Monday, 19 December 2011

Weekly Round Up w/e 18/12/2011


T'was the week before Christmas and all through the… no wait, that's probably the wrong audience.  Welcome to the weekly round up of skeptical goodness - plenty of stuff to fill your stockings and keep you busy right up until Christmas!

Far from being humbugs, every good Skeptic enjoys a bit of festive joy this time of year.  Coventry Skeptics are meeting on Wednesday (21st Dec) to hear about a Skeptic's Guide to Christmas and despite what ol' Dave says, there's a place for godlessness at Christmas as New Humanist launches the Nine Days of Godless Christmas Podcasts and Lauren at Friendly Atheist describes how to decorate your tree atheist style.  Plus The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures this year return with experimental psychologist Prof Bruce Hood who is delivering a three part series called Meet Your Brain.  Personally I'm hoping for at least one mention of zombies…

Oh and if you're still looking for Christmas presents, shame on you.  But the Brain Pickings 11 Best Science books might be a good pick, alternatively a DVD box-set of TV series The Big Bang Theory if you want to get youngsters into physics, according to this article in the Observer.  But you might want to stay away from candles (burning ones might cause cancer) or crying baby ringtones which have been claimed boost breast size.

Enough about Christmas though.  Apparently the Large Hadron Collider has finally proven useful by finding Brian Cox's car keys.  And if you don't know what the LHC and its efforts to find the Higgs boson are about, then this article in New Scientist might be of some interest.  It's, like, something to do with physics and our existence or summat.  But even if the Higgs Boson isn't found that's a-okay according to Jon Butterworth at the Guardian.

You can't help but have heard about the whole #Burzynski and his antieoplastins as a "cancer cure".  British media, including the BBC, the Observer and most latest the London Evening Standard (who at least have a sentence alluding to criticism about the clinic), have been promoting fundraising efforts by British patients to get to the clinic in the US, despite wide-spread criticism from skeptics, scientists and Cancer Research.  In fact there's a whole heap of skeptical blogposts on the Burzynski Clinic and its favourable media coverage from QuackometerTwentyFirstFloorMinistry of Truth and the Science-Based medicine blog and are knocking about and worth a read. The Nature has also covered how the press might be under pressure in regards to scientific ignorance in British press too.

Speaking of alternative and complementary medicines (CAM for short), the British Acupuncture Council have provided an info pack on how they might be able to set up NHS acupuncture services.  Quite why you'd lay out your arguments for the opposing side to rip to pieces is beyond me, but its worth a look.  There's a fairly interesting Freedom of Information request about current use of acupuncture in the NHS in there.  Seems the local PCTs (B'ham East and North, Heart of Birmingham, but not South Birmingham) use acupuncture, but most interesting are the barriers to use with evidence being cited quite a lot.  Although Quackometer did blog to warn about this as a possibility back in 2010.

UK Skeptics have also stumbled across the Spirit Release Foundation who talk about spirit attachment (although really it's just their guidance that the website is best viewed in MS Explorer 5 or better that pains me).  And over in the US the Chicago Tribune reports on the troubled study at heart of therapy debate.

And whilst most of the skeptical community would like to see stronger regulation of CAM, a recent beheading of a women in Saudi Arabia for 'sorcery' as religious police said she tricked people into claiming she could treat illnesses is really not the way to go.

It can't have escaped your notice that it's nearly the end of the year, which of course means it's time to get voting for The Skeptic Magazine's Skeptic Awards 2011.  There are five categories this year including best podcast and blog, with the awards ceremony being held at QED in March.  There doesn't seem to be a closing date on the website for nominations, but better get voting sooner rather than later.  If you're stuck for a podcast, might we remind you to glance right at that box a few inches down…

And to round off a humorous and definitely not safe-for-work video from ZOMGGitsCriss on why she is not agnostic-athiest and why atheism and agnosticism aren't the same thing.


Here at Brum Skeptics we like any excuse for a knees up, so godless or not we'd like to wish you happy holidays and see you all next year for "A Sceptical View of Atheism."

This week's round up was compiled by Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub organiser Laura Creavan


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Weekly Roundup week ending 11/12/2011


Hello and welcome to the Birmingham Skeptics weekly roundup of the good, the bad and the sometimes ridiculous from the world of science and skepticism. We had our last meet of the year this week with David Allen Green and it was great to get chance to chat to people at the end. Make sure you check our website and join the Facebook group to keep up with all upcoming events and socials.

Time for business, we’ll kick off with an excellent bit of paradolia as the Mail brings us this wonderfully creepy image from beneath the ground. Sticking with fantastic images over at the Friendly Atheist we have some controversy as the combination of the Bible, Lego and explicit sex scenes (albeit with no genitals) proves too much for some retailers.

A nice post here looking at the correlation between religiosity and the declineof science literacy in the States. In a similar vein the Turkish government feel that the young need protecting from Darwin and evolution.



I’ll insert a quick and shameless plug for our latest podcast here. This one has a bit of swearing in it but it’s a good one. You can stream it here or find the iTunes details here. It’s me interviewing a couple of skeptical podcasters from America and it’s lively and funny. Look out for upcoming podcasts, the next one will have Becs O’Neill the Skeprechaun.
A serious and sad article from the Observer next, although it’s a story and theme long covered by Private Eye, so let’s tip a hat to them. It’s the case of Carole Myers who died amidst claims that she had suffered satanic abuse at the hands of her parents. Chris French features in here and anyone who saw him at the talk he gave at the Brum Skeptics will know his interest and scepticism about recovered memories.

We’ve just passed the anniversary of the death of John Lennon. I can’t believe it was 31 years ago! This blog marks that sad event but finishes on an upbeat note that’s worth a read by those involved in skepticism.

Another well known speaker on the skeptics circuit had an article out this week. Nick Pope writes about unexplained structures, aliens and conspiracies with some great photos.

If you weren’t already excited enough about the upcoming QED conference in March, they’ve just announced that there will be a skeptical award ceremony there. Even if you can’t make it to the event you can still try to ensure that your favourite skeptical endeavours receive the reward and recognition that they deserve.

And finally a video. It’s not particularly skeptical but I love octopuses and I’ve put this together so you’re going to have to put up with it. Besides, it is very very cool. Give them a few million more years of evolution and they might be moving into a neighbourhood near you. That is how it works right? Just enjoy the video and don't worry whether it's octopuses, octopi or octopodes, it's an eight legged wonder!


This week's roundup was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Birmingham Skeptics Weekly Round-up: w/e 04.12.11

We’ve rounded up a big round thing again this week for you nice people at Birmingham Skeptics; and with a surplus of great links stewing in the skeptic pot from November’s cultic milieu we’ve decided to roll them all up into nice little bite-size chunks for your digestion.

There’s a lot to get through, here’s the first of our offerings..

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Would you kick a dying man?

The skeptical community is buzzing with news and views on the Burzynski Clinic with many well known bloggers rightfully lining up to deplore their bullying tactics and lack of evidence. It's a scientific battle though in which most of us are not always directly touched but there are those that are. Those claiming to heal cancer will happily parade hopeful people willing to give testimony on their behalf so it's worth stopping to listen to the other side. Below is an introduction by one of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub's regular attendees with a link to her blog about  her family's experience. Please take the time to look through it.




"When sceptics challenge cancer quackery they are often accused of robbing people of their hope. Sceptics are made to feel mean for taking away the ‘last chance’ of a dying person, as if they don’t want to see the dying person recover. This is my blog where I talk about my dad who is dying of cancer and the harm that is being done to him and my family by this cancer quackery. Much of the cancer quackery he has encountered is from individuals who are using their status as doctors or nurses to advertise their businesses yet they are selling treatments that are outside of the medical establishment. I find it upsetting that my mum will say ‘well she is a nurse so it’s not quackery’ when describing the herbal supplements and remedies she is getting for my dad, if these people feel so strongly that the ‘establishment’ is wrong they should not use it to add legitimacy to what they do."


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Weekly round-up w/e 27/11/11


Welcome to this week's round-up. First up, we are looking forward to hosting, David Allen Green, Lawyer, Blogger as Jack of Kent, Legal correspondent of New Statesman, media correspondent of The Lawyer, convenor of Westminster Skeptics, Brummie and Villa fan on Thursday 8th December (yes Thursday) who will be taking time out from his obviously empty schedule to talk on Birmingham and free thought - from Joseph Priestley onwards. Things kick off at 7.30pm at The Vic with drinkies and chat before, during and after so get yourself along. This is our last meet until the New Year when we will return to Wednesdays (and not Thursdays).

A lot has come up this week, some silly, some foolish and some plain vile but as always there's fun to be had along the way.

First up,

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Weekly round-up w/e 20/11/11


Welcome one and all to this week’s round-up.  Not much to say up here except to remind you all that next month's talk by David Allen Green will be on Thursday 8th December and not on the usual 2nd Wednesday of the month like you’ve come to expect.  There’s some festival of the Church of Consumerism on later that month and as a result people like to have something called fun in the lead up to it meaning our pub is booked up.  Some people even like to start celebrating months in advance, not much else on I suppose.  Anyway, we’re back to normal in January.

I was talking to this bloke the other week, he said

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Weekly Round Up Week Ending 13/11/2011


It's time for another round up and what a week.  Firstly we've had the numeric palindrome day, 11/11/11, which has apparently seem a rush for caesarean section deliveries according to the Hindustan Times.  Whether this is the case or not, the 11/11/11 babies frenzy seems to have eclipsed last year's 10/10/10 babies, and no doubt they'll be more of the same for the 12/12/12 babies next year.  Given that this month's talk was about newspapers and the PR industry we might suggest that this is all just an excuse for a photo op of cute babies in the paper.  Cynical, us?

This week also includes Remembrance Sunday.  By now you've probably heard all about the white poppies as an alternative to the red poppy.  But did you hear the British Humanist Association's chief executive, Andrew Cospon, has expressed his disappointment in the group's exclusion and called for humanists to be included amongst representatives laying wreaths at the Cenotaph commemorations in London?  Humanist representatives have been officially included in similar services in Edinburgh and Belfast since last year.

It's also getting into flu season and your friendly local NHS service will be advertising flu jabs to at-risk groups.  But if a flu jab isn't up your street then maybe an alternative medicine iPhone app is the way to go.  Although why you need an app to tell you how to breathe is beyond us.  But it's okay, now you can bulk buy your homeopathy!

PZ Myers throws down with Deepak Chopra about his article on The Trouble With Genes and Edzard Ernst's writes in a Guardian article that alternative medicine is endangering patients.  But if you like your medical information to come from the world of celebrity instead of biology professors and doctors, then maybe Chuck Norris's article on childhood vaccinations in the US is the way to go.  No, we don't know when Mr Norris got his medical degree either.

More on the medical front as the National Geographic claims that new research suggests that using your mobile phone might actually fight Alzheimer's - although the study used mice and the scientists cautioned it was not a perfect replication in humans.

And some more myths about the mind are busted in this BBC article as part of their Radio 4 Brain Season.

But if you fancy something a bit lighter, Erik Davis looks into the Screaming Man in the scan phenomena, suggesting that maybe this is just a case of pareidolia (bet'cha you don't know what that is).

You thought Project Champion's CCTV in Birmingham and NOTW phone hacking was bad, well maybe God should be the one to worry about illegal monitoring says UK spoof news and satire site, News Thump.

And if all that reading is a bit much for you, check out this YouTube video showcasing Japanese company Neurowave's communication tool for humans; cat ears.  The company claim they have brainwave sensors that can read the wearers emotions and react accordingly…and are apparently the latest fashion accessory in Japan.




And finally, two guys and a jigsaw and nothing more.

This week's round up was compiled by Laura Creaven


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 06/11/2011


So what’s been happening around the world of skepticism and science over the last seven days then? I suppose there is only one place to start and that’s with the testing (or not testing) of Psychic Sally. This generated a bit of discussion amongst skeptics and Kylie Sturgess gives a great overview of this and links to the main protagonist posts on her blog Token Skeptic

Ben Goldacre is taking a break from the Guardian to finish his book. He summarises his learning from the last eight years of interactions with nonsense in this concise final article for a while.

You can find a Facebook group for most everything these days, even the sharing of contagions via Pox Packages. More madness from the distrusters of vaccination.

It might seem a bit early but for busy parents such as myself tips on Christmas presents for the kids are always useful. Here’s a corker from Daniel Florien over at Unreasonable Faith.

I get a kick out of big science experiments and there aren’t many that come much bigger than this one, a laser that could tear apart the fabric of space!

We’ve written before on this very blog about the satirising and depiction of Mohammed and Islam. It’s always a controversial area and there are still people that respond with violence and intimidation.

Sex and ghosts over at the Huffington Post. Here is a fine example of non-skeptical reporting and researching of the paranormal.

Up until the end of November you can access the Scientific American archive for between the years 1845-1909 . It’s an incredible resource with documents presented in their original format but still fully searchable. There are around 75,000 articles for your amusement with some real gems hidden within.  Use them quick as they start to charge on November 30th.

I’m sure I’ve seen it etched in stone somewhere that “Thou Shalt Not Defy the Law of Thermodynamics.” It doesn’t stop people trying though as Cold Fusion pops up once again.

Finally don’t forget it’s the excellent Michael Marshall this Wednesday with his talk on Bad News – How PR came to rule modern journalism.

This week’s round-up was compiled by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Weekly Round-up weekending 30/10/11


It’s weekly round–up time again for you lovely folks at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub, and it’s another double helping; so welcome, welcome to the Halloween link fest, or as Frank-N-Furter would say “So come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab. I see you shiver with antici…pation.”

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Podcasts, Communicators and Coventry Skeptics


A Blog Post by Patrick Redmond


This blog post is a shameless plug for the Birmingham Skeptics Podcast. I try to feature a range of people and subjects on the podcast from authors and scientists to some of the interesting people that I meet at the events that I go to. You don’t have to have a book out or a television series to have something worth hearing.


 A case in point is Lucy Harper who I talk to on the latest podcast. A scientist turned science communicator, working for the Society for Applied Microbiology, who, when her busy life allows, comes along to Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub. She works with scientists the world over helping them to talk to each other and to talk to us. Increasingly, groups like ours show that the divide between the white coated elite and the masses is narrowing as our public appreciation of science grows, and perhaps conversely as science’s appreciation for the public also increases.

You’ll find that interview sandwiched between some rather random sounding short interviews I did at Coventry Skeptics in the Pub inaugural talk with AndyLewis. I couldn’t get hold of Andy who was on a tight schedule with his train but his talk was brilliant. I’d had a few beers and the people I suddenly thrust a microphone at and asked to speak were a bit startled and shell shocked, but I think the sense of fun and excitement from the night comes across. If you live anywhere near to Coventry please support them, a great bunch of people and a great night out.

I’m not sure how many people listen to the podcasts and I’m hopeless at promoting them. I can’t do one every week as family and life are just too busy but they will keep coming. So please listen to them, let me know any thoughts you have and you can get the full back catalogue here and subscribe and get the last twelve from iTunes here.

Thanks




Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) - Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 16/10/11


The Weekly Round up is here and we’ve cast our net wide again, with past and present links featuring some big fish, little tiddlers, and some, quite frankly, we should have thrown back in as we ought to know better.

Let’s start with a fishy story that’s still causing a bit of a niff.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 2nd October 2011

It’s that time of the week once more and we’ve had our resident link elf scour the magical land of interwebs again so you don’t have to. Here’s what he’s gathered together plus some additional interesting articles from the archives you may have missed. So sit back, tune in; insert into your ear your Psychic Sally Earpiece of Denial, close that window, and make contact with the Birmingham Skeptics Weekly Round-up.

To successfully complete this week’s round up you will need a printer, a pair of scissors, some Pritt-Stick and a full set of fingers. Oh, and also a passport type photograph of yourself as we’re going to regress your physiognomy by 3.7million years.

With the academic year in full flow, what better way to start things off than with a few light revision aids:

Monday, 26 September 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 25/09/11

Hello and welcome to this week's weekly round-up.  After last week's sterling effort by Roy, this one is only a brief one to try and keep you up to date with what's going on.  Don't forget, this week we have Mark Stevenson coming to Birmingham to present his Optimist's Tour of the Future talk.  If you've not already, get over to our Facebook page and click 'yes, I'm attending' on the event page.  Only if you're coming though, click no if you're not.  Anyway, here you go:

Can neutrons exceed the speed of light?  If so, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV.

First Irish case' of death by spontaneous combustion.

Double whammy gene therapy clears HIV from body.

As a world centre of fashion, if any country was going to introduce a dress code, then France would be it.  As with all arbitrary laws such as this, the target is a minority.

Tearing pages from Bibles makes atheists ugly according to someone I’m not interested in.  It may be just paper with words on it, but it’s needlessly provocative.

Sub-nuclear particles may move faster than light, who says homeopathy can’t work?

UC Berkeley Invents Mind Reading Machine Called 'Natural Movies'

Coronation Street are to have visitors from another planet as UFOs are spotted by a couple of the characters.  You won’t find any Gail Platt ET jokes here.

Prescribing Jesus.  Is it really appropriate for a doctor to offer Christianity as part of the treatment?

xkcd, topical as always: http://xkcd.com/955/

Newly set up Project Barnum has a nice looking website with some good resources and useful information on the sort of tricks used by psychics to con their customers.  It also has a campaign to get theatres to stop booking psychics if you’re into that sort of thing.  I quite liked the Magicians Vs Psychics poster.

This week's round-up was rounded-up by Paul Bryant (@thebigyeti)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 18/09/2011

Welcome once again to the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub round up of internet things that are collected by us to amuse or bemuse; a smorgasbord of thoughts and ideas that you can take away and mull over for a while until the next interesting thing comes along to displace them.  

This week’s blog is slightly different and it’s something we’ve been actively encouraging, a guest blog by a regular member of the Sitp audience; hi, my name is Roy, and I’ll be your skeptic sub-contractor this week right down to the end of this page. If you’re interested in contributing to any future blogs, including this one, please form an orderly queue behind me. Let’s begin - hardhats on.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 04/09/2001

Hi folks, welcome to the Birmingham Skeptics round-up of things that we’ve stumbled across and enjoyed over the last week or so. The first piece is s bit of scientology news from the southern hemisphere. This is a new angle of attack and if it works out could prove very difficult for these Thetan clearing adherents. Don’t forget we’re looking forward to hearing Martin Poulter on Scientology in October

I make no apologies for including Orac for a second week running. Most of us know the essentials of homeopathy and how it works. There is nothing in it and it doesn’t. But just when you thought  there was little more to read on the subject Orac comes up with a very amusing post about something that is ridiculous by even homeopathic standards

You know how you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at the same time? Yes, it’s probably an example of confirmation bias but I promise I wasn’t looking for this in particular when I came across not one but two posts involving Big Foot. The first is from a group of Minnesota skeptics who linked to a video of somebody who firmly believes in the existence of the creature. It’s interesting to then pop across to Brian Dunning at Skepticblog to see how he takes apart the main arguments of the proponents.

Now I only came across this next item this morning via Greg Laden over at ScienceBlogs. The Nasa website has been responsible for losing many hours of time and I don’t think that this is going to change much with the introduction of the ability to explore the solar system from the comfort of my armchair. I found the controls a little difficult at first but worth the time and effort to experiment and get to grips with them.

Crispian Jago has a wicked sense of humour and a creative bent to match. Check out his endorsement of the Detox 2000 (Patent Pending) for proof of this.

Climate change has never been a controversial area has it? The Guardian report on a remarkable geoengineering experiment looking to mitigate the effects of global warning. Read the comments below and you’ll find a lively discussion on all aspects of this subject.

The final link is a shameless plug for my posting about meeting the Asian Rationalist Society of Britain and the great Narendra Nayak.

We’re always looking for guest bloggers  on our site so if you haven’t blogged before and fancy a go, or you're a regular blogger but would be willing to contribute your talents to our page, then please get in touch at
birminghamskeptics@gmail.com, we’d love to hear from you.

This weeks round up was compiled by Patrick Redmond (paddyrex)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Skeptics in the Punjabi


Dr Narendra Nayak
A Blog Post by Patrick Redmond

On Saturday I had the pleasure to meet Narendra Nayak. He is, amongst other things, the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalists. He was on a tour of the UK and had already met up with Skeptics in Glasgow and Edinburgh and was taking part in an event organised by the Asian Rationalist Society of Britain to promote critical thinking and encourage blood and organ donation amongst the Indian community. I went along for the end of the day and it was brilliant.

I slipped in at the back and watched an entertaining doctor present an excellent talk on quack remedies, the placebo effect and the need for critical thinking that would not have been out of place in any Skeptics in the Pub meeting. Dr Dihal’s lecture slipped between English and Punjabi and although  my Punjabi is non-existent the accompanying PowerPoint and what I already know of the subject filled in the gaps. The people in the room were entertained and the atmosphere was great.

I chatted quietly to one of the people next to me about the group and he said it had been going for some time but each year got bigger and stronger. The reason for this, he figured, was education. He was born in India but raised in England and he didn’t believe in all the superstitious stuff. Because he was educated his children also don’t believe in it and then in turn their children won’t. We know that educated or not there are still plenty of people able to be convinced of all kinds of magic and nonsense, but I think that he’s right, education is the key and that is what this group is about.

Debunking is an important aspect of their work. In between speakers Dr Nayak slipped out and we recorded a quick interview that will go out on the podcast soon. However difficult we might think the role of the skeptic is over here, in western society, it’s very different in India. Superstition and religion are far more significant factors in daily life. Holy men perform miracles persuading people of their supernatural abilities to advise and heal. Amidst all this non scientific medicines are not only available but given governmental approval. Rationalists have to face much more the powers of religion and the powers of state in their battle. If you search YouTube for Narendra Nayak you will see many videos of him replicating the feats of these so-called holy men  to demonstrate that their power is anything but divine and that their effect is to stop people seeking medical or professional help when it is needed with all the consequences that might hold.

Ash Performing Psychic Surgery
Lottery Tickets from Eggs
I’d missed his earlier demonstrations of psychic surgery, an ordeal I had performed on me by Edinburgh’s Ash Pryce only a few months ago, but I did watch him cracking eggs open to remove lottery tickets from their centre and reading minds.

The mood was one of amusement but the message was serious, as was the underlying main theme of the meeting. The religious beliefs of many in the Asian community prohibit them from donating organs or blood. The need for these organs is urgent and the supply isn’t there. Superstition is directly leading to preventable deaths as opportunities to save lives are lost.

One of the aims of Dr Nayak’s visit was to help unite groups within the rationalist community. That was why he made contact with the Birmingham Skeptics and I’m really glad he did. Here on our doorstep is the main office of the Asian Rationalist Society of Britain. I’m ashamed to say that I’d totally missed their existence and it took a visitor from another continent to get us together. They made me very welcome. Now that we’ve made contact I’m very much looking forward to working with them in the future.

Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) - Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Weekly Round-up w/e 28th August


Well, after a week’s break the final weekly roundup for August is here, so sit back, relax and enjoy our selection of interesting items from the web chosen especially for you.

We’ll start with the irrepressible Prof Edzard Ernst. A short and pithy blog illustrating that the chiropracters have far from succeeded in manipulating the quackery from their profession.

Over at the ever informative BBC they report on a new fossil discovery that rewrites the timelines on some aspects of mammalian evolution. So much information from such a little thing, and I love how each new discovery gives us a more complete fossil record.

I’ve always been drawn to Orac’s blog. Partly for the masterful handling of such stories as this further nail in the anti-vaccination argument. A big part of it though is that I loved Blake’s 7 and I get a bit of a kick from that transparent box of wires and lights up in the corner.

I have to admit to a bit of ignorance here, I hadn’t come across the Desteni until I stumbled over Muerto’s blog on the subject. Since then I’ve had some interesting reading searching around the Internet on this peculiar cult.

If you don’t know Daniel Loxton yet then shame on you. He does outstanding work spreading a love of science and critical thinking to that most important part of society, the young. He has a new book out called Ankylosaur Attack (Tales of Prehistoric Life) and it’s even available over here in the UK too.

Ben Goldacre hardly needs our plugging, but this is a very interesting study he describes and just in case you missed it,here’s the link.

I like to see some science writing from Birmingham and so here is Russell Beale with What is Science? or Here be Dragons. If you look over at the right hand column you’ll see Lucy Harper who wrote a blog post for us some time back.

Like some old Vaudevillian I like to finish with a song. Rationally Speaking Out Loud found this one buried in YouTube and handily provides the lyrics. I’m sure it expresses the sentiments of many skeptics out there and It’s well worth a listen. Enjoy and don't forget our next two speakers in September, Peter Harrison andMark Stevenson.


This weeks round up was compiled by Patrick Redmond (paddyrex)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Weekly Round-Up (w/e 14th August 2011)


Welcome to the increasingly accurately named weekly round-up.

It's been a strange week as we had to cancel our regular meeting, which this month was to feature Mark Stevenson (@OptimistOnTour). We are hoping to reschedule this talk in the near future, replacing one of our socials. There will be 2 SitPs in that month and hopefully as few people as possible will miss out.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Why Nothing Matters


By Ronald Green

Why should nothing matter? If anything matters, why should nothing matter? And yet it does, for there isn’t anything, it seems, that nothing does not touch, or anything that does not touch nothing. History, philosophy, religion, science, art, literature, music – all look towards nothing at some point, stimulating questions that would otherwise not be asked.

What is this nothing, that we can’t actually see, touch or feel? Is it absolute? Is it relative to everything else? If we are able to think about it, write and read about it, is it something, and if so wouldn’t it then not be nothing?

This is precisely the mystery of nothing – that the more we think about it, the more there is to it.

The struggle to understand the concept of absolute emptiness, the absence of everything, has been going on for some two thousand years, for at least as long as there have been written records of what people thought is important. Those who have made it their business to think have been puzzling at "nothing", wondering what it was, whether it was anything at all, whether it existed, in fact, and if it did, how it affected things around it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Weekly Round-up w/e 07/08/11


Time to sit back, relax and soak up the delights gathered for you by the us good folk at Birmingham Skeptics. Yes, it’s time for the weekly roundup and once more we’ve herded the good and bad into one easily digestible post for your discerning skeptical consumer.

To kick us off the excellent Heather Doran @hapsci tackles a summery story and takes on one of those science sounding reports that we are all too familiar with in the media. You know the type I mean. “This or that seemingly random object has been found to have this or that seemingly random effect.” There’s no end to them. Well Heather has a go at setting the record straight over on her blog with Wine and Grapes Will NOT Prevent Sunburn.

We had to include the next story for a number of reasons. One is that it involves particle physics which featured in our last Podcast. The next is that it was written by David Gregory the BBC Midlands Science correspondent and one of our previous speakers. Thirdly it involves scientists from Warwick and it’s always nice to see local people at the cutting edge. Read and enjoy a brief post about some lovely neutrino events.

The next post is longer but nonetheless fascinating and momentous. The UN is officially declaring a disease as eradicated for only the second time ever. The disease is one that affects cattle but when you look at the intricate way that cattle relate to humans throughout time and society this is no insignificant moment. The history of what has led up to this incredible situation is described beautifully in this piece by the New York Times.

If you got the link to this blog through Facebook then beware. Cover your children’s eyes lest they be corrupted and don your tinfoil beanie for fear your brain be sizzled by the ravages of the Internet. Heed well the warnings of Martin Robbins as,  with tongue firmly planted within cheek, he warns that Facebook will destroy your children’s brains.

Here are two articles of interest that relate to our very own fair city  Firstly there is this one on a research project at Good Hope Hospital involving... I can barely bring myself to type it, spiritual healing. Then hot on the heels of that the revelation that Birmingham Schools are shelling out on alternative therapies for the students.

Whether you love or fear chemicals will often depend upon whether you read the Daily Mail. The fact is they are all around us, and in fact they are us. Did you know it’s the International Year of Chemistry? Join us with Scientific American to celebrate some of the elements and molecules that make life what it is.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. This oft quoted mantra is in itself a case in point that you shouldn’t always take things at face value. I had this in my head as coming from Disraeli but a quick check on its origin shows that this is very possibly tosh. What isn’t tosh though is Ben Goldacre’s wonderful critique of the use and abuse of statistics in the media.

This final link caused me no end of trouble. If you’re not familiar with the cartoons of Abstruse Goose they are brilliantly geekily funny. My problem came in choosing one to put down on here. As an old DC Comics fan I picked this one, but feel free to hit Random and be transported to alternative dimensions of fun.

This weeks roundup was compiled by Patrick Redmond with considerable help from the other organisers.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The Weekly Round-up w/e 29/7/11

Would you look at us, another weekly round-up only a week after the last one, we're getting good at this.  We've got various things on offer to you this week for your reading pleasure.  Before we move on, just a quick reminder that Mark Stevenson's 'An Optimist's Tour of the Future' talk fast approaching so make sure you've made a note in your diary, second Wednesday of the month as always.  Have a look over there to the right of the page for further details.  Here's what you've been waiting for:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Particle Physics: Brilliant!


A Blog post by Patrick Redmond

One of the problems with doing a podcast is that you get to hear your own voice a lot. Each episode takes a surprisingly long time to edit and it can be tortuous if, like me, you’re not keen on hearing yourself speak. One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself is a tendency to enthuse, to pronounce things frequently to be “Fantastic” or “Brilliant” like that Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show.

This is partly inevitable given that I tend to pick subjects and people about which I am genuinely interested and excited. So it comes out in my attitude. The problem comes when you tackle a subject like the Atlas Experiment. How can you talk about the biggest and coolest experiment in the world without slipping into superlatives?

I had the privilege to talk to physicist Steve Goldfarb who works at the Atlas Experiment. The excitement of those working on this is almost palpable as they push at the frontiers of what we know. There is a real sense of a continuum of knowledge as they build on the legacy of earlier physicists and scientists adding to our understanding of the origins and workings of the universe.

The Atlas Experiment is the largest particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider. As billions of protons clash within the detector they gather the data from the most likely suspects and piece together the evidence searching for what might or might not be there to answer some of the most fundamental questions about matter and the universe.

Everything about this project is astounding. From the magnificent physical scale of the mechanical equipment to the the subatomic stature of the objects observed and the breathtaking scope of the possibilities within its reach, it is amazing. Not everyone feels the same about particle physics I know. Have a look at these comments from the Fox News website, brought to my attention by @kashfarooq.




Thankfully though the human race will continue to progress thanks to science and scanner101 and flowerpot will be able to reap the benefits regardless.

The other great thing that you get from talking to Steve isn’t just the passion for the project but the insight of what it's like to be one of the the community. They’re people that work hard but they also play hard. It’s a working, living group of people. For instance one of the things that Steve does in his spare time is to play in a blues band called the Cannettes. They play traditional blues but they’ve managed to combine their love of physics and music in some of their songs.  I’ve included a copy of The Atlas Boogie at the end of the podcast, but it’s well worth having a look at the video. Listen to the podcast and enjoy the video embedded below.




Patrick Redmond - Born in Stoke and moved the vast distance to live in Birmingham. He is one of the organisers of Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Weekly Round-up w/e 24/07/2011


Are Nanobots the Future?

There’s been so much good stuff out there on the web this week that tweaking it down to just these few chosen links has been a tricky job, but that hasn’t put us off trying.

Our next SitP is Mark Stevenson author, comedian, science communicator... I’d better stop there his résumé is extensive and we could be some time. He’ll be taking us on An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Many of the topics he discusses in his book and no doubt his talk pop up in this thought provoking post, The Singularity is Far: A Neuroscientist's View, over at Boing Boing.

You may remember that a few posts ago we discussed the question of the portrayal of images of Mohammed. Now the excellent Heresy Corner tackles the same question inspired by the BBC’s approach to the issue on their current documentary series, The Life of Mohammed in this post titled The BBC: Falsifying Art and History in the Name of Respect.

Whether somebody is a hero or villain often depends on your standpoint. Hacker groups Anonymous and Lulzsec have attracted both admiration and approbation from different sections of society. Evan Bernstein of the New England Skeptical Society and Skeptics Guide, to the Universe gives us his reasons why he believes the hackers and the skeptics are not singing from the same sheet in A Little Less Anonymous Today.

Many moons ago David Gregory, the West Midlands BBC Science Correspondent came to talk to us about science and the media. One of the points he made was how fringe or irrational ideas are often given too much time and space in a mistaken idea of balance. It seems he’s not the only one to think this as this piece from the Guardian illustrates.

What does patient choice mean to you? It depends on whether you’re a quack with a remedy to sell really.  Read what Andy Lewis has to say on the government’s recent announcements over at the Quackometer.

In that previous post Andy mentions the use of Honey on wounds and it’s interesting to cross reference that with another blog post that came out recently by podcaster and Science Based Medicine contributor Mark Crislip entitled simply Honey. Could it be Quackometer vs. Quackcast?

If the unlikely combination of camping, water sports and humanist/skeptical type activities appeals to you, check out Questival. A great event in a beautiful area for all you active free thinkers. They’ve even got SitP favourite Matt Parker there. You can listen to an interview with one of the organisers on our upcoming podcast. Check the webpage soon to see when it’s been uploaded and to listen to past episodes.

We’d like to take the chance to thank Bayani Mills for the blog he wrote for us on way that the South Korean medical establishment handles chiropractors. He’s a keen skeptic and there is lots of other good stuff over at his site. Remember, if you have something interesting to say and you’d like to feature it on our site just get in touch with us to discuss it. We’re always happy to have contributors.

Finally, it’s not exactly skepticism but it’s a great story. At our jam packed Skeptics in the Pub with Jon Ronson he amused the crowd with this tale of the worst swear word in the world. We’ll leave the last word with Jon’s son.

This weeks round up was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) with help from others that contributed suggestions.