I've just had my Viva. I'm a quasi-doctor now.

Hello! I've not been posting lately because I've been preparing for the Viva for my PhD. This is where scarily bright people quiz you about your Thesis and all the work you've been doing over the last 3+ years. If you pass it then you've basically passed your PhD.

And I passed!

I've got some 'minor corrections', which is normal, and they don't seem too bad. Mainly typos (which readers of this blog will understand), and a couple of extra columns in a table, and an extra figure. In fact they are actually quite interesting additions, so barring any major cock ups, I'll be graduating next year.

Now I know there has been some rumours about who the next Doctor is and all the smart money is on the excellent Patterson Joseph, but It's not for me to put myself forward. Still A Doctor of Astrophysics. Surely thats enough for them to at least consider me right?

Could I be the next Doctor? That is not for me to say. Because the answers is no. No matter how many Sonic Screwdriver Oystercards I make.

Normal service will resume after I've stopped walking around in a daze, not being able to believe it is done.

CivLib Sorbet: Tim Minchin on the open mind.

I'm going to be doing another update on the terrible Communication Data Bill soon, so as a sorbet to freshen the palate here is Tim Minchin on the terrors or too open mind, featuring three of Skeptobots top peeves.

UK citizens spend 5 minutes to keep your freedoms - step 2 how to complain about the Communications Data Bill.

This is step 2 - If you don't know what has been announced today read step 1. If you realise the scale of the attack on your freedoms today read on - how to complain to your MP from within your browser, in less than 5 minutes.

This text is released to the public domain (obviously) you are actively encouraged to steal it, edit it, improve it, forward it, rehost it and share it. If you spot any mistakes or possible improvements please leave a comment.

How to complain:

  1. Read Step 1 if you are not convinced.
  2. Click this link to go to WriteToThem
  3. Enter your postcode. Don't worry mysociety.org who run the site are lovely, safe and non-evil.
  4. It will find your Councilors, MP, MEP and so on. Click on the name of your MP.
  5. Add your name and address (be truthful, fake addresses will get the email junked)
  6. Write your letter of complaint about today's announcement.
  7. Check the spelling and grammar, click preview and send.
  8. Confirm your address in your email account.
  9. Go and sign the petition in the same way (thanks Labrat)
And you are done!

Next Steps

Now spread the word to your friends get them to do the same. If you are too busy or lazy to make your own case forward a link to this page to your friends. Or just copy and paste it into an email. Or paste it into your own website and claim it as your own. Improve upon it. Edit it, cut out the important bits. There is no vanity and acclaim wanted here. Steal this content and spread it.

Advice on writing a good letter:
  • First and foremost writing anything is better than nothing. A single line saying you oppose the Communications Data bill, is infinitely better than not sending anything. The more people who email the stronger they will gauge public opinion to be against this. However if you have more time do the following...
  • Make it clear in no uncertain terms that they will lose your vote in the coming election if they support this bill in any shape and form. (Obviously don't mention that you didn't vote for them last time if that's the case). This normally rattles them and gets you a reply about how nice they are really.
  • Request a response. Add something like "please respond clarifying your position on this." Lots of them pretend that if they are not asked directly then no response is needed.
  • Don't insult them, sound like a die hard fan that is going to turn to the other side over this. They don't care if some hippy/yuppie still dislikes them, they only care about their voter base, so pretend to be a fawning fan.
  • State that you read about the plans for the Communications Data Bill and that you consider it an assault on your civil liberties and thus unacceptable. Then explain that as your representative you wish your MP to take every action available to prevent this plan coming to fruition. His job is to represent you after all.
  • Don't assume they are for the bill and attack them personally, focus purely on the bill, your MP might agree with you!
  • Look at the example letters below, but don't use them verbatim, as that will merely activate the mass mailing filters and get your email trashed.
  • MPs are often too old to really understand the internet. Don't use jargon, and if you are good enough, try to explain why the internet needs to stay as it is.
Example Short Letter


I've recently become aware of the Communications Data Bill announced on Thursday. A database recording enough of our actions to trace every member of our society to an extent unprecedented in any democratic country. This is outrageous enough to warrant what is typically the hyperbole term 'Orwellian.' I fear that as most MPs are too old to have grown up with the internet they do not fully grasp the nature of their actions.

As my representative in Parliament I wish for you to strongly oppose this plan in every way available to you.

Please respond stating what your views of this plan are, and what actions you will take to oppose (or support) them. As, despite being a fan of yours, this is the final straw. Labours continued assaults on my civil liberties is enough for them to lose my vote in the coming election. In fact it is seriously making me consider voting Tory in the next election, despite the widespread damage it would cause, just to ensure essential civil liberties are preserved. Voting Tory was idea unthinkable until recently, but I will no longer support you if you support this plan.

Yours sincerely,
See I've used voting Tory as a threat. Make it clear that you would go to any length to avoid this happening.

Example Long Letter

Dear Mr MP,

Yesterday the Home Secretary announced plans for a huge central database to retain details of who contacted whom online, where and when.

This will constitute a database recording enough of our actions to trace every member of our society. To know who our friends are, what we buy online, what we believe in politically or religiously, what our sexual preferences are. The level of insight into our private lives this will give to the users of the database will be frighteningly wide.

The prospect of such an Orwellian tool being provided to the government raises a number of specific and important questions:

(1) Lord Carlile, the government's own independent scrutineer of counter-terror legislation, has warned that "the raw idea [of a central database] is dreadful. The devil will be in the detail." He has warned against the misuse of this database for "fishing expeditions" whereby the users of the database will mine the data, for anything of interest, no matter how minor. If this database is created, how will access to this database be controlled, and such patent misuse of this panoply of information be prevented?

(2) Ms Smith has said that "nor are we going to give local authorities the power to trawl through such a database in the interest of investigating lower level criminality under the spurious cover of counter terrorist legislation." However, a similar promise was made in relation to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - quote "...such legislation is required to combat terrorism and its use will be restricted to such terrorist related cases..." . As we all know, RIPA is now routinely used by local authorities in respect of such weighty matters as school catchment areas, dog fouling and use of dustbins. What assurances can we possibly have that the same will not happen with this new tool?

(3) How does the government intend to meaningfully mine the mind-bogglingly large amount of data that this scheme would amass every single day? It simply will not happen. This will create a very, very big haystack with a very small number of interesting activities and we don't even know if they are the needles the security services want. We will not therefore be able to identify new terrorist threats from this pile of data. What, then, is the point?

(4) Quite aside from the threat that this database poses to the innocent populace, I would also question its necessity. In her speech, Jacqui Smith noted that since 2004 communications data has been used "as important evidence in 95 per cent of serious crime cases and in almost all Security Service operations". Such a statistic raises the question of why more powers are needed. With Ms Smith herself stating that the current measures are actually good enough to provide a good rate of conviction, why do we need another expensive set of potentially intrusive and probably functionally useless monitoring tools?

(5) Finally, what assurances can we have that this vast store of data will not be mislaid in the same manner as the now embarrassingly large catalogue of data handling failures that have occurred under this government? The government seems unable to cope with the databases it has now, so how can it possibly hope to ensure the security of the contents of a database containing the details of every single phone call, internet access and mobile text message sent by the 60 million citizens of this country?

As my representative in Parliament I therefore wish for you to strongly oppose this plan in every way available to you. As such I would request that you please respond stating what your views of this plan are, and what actions you will take to oppose them.

Despite being a Labour supporter and a fan of yours, this is the final straw. Labour's continued assaults on our civil liberties are enough to lose them my vote in the coming election. I am now seriously considering voting Conservative in the next election, despite the widespread damage a Tory government would otherwise cause, just to ensure essential civil liberties are preserved. Voting Tory was a repellent idea until recently, but I will no longer support you if you support this plan.

Yours sincerely,

The original version of this letter was written by 'Mr Chris' to his MP. As he is excellent. Be sure to edit any letter you base on it to ensure you do not set of duplication filters and stop all this mail being read.

UK citizens spend 5 minutes to keep your freedoms - step 1 making the case

This is step 1 - making the case. If you don't know what has been announced today read on. If you realise the scale of the attack on your freedoms today skip ahead to step 2 - how to complain to your MP from within your browser, in less than 5 minutes.

This text is released to the public domain (obviously) you are actively encouraged to steal it, edit it, improve it, forward it, rehost it and share it.

Today Home Secretary Jacqui Smith finally announced the Communications Data Bill in order to make the largest Orwellian communication database ever seen in a free country. Terrifyingly this isn't hyperbole. This new plan will do the following (commentary in italics, sources in square brackets):

  • The Government will record the times, dates, duration and locations of mobile phone calls, numbers called (previously they had to go get those details when required off the company concerned). [1] This means they will triangulate your location everytime you use your phone to contact a cell tower.
  • The Government will record every website you visit and every address you email. (Previously they had to go get those details when required off the company concerned). [1] The Gov having a record of every site you've ever visited is ridiculously open to abuse, exploitation and blackmail - if I need to explain to you why, then you've not used the internet for more than about an hour. Also considering the amount of dataleaks we've had imagine if your viewing habits were made public.
  • Will be kept for two years. [1] To begin with remember.
  • As currently planned it won't keep the content of your emails, texts or chats. [1] (Obviously, once the database exists that is mearly baby steps away, and if they know the html address of where you are visiting the content your upload is easily obtained.)
  • Security and intelligence agencies, and other public bodies, will be allowed access personal data using a wide range of internet sites, including social and gaming networks [2] (Basically they want access to your facebook, that way they can know all your friends - so much so that a Whitehall security official source said "People have many accounts and sign up as Mickey Mouse and no one knows who they are", a senior Whitehall security source said. He added: "We have to do something." Seems anonimity on the web shouldn't be allowed anymore.)
  • Remember there is also a seperate database (coming online this january) to record 50,000,000 car number plates a day. Cameras will pinpoint the precise time and location of all vehicles on the road. Initally senior officers promised the data would be kept for two years. But after a Freedom of Information Act request the Home Office has admitted the data is now being kept for five years. [3] This is not the actions of a free country.

Right, if this bothers you (and it should) go straight to step 2, and complain. It will take 5 mins of your time, and you don't have to leave your browser.

If it doesn't bother you and you think it's just some loons on the internet getting their knickers in a twist read some quotes from people who aren't loons on the internet:

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne [1] :
"The government's Orwellian plans for a vast database of our private communications are deeply worrying."

"Ministers claim the database will only be used in terrorist cases, but there is now a long list of cases, from the arrest of Walter Wolfgang for heckling at a Labour conference to the freezing of Icelandic assets, where anti-terrorism law has been used for purposes for which it was not intended."

"Our experience of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act suggests these powers will soon be used to spy on people's children, pets and bins.

"These proposals are incompatible with a free country and a free people."

Conservative Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve [1] :

"These proposals would mark a substantial shift in the powers of the state to obtain personal information on individuals," he said, adding: "The government must present convincing justification for such an exponential increase in the powers of the state."

The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies (on the car tracking database) [3] :
"extraordinary powers of surveillance"
"This would never be allowed in any other democratic country,"
"This is possibly one of the most valuable reserves of data imaginable."

[1] BBC News article - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7671046.stm
[2] Guardian News article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/oct/16/internet-uksecurity
[3] Guardian News article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/sep/15/civilliberties.police

Creative Commons License
UK citizens spend 5 minutes to keep your freedoms - step 1 making the case is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. As that appears to be the most lax license I can give this post. No Attribution needed. Remix, steal, just spread the word!

MyLifeMyID is going offline in a matter of hours - say goodbye.

I haven't got long but I've just found out that MyLifeMyID.org is going offline tomorrow after burning through the £76,000 it was given to ignore the opinion of the young. So this is your last chance to enjoy the almost consistant and universal derision the plan was given by web savvy 'youth of today.'

I'm in the process of trying to get a full backup of the site because I want to compare the official reports conclusions to the website. As unless they report massive universal dislike of the plan they'll be doing a lot of fudging.

If you can manage to rip a copy please let me know. Wget is letting me down at the minute thanks to their funny fancy web stuff.

Not a 'FIRST POST!!@1!!!' in sight

Skeptics in the Pub Review - Paul Taylor from Answers in Genesis

Last night I freed up enough time to go to the Skeptics in the pub meeting in that there London. It appears I managed to stay longer than one of the Skepchicks who had to walk out after the first few minutes. Giving the talk was Paul Taylor (thats him on the left) from the Answers in Genesis "peer reviewed" creationist journal (which I've talked about before). As such I thought I would try something a little different for Skeptobot and review it.

Firstly I have to admit I had a lot of respect for the guy in actually having the balls to turn up in front of so many skeptics and say the things he said. But man did he talk a lot of crap. Well spoken and with humour but still crap. The crap itself wasn't the problem, it was it's rate of change (dcrap/dt). I could go on for page after page breaking apart each and every slide (of which there was a lot), I could just focus on the areas I'm specialized in (his claim that the homogeneity of the Cosmic Microwave Background disproves the age of the universe, and Einsteins relativity allowing for 6000yrs to be long enough for the whole universe to reach what it looks like now). But that misses the bigger picture.

Indeed most people in the questions did pick their topic and try and hold him to account on it (I tried to talk about the CMB, stalker fans, but as the microphone went dead I panicked and rather than shout about relativity I ended up asking a rather awful question about which bible he believed in, and what set christian creation science ahead of other religions creation science). Most people did much better than me and hammered home individual points, but it still didn't matter.

Taylor had sprinted through Cosmology, Astrophysics, Timescales, Geology, The Fossil Record, Biology, Evolution, Education. For each one he explained how the evidence supported Creationism and moved on. Anyone trying to bring him to account on any of those topics was faced with 'I'm not an expert, and I don't pretend to be, I am a generalist, a populist' (paraphrased).

Now in this situation, that's fine. The audience is experienced with science enough to see the game he is playing. But what has scared me since is pondering on how that talk is normally used.

Taylor's main claim was that science is colored by the assumptions and beliefs you have going into it. And that the data supports an atheists view as equally as a creationists. Which is of course a ludicrous, but subtle perversion of what science is about. In reality he's just attempting to create the illusion of debate. That wonderful wedge strategy to get it taught in schools.

But what is worrying is that my take home message was how successful his shotgun approach to whole realm of science was. He typically gives church talks, presumably he races non-scientists through every sphere of science in 60mins and tries to plant a little seed of doubt in their mind about each area.

A skeptic can follow him up with weed killer and destroy each seed in turn with ease. But the effort it takes to plant a seed is so much less than the effort to remove it that you worry that enough will escape to leave that doubt in the publics mind.

And that, I suspect, is all he wants. It doesn't matter how many individual ideas come crashing down, as long as he can keep the pace up he can win.

Now how do we face that?

Skeptobot Video Rants #1 - Astrology

I wasn't going to put this on the site properly. It's a little too embarrassing and quite clearly a first attempt. But the absolute lack of content on the site for so long makes me feel like I deserve to be embarrassed.

Basically, the urge to play on the site whilst writing up the thesis meant that when someone asked me if I liked astrology I ranted a little about how it was terrible. Then in moment of procrastination I took that little bit of text and make a quick movie out of it. Mainly to learn how to use iMovie. This was the result:

What do you think? You can be harsh now. It's not a rant for a start...

Oh and anyone thinking I've put this here whilst the viewing figures for the site are at the lowest, allowing me to bury it before people return, is spot on.

Skeptobot is back, sorry about that.

And we are back. It's going to be relatively slow start up. Partly as I'm tying up the loose ends of my PhD but I'm also going to have to re-read the site to remember what it is exactly I do here. But yes, onwards and upwards. Expect updates at least weekly.

- I've just been working through the site's email address and I'm sure I've deleted at least 2 proper messages amongst the 100's of spam. So sorry if I don't get back to you.

Now to scroll down that old material a bit, here is an ad for something you most definitely should be going to.

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(The surprise guest is Rickie Gervais.)

Skeptobot Update - Not dead, just resting.


Just letting you know the site isn't dead, I'm just still busy with the PhD submission. Finishing up a PhD is a nightmare, but I'm going to miss it immensely when it's gone.

The site will start up again from October 1st. Though it may be a slow start to begin with as I plan to sleep and sleep and sleep.

Oh and Skeptobot will be trying a few new things in the coming months too, branching out into areas where I could fail massively - which is always fun! As such there is a work in progress taster in existence. I won't be putting it on the main site, but you can find it if you look hard enough...

Ubisoft found Pirating the Pirates.

Have you ever bought a game, and then not managed to get it working on your machine? Have you ever had to resort to downloading a 'no-cd' crack to get it to run? I know I have, and I know that the games industry considers me a massive pirate due to buying their software, then running it in a way they don't like.

Which makes this thread over on the Ubisoft forums all the more entertaining. When faced with a version of Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 that wasn't working on lots of machines, ubisoft did exactly what you would have done. They went and got a no-cd crack off the internet and released it as an official patch.

Here's the crackers code in the patch (apparently the name tag gives it away):

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I'm not condoning piracy, even when you're pirating the pirates, but what I do like here, is that I'm sure everyone here has "pirated" in the black and white eyes of Ubisoft. But you know what you did wasn't wrong. You know you're not a pirate just because you didn't want to put your disk in your machine to get your game to work.

And today, by stealing that code, Ubisoft have acknowledged that piracy, at least when it concerns them, does indeed have shades of grey.

All respect goes to neilthecellist for revealing the story and Oby for bringing it to my attention.

If you feel like it, DIGG THIS HERE

UPDATE 4:34 AM: I've some more info on what the crack actually was for. According to MD_Sennet:
The Reloaded crack was required so the Direct-2-Drive customers could apply the new 1.03 patch, since the vanilla version of the patch UBI has on their website will not work on the D2D installations of Vegas2.

2nd UPDATE: Monday; July 21, 2008, Arstechnica has a good editorial about all this.

MyLifeMyID.org is going to be amazing.

MyLifeMyID has just launched. It's going to be a footbullet of immense calibre. A while back leaked documents showed the government plans to "coerce" people into signing up for the database state by various methods. Once method was to go after the young first. Assuming they are the most stupid and gulliable.

As such Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is fronting a down with the Yoof have your say forum on the subject of ID cards. It's going to get messy.

Current topics at the time of writing are:

Shop Assistants using the need to show ID to bully people
How can you stop civil servants peeking?
This website's Modeators are biast (sic)
Why are my new posts "moved" but actually deleted?
Looking forward to a simpler ID system
What age should people have an ID card?
Official ID Card Video
Don't want, Won't have
Why centralised?
New eyeballs

Make your voice heard people!

The Register has more.

Crackergate: Any old excuse for Lee and Herring

Crackergate AKA "it's a God Damn Cracker!" is spreading like wild fire (short version - man keeps, rather than eats bread), and whilst I'm currently on blogging sabbatical all this thought about communion and what happens to that bread has bewitched me. In particular, the idea that he literally abducted Jesus is wonderfully moreish.

And it reminded me of this wonderful Sunday Morning TV show sketch from the Legendary Lee and Herring. A sketch I love so much that I couldn't help break my self imposed rule and post it. Enjoy.

Skeptobot is on a break, I need to write a Thesis - see you September

So almost getting on TV and getting all over the web thanks to my (unfinished) Oyster card shenanigans has built up a sizeable increase in readers. But I've got to destroy all that hard work by focusing on my thesis for the next 60 days or so.


I'm not saying that there won't be any updates between now and then, but they will be few and far between and I would rather be upfront about that. Don't worry I wont be abandoning the site, as the URL suggests, I'm actually in the process of making it a proper site and everything.

The blog will relaunch sometime in September (all going to plan) and if you wish to be informed of when it does, pop me an email on skeptobotURI(at)GELLERyahoo.co.uk (remove the fraud).

The blog has never taken up much time, but with the thesis hanging over me, and the internet sitting in front of me it feels to much like this:

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And the next thing you know you've spent two hours researching how Scientology brought down TV's Doctor and plagiarist Raj Persaud. Seriously, IP laws, Plagerism, Scientology and Bad Science. All in one story. It was like giving a cat catnip.

See you in 60 days!

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits, Fart, Turd and Twat - we'll miss you George

George Carlin is dead. Fuck.

Todays a day for swearing people. George Carlin was a hero for skeptics and realists and you owe him a lot - whether you realise it or not.

To put that aged clipped in context watch this episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit on Profanity

Part 2 & Part 3

If you are in a hurry they get to Carlin almost 8 mins into part 2. I feel bad about putting up a youtube copy of P&T's excellent show - so once you've watched it think about buying it

Also - I can't possible end this post without putting up the video of Carlin view's on Religion.

We'll miss you Rufus.

Anonymous VS Scientology on More 4 news

After the 42 day win yesterday Tony Benn said:

I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed
. Then David Davis resigned saying this was the tipping point to a police state.

Which makes this analysis of the arrests being made and the influence being exerted on Anonymous by the Police that little bit more important than it would have been yesterday.

The next protest is tomorrow. If you want to protest find out more here.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault - Humanity at its best

One of the great achievements of the 21st century, and one of the greatest human constructions of all time - the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has the power to save the world - In a very real sense. It has representation of every crop and plant and fruit they can get their hands on. Frozen in a vault that is embedded in permafrost. It only takes a flood, or a tornadoes or even just a little war to wipe out crop varieties. And now we have a back up.

Here's 60minutes having a look around the place:

Obama vs McCain: Faith off!

Here's a recent video from John McCain about Christianities role in the USA whilst campaigning to Beliefnet.com.

Which is of course massively factually inaccurate, not least because most of the founding fathers were deists and "In God We Trust" not being the motto of the USA till the 50's.

And here's Barak Obama giving a speech in 2006:

I dislike heavily edited things so here is the full 40min talk by Obama (I couldn't find a longer clip of McCain).

I think everyone who makes their way to this site (regardless of their faith) are going to be a lot more impressed with the latter talk - hell after the last 8 years it's almost astonishing. It will be interesting to see if Obama sticks to his guns on the topic, the fact that talk was given in a church is a good sign after all. Heres hoping.

Despite our 'special relationship' I find it reassuring that whilst Presidential candidates in America talk like McCain here in the UK Tony Blair was worried that people might think him a "A Nutter" .

Overall I think that is a far healthier position to be in.

Send your name to the moon!

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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is the proposed first step in the plan to return humans to the moon, and you can put your name on it. You can read more about it here though the PDF fact sheet is probably a quicker source of info. Most interestingly the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) will look in far-UV to search for frost and ice - to help any future moon colony.

If you go here you can add your name to a database they'll put on microchip and stick on board. It takes 30 seconds. You would be a fool not to.

I'm a sucker for stuff like that. Some 0s and 1s that I typed will be sent to orbit the moon. It's trivial - but awesome.

Terrorist propaganda or al-Qaeda research? No it's Fallout 3

Don't worry Skeptobot hasn''t become obssessed with CCTV/privacy and terror. It's just in the news a lot at the minute. So much so that I couldn't help notice The  Daily mail wip up a fury about this image:

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Seriously go and read their "news story." I mean just look at it's web address for fucks sake:

Read it? Good.
I first noticed the image when The Metro (UK free newspaper) carried it on Thursday describing it as "chilling":
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click to bigify

Now is this a image created by an al-Qaeda internet site where they plan to destroy the world.  Or is, perhaps, a promotional image for the upcoming computer game Fallout 3 ? 

Of course it is.

So the entire news story should read that al-Qaeda can use Google Image fucking Search.

Update: More details here (kotaku.com - a computer game site)

With thanks to Dudley who confirmed I wasn't going mad.
Oh and you can Digg this HERE.

Skeptobot has had a make over.

Thanks again to the wonderful advice of Dr Ashen I've given the site a little spruce up, with a lovely banner knocked up by the wise one merely as a proof of concept, but I think it's lovely so I'm using it. Hopefully the new template is easier to read - let me know if you don't like it. Also I'm testing whether this still works in people's RSS feeds and so on, as you may have noticed I've successfully hidden the 'blogspot' from the site's address. 

Let me know if you have any problems. 

And to make up for all the house keeping updates here is a picture of  the Phoenix Lander in the process of Landing on Mars, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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Humanity, being awesome, yesterday.

Humanity sent a piece of moving metal and plastic through the solar system whilst getting another piece of metal and plastic to watch. We are awesome.

Expanding the Brand: Skeptobot.com launches! (& Wand update)

Oh what a day! Thanks to the advice of the wonderful Dr Ashen, Skeptobot has gone all Web 1.0 by getting it's very own web address. Now you can use the very professional sounding  www.skeptobot.com to come and visit the site. But don't worry it's still hosted on blogger so the wonderful feelings of doubt, mistrust and apathy that comes with seeing the 'blogspot' bar remain in full force. 

This is all part of the slow process to turn to Skeptobot into the UK's premier site about God and Science and that. And to make me a squillionaire.

In other news, the Oyster Wand hasn't been forgotten - I've just been busy. Progress has been made though as I have been given this:

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A Sonic Bloody Screwdriver - from Doctor Fucking Who.

Which should tide me over till I find a suitable wand. It's not going to get the ladies flocking the same way a magic wand would, but if I ever need to impress children and/or adults who should know better then I'm all set. Talking of which it is extremely difficult to find a wand that a) doesn't look shit, or b) is thick enough to be useful.  

Oh and all these shenanigans almost got me on the TV. Which is nice.

15 year old calls Scientology a Cult: Footbullets and Police Shenanigans

Meant to cover this as it happened but I've been far too busy, so here's a quick overview of Scientology's latest footbullet. And a wonderful example of why "the kids today" are awesome.

May 10th: 15 year old EpicNoseGuy (ENG) goes to the London protests against scientology as part of Anonymous. (If you don't know who they are, here is an explanation). Unfortunately I couldn't make this protest, so I don't know first hand what happened. But, as covered in the Guardian ENG gets stopped by the police for this sign:

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Now, ENG seems very awesome. The old media can't understand "The Kids" today unless they are hooded thugs, so the idea of political, opinionated, knowledgeable teenagers who communicate and play out their actions on the world stage of the internet are not typically represented in the media today. Which makes this quote from the Guardian is doubly delicious.

A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and "strongly advised" him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous".

After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign.
How beautiful is the part I bolded? Fucking phenomenal. And the moment they took the sign of him, Anonymous won.

Scientology is a cult, and regardless even if it wasn't calling it a cult isn't hate speech. These new laws against religious hate speech are worrying indeed.

Why did the Police stop him? 

There is actually more to this than meets the eye, it's a bit long winded but follow me on this one. Firstly it is important to point out that 1)  Two police forces cover the protests, In the morning City of London (CoL) police at the Scientology HQ and when Anonymous move over to the Scientology "shop" on Tottencourt Road later in the day, The Metropolitan police (Met) take over. 2) The protesters have an extremely good relationship with the Police. I've typically seen than secretly laughing at Anonymous' light hearted protesting, and I've only heard them say nice things about them, one remarking that Anonymous are the only protesters he's ever covered that tidy up before they leave.

Now, It was CoL that served ENG. And they said this:
"City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology.

"Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act.

"One demonstrator continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will go to the CPS."
So the City of London Police followed advice from the CPS? Ok, so what did they?
A CPS spokesman said no specific advice was given to police regarding the boy's placard.

"In April, prior to this demonstration, as part of our normal working relationship we gave the City of London police general advice on the law around demonstrations and religiously aggravated crime in particular.

"We did not advise on this specific case prior to the summons being issued – which the police can do without reference to us – but if we receive a file we will review it in the normal way according to the code for crown prosecutors."
Now that doesn't fit does it? They gave general advice, and didn't advise of the use of the word cult. A term the European Court of Justice has used to describe Scientology.

So then, why might CoL's treatment of the protesters be so different to the Mets treatment (who have happily allowed signs with the C-word every month since February)?

Might it be due to the fact that The City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley topened the head quarters? Could it be the thousands of pounds of gifts Scientology has made to the CoL and its' officers?

As psychiatrist Mark Salter says:
"They are a cult who are trying to maximise their influence by putting feelers out and using spin to make contacts and network in quite dangerous ways."

Now this is only my opinion on what I think happened, but it seems to me that Scientology has a number of high up members of the CoL who've they befriended with gifts. They've realised that the protests weren't going away, so they decided to fall back on their old strategies of suing thoe who criticise them. But they've realised that when they do this, the whole internet lights up in outrage and they shoot themselves in the foot. This *footbullet* does more damage to them than the original protester could ever hope to do.

So they thought that if they could convince the CoL that this was hate speech they could push any backlash onto the Police when the police did something about it.

And to a certain extent they succeeded. But they've achieved a massive footbullet in that they've managed to galvanise the Anonymous movement. It was getting bored, and attendance was dropping. But then they pushed for this and put anonymous on the BBC news, and all over the net. For example they've giving a youtube video advertising the next June protest over 2,000 diggs and 30,000 views.

By kicking the internet you only get it's interest.

Sleep walking towards Big Brother - Every email and phone call and internet session recorded.

Ministers are to consider plans for a database of electronic information holding details of every phone call and e-mail sent in the UK, it has emerged. - BBC

Read that again, and let it sink in. It's a quote from the BBC whilst The Times adds that "time spent on the internet" will also be recorded.

I once counted that 57 cameras record me on my travel to work (I was very bored) whilst my oyster card/wand tracks tracks me too. The Government being able to trace my every movement has resulted in them also being able to solve 3% of street crime. I've not decided what my views on CCTV cameras are - but at the cost of billions they are, at the very least, an ineffective weapon.

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This doesn't make me feel more secure.

If this new bill goes through once I've been recorded almost 60 times I'll sit at my computer and every email I send and phonecall I make and even every time I turn on my browser will all be recorded too. All added to the database. Before I clock out, head home and get filmed 57 more times.

Or maybe I'll go shopping in one of the shopping centres that use your mobile to triangulate where you are at any given moment and how long you stay and which shops you go to and how often you visit (there is 1 in Portsmouth, with 3 more planned).

On their own you could probably convince me that each one of these is harmless, but this data will naturally converge, copy, intwine and leak. That's what data does.

In my mind this IT bill would be the tipping point that makes the UK an Orwellian police state. Don't get me wrong, A benevolent and just Police state, but one all the same. And once we have that all we need is a maybe two or three decades to pass and a dick to be elected and we will have given him the power to control us. I know that sounds needlessly fanciful, over the top and paranoid. And I know I might seem like a crank for saying this. I don't want to give that impression, but I think our generation are the only ones to really understand the power the IT revolution has to free us - or chain us. And as an astronomer and a scientist, I'm naturally inclined to think about things on long time scales. I don't think we'll walk into 1984 tomorrow, but we do need to get this all straight now, at the dawn of the IT revolution. Rather then wait till it first goes wrong.

We need to be very careful.

But even if your not a pragmatic, paranoid person like myself, then the fact that the Government recently demonstrated how little they understand this modern world by losing 25 million names, addresses, dates of birth, National Insurance numbers and bank details coupled with AOL's search records fuck up (where purely anonymous search records were released - and consequently used to identify numerous people) and you must realise how dangerous this is.

The time for just being disappointed on the internet has past. Don't just moan on some forum, it's time we kicked up a fuss. If you don't like this I strongly recommend you to go to Write to Them, pop in your postcode, and send your MP an email telling him so. It will only take a few minutes and it's all from within your browser.

Why not watch Taking Liberties? Why not look into seeing if you agree with NO2ID, and then, if you do, support them.

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How it used to be.

Dispatches: In God's Name (and a proper response)

Just watched this and I think I've got a little sick in my mouth.

As Christianity becomes smaller and more marginalised in the UK a certain core of it becomes more and more extreme to in an attempt to preserve itself. We have to hope that the mainstream, reasonable UK Christians will fight strongly against this ridiculous shit and kick up a fuss. And if they don't then shame on them. Seriously, we've creationism in UK schools, homophobes and pro-life lobbyists manipulating Judges and bills and all the while they are hiding the fact they think the world is "about 4000" years old. That and Jerry Springer the Opera haters Christian voice were in the show, holding meetings where they ask God to push back the floods of evil (aka Islam). And their leader saying that "Allah is Satan." 

This is 'the-shit-we-laugh-at-America-for' on our doorstep.

Half the time I think the proper response is to carefully and politely deconstruct their arguments and promote reality, but I'm starting to think that we need to talk to them on their level. For example when a Creationist disproved evolution by demonstrating that you never find new life when you open a jar of peanut butter, I wrote a response about statistics and the Urey Miller experiment

But maybe I should have done this:

I wonder, if this was the only kind of response Creationists could get would they be doing better or worse?

TED Sunday #005: Paul Ewald on whether we can domesticate germs?

I'm really looking forward to this one. Domesticating Germs for our own benefit! Could we exploit evolution to encourage diseases to evolve to mildness. I've always been of the view that if we don't play God, who will. We just need to be very smart, and very careful.

It's important to point out that I'm doing a PhD in Astrophysics so I'm not qualified to comment on the legitimacy of this.

Thanks again Roger for suggesting this talk

The media's 'Silly Season' begins: Aliens and Jesus and the Nibiru invasion.

As the sun is coming out so the collective media's mind turns to mush. As the stories they deem 'silly' are pushed to the front. Often they can take a trival look at something really quite important, or aggrandise a piece of nonsense into a 'serious; piece.

Today, you've probably noticed Aliens (and Jesus) are everywhere. Here's my favourite 3 stories today:

1) The Vatican believes life could exist on other planets

Peoples opinions of the existence of Aliens can be plotted as a Bell Curve. The edges of which are full of awesome, crazy people. People who really, really believe in aliens end up like number 3 in this list (which you must watch). The people who really, really don't never seem to have an understanding of the scale of the universe we are in (With 10^11 stars in the average Galaxy, and about 10^11 Galaxies we've a lot of roll's of the dice).

The BBC is running a story about how Vatican says aliens could exist. And they are being really rather sensible about it. This is the kind of Religious viewpoint Scientists should be debating, not Nut Job Creationists or The Pope's favourite Exorcist. I have a lot of sympathy for the Vatican Observatory it is stuck in a strange place between the fields of religion and as such has an important role to play. Even if they do get stuck debating whether aliens will have 'original sin' sticking to them thanks to a metaphorical woman eating a metaphorical apple a while back.

What's even better is according to the BBC

To strengthen its scientific credentials, the Vatican is organising a conference next year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin.
The Creationists in the USA love the Pope, so hopefully this can help stem the coming of the second dark ages by another month or so..

2) A bunch of British UFO files have been released
This happens quite often actually, and each time you can be sure that Nick Pope will pop up out of the woodwork and pop onto every media show to talk about how he used to work for the MoD on UFOs. It's been a while since I properly kept in touch with the UFO scene (as a kid my love of the paranormal is what turned me into a scientist and skeptic) - but as far as I can remember Nick Pope has an excellent ability to tailor the ridiculousness of what he says to the audience that are listening.

Still most of the stories don't make it clear where you can get access to all these files. So if you want to see for yourself the data is here. I haven't looked at it myself yet - but I'm sure there will be some entertaining stuff in there.

3) In less than 8 hours the world will end - Nibiru invasion, Masons and CERN.
OK not quite in the mainstream media, but I can't resist. The cranks thinking that the LHC will kill us all are amazing. With less than 8 hours till apocolypse this guy is the best I've seen. Seriously even if you only watch the first two minutes you be so convinced that you'll want to give up your Mason's card.

I was going to talk about all the best bits he says, but there are too many classics too mention. He's amazing. Nibiru is my new favourite place. This is the best example of Poe's Law I've seen this year.

Thanks to Gia for sending it in.

TED Sunday #004: Brian Cox on the LHC

After a short break, this week we've got Brian Cox talking about the LHC. Mainly to tie in with this post, and so wind up this guy up a little.

Brian Cox was in D:ream, but has managed to get past that mistake, and it's left him rather media savvy, which often makes Physicists a little wary and judgemental and jump on all their little mistakes - which is A Bad Thing. Fair play to the guy, we need more people like him. A wonderful talk.

Thanks to Roger for suggesting this talk.

Time-lapse Vid of Dissolving an Oyster Card in acetone (aka nail varnish)

Disclaimer: Just to cover my back, be aware that TFL probably won't like you doing this. So get permission first etc.

I'm pretty certain that ever since BoingBoing featured Chris Woebken dissolving an oyster card to get at its juicy inner workings (a RFID chip stuck to a loop of wire, fact fans) geeks across London have been attempting it.

As such I'm rather late to the party on this one. The rather splendid SciencePunk beat me too it with this grand attempt codenamed Operation Ladybird. Nevertheless I knew I must attempt this epic journey too.

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What you will need

If you want to play along this is your shopping list:

1) ~ 400ml of Nail Varnish Remover - I bought 2 bottles of Boots own brand at 99p each. I could probably have got by with one.
2) An oyster card - I bought a prepay one for £3, though I got a funny look when I didn't want to top it up there and then.
3) A jar big enough to contain the oyster card - I bought a jar of beetroot (urgh) for 72p.

Total Cost: £5.70

It's simple enough process, fill the jar with the nail varnish remover, dump the oyster card in it. Put the top back on and wait for a few hours. Brilliantly, I picked up bunch of PS2 eyetoy cameras on clearance (£1.99 each from Gamestation) which means I now own a webcam! (Aside: they can be turned into pretty good webcams once you've installed macam, and they appear to be quite easy to break apart so I'm turning one into an infrared camera next). So I'm proud to present Skeptobot's first ever youtube video. Time-lapse footage of my Oyster Card dissolving.

Notes on the vid: I've never used a webcam/youtube/imovie before so sorry for the quality. The smudge on the card that appears about half way in is from when I poked it with a pencil, and the paint on the pencil stripped off. It's best to keep checking the card, first it will get soft, then after about 90 mins it folded over and I was able to peel off the first layer of the card, exposing one side of the chip. Then I cut the centre of the card out with scissors (so there was less plastic for the acetone to work on). I put these pieces next to the jar, and I was quite suprisied when the time-lapse showed them wobbling about.

Then after another half hour or so, the other side of the plastic loosened enough to peel that away exposing the intact chip and antenna. Nail Varnish Remover takes longer that SciencePunks miltary grade stuff but I think a more dilute source of acetone is more effective than SciencePunks military grade stuff.

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The chip itself
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The chip still attached to the loop of wire acting as it's antenna

So tomorrow morning I'll attempt to use this naked oyster card to journey to work. If I'm successful (and not arrested for terrorism) I'll have to decide what my new oyster card will be. So far I'm thinking either stitching it into my watch, or wrapping it around a magic wand (though that might kill the signal).

UPDATE - It still works!
This is how the oyster card currently looks (I've put it back inside it's wallet to keep it safe and so I don't look too weird):
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And this is how it still works!

The magic wand draws closer...

CERN has impeccable comedic taste: Chris Morris, Kevin Eldon and Simon Munnary

So the people at CERN have been inviting the best comedians in the UK to come and have a look around. The ingenious bastards. How did I miss this? I always get a little giddy when I see my interests collide (geddit?).

You can listen to Chris "Brass Eye" Morris talking about THE HIGGS FUCKING BOSON here. Look I've a picture for your unbelieving eyes:

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How awesome is that? Answer: very awesome.

But there's more! They've also had the excellent Simon Munnary and Kevin Eldon round too. Listen to the podcast here and watch them potter around below:

There is a lot to be said for this kind of public outreach especially when it's via such excellent, excellent people. I would go as far as to say that there is a strong and unexplored link between alternative British comedy  and the appreciation of science. A link that has yet to be utilised...

And if by some ridiculous chance you don't know who these comedians I'm talking about are, then you sicken me. Make me like you again by buying Chris Morris' Brass Eye - a massively important satire on TV news. But not until you've got the wonderful Simon Munnary's 'Hello' an indie produced Stand Up DVD of outstanding quality from the absolute legends that are Go Faster Stripe. I love GFS, they are doing a massively important job at preserving Stand Up thats too important and intelligent and niche to be picked up by mainstream media. And whilst I'm sure you recognise The Actor Kevin Eldon from every good comedy show of the last two decades (Jam, Spaced, Fist of Fun, This Morning With Richard Not Judy & Brass Eye are but a tiny selection of his work) I'm doubting you will have listened to his brilliant audio monologues SPEAKERS. Available to download free from Resonance FM.

So did the boomerang work in space?

Remember this? Takao Doi wanted to know if boomerangs work in zero g. Because wanting to know stuff like that is what makes humanity great. So he went and got Yasuhiro Togai, a world boomerang champion, to teach him how to throw a paper boomerang. Then he went into space and tested it.

So did it work? Watch and find out.

I'm a little disappointed it was a three-pronged boomerang, but that can't be helped as they turn tighter, and you're not exactly kicking it for space up there (geddit?). Truly awesome stuff.

Comic #2 - The Uncanny Valley

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Say you are making an artificial life form. As you get closer to 'human' your robot eventually enters a region called "The Uncanny Valley" where it suddenly become extremely repulsive. Ben Goldacre recently wrote in his miniblog that the maybe the same reasoning could be used to explain why nutritional therapists are more disgusting than really out there people like homeopaths.

I can't have been the the only one to think that The Awful Poo Lady manages to satisfy both cases? Especially after that daily mail article.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. My apologies.

Amorth Watch: He's back because he's got himself a TV show to help separate possession from psychiatric problems

The last time Amorth got mentioned in Skeptobot was way back in August 2006, and then he fell off the radar. So to pop up again a year and a half later he's got to be up to something, and indeed he is. Obviously most news reports about him are in Italian but I've managed to find this report that states he's making 'a television and Internet report series'.

Oh goody! The San Francisco Sentinel apparently watched the first episode as they've got some quotes from it.

“Normally when a person experiences these conflicts and problems, the first thing he does is see a doctor and psychiatrist,” he said. “It is very difficult to distinguish the devil’s action from a psychological problem. The person goes to a psychiatrist and after years of therapy obtains no result.

“Then he begins to suspect that the problem is not a natural one and goes to a conjurer from whom he obtains even greater harm. This is what normally happens. At this point, it is possible that someone more experienced in these matters suggests an exorcist.”

The main crux of his show appears to be about getting respect for exorcism and urging Italy to separate possession from psychiatric problems. Call me old fashioned but tying a person with very real mental problems to a bed and telling him the devil has possessed him is probably not a very good thing to do.

He also claims “Mariology" is his field, and The Virgin Mary is Satan's great foe because she is very pure and Satan is filthy. I know I shouldn't find that funny, but I do.

I'm going to keep an eye on this, and see if I can dig up the shows, to work out what is going on. Hopefully he won't turn into the Gillian McKeith of Exorcism.

The Pope's Exorcist Amorth is back on the case of the literal devil

Skeptobot is a long time fan of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's Chief Exorcist. Because he's insane. He thinks that Hitler was possessed by the Devil and that possessed people have superhuman strength and can levitate. So I guess he thinks Hitler can fly. But to be fair to Father Amorth, that's pretty awesome.

Anyhow Amorth has been quoted recently saying

"There is a greater openness towards the devil"
and that that medicine and science can’t solve all illnesses, but some are resolved by exorcism, and his colleague Father Pedro Barrajon says:
“Satanism and the occult are in fashion.”

So much so that the article I'm getting this from says
Italy has an estimated 800 satanic cults, with more than 600,000 followers
Who in their right mind believes that Italy has half a million devil worshippers? And more so, if Amorth and co believe that the devil is literal and runs around making people do bad things why doesn't he prove possession if it's so common? Why doesn't he film one of his levitating devil men? Or is faith less fun when you've proved you were right?

It boggles my mind that the Pope is a-ok with this.

Actually, no it doesn't.

Where do they get the time? Gin and Sitcoms in units of Wikipedia.

Gin carts kept society ticking over when the industrial revolution brought people in from the fields and gave them lots of free time in the company of others. It was a hole to dump the excess social time that society wasn't complex enough to consume. With time city life gained complexity to soak up this excess, and with it the Gin consumption fell. Clay Shirky argues that this process is repeating itself today with the hours after work, with the massive time sink that is the TV being carved into by creative time on the internet. That's a very poor summary of Shirkey's blog post - which is well worth your time - if only because he uses Wikipedias as a unit of free time.

"Okay, we're going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

This makes sense to me at the minute as I've been rather busy recently and I've been thinking about how I have too many things to do, and too many other things to consume.

Via BoingBoing

Ted Sunday #003: Steve Jurvetson on the joy of rockets

I don't know anything about this guy except that he seems to come across as a bit arrogant in this. But then you would if you were rich enough for you hobby to be blowing up massive rockets. Worth it just for the shot at the end. A hobbiest proving the world isn't flat by shooting a big rocket into the air is always cool.

Just a quick one this week, as I'm racing about.

"Every Scientologist" is taking to the streets this weekend

Various sources are suggesting a huge show of force from Scientology this weekend. "Every Org, every Mission, every Field Group, every Scientologist" will be... selling books. Here's the leaked flyer*

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Click to bigify.

I'm bringing it up because the total number of members of Scientology is a closely guarded secret. Sometimes 8 million is mentioned, where their critics say 80,000 or less. So presumably this weekend we might get a better picture. 

As I've written up this little update, it's become more of a non-story though. I've found out the 2001 census of the uk had 1781 people declare themselves a scientologist. Which is shockingly small. So small infact that I suspect almost every member in the UK could fit in their massive headquarters in London.

Still they'll all be on the streets this weekend, no doubt in a show of strength against the protests (which I suspect have more the 1781 anonymous members over the whole of the uk) so keep an eye out!

Oh and whilst we are on the topic here's another horrible internal flyer:
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Click to bigify.
"[W]hen I found her ruin?" you've got to be kidding me!

* can an advert be leaked? I don't think so.

Scientology vs Anonymous III: The best protest leaflet ever.

The third protest against Scientology happened this weekend, and unfortunately I was only able to briefly pass through the area. As such I was handed a bunch of brilliant leaflets and flyers detailing the Disconnect policy Scientology uses to make its members abandon their families. The best though was this absolutely brilliant card:

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click  image to bigify

The aim of this protest was to get Scientology members reconnected with their families who they typically abandon as they progress through the church. As such the genius creator of this card had managed to beautifully detail the policy of whereby if a family member ever chooses to leave Scientology then the members still within Scientology have to abandon all contact with that person or face being removed from the church.

And at the very same time they've managed to rickroll you.

From what I saw it seemed another very successful protest that manage to weather the rain brilliantly. They had (unfortunately rather inaudible) speakers who had lost family members due to the disconnect policy to sever all ties with friends and family members that are deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology, as well as ex-members who had first hand experience.

TED Sunday #002: Johnny Lee creating marvels out of a $40 toy.

Johnny Lee's work is a beautiful example of what can happen when technology is open and hackable and so allows the public to take it far further than the original designers could ever have imagined. I've yet to watch this video, but I've seen the clips he's put up on his site, and despite a rough start he quickly won me over with his genuine enthusiasm for his work, so stick with it. After I've watched it I'll post what I think in the comments thread.

Slighty outside the remit of Skeptobot I admit, but I liken it to a sorbet to freshen the palate before another week of tat.

TED page for the talk

Randi is in the UK (plus a troll just made my day)

So a crazy loon troll just emailed me about how he has systematically destroyed The Amazing Randi in a forum. I'm not feeding him by reproducing it as he's just trying to get people to resurrect his dying thread. Still I'm over the moon because the troll decided to include this little old site alongside much better people like pzmyers at pharyngula, Simon Singh, David Colquhoun , Ben Goldacre, Quackometer, Gimpy, skeptic.com and many more. Normally a troll just singles me out, never before I have been deemed worthy of being cc'd on such a list!

You've made my day Mr Troll!

I only mention this as it gives me an opportunity to 1) boost my own ego, 2) link to some much better sites than this and 3) because he seems to have emailed everyone who is going to see Randi in the UK next week, and that means I can advertise the event again.

Seriously £11/£5.50 to see James Randi, Prof. Richard Wiseman, Prof. Chris French, Dr Simon Singh, Dr Ben Goldacre and Dr Susan Blackmore? It's bargain of the century.

Details here and I'll see you there.

The Daily Mail asks "Can we really transplant a human soul?"

Unfortunately they don't answer "No. Of course not. You twat" and leave it at that. Instead we get a nice long ramble.  The crux of their argument is as follows:

For a few brave scientists have started claiming that our memories and characters are encoded not just in our brain, but throughout our entire body.

Consciousness, they claim, is created by every living cell in the body acting in concert.

They argue, in effect, that our hearts, livers and every single organ in the body stores our memories, drives our emotions and imbues us with our own individual characters. Our whole body, they believe, is the seat of the soul; not just the brain.

And if any of these organs should be transplanted into another person, parts of these memories - perhaps even elements of the soul - might also be transferred.

There are now more than 70 documented cases similar to Sonny's, where transplant patients have taken on some of the personality traits of the organ donors
This article has come about thanks to the recent story of  Sonny Graham, a 69 year old man who received a heart from man who had shot himself. Sonny went on to marry the wife of the deceased man, and then tragically commit suicide in the same manner. Emotional stuff that isn't to be trivialised.

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Sonny Graham and his wife Cheryl, who he met after he had her deceased husband's heart transplanted.

They then back up these propositions with a series of anecdotes. Like this one, which gloriously also manages to promote the Daily Mail view of 'The Family Unit'.
Take the case of Lynda Gammons from Weston, Lincolnshire, who donated one of her kidneys to her husband Ian.

Since the operation, Ian believes he has taken on aspects of his wife's personality. He has developed a love of baking, shopping, vacuuming and gardening. Prior to the transplant, he loathed all forms of housework with a vengeance.

Thankfully they go on to admit that "tens of thousands" of transplants have taken place so you would expect these events to come about by chance. Unfortunately they take this argument down the 'Arrogant Scientists in their Ivory Towers can't understand the human spirit' route:
If Professor Schwartz and his ilk are right, it would destroy one of the foundation stones of modern biology. But then again, modern biology has a guilty little secret: it has, as yet, no viable theory to explain how we store memories and how we produce consciousness.

In fact, scientists haven't even managed to define what exactly consciousness is, let alone managed to pin down where it comes from and where it is to be found within the body.

So maybe, just maybe, the poets, romantics and mystics throughout the ages were right: the heart really is the seat of our emotions and of our souls.

It's not a guilty secret you little shits, it's an exciting and huge area of theories and thoughts that's vibrant and alive and interesting and rigourous. Any scientist who's entered the field want to unlock the secrets of the mind. So stop it with that crap. Scientists aren't ashamed when they don't know the answer. That's what they go to work for. 

But what's really disappointing here is that (despite my initial flippant dismissal, that I stole of Lee and Herring ) this is a really interesting area. The Daily Mail could have written an interesting article about the psychological effects of a transplant. Walking around all day knowing you are being powered by a dead mans heart must effect you. It would deeply and significantly alter your life. As can be seen when a 69 year old man and the much younger widow find each other in the fall out.

It's a powerful, and appealing, belief that the transplanted heart bind them. And in many ways it did. But you demean both the science and crucially the human experience of the people involved when you propose it can all be explained with a fucking "soul transplant."