Fakery, Wackery and Tragedy Aids Science Teaching

Sunday, February 28, 2010
From the TES.

Conspiracy theories, creationism and 9/11 can help children to evaluate evidence, expert argues

Original paper headline: Fakery, wackery and tragedy: all grist to the mill in science teaching

Internet conspiracy theories and the controversy over creationism should be embraced as opportunities to engage pupils in scientific theory and critical thinking, according to a leading science educationalist.

Anu Ojha, head of education at the National Space Centre in Leicester, argues that the tactic is the best way to “guide our children through the labyrinth of information, misinformation, claim and counterclaim which characterises scientific discourse in the media and online”.

He says that the internet is the main source for scientific, societal and political information for the new generation of “21st century citizens”, born from 1995 onwards.

That leaves them susceptible to unsubstantiated claims such as the idea that the moon landings were faked - believed by a quarter of the British population, according to a poll last year - and that the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre were a Western conspiracy.

Mr Ojha, who taught secondary science for 13 years, says teachers should tackle these theories head on and show pupils how scientific knowledge can be used to discredit them.

Delivering the annual Tribal education lecture last week, he cited three arguments used to support a 9/11 conspiracy theory (see box).

By pulling them apart using science, teachers could both deliver the curriculum and give pupils the crucial “critical thinking skills that they’re going to need to navigate this turbulent information ocean in which they find themselves adrift”, he said.

Teachers should also be prepared to tackle the debate over creationism, he said.

“It’s fantastic for evaluating degrees of evidence, highlighting the crucial difference between dogma and evidence-based scientific theory,” Mr Ojha said in the lecture.

Afterwards he told The TES: “It is not about opening the floodgates to creationism in the classroom. It is about being confident enough in having the levels of evidence to back up the scientific point of view.”

Peter Main, Institute of Physics director of education and science, said: “There will inevitably be cases where a pupil raises topics such as creationism.

“A good science teacher may choose to use the question to illustrate why the particular theory is not scientific,” he said.

Continues here.

Graham Taylor appointed manager of Monty Python philosophers' football team

Friday, February 26, 2010
From the Telegraph.

Graham Taylor, the former England football manager, may still be reeling from his 0-1 loss to Germany at Wembley in 1991.

But his latest appointment could give him an opportunity to set the record straight as he leads a team of the nation’s sharpest minds into battle in a recreation of the Monty Python Philosophers’ Football Match sketch.

The 65-year-old will have to summon all his mental strength as he pits his Socrates Wanderers team of comedians, including Tony Hawks and Mark Steel, against “German” rivals Nietzsche Albion, whose ranks include British philosophers Dr Stephen Law and Julian Baggini.

Official website here.

Oxford Literary Festival Events

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Events I have organized for CFI UK in conjunction with the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival:

Stephen Law (CFI) and Peter Stanford on What sort of “faith schools” are acceptable, if any? March 24th. 6pm.

On Thursday 25th you can listen to Simon Singh talking about alternative therapies (and no doubt having something to say about his own libel case).

Does Science Reveal The Mind of God? Polkinghorne vs Papineau is on Friday 26th March. 2pm.

On March 27th Ben Goldacre will be talking about Bad Science. 2pm.

Professor and magician Richard Wiseman will talk about Weird Science on Sunday 28th at 4pm.

You can book at the website. Box Office: 0870 343 1001

Something down the bottom of the garden...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thanks to Fortean Times. P.S. NOT filmed by me. Just for your amusement....

Test medicine in the lab, not in the court

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Go here.

Raymond Tallis writes in the Times:

A while back, I wrote a piece arguing that the retired, such as myself, had a responsibility to speak fearlessly about what we saw to be the truth and to take unpopular stands on difficult issues. After all, we no longer had any hope of advancement and the execration of ill-informed, unthinking or self-interested opponents could not touch us. Recent events have awoken my dormant cowardice to question this bravado. Speaking out on some things might mean that Mrs Tallis and I could end our days on the parish, cleaned out by a ruinous court battle with individuals or institutions with deeper pockets than us. The libel case brought against Simon Singh is one such event... continues.

And Simon Singh writes:

On Tuesday morning I will appear at the Court of Appeal in the latest round of a libel battle that has already lasted almost two years, and which could easily continue for another two years. It has cost me more than £100,000 in legal fees and this could double before we reach a final judgment.

What did I write that was so terrible? I published a newspaper article raising concerns about chiropractors who use spinal manipulation to treat children for conditions such as colic, ear infections and asthma. I thought that it was important that parents were aware of the shortage of evidence surrounding such treatments, but the British Chiropractic Association disagreed and sued me personally for libel
... Continues here.

Jack of Kent's blog
is an excellent source of information on this case.

Good article on libel tourism here.

The United Nations Committee on Human Rights has denounced English defamation law for "discouraging critical media reports on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work, and encouraging libel tourism."

"It is a lamentable observation that because of the way our laws are skewed in favour of the plaintiff, London has become the libel capital of the world." Richard Dawkins.

There will big news on Singh later today.

Request for help

Friday, February 19, 2010
I have organized what I would have thought would be a fantastically interesting CFI UK day on 6th March: Monsters vs Aliens. Great speakers. But I am having real problems advertizing it and getting any bookings. If you know of places in London or vicinity where this event could be publicized - a noticeboard, friends you could email who might be interested, skeptic groups, facebook page, tweets, etc. do please publicize it. I'd really appreciate it. We've got Adrian Shine coming down from Loch Ness, so it would great to have someone there to see him. If you want an A4 poster email me and I'll send you a printable version. Other ideas for publicity gratefully recieved.

Do please help!



Saturday 6th March 2010

UFOs, The Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot

Come hear and question some of the world’s leading experts on notorious monster and alien claims.

Nick Pope ran the British government's UFO project at the Ministry of Defence. Initially sceptical, his investigation into the UFO phenomenon and access to classified government files convinced him that the phenomenon raised important defence and national security issues, especially when the witnesses were military pilots or where UFOs were tracked on radar. Nick is recognised as a leading authority on UFOs and the unexplained.

Adrian Shine is head of the Loch Ness Project, and the world’s leading expert on the monster allegedly lurking in the Loch’s murky depths, and will be casting a sceptical eye over the evidence.

Paul Vella is Britain’s leading expert on Sasquatch, and will be taking a close, sceptical look at the main areas of evidence including photographic, historical records, hair samples, DNA, footprints, but also covers misidentification and hoaxing.

10.45am Registration. Finish not later than 4pm.
Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL – Main Hall.

Just £10 on the door. Free to Friends of CFI UK, PLUS GLHA, SPES, BHA, NEW HUMANIST SUBSCRIBERS.

To book go to www.cfiuk.org and hit button "support cfiuk" and follow instructions. Credit and debit cards welcome. Alternatively send a cheque payable to ‘Center for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Center for Inquiry London, PO Box 49097 Centre for Inquiry London N11 9AX, and include names of those coming, phone number, return address, etc.

Aliens free from original sin?

From wiki entry on original sin. I found this rather fascinating...

In an interview entitled "Aliens Are My Brother", granted to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Father Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, stated: "In my opinion this possibility (of life on other planets) exists"; "intelligent beings, created by God may exist in outer space" and "some aliens could even be free from original sin" concluding "there could be (other beings) who remained in full friendship with their creator".[42] And on 5 March 2009, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, another astronomer working at the Vatican Observatory, told the BBC, in relation to the search for Earth-like worlds about to be embarked upon by the Kepler Space telescope, that "we Jesuits are actively involved in the search for Earth-like planets. The idea that there could be other intelligent creatures made by God in a relationship with God is not contrary to traditional Judeo-Christian thought. The Bible has many references to, or descriptions of, non-human intelligent beings; after all, that's what angels are. Our cousins on other planets may even have their own salvation story – including other examples of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. We are open to whatever the Universe has for us."[43]

Will Kennedy

Friday, February 12, 2010

Just sticking this up because I love it, and because Will Kennedy is one of the world's most effortlessly groovy drummers.

POSTSCRIPT. I guess the irony won't be lost on some of you that this is a gospel tune, and that these guys are (mostly?) religious, especially Kennedy, who appeared at drummers for Jesus. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is also now a minister. I have also noticed that many drummers tend to be drawn to philosophy. Could there being a link between attraction to (skill at?) drumming and an attraction to thinking about the Big Questions? Probably not, but still, here's a bit of anecdotal evidence. Any more anecdotes on this theme?

King's College Philosophy Dept - Leiter update

Leiter reports on the KCL firings: "Jan Palmowski of King's College, London: The Most Disgraceful Academic Administrator Alive?"

Jaw-droppingly shocking.

The Evil God Challenge

My Paper "The Evil God Challenge" is now available online at the CUP journals page http://journals.cambridge.org/repo_A72V8TEm

This is the final, published version, appearing in Religious Studies shortly.

"In Wittgenstein, I discovered a voice that advised me not to be endlessly detained these questions"

Thursday, February 11, 2010
Giles Fraser has been explaining over at the Guardian why Wittgenstein appeals so strongly to some religious types (like Sam Norton, I suppose - what do you think Sam?). Here is part 1 of his three part essay.

Back in the early 80's, I spend many an afternoon in a cramped and stuffy office in King's College, London, with an informally gathered group of mostly graduate students, going through Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations paragraph by paragraph, line by line. It was often terribly slow going. We might ponder two or three sentences for a couple of weeks, coming back to the same point several times. It felt a bit like Bible study. Some might have wondered how much was being achieved in this group or what the point of it all was. But for me it was absorbing, thrilling, adventurous. My eyes were opened and my life was changed.

The professor at the centre of this little group was the genial Texan philosopher Norman Malcolm, a lifelong friend of Wittgenstein and one of his most notable students. Part of the excitement – though nobody would have been quite so crass as to admit it – was to be learning philosophy at just one degree of separation from the master himself. But that alone was not what made this group keen to keep coming back. Many of us felt that something different was going on, that we were learning a new way of doing philosophy. The big idea was that philosophy wasn't so much a question of mastering arguments – though the they did form a small part. There wasn't any great sense that we were deriving firm conclusions from the logical combination of indubitable premises. Rather it was as if we were being inducted into a certain sort of technique, almost a style of dealing with philosophical problems. Philosophy was more like therapy, an attempt to understand and deal with the very heart of human puzzlement about various things. Why, we asked, do certain sorts of situations or ideas seem odd to us and what do we hope to achieve by throwing philosophy at them?

Continues here


Chomsky on the education system

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti "Magic is Real" Benefit

Ian Rowland (great magician - and the world's leading cold-reading expert) writes:

Dear Friends,

‘Magic Is Real: Haiti Benefit Evening’

It will happen this coming Wednesday!

It will only happen ONCE.

It will be a great, memorable and unique occasion!

Why would you miss this?

We’ve got the TIME.

We’ve got the PLACE.

We’ve got the ENTERTAINMENT.

We’ve got the MAGIC.

We’ve got some fantastic Charity Auction items that I promise YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE. Someone on Wednesday evening will pick up the BARGAIN OF A LIFETIME. I am not even close to kidding about this.

So… you have been wondering whether to come. NOW is the time for you and your friends to finally decide 'Yes', and to be part of this success story.

Magic Is Real, and we will all prove it on Wednesday evening. Come and see the proof for yourself.

We made it easy to get to. (If you can stumble sideways out of London Bridge stn, you can find this venue.)

We made it easy to get in. (£10 on the door or pay in advance: http://www.mycharitypage.com/IanRowland )

We made it easy to enjoy.

Now all we need is… YOU.


With a simple mouse click, you can forward this email to everyone you know. Please DO.


- Ian

07939 047 464


The Iraq bomb detector - a box with little in it

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Check this link to BBC video on the amazing Iraq bomb detector. It sounds as if the Iraqi government has unwittingly bought itself $85m worth of dowsing equipment, on which its military have then been relying to detect bombs. The Uri Geller dowsing kit is much cheaper, and includes "crystal pendulum" too.

There is nothing to program in these cards. There is no memory. There is no microcontroller. There is no way any form of information can be stored - Dr Markus Kuhn

Randi site says:

In a refreshing news item, the BBC and others are reporting that Jim McCormick, inventor of the ADE 561 Bomb Detection Device has been arrested and charged with fraud.

McCormick sold $85,000,000 worth of these devices that he claims work on the same principle as dowsing rods, except that they detect bombs instead of water.

James Randi website here.

BBC says:

The UK government has announced a ban on the export to Iraq and Afghanistan of some so-called "bomb detectors".

It follows an investigation by the BBC's Newsnight programme which found that one type of "detector" made by a British company cannot work.

The Iraqi government has spent $85m on the ADE-651 and there are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people.

The ban on the ADE-651 and other similar devices starts next week.

Sidney Alford, a leading explosives expert who advises all branches of the military, told Newsnight the sale of the ADE-651 was "absolutely immoral".

"It could result in people being killed in the dozens, if not hundreds," he said.

Questions were raised over the ADE-651, following three recent co-ordinated waves of bombings in Baghdad.

Skeptic's toolbox and bacon sandwiches

Friday, February 5, 2010

A great resource from skeptics toolbox on medicine. Go here. Thanks to the committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Based on a powerpoint by Harriet Hall MD.

It is particularly good on absolute vs relative risk, about halfway through. Long, but worth the effort to read.

A recent study showed that using a cell phone doubled the risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor in the ear). The relative risk was reported as 200% and alarmed parents took their children’s phones away. But the baseline risk of acoustic neuroma is 1:100,000. 200% of 1 is 2. The absolute risk was 1 more tumor per 100,000 people. Acoustic neuroma is a treatable, non-malignant tumor. The lead researcher said she would rather accept the risk and know where her kids were. She let them keep their cell phones. She warned that the results were provisional, the study small, and that different results might be found with a larger study. She was vindicated when a later, larger study found no increased risk.

PAUL KURTZ 27th Feb talk

Saturday 27th February 2010 in the LIBRARY at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1 4RL. FREE EVENT.

From 11.00 am to 1 pm. Talk on “NEW DIRECTIONS FOR SECULARISTS AND HUMANISTS” by Professor Paul Kurtz. Professor Kurtz is Chair Emeritus and Founder of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), Council for Secular Humanism, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Prometheus Books. Paul Kurtz is visiting from the US.

From 10.00 am to 11.00 am. A representative from the Center for Inquiry in Eastern Europe will give a talk on Humanism in his / her country.

There will be ample time for questions and answers.

This is a FREE event and you can just turn up without booking.. However if you plan to attend it will be helpful if you email Suresh Lalvani, Executive Director at the Center for Inquiry UK (CFI) at slalvani@centerforinquiry.net

Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly on Fox

In these clips from Wednesday’s “The O’Reilly Factor” featuring a cameo by Jon Stewart, Bill O’Reilly and his guest disagree on a few things. From truthdig. Go here (it won't link):


Comment here.

All three parts of video are here.

Humanism and Africa - where to study?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Does anyone know of anywhere that could offer someone a place for research on HUMANISM AND SKEPTICISM IN AFRICA?

Events at the Oxford Literary Festival

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
CFI UK are running several events at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival.

* Faith School Debate, Stephen Law vs. Peter Stanford - Wednesday 24 March, 6pm
* Simon Singh on Trick or Treatment - Thursday 25 March 6pm
* Does Science Reveal the Mind of God? Rev John Polkinghorne vs David Papineau - Friday 26 March 2pm
* Ben Goldacre - Saturday 27 March, 2pm
* Richard Wiseman - Sunday 28 March, 4pm

To book, go to www.oxfordliteraryfestival.com

Upcoming talks on the meaning of life and intellectual black holes -Tues 23 Feb

I am speaking at Moser Theatre, Wadham College, Oxford 1-2pm, 23rd February. Details here. The event is CI UK sponsored and FREE. Part of Think Week. http://www.thinkweek.co.uk/

Later that day, at Goldsmiths College, 6.10pm, I am giving a talk on intellectual black holes (for Chris French) ROOM 256, RICHARD HOGGART BUILDING, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW. All talks are open to staff, students and members of the public. Attendance is FREE and there is no need to book in advance. For further information, visit http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/apru/speakers.php or contact Tamas Borbely (email: tamas.borbely@gmx.com).