Sunday, 23 November 2008

BCA vs Simon Singh

You may or may not be aware of the libel action being brought against Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. But if you're interested in finding out more, the current best sources are Holford Watch and the ongoing coverage at Jack of Kent.

The bad news is that the BCA aren't backing off. The good news (as I understand it) is that this means that, as part of the "fair comment" defence, the evidence for and against chiropractic - in respect to the six named child health conditions - is centrally relevant to the case, and will be well and truly put in the spotlight.

An important point to keep in mind, however, is whether this is the correct arena for this matter. Should it really be a matter decided legally, when the legal concept of evidence is so far removed from the scientific one as to be almost indistinguishable? Sadly, it seems to be a symptom of the horrific state of defamation legislation in this country.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Too much to ask?

I have no problem with people believing in gods, or indeed holding any supernatural beliefs - I think I've made that quite clear in previous entries here. I also have no problem with people who believe that these irrationalities are compatible with science. I think they're horribly and utterly wrong, but I also accept that they're quite entitled to hold those beliefs.

What I do have a problem with, however, is when this sort of person is appointed to a top position related to science. Such as, oh I don't know, The British Science Minister, who claims to have a "sixth sense". Also, he believes in God and sees no conflict between these beliefs and science.

Also, apparently, the new Canadian Minister for Science and Technology is a doctor of chiropractic.

Is it too much to ask that our top science positions are filled by people with the ability to think critically, and in a scientific manner?


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What do you do?

You are the presidential candidate of the same party as the incumbent, in the last few months of the campaign. The president makes a controversial decision which, by association, could harm your chances. Polls show that a significant majority of the population does not approve. The press is asking for your comment.

What do you do?

In all likelihood, your advisors will be telling you to distance yourself from the president, and perhaps even go so far as criticising his decision. It's the obvious political choice, as the alternative offers very little advantage - siding with the president may keep some bridges intact, but burning those bridges keeps your chances of getting elected intact.

Some among you may recognise the scenario. It was one of the many complications on the road to the election in the final season of The West Wing. The reason I'm writing about it here is that Matt Santos' solution to the problem struck me as an approach characteristic of the sceptical mindset.

He did not distance himself from the president's decision. However, he also did not simply state his approval of Bartlett's actions. He stated his support for the president and then went about explaining his reasons for doing so - and the president's reasons for doing what he did. He saw that the main reason Bartlett's approval ratings were so low was the presentation of the matter in the media; his tactic was aimed at improving the information available to the public.

Perhaps it was a somewhat naïve move, based on the assumption that the press would report his full explanation and not the simple summary that he sided with the president. But one of the more appealing aspects of this particular presidential candidate is his determined idealism and reluctance to play by the standard rules of campaigning.

There are a number of different branches I could follow from this anecdote, and I probably will do so at some point. A rant about soundbite campaigning; the connection between scepticism and idealism; maybe even a comparison of the West Wing election to the most recent one. For now, it is just interesting to note that, when presented with a dilemma, it's a good idea to make sure it's not a false one.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Nihil illegitimae carborundum...

Councils ban use of Latin terms.

I'll admit this right now: I'm an elitist. Oddly, I think people should strive to better themselves with no upper limit to this endeavour, and the people who have succeeded more in this regard should be respected and heeded for their greater experience. I also believe that if you come across a term you don't understand, you should go look it up, or ask someone you think would know. Laziness in this regard is rewarded with continued ignorance. Your fate is in your own hands.

This having been said, however, the headline is misleading. The councils in question are not seeking to ban the Latin phrases in question - I don't know what kind of repercussions might await someone using one of them, but the quotes given in the article seem to make quite clear that it is an advisory step, not a prohibitive one.

I'm all in favour of reducing jargon, particularly in those media which are likely to have a wide and varied audience. But come on, are you seriously telling me that the majority of people get confused by "e.g." - or don't understand "via"? That seems somewhat unlikely to me, somehow.

The only bright side I see to this is that it might prevent people from saying "icksetra" instead of "et cetera", which, what with my being an elitist bastard, really annoys me.