for how many planets we have found orbiting a single star appears to have also been broken this week with a seventh planet identified around the catchily named KIC 11442793, a white dwarf 2,500 light-years away from earth. Most of the 1,000 exoplants discovered so far are Jupiter like gas giants but only 12 of them are believed to be in the goldilocks zone, a term coined to describe the not-too-hot and not-too-cold planetary orbits thought necessary to sustain the conditions for life. So from this can we estimate how many earth like planets might be out there? According to New Scientist”s interactive galaxy map, the numbers extrapolate to an estimated 15-30 Billion earth like worlds in our galaxy alone, so it’s hard to imagine that life wouldn’t have developed on some of these. Beyond our Milky Way, the  most distant galaxy to date was also reported this week, identified by the Hubble Space Telescope at a whopping 30 Billion light years from earth.

Crypto news! A polar bear/brown bear hybrid unknown to science has been put forward as the latest identity for the Yeti. Meanwhile, an out of place Wallaby was videoed at London’s High Gate Cemetery and, even more excitedly, a Dragon was snapped flying overhead in Truro. Wired Magazine’s absurd creature of the week is the human flesh eating Botfly (the squeamish should skip the video!). A couple of Sea Serpents (OK, Oarfish) have for some reason been beaching themselves on the Californian coast. Also, could it be that Pentecostal snake handlers are not bitten because of their special God granted protection? Surely their immunity is nothing to do with the fact they keep their snakes hungry and sick and too weak to resist!

Two candidates for this week’s mindless behaviour file include an unprovoked attack on a Predator street performer in Brum and a couple of Boy Scout Leaders causing damage at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. Meanwhile a man dressed as a crap ghost also tried to rob an off-licence. Finally this week, Happy Monday’s Shaun Ryder, who recently turned investigative UFOlogist, releases his new book on mysterious lights in Salford, just in time for Xmas!


Steve Ebrey attends Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub. Cheers Steve!