Category Archives: Skepticism
A shiny new Facebook page for my science/comedy/magic shenanigans.
Italian courts have sentenced several scientists and a government official to prison for six years over the L’Aquila earthquake. I don’t intend to dwell on the story, because it has already been covered very well by others. People are discussing what happened, whether these scientists should be jailed or not, and even what they’re actually being accused of. Are they being punished for failing to predict an earthquake, or not communicating the risks accurately? These are all important questions. But I want to ask a different question. If scientists fail to predict an event, or make a prediction that fails to come true, they can apparently be held accountable. Why is this not the case for charlatans and bullshit-merchants throughout the world selling bogus “cures” or predicting natural disasters? This blog entry is a trip down memory lane to 2009 for a story about superstition, censorship, psychics, and earthquakes. Read the rest of this entry
For the third year running, Edinburgh Skeptics will be organising Skeptics On The Fringe. If you somehow haven’t heard of the world’s longest skepticism festival, then allow me to explain. Taking place throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, Skeptics On The Fringe consists of free lectures and performances from skeptics and scientists for a whole month!
This year will be my second appearance for Skeptics On The Fringe, and I’ll be debuting a never-before-seen talk about creationism. For almost a year I’ve been working with (that’s right, with) some of the world’s biggest creationist organisations in an attempt to collate the strongest arguments possible in support of creationism. We can laugh away so many absurdly hilarious creationist claims as we come across them on blogs and YouTube comments, but what about the big guns? Given one chance to prove their point, what evidence do the world’s most powerful creationist groups cite? I’ve been collating a list.
I’m talking on Thursday the 9th of August. The venue is the Banshee Labyrinth and the show starts at 8:30pm. It’s free, though I do encourage you to make a small donation if possible. The lovely folks at Edinburgh Skeptics volunteer their free time in order to run a month of daily events for us lucky buggers.
You can find out more about Skeptics On The Fringe here.
I’ve been asked to speak about the science of lucid dreaming tomorrow (30/7/2012) at Hackney Skeptics in the Pub. It’s been a very popular talk that’s went down well at Skeptics on the Fringe, Winchester Science Festival, and other Skeptics in the Pub groups including Birmingham, Reading, Nottingham, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen. If you’re in the area, come along and say hi!
Update: Thanks to everyone who came along! I really enjoyed this one, especially the Q&A. Some really thought-provoking stuff! The audience were great, the venue is brilliant, and the organisers were awesome.
I also got Ned Evett to sign his album, Treehouse. All in all a great night. Cheers!
At the end of the week, Winchester Science Festival is taking place from Friday through to Sunday. I can’t wait to see the talks and performances, and I’m fortunate enough to be taking the stage on Saturday morning at 9am to talk about the actual science behind our understanding of lucid dreaming. Do come along if you can pull yourself away from your own dreams that early! All three days are filled with fantastic speakers. It should be a great weekend.
You can find out more at the website: www.winchesterscifest.org
Or follow on Twitter: @WinSciFest
Update: The first Winchester Science Festival was amazing! Well done to James Thomas for organising the entire event! I saw some incredible talks and performances, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to an awesome audience, and along with Simon Watt I got an extra set as Lewis Dartnell was unfortunately ill on the day of his talk (it’s all good, he’s fine now). I hope to come along for a second one next year!
Last weekend I went along to a psychic fair in Glasgow. It was fairly uneventful, and not overly interesting, but I did meet a few other skeptics there. There were plenty of supposed psychics, mediums and merchants selling tacky stones, crystals and trinkets. Just what you would expect. Perhaps a little less common, there was a woman apparently in touch with fairies, who sold all kind of fairy crap, and there was a woman who would sit you in front of a tacky little camera and screen which then displayed your aura. Basically, you would pay £90 an hour to have someone do some trippy Photoshopping on you. It was also amusing to see spine wizards at the fair. Yes, deadly serious chiropractors appearing alongside crystal healing and ladies who communicate with fairies. Wonderful. It was uneventful, as I said, and I arrived a bit late due to me being an idiot, so there’s not much more to add. The only reason I’m posting this at all is because I spoke to a few people who said they hadn’t actually been to a psychic fair before and wondered what type of things to expect. So without further ado, here are some quick phone pics and a video. (Note the spine wizard entertaining a fellow skeptic. Did anyone else find the very last frame oddly amusing? How mature.)
Congratulations Simon Singh! I’m technically not blogging at the moment, as I prepare the upcoming changes for the blog, but I had to post something about the great news. Today, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) have issued the following statement regarding their case against Simon Singh.
At the start of the week, we received some great news in the UK. The House of Commons published its report on the evidence for homeopathy. The MPs urge that the government withdraws NHS funding for homeopathy. They also propose that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) shouldn’t allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims, or claim there are active ingredients when there are not. Read the rest of this entry
Break open a bottle of bubbly, it’s time to celebrate! And remember to dilute the alcohol as much as possible if you want to really get drunk. We’ve been treated to some really exciting news for skeptics, rational thinkers, and the public in general! Today, the House of Commons published its report on an investigation into homeopathy. The MPs urge that the government withdraws NHS funding for homeopathy. This is absolutely fantastic, and it gets even better. Read the rest of this entry
First, let’s clear something up. SETI and CSETI are not the same thing. One does serious science, the other quite simply doesn’t. CSETI describe themselves as an “international nonprofit scientific research and education organization dedicated to the furtherance of our understanding of extraterrestrial intelligence.”
You’ve maybe heard of the founder of CSETI, Dr Steven Greer. He went to the interesting Maharishi University of Management, where they teach “consciousness-based education”. Sounds fun.
Do we really need to do anymore to demonstrate that homeopathy doesn’t work? No. As far as the science goes, the battle is won. It is a demonstrable fact that homeopathic remedies with no active ingredients are unable to cause specific effects. Homeopathy is bogus and anyone who says otherwise is contradicting reality. But what we do need are more ways to demonstrate these facts to the general public who sometimes don’t understand chemistry or medical trials. We need more action that demonstrates how absurd homeopathy is, in such a way that Joe Public can see the lunacy.
The 10:23 campaign has so far been excellent. Forget understanding how the remedies are made, or understanding the natural laws that must be broken for homeopathy to work. The recent “overdosing” by 10:23 volunteers has demonstrated to the general public that the remedies don’t work. If someone overdoses on several bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills and doesn’t even get drowsy, the scam is easily exposed, whether you understand chemistry or not. We need more of these stunts, which get the point across with simple observations rather than explaining the science.
For example, yesterday I thought of another idea. I walked into Boots and looked at the homeopathic remedies on sale. All the different kinds were simply sugar pills, but they all had different labels with different ingredients listed. So product A has a different ingredient than product B and so on. But, because they are homeopathic remedies and not real drugs, they are the exact same products. If our bodies can supposedly tell the difference between a homeopathic remedy designed to help us sleep, and one designed to cure itching, surely technology can also tell the difference. The latest lab technology can spot even the slightest differences in samples.
Perhaps a worthwhile action would be to offer a challenge to homeopathic practitioners that involves them identifying their own products. We could do it ourselves, but letting the homeopathy practitioners do it would be better publicity for whoever wins the challenge. The idea would be to offer unmarked homeopathic remedies to be analysed and see if they can tell which products are which. Ideally, offering a mixture of normal sugar pills, and sugar pills treated with homeopathic remedies would be best. This would be fantastic publicity for the homeopathy loons, as they would have the chance to demonstrate that the nasty, deluded scientists have offered a challenge which was easily beaten. They could show that the homeopathic remedies can be identified among simple sugar pills. It would also be a fantastic opportunity for us to get the message across to the public, when homeopathic practitioners fail a challenge to identify which pills are homeopathic and which are simply sugar. And they will fail, because they will all be the same.
I think more actions like this are required. Even if Joe Public doesn’t understand the chemistry, they will understand when the supporters of homeopathic remedies aren’t even able to tell their own products apart from sugar. Recently, chiropractors published an article demonstrating that a major component of chiropractic healing is bogus. This is brilliant for the general public, and really sinks it home. We need to continue to think “public” and keep it simple. If we could win people over with just the facts and evidence, there wouldn’t be any creationists, faith healers or homeopathic practitioners. Sadly, that isn’t the way it works. I’m hoping the 10:23 campaign will continue to take simple and direct action that gets the message across to everyone.
Are homeopathic remedies really that bad? They are just alternatives. Sure, large brands admit they don’t work, and sell them anyway since they make money. Boots are telling us skeptics that they are aware that homeopathy is nonsense. But in the stores, the customers are reading the labels on these products which list ingredients that aren’t really in there. But this behaviour is demonstrated by many major brands selling all kinds of things. PC World sells a lot of crap computer equipment that is cheap to make and easy to sell. It’s all business.
So when major brands such as Boots admit that homeopathy is nonsense, but choose to sell it anyway, is it really a big problem? Why aren’t skeptics going after the brands that are selling crap bikes, computer parts or vehicle parts when they could sell better ones?
I’ve been receiving a lot of messages recently via email, Facebook and various forums from people making arguments like this. What’s the harm? All companies behave like this. Why an open letter to Boots for the 1023 Campaign? Let people waste their money if they want to.
I think people are missing the bigger picture.
People usually buy certain products for lots of different reasons. But people only buy medicine for one reason. People don’t buy homeopathic remedies for fun. Customers only spend money on medicine if they (or a loved one, friend etc) are ill. When Boots sells homeopathic remedies, the customers are choosing sugar pills and pure water over real medicine. Homeopathy kills. There have plenty of tragic accounts of people taking homeopathic remedies instead of real medicine and dying. One example would be Thomas Sam and his wife Manju who were this year found guilty of allowing their daughter to die of a curable condition back in May 2002. The daughter had eczema. For several months, her parents ignored the advice of doctors and opted for homeopathic remedies instead. They denied their daughter medical attention. Her skin would tear, and she was riddled with infections. Despite being fed well, she was malnourished as her body struggled to cope with the infections. Her immune system was destroyed. She was killed by alternative medicine. Real medicine works, homeopathy is an alternative to working medicine. The 1023 Campaign is essential since major companies are offering sugar pills as alternatives to working medicine, despite being aware of the consequences.
This movement by trusted pharmacies also has negative effects on the public perception of science, skepticism and critical thinking. Scientists are saying the stuff doesn’t work, but Boots says it does. “Trust Boots” is their slogan! People really think that if the homeopathic remedies did nothing, they wouldn’t be sold by such a large brand, and by so many others. Therefore the conclusion is that scientists don’t know what they are talking about. Those pesky scientists always getting in the way, moaning about homeopathy, and climate change, and evolution, and they must not know what they are talking about.
Honestly, I’ve heard this type of argument plenty of times. “Sure. Scientists say it doesn’t work. But if it really didn’t, pharmacies wouldn’t sell it”.
I understand the similarities between a major bike company deliberately selling crap products to maximise profits, and a major pharmacy selling nonsense remedies because the customers want it. But the situation with homeopathy is completely different. Using homeopathy and thinking it is making you better, is like playing air guitar and thinking you’re in a band.
Despite so many people telling me that there’s no harm, I’m sure there are more people out there who agree with what I am saying. If you think Boots shouldn’t be selling homeopathic products, please help by signing the open letter at www.1023.org.uk.