Month: April 2011

Debating the dark side

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The war against the ‘dark side’ – by this I mean pseudo-science and quackery in general – continues unabated. In fact, pseudo-science is said to be an ‘unsinkable rubber duck’.

No sooner have we seen the back of Oprah (and those of you who read my earlier posts regarding Oprah, and in particular her contribution to the promotion of pseudo-science and quackery, will understand my upbeat tone here), but one of her proteges takes the baton.

One of her occasional guests was one Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is a real physician as they call them over there. As I understand it, he was initially just giving general health advice, but as his notoriety grew, he increasingly moved towards the dark side. Now he has a very successful spin-off show, which is just choc-a-bloc with pseudo-science and nonsense in general.

Our Dr. Oz seems to have embraced EVERY known form of unscientific mumbo-jumbo he can get his hands on, including faith healing. Suffice to say he is on the loony fringe in this regard, and one wonders how he could actually believe what he is saying, given the studies which he apparently did in university.

Well, this past week Dr. Oz invited one of the luminaries of the skeptic movement, Dr. Steve Novella, to speak on the program.  Before the show, the blogosphere was abuzz with anticipation, and it was somewhat pessimistic regarding Steve’s chances of getting the message across, given the past history of debating people who argue from a position based on belief rather than evidence. Not only that, such people generally stack the audience and structure of the session with accolytes, as well as perform some judicious editing before the show goes to air. I’ve written about this sort of thing before – see this post for instance, and in particular the bit on Harriet Hall, who was subject to this treatment while actually being a paid employee of Oprah. See also my earlier post on debating the irrational.

The upshot is that Steve actually got a chance to make his points, albeit in a very constrained structure, but with Dr. Oz always having the final word. It’s worth a look: here are the links to the video.

Let me know what you think. In my opinion, Steve did as well as could be expected, given the circumstances – especially given the fact that Dr. Oz had surrounded himself with a bunch of ‘yes-men’. Notice in particular the smarmy expression on the woman next to Steve. Notice also the typical tactics employed when trying to justify modalities for which there is no real evidence -references to ‘millions of people’ and ‘thousands of years’, and general put-downs of anything ‘western’.

You can read Steve’s own account of the experience here.


The myth of religious values re-heated for easter

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No, really. I had resolved to lay off religion during easter, and I battled manfully for 3 and a bit days, but this morning I just had to release the pressure.

I ignored the lame ‘message of easter’ type articles, in which heads of various churches make excuses for god, and specifically why he/she allowed (or caused) the various disasters around the world to happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Birthday Hubble!

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Birthday wishes to the Hubble telescope, which is about to turn 21. This magnificent (newly released) photo is of galaxies UGC1810 above, and  UGC1813 below, which are close enough to have distorted each other over many millions of years. The spiral arm of the upper galaxy has been dragged out, while the tip of the lower one has been smudged.

Hubble is our first orbiting optical  telescope, and it has been hugely successful over the years. This is despite a huge error made during manufacture, in which the mirror was incorrectly ground. This flaw was only detected after it began operation, so was too late to do anything about the mirror. In the end, the clever boys at NASA used software tricks to to process the images, to the point where they are now  fabulous images.

Hubble has been serviced a number of times by shuttle missions, to replace various bits and pieces, but is due to be retired in 2014. It is to be replaced with a next generation space telescope known as the James Webb Space Telescope.

Virtually all of the pictures taken by Hubble are available in the public domain – you can visit the extensive gallery here.


Debating against the irrational

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While this graphic relates to debating christians, it’s really applicable to a wide range of unsupportable positions – all the usual suspects we’ve covered here at rationalbrain. Read the rest of this entry »

Bogus therapies being taught in universities

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Following all the nonsense on religion in primary schools, this next issue just adds to my current disillusionment with the state of education here, and elsewhere.

Back in the day, our unis were seen to be of a very high standard compared to those overseas. Certainly the qualifications were well-regarded, and we scoffed at the 3-yr engineering degrees available in the US – after all, 4 years was barely enough to scratch the surface.

And don’t get me started on the fact that our education was essentially free for all comers – in my opinion the mark of a truly civilised society.

But now, we see a descent into crass commercialisation – basically, let’s teach them whatever they will pay for.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Hawkes – What are you on?

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I’m not asking your salary Tim – I’m asking what hallucinogen you’ve been taking.

SURELY you’ve been misquoted in this article.

If the article has quoted you accurately, you have a breath-taking gall, and seemingly no embarrassment.

Not content with already getting more than your fair share, faced with prospect of an equitable distribution of government education funding, you are seeking other ways to keep your staff dining room facilities from being cut back, or say, a halving in the number of football fields.

While I have tried to stay away from general politics in this blog, there is so much irrational thought and pure fantasy in your proposal that I could not let it pass.

Really? Tax wealthier parents to keep you in the style to which you’ve become accustomed? This is not a reality-based position by any stretch.

Not only are those parents already subsidising your grandiose vision and lifestyle, but they are subsidising your religious agenda too. Now you want more.

Lest you question my motives, I no longer have kids at school, and do not object to the wealthier citizens paying more for public services. I simply object to the additional funds going to your little fantasy. To be wanting more of this social pie in this way is just sheer greed, and presents a poor role model for your students. You should be teaching them (by example) the principles of social equity and fair play, not how to make sure they get what they want whatever the means.

In your own manifesto ‘The failure of schools to educate‘, you lament the failure of the system to teach some basic skills, with No. 6 in your list being the ‘The ability to manage financial matters‘. You cite potential problems such as ‘Persistently living beyond their means, over relying on parental assistance…‘ . Apart from the questionable grammar, does the irony of this not strike you? Is not your school, by expecting handouts from the taxpayers, persistently living beyond their means and relying on ‘parental’ assistance?

I can only hope this was a little joke cooked up at the King’s executive staff dining room, between apperitifs and entrees, over which you are now chuckling.

If not, then those tax dollars propping you up and churning out Tim Hawkes clones, are not only being wasted, they are actively damaging society.