Monday, 24 March 2014

Creationist Educationalists in Birmingham

Some of you might remember the great talk we had from Jonny Scaramanga on his experience with the ACE schools and their particular brand of Christian education. He’s still on the case and recently sent us the email copied below showing how you can lend your voice to the cause. You can read more about this at his own blog.


Hi guys,

According to the British Humanist Association's spreadsheet, the Lamb's Christian School, an ACE school in Birmingham, has received government funding, between 9 and 16 pupils every term since 2013.

https://humanism.org.uk/2014/03/18/bha-expresses-alarm-creationist-alleged-extremist-nurseries-getting-state-funding/

It's also reported in today's Telegraph: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10706398/Islamic-schools-condemned-by-David-Cameron-receive-state-funding.html

Please would you write to your MP to complain about this? There's no point complaining to the Local Authority: We tried that in Bristol, and they Local Authority said that the government had expressly told them not to conduct an independent assessment of the schools' suitability, but to rely only on Ofsted reports. I think a complain to Ofsted is therefore also in order, but that's another campaign for another day.

I attach an example letter which you can use and modify to your own ends.

Please contact your mailing lists and ask as many people as possible to write. Steiner schools have also been receiving funding in this way, although not in Birmingham.

All the best,

Jonny

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!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Round-up Weeks 24-25

Hello and welcome to the Birmingham Skeptics Round-up. First of all I’d like to ask if anybody out there has a connection with a person with a name beginning with S? I’m getting a woman with glasses and a large bank balance, something like Scally.... or Silly? Anyway, the overwhelming feeling that I’m getting is that she is very pleased with herself, although there are many around her that are feeling confused even some that are far away.

If you have ever felt cheated by the services of a psychic this is perhaps
not the way to try and get recompense .

It seems totally unjust that as I sit here typing this on a dull and damp Sunday that my eyes should be itching and my nose streaming due to that supposedly summery malady of hay fever.
Perhaps acupuncture can provide a solution!

Let’s have a little section on some evolutionary wonderment. First up for you paleontological twitchers some illustrations from
a field guide to winged dinosaurs. Hopping along next are some exquisitely colourful amphibians.

Still on natural history and the evolution of feathered things Kate Yandal takes on an interesting question in the (perhaps unfortunately titled article if you come from the UK and never left the 70s) “
Why Many Birds Don’t Have Penises

From real life evolutionary processes to the beautiful and hypnotic world of the artificial with
aDiatomea.

An interesting piece from Dave Logan on the need for
inclusivity of those oft misunderstood geniuses in the workplace.

You know that unpleasant but essentially self-limiting illness
norovirus? Well here is a free sample of a preventative and cure from those lovely people over at Healing Downloads.

Pointing and laughing at plainly ridiculous beliefs is easy, but not always appropriate. How do you react to somebody who adopts
a ridiculous suicidal diet in the belief that it will help them live longer and better?

This seems like the logical place to put a list of i
llogical things that people believe in.
Of all the pictures it was no.3 that evoked the biggest response from me, p
robably due to some evolutionary psychology factor or other. And we’ll smoothly segway here into a promotion for our next excellent talk from evolutionary psychologist Kat Ford on just how good we really are or aren’t at discerning character from faces.

Mind you, perhaps that old debate on the significance of
nature vs nurture is not so dichotomous after all.

First of a recurring lego theme here as word gets out that they are launching their own
Mars Rover. Not to be outdone by the Lego Boffins, Europe is well underway for their next planned Rover to the red planet. It may well have to be that we satisfy ourselves with mechanical exploration unless they can find a good solution to the radiation problem.

You might have noticed in the article about the Lego Rover a link to
Lego Cuusoo where fans can submit models for consideration. One cool person is using this to try and get Lego to redress its gender bias and promote women in STEM and other fields.

Head for the hills, as
New Age terrorist unleash their ultimate weapon!

Girl Guides no longer have to declare allegiance to God. In the interest of balance I should point out that other non-religious organisations for the occupation of your children exist. We should however remember that religious persecution is a real problem and consider the human rights of such groups as the Pastafarians.

How to destroy your opponents using
math when playing monopoly. A fascinating story of maths warriors and an interesting discussion on recognising success from David McRaney. If maths is a subject that floats your boat then put down the 27th of November in your diary. We have Simon Singh coming to Birmingham Skeptics to reveal The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets. I don’t need to be psychic to know that this will be a popular and brilliant talk.

The final Lego connected story here as we look at the
effects of angry Lego figures on our children.

Emil Karlsson takes on Mike Adams’ climate change denialism.

The longest day has come and gone and we’re in that countdown to winter so old friend Dean Burnett takes us through the
supposedly happiest day of the year.

The anti-vaccination community of Australia
thankfully continue to struggle in what has been a very bad couple of years for them.

A review here of a book on the
child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. If you like books, discussions and interesting company then make sure you come along to this month’s Book Group to discuss Guns, Germs and Steel. The month after that will be Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma.. And if you can’t wait that long to meet up with some lovely sceptical type people then we have our social this week at the Square Peg, hope to see you there.

Dope testing in Formula 1, but for cars and not people.

The
Francis Crick Institute takes a step closer to reality and contributing to the fight against devastating diseases. Actor Brian Cox also promotes the potential benefits of genome sequencing in the understanding of the human condition.

If you ever need a dose of true Bible based insanity then look no further than
Prophecy News Watch.

Most of these links have been provided by the excellent Roy Beddowes. If you get a bit impatient waiting for these round-ups you should
like our Facebook page where he keeps it populated with a regularly updated stream of the rational and not so rational wonders of the internet.

Here’s a short run through of some of his latest posts for us:

Carl Sagan’s universal order of creation, illustrated., Astronaut gives lecture from space. Gay priests forum uncovered in the Vatican. Transit of the ISS across the Moon. Inside Alpha, an atheist’s foray into Christianity. And finally the Daily Mail admits fracking for vitriol.

If you fancy having a go at doing one of these round-ups for us then let us know via any of the usual methods and we’d be more than happy for you to do so. We’d even send you over a list of links that you could use or ignore.

Remember to come along to our events and to look further into the future keep checking
on this webpage. Please note our upcoming open mic night. We’ve had a couple of applications but we’re looking for more so don’t be shy.

Finally we’ll leave you with this sceptical warning for the guilty parent:




This round-up was put together by Patrick Redmond with the welcome assistance of Roy Beddowes.