Thursday, 31 January 2008


No longer are atheists permitted to communicate with each other in great numbers on "social networking" site MySpace. After repeated lobbying from Christian groups, it seems MySpace has deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group - because the poor believers find it offensive.

I'm having a hard time not simply swearing my fingers off at this point, so to save you from such an embarrassing display, I'll shoot some links at you instead:

The discussion on Richard Dawkins' website.

The account of Brian Pesta, group founder.

The New Humanist breaks the story.

I'm considering how to respond to this; I am sorely tempted to delete my account (I never use it anyway) - but this would have to be done in such a way as to send a message about why I was doing so. If MySpace is attempting to become a home to intolerant religious nutjobs, I say let them have their site.

Just another reason to hate Rupert the Bloody and boycott everything he owns.

Blink 2: the 10% myth

It's one of the more popular misconceptions that humans only use ten per cent of their brain; it's used in advertising, casual remarks and even comedy.

It seems to have arisen out of the idea that only 10% of our brain is active at any given time. This does not mean that there is 90% of the human brain that goes entirely unused - this is a myth. It is simply false.

Here's a pretty great page explaining everything you need to know about the 10% myth.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Damn heathens...

So there are apparently some Christian Scots who are all up in arms about a gathering of the enemy on their home turf: "Scottish pagan gathering spells worry for some Christians".

Without getting into petty squabblings which in my opinion would end quite nicely with the phrase "we were here first" from the pagan camp, what could be wrong with this communal gathering? I may be biased (being sympathetic to the pagan cause as those who know me well will attest), but in my experience those of a pagan faith are more friendly and open-minded than those of a more "mainstream" religion. Too open-minded, sometimes - to the point that their reason deserts them and they end up believing that a stick waved in a particular way at a particular time can cure their ills; but open-minded nonetheless. Even where they are more dogmatic, in their core beliefs regarding the unity and harmony of the world, there are more beneficial ideas than you might find in the largely anthropocentric religions widespread today.

The Rev Graham Swanson of Elgin Baptist Church, told the newspaper: "I have grave concerns and reservations about this event taking place. As a Christian I believe the Bible warns us about dabbling in such things as witchcraft."

But has he ever stopped to wonder why the Bible says that? It's not because God said "witchcraft" was bad - it's because that's what Christianity's rivals were doing when it was written. It's quite astounding that we are today still exposed to anti-pagan propaganda that has been put forward by Christianity for thousands of years - possibly the most effective campaign of misinformation in the history of humanity.

As a personal note, I'll admit that paganism is my sacred calf - although I'm a practicing and fervent sceptic, I happily immerse myself in the mythology of paganism (Nordic by preference). This is not to say that I head off to Stonehenge and dance naked when it's Solstice time - or even believe in the gods; it's rather a way of defining myself. I may post about this in more detail some other time - it requires some serious thought to get my ideas in order on this.

So, briefly back to the topic at hand, why might one be tempted to support a pagan gathering rather than a Christian one as such? I think that there is a communal spirit to paganism that is not as commonly found in Christianity, and the best thing about it (to my mind) is that, despite being misguided on a great many things, paganism is a far more friendly way to spend your free time. For one thing, they are far less judgmental - and in my experience are far more likely to forgive than the Christians. Perhaps we should follow the Reverend's example and start protesting about Church picnics and such, claiming them to be gatherings of a sinister cult.

Tip of the laurel wreath to The New Humanist

Small victories...

"NHS Trusts 'reject homeopathy'".

This can only be good news - only 37% of the 132 primary care trusts investigated "still have contracts for homeopathic services and referrals are decreasing". Obviously this is not a knockout blow to the popular pseudoscience, but it's certainly better than nothing. To be honest I'm surprised the NHS are able to offer any homeopathy at all given its non-evidence-based nature and the NHS' famous funding problems.

It is based on the principle of treating like with like, so someone with an allergy who was using homeopathic medicines would attempt to beat it with an ultra-diluted dose of an agent that would cause the same symptoms.

But while patients often report that it makes them feel much better, clinical evidence that it works is lacking, and some scientists argue the solution is so diluted it does not contain any active ingredients at all.

The principle of treating like with like is without any sound scientific basis (at least the way in which it is done in homeopathy - vaccines work in a very different way). The success rate of homeopathy is based almost entirely on the placebo effect, magnified now by the belief in its success rate. As far as chemistry is concerned, the "most potent" (most diluted) homeopathic solutions (diluted 10 to the 60th power) are classified as pure water. Not many people know this, but homeopathy gets around this by claiming that the water retains some sort of spiritual imprint of the original "remedy" which is then transferred to the sugar pill over which it is poured.

Does that even sound likely? Does it even sound like science? And yet homeopathy relies on its practitioners being seen in the same way as real doctors and scientists are by the general public - far, far smarter than they are, and trustworthy. He's wearing a white coat - he must know what he's doing.

The NHS has certainly made the right call here - even if it's only done to cut costs, they've chosen the dead weight to throw overboard first. You have to prioritise treatments that are proven to work through exhaustive clinical trials and experimentation.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

In the Blink of a Sceptical I

I've come up with an idea for a small featurette in this blog - occasional short, snappy posts blowing one widely-held belief or another out of the water by simple statement of the facts. In the blink of a sceptical eye, as it were.

Blink 1: Chameleons do not change colour to match their background. The colour change is instead a form of communication, often (but not exclusively) relating to mood. Recent research [via] has suggested that they can change colour for a mere millisecond - long enough to be understood by their fellows but not long enough to be spotted by predators.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Philosophy and scepticism

As a postgrad philosophy student and active sceptic, it's perhaps unsurprising that I'm interested in the areas of confluence between the two. In fact, I'm thinking of writing my dissertation on a similar subject, so this post is really just getting some thoughts out on the matter.

Wittgenstein had some very interesting ideas in his Philosophical Investigations regarding the purpose and study of philosophy. He regarded most foregoing work in the field to be misguided, built on the false assumption that one could approach philosophical questions such as "what is time?" in the same way as one approached questions like "what is the atomic weight of gold?". Because they are grammatically similar, one is fooled into approaching the task of answering them in the same way - by use of the scientific method. If this method is followed, he argued, we inevitably end up with meaningless metaphysics rather than philosophical "theories" on a par with those of science.

What, then, is the purpose of philosophy in Wittgenstein's mind? Certainly it had a vastly diminished role - no "meaning of life" stuff any more. Rather, it was to take on a "therapeutic" role, helping to elucidate the causes of philosophical confusion that arise from "the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language", as he put it.

The great strength of this is that it puts philosophy firmly into the real world, where it can do useful things - rather than argue over which account for or against the existence of a god is more convincing or logically coherent. Indeed, it becomes a companion of scepticism itself - examining assumptions and underlying premises that may prove fallacious. It remains, as it always has, a questioning discipline - and in itself this has always been parallel to the sceptical cause - but the subject of that questioning has shifted from the metaphysical to the linguistic, from questions about the nature of things to questions about our methods in discovering them.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Add pinch of salt before swallowing whole...

OK so this has been a long while coming, and was in fact the event that sparked the creation of this blog. Basically the story here is that I happened across a post on a personal blog I occasionally read, which urged anyone planning to vote (particularly for Obama) in the next US election to watch this video. I clicked through, and found something that struck me as most likely part conspiracy theory, part political propaganda. But, being a good sceptic, I wouldn't want to condemn it as such without actually looking into it - it concerned a subject I'd not heard much about before. But the alarm bells were ringing right from the start, before I even watched the video, because of the blurb at the side. It asks "What Presidential Candidates are part of the CFR?" and lists Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jim Gilmore, Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. Then it asks "Who opposes the CFR?", under which there is but one name: Ron Paul.

Suspicions are confirmed when you click through to the authors other uploaded videos - every one of them is regarding Ron Paul, and (on brief inspection of the titles, at least) appear to all be in support of him. Now is it just me, or does that suggest that this video might be a bit of campaign material designed to frighten people off of voting for anyone except Ron Paul?

Start the clip rolling, and this hypothesis is supported by its use of Rage Against The Machine's track Wake Up - the perfect music for creating a mood of anti-establishment fear and, well, rage. I can imagine some of the quotes used in the introduction having the opposite effect with the use of a more soothing, optimistic-sounding backing track.

So now that we've established (to my own satisfaction at least) that the video is most likely an attempt to scare people into voting for anyone other than Ron Paul, we must consider the case that the video puts forward - it may be propaganda, but that doesn't mean it's entirely false. In fact, if it were entirely false it would fail as propaganda - its effectiveness lies in it being a subtle misrepresentation of the facts.

So what is the CFR? The Council on Foreign Relations is "an independent and nonpartisan foreign policy membership organization", apparently. But what does that mean? Well, it accepts both Democrats and Republicans as members and seeks to inform policymakers of the important facts in any given foreign policy situation. It is undoubtedly an important player in policy formation due to the large number of its members who have key roles in government, but its official position is that it does not take an active role.

It's naturally been the subject of many controversies (read - conspiracy theories), probably due to its secret and elite nature. Anywhere you get top dogs from both major parties, especially behind closed doors, there are going to be a lot of people who think the worst; this is probably due to the common perception, encouraged by the politicians themselves to a substantial degree, that the parties are in 100% opposition to each other - diametrically opposed in every way. Of course this is a gross oversimplification, and often you'll find members of one party who have more things in common with some from the other than with many from their own party. It's the inevitable product of having two huge umbrella parties supposedly representing the vast majority of a country of around 300 million people.

The message that this video is pushing is that the CFR is trying to undermine the sovereignty of the United States by creating a North American body like that of the European Union, encompassing the US, Canada and Mexico. The article they link to (right here) mentions nothing of such plans, but is clearly intended to be read in light of the video. What it actually argues is that, given the increasing power of non-national entities (corporations, terrorists, crime syndicates) in the increasingly globalised world, some of the older ideas about sovereignty are becoming outdated and in fact stand in the way of tackling global problems. It makes sense to me, but then I've studied this in a fair degree of detail. The quotes from Richard Haass in the video are perfectly reasonable, and are not arguing for the creation of a one-world government. He may believe that such a thing is necessary, but that is not what he is arguing there. (But wait, the music - he must be up to something!)

I'm sorry, but the speech by Stan Jones at around the 4-minute mark started well (he admitted it sounded like a conspiracy theory, something which conspiracy theorists don't often do in my admittedly limited experience), but as soon as he uttered the word "communist", it was over for me. He lost all credibility. Not only is it a lie (even those in the CFR who do wish to create a supreme world government have never to my knowledge said that it would be a communist one, and the very idea is preposterous given the clear impracticality of such a system [anyone remember the Soviet Union?]), but it's also one of those buzzwords you will often hear in predominantly right-wing US political speeches, designed to tap into the fear and hate that they so painstakingly created after the second world war.

The second point from that speech is the comparison with the European Union - particularly the constitution. Probably banking on the fact that his audience know little or nothing about the EU (why would they? It's a whole other continent), he claims that they implemented the constitution after it was "rejected by a few". Not true. It was rejected, and yes they have attempted to implement it via a treaty that does basically the same things as the constitution would have done, but with important opt-out clauses for member states. After this point, Jones' speech becomes even less believable - a single North-American currency, "the Amero", and a new constitution "modelled on the Soviet Union's Constitution". Even if the other charges are true, this last one is simply impossible - no constitutional adviser is going to draft a new constitution based on the Soviet model. It would be career suicide, because nobody would take them seriously ever again. I'd love to see where they're getting this stuff, as it's now supposedly "out in the open".

Basically, the CFR seems to be a forum for discussion of the big issues in foreign affairs. The reason it operates partly in secret is because if the big names are to be involved in hypotheticals, they need to be able to do it without press attention. What I think this conspiracy theory has done is say that because there are people in a room talking about something (some will be advocating, some putting the case against), and not letting anyone else know what exactly is being discussed, everyone in that room (4,300 life members at the moment apparently) are all in league together, bent on implementing this plan.

While there are certainly those in the CFR who would like to see a world government realised, it is a fallacious generalisation to infer that every member is an advocate of the same policy.

And never trust a video that ends with 30 seconds of a politician grinning.

Faith Fighter

I have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard at this game. Pick your fighter (Jesus, God, Mohammed, Buddha, Budai, Ganesha) and face off against the others in the fight to become the supreme deity. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so play it for yourself - there is a mystery final "boss" character to fight - which is what made me laugh hardest.

I'm working on that political post I mentioned over a week ago, so expect that to be up within an hour or two.


(Hat tip to Pharyngula)

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Just when you thought you could trust the police...

...they go and do something like this:

POLICE officers across the country have been used by the Church of Scientology to promote its antidrugs campaign in schools.

Officers have been handing out booklets that praise the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, the church’s founder, and describe both prescription and illegal drugs as “poison”.

You have got to be kidding me. This is the police force of the UK - if only one group is to be seen as protecting the populace, you'd think it would be them. I appreciate that they need all the help they can get when it comes to increasing awareness of drugs in schools, but do parents seriously want their children being educated by one of the craziest cults in the world? People who believe a science fiction writer who (shockingly enough) started talking about Big Alien Baddies? A writer who had stated explicitly that a great way to make money would be to found your own religion? Go consult Operation Clambake for more info on the great many reasons not to trust this cult with the education of our children in any area.

Sure, they might get a kid off drugs. And many years later, after giving the Church inordinate amounts of money and cutting herself off from all family ties, she might even get to hear the one about that guy called Xenu.

The most practical point, putting aside the wackiness and dangers of the cult itself, is that the material they gave the police officers to distribute in schools is pretty damn misleading - claiming that all drugs, prescription drugs included, are "poison", and that other detoxification methods are ineffective. I seriously cannot believe that those who are entrusted with our protection are blithely distributing the lies of a dangerous cult. I'd say "this had better be the last we hear of this connection", but I've got a horrible feeling that some Church official is saying the same thing to a police representative.

Hat-tip to The new Humanist.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Elegant in its simplicity...

For those of you who don't regularly read the webcomic XKCD, today's is a very good example of why it rocks:

Simple, elegant, and yet illustrative.

Short post today due to tomorrow's deadline.

UPDATE: Yeah, everyone loves this. It's at Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, and Skepchick.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Blood of the innocent

The National Blood Service in the UK is an organisation whose purpose is really self-explanatory - they are in charge of donations and provisions of blood for medical use. Aside from some rather annoying nag-adverts, they seem to do a pretty good job against the odds; blood not being known for its shelf-life, they rely on a constant stream of donations. Recently this stream has been running a little lower than they would like, hence the nagverts.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that a 1977 law (still in force) prohibits homosexual and bisexual men from donating. This article from the Guardian's Comment is Free section gives you the low-down: "Bloody Prejudice". Naturally the comments string is far longer than the article itself, and contains just about all you need to know about both sides of the debate itself. There are a couple of journal articles (I think they give the other side of the argument) on the topic also, one of which is here. The page contains a list of related articles. [found via the FaceBook group]

Without taking the time to read the literature on the subject (I have a lot of work to do at the moment), my impression of this is that it is an entirely unjust law, based on anachronistic notion of men who have sex with men. If it is true that reliable scientific study has concluded that they are no more at risk of STDs than heterosexual persons, then there is no basis for upholding the law. The fact that many countries (e.g. Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Russia and South Africa) have repealed their laws banning donations from bi- and homosexual men suggests that the research is compelling enough.

If anyone who has done the research has alternate views on this, I'm willing to be corrected. But from what I can see, there is no basis on which one can exclude this group from donating blood if one at the same time accepts blood from people whose sexual practice is identical (in terms of activity and protection) except for their choice of partner gender. Isn't this the same as prohibiting women from driving taxis because they are worse drivers, despite evidence that they are no worse than men? Or is that a misleading metaphor?

Sadly, I don't have time to think about it too much at the moment - essays to write.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

A world without wonder

"For me, it is better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
-- Carl Sagan

I've always been someone who wanted the truth. Something my friends learn early on is that if there's something bad going on, I want to know about it - don't lie to me to save my feelings or anything like that. I'd rather be miserable knowing the truth than blissfully ignorant. This is probably why I'm a sceptic and an agnostic rather than a believer in any non-evidence-based world view. Many of those who do choose a religious basis for their life (or have one thrust upon them, for that matter) see non-theism as an empty way of life, devoid of spirituality and any sense of wonder.

Now watch this:

All we need to do for a sense of wonder is look at the world and the universe around us - how can you fail to be amazed at the astounding things you can find there? Ask any atheist if their life is empty and meaningless because of their "lack of faith", and they'll tell you it most certainly is not. A great example is Phil Plait, an astronomer and writer who maintains a blog which is simply bursting with enthusiasm and wonder every time a new image is brought back from Mercury or some galaxies out in the Black are doing something wacky.

And you don't even need to look that far for wonders - right here on our Pale Blue Dot, we've got wonders aplenty. See if you can spot the octopus in this here picture:

Not quite sure? Watch this video. This octopus features at the end of the presentation, which is well worth watching. [hat-tip]

As for the claim that atheists lack any sort of spiritualism, I direct your attention to SpiritualAtheism.org, though to be fair it defines "spiritual atheism" in a different way to that which I would use. It seems to be describing more of a pantheism, a way of seeing "God" as a personification of the universe. A more helpful place to look for a definition of "spiritual atheism" as I understand it (a humanist or naturalist outlook) is this article from American Chronicle:

"...most theists are under the impression that atheism is an immoral doctrine that robs life of its meaning and purpose. Hopefully, someone will take up the challenge and eloquently refute this belief. In the meantime, it is my fervent hope that our children’s children inherent a world free from superstition, fear, guilt, arrogance and sin, and that we all learn to embrace a new, spiritual atheism that espouses love and tolerance toward each other, and awe and humility in the face of an endlessly wondrous, but godless, universe."

Thursday, 17 January 2008

A Marriage Made In Rationalist Heaven

OK, so I'm biased. I'm aware that the common perception of a philosophy degree is that it is impractical and of no use in the real world. I beg to differ. No great surprise there, right?

Here's my point: philosophy is the closest thing to scepticism you can study as an academic subject. The main outcome of a study in philosophy is the ability to analyse arguments, identifying fallacies and assumptions. It's basically in-depth assessed practice in the very skills central to scepticism.

When I was starting to study my A-levels, and decided I was interested enough in philosophy to study it, I was told that the closest things on offer at the college I was attending were religious studies (half philosophy, half ethics, all using religious examples) and half an A-level in a new subject called "critical thinking". So my first real experience of philosophy was analysing arguments for and against the existence of "God". Heard of Richard Dawkins good and early, and realised that the vast majority of arguments in favour of the existence of "God" assume what they attempt to prove. Critical thinking, on the other hand, gave me a more rounded education in the names and types of logical fallacies.

I'll not deny that there are other subjects that promote scepticism of a sort: science being the foremost in my mind, with its central ideology of the importance of the scientific method. It's not even taught outright most of the time: the importance of it is demonstrated through the emphasis on methodology in everything they do. From the get-go, it educates its students in the correct way by which we come to knowledge of the world and universe around us. What is notably absent, though (and I'm not criticising science education here) is any mention of how to spot a flawed argument. Naturally students of science should be able to spot flaws in methodology in scientific (or pseudo-scientific) claims, but logical fallacies are more wide-ranging than that. I think scientists, if they are to be true sceptics, need to take an active interest in the activity in order to develop the full range of skills.

I also think it helps to have a good grounding in pedantry.

So no, I don't think philosophy is useless as an academic subject - but I wouldn't recommend taking it at degree level unless you want to go ahead and teach it. I think there would be great benefit in teaching it (or critical thinking perhaps) at a younger age as a small subject, like compulsory religious education here in the UK - one lesson a week if the student doesn't select it as a GCSE option. As a sceptic, I think these skills are vitally important - to protect people from scams, if nothing else.

By the way, in place of philosophy as the most useless (widespread) academic subject, I would most likely place media studies. Hel, I could probably do fairly well on a media studies paper without taking the course - I can spot symbolism a mile off in films.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Another one bites the Dust...

The scourge of Scientology has claimed another one. It would appear that Will Smith has joined their scary nutbag ranks. I liked him, I must admit. One of those people who seemed really approachable and interesting, and though his acting was occasionally a little one-dimensional, he undeniably had talent (seen in Ali, for instance). Now he's Tom Cruise crazy.

The sceptical community is buzzing with this information - it's over at Skepchick as well. The message, I think, is twofold: first, we're in mourning over another loss to the world of Industrial Strength Crazy. Never a good thing to wake up to. Secondly, it's a public service announcement: treat anything that comes out of Will Smith's mouth as if it came out of Tom Cruise's. Because they're going to be spouting near-identical bullshit shortly, no doubt.

Speaking of which, here's a video[via] which the Scientologists ordered deleted from YouTube. It's the video for an award that Tom Cruise has won in the Church - apparently for getting the word out to over a billion people. There's not a lot of substance in the video (I admit I was hoping for him to start frothing at the mouth about the Big Alien Baddies that were coming to get him); in fact, he says very little. He continually repeats variations of the phrase "you're in or you're out", and there's a fair bit of Scary Maniacal Laughter™, but other than that he says virtually nothing through 9 straight minutes.

These people seriously give me the heebie-jeebies.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Getting the message straight...

All through my upbringing, I've had an interest in ecology: both of my parents worked at one point for Marwell Zoological Park in one admin capacity or another, which meant many trips in that direction. Their passion for this sort of thing inspired a similar one in myself, so perhaps it was only natural that I fell in love with someone whose interest in ecology is perhaps the central fact of her life. This has, in turn, enriched my knowledge of the subject no end, and revived my interest in all (well, most) things ecology.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: Green.TV, "a web TV channel dedicated to the environment". Awesome, and a great idea to increase education and awareness of these vitally important issues. The first video I watched (subscribing through the video podcast medium) was "How Far South For Winter Migrants?" which highlights the impact of climate change on birds migrating to the UK over the winter for the milder weather we enjoy (thanks to the North Atlantic Drift, or the Gulf Stream, or both - I forget). They come here to escape the harsh winter weather elsewhere, such as the Arctic and northern Europe.

Climate change is meaning wetter, milder winters, and many species of bird normally seen migrating to the UK for winter are apparently wintering in Germany or Holland (for example). They are adjusting to the change in climate, and "some things are going to lose out and some things are going to benefit ... we haven't identified the winners and losers because we're still involved in trying to understand climate change ourselves". The talk is being given at the London Wetlands Centre, and one point that is made is that the two hundred wigeon currently using the wetlands as winter quarters will likely no longer frequent their establishment.

Watch the video. Because it is at this point that we get what is known as a non sequitur (Latin - "does not follow"). The premise is that wigeon will likely stop frequenting the London Wetlands Centre during the winter months. The conclusion is "we've got to get a handle on it now; we've got to recycle, preserve ... everything that we can. We've just got to live a different lifestyle."

Um, no. Firstly, let me just say that I'm 100% behind the campaign for lifestyle change, recycling, sustainable forests, biofuel (but not the stuff that they're felling rain forests for) and all the rest. But what you have in this video is a very poorly put-together argument. So wigeon won't be wintering at the London Wetlands Centre... This is hardly the most compelling argument I've heard for making the public change the way they live their lives. Come to think of it, it's one of the least compelling arguments I've heard for anything. So the birds spend the winter somewhere else; they presumably had to do that before the London Wetlands were "created" anyway. There seems to be a hidden assumption here that because they're not spending the winter over here their very survival is threatened - but in the same video it states that the birds are adapting to the climate change by simply modifying their migrations. Just because they're not here, doesn't mean they're dead.

Furthermore, even if we see an overwhelming response to the call for a change in lifestyle, this won't change an awful lot. It is my understanding that doing so is far from futile, but at best will basically constitute damage limitation. The climate is changing (it would likely be doing so without our interference, but it is almost certain that we have exacerbated the situation), and we cannot reverse it. Damage limitation is the best we can hope for, but that is no reason not to try. What it does mean, however, is that his damned wigeon are not likely to return any time soon. Changing your lifestyle will not mean that in a few years' or decades' time, the world will be back to "normal". This point is rarely stressed enough, probably out of fear that people will fail to see the value of damage limitation.

Anyway, my basic point is that, by all means create these great resources for education on the intertubes, but please make them convincing to more than the most credulous of audiences. Anyone with half a brain who is opposed to the ideology can point to the multifarious flaws in these arguments and use them to say that the entire cause is flawed. Let's please not give them that opportunity. Let's start making educational material that contains logically coherent arguments.

If you're wondering where the political-themed post has disappeared to, I was fully intending to simply leave this blog alone for a while and work on my essays, and make notes on the political issue I'd found. But then I listened to the Russell Brand podcast and watched this green.tv video, and I just had to post about them. So much for my estimate of once a week being ambitious. I have 7 or so more of these green.tv videos yet to watch, so there may well be another which stirs me to post about that issue. The political post will hopefully be up within a week.

Until then.

0 points to Brand.

I never wanted to like Russell Brand; the first time I saw him was in an advert for his show Big Brother's Big Mouth, the sort of televisual offering that makes me switch off the Box of Blight in disgust even at an advert for it. Then I saw him with Noel Fielding on The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year at the end of 2006, and grudgingly admitted that he was both amusing and frighteningly quick-minded. So when searching for interesting new podcasts to sample, his show from BBC Radio 2 was one of those I selected.

It started much as I expected: Brand talking in his accustomed manner, with one of the first conversational tangents being in regard to Monkey World in Dorset. Later, he attempted to break the world record for speed-talking (which, despite a valiant and amusing effort, he failed to achieve). Then a certain David Icke made an appearance.

For those who don't know (and I certainly didn't), Icke is one of Britain's more colourful characters: a conspiracy theorist who has declared himself to be the "son of God"[via], and has been seeking the true rulers of the world - lizards, apparently. Oh, and he finds the basic principles of Raelism perfectly acceptable. Apparently the idea that life on Earth had extra-terrestrial help will one day become scientific fact, in the same way that the world was once thought to be flat, and now it goes without saying that it's (more or less) spherical. Yeah, ok. You know what changed our minds about the flat-world thing? Evidence.

My point here is that Russell Brand, through all of this nonsense, basically nodded (verbally, it's radio after all), and said something along the lines of "I don't think we'd dispute anything you've said". Granted it's primarily a variety/entertainment show, and isn't out to promote rationality. I just wish visible people like Brand would use their position to urge the public against this kind of credulity, not make it seem to be the norm.


Greetings and welcome to this, the latest of my blogging projects. You may already be familiar with my personal blog, "My Whine in Silence", or my music review blog "Bacchus, Bragi & Thor". This blog will provide an outlet exclusive to my sceptical musings, which I feel to be quite an important part of my newfound inclination toward this world-view. That said, due to various commitments I find myself with, posts are likely to be relatively sporadic: at present I'm aiming for once a week, but this may well be rather ambitious. We shall see.

I've been planning to create this blog for some time now, and was prompted to do so by the appearance of a YouTube video to which I just felt compelled to reply. At the moment, I'm snowed under with essays to write for my Master's degree, but hopefully I'll either be able to fit this in around that, or will find the time once they're out of the way.

As far as expectation of content is concerned, I imagine a lot of my posts will be links to other sceptical blogs with my two cents thrown in on whatever issue they're discussing. My own areas of expertise (if it can be called that) are in philosophy and politics, so the posts written "off my own back", as it were, are likely to fall under these subject headings. The first is certainly planned to.

So, welcome to A Sceptical I. Hopefully this is the first post of many.