The new gimmick: How famous people are related to each other.

I can't be the only one who finds this annoyingm can I? Or am I just being more surly than normal? A new trend seems to be that people like the New England Historic Genealogical Society are making a big fuss about how if you go back in time long enough, and spend enough time looking you can find out how a specific famous person is related to other famous person.

And the BBC reports it as this:

[Obama] was previously identified as a distant cousin of US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

His political lineage includes not just President Bush but also Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S Truman, Dick Cheney and Winston Churchill.

The connection made with Hollywood star Brad Pitt adds a welcome splash of glamour to his family tree.

And this is somehow special, rather than something you could do for anyone on the planet if you were dull enough to bother, and willing to go back far enough. It's almost as though it's perpetuating the idea that 'Celebrities' and 'Normals' are different fucking species.

It's akin to 21st century astrology. I can see a man sitting infront of a whiz-bang computer telling some incredulous yokel that "you've a very commanding spirit because your 58th cousin 16 times removed from William the Conqueror, but yet your sensitive because of you 18th cousin of Florence Nightingale."

And what's this? Hillary Clinton is related to Madonna!? What joy!


Creation 'science' museum tours.

Here's a ABC clip about what Creationists in America do when faced with the issue that every museum around them is based on data and the scientific method. If you've pulled your kid from school to hide him from science then it's a short step to hiring your own creationist tour guide whenever you venture outside (especially if your are going to science museum). One who will filter and worm and twist his way around this scary world doing his best to bend reality to your hopes and scriptures, all the time making sure he won't 'have enough time' for the panel about how scientists date the age of fossils.

The group are called B.C. Tours, which they explain:

B.C. stands for Biblically Correct. We are B.C. and not P.C. (politically correct). We might even say the "J" word in public.

Their site is amazing, with their main approach to getting custom being:
Win every argument!

Presumably then it's a common experience for creationists to lose arguments on their beliefs, so much so that they have to hire professionals to defend them on their behalf.

Depressingly that is just a stop gap till you can afford to build your own museum. Which you can watch a bunch of high school kids visit here.

Via friendlyatheist via athiestjew, and a link from friendly reader Roger.

Who owns the Copyright on the Papers you publish?

When you publish a Scientific Paper who owns the copyright? I know most of us, naively, still consider our work to be our own. But according to New Scientist the American Physical Society will not publish two papers in Physical Review Letters because the authors had asked for a rights agreement compatible with Wikipedia. Normally you transfer the copyright to APS before publishing and hence your figures can't be used on Wikipedia and the like.

Change is happening in the scientific community. We are starting to really think about how we publish our science. But being scientists we put practical solutions (such as the brilliant ArXiv) above the true solutions. Science thrives on the free sharing of ideas and we should be at the forefront of movements like Creative Commons not playing catch up. Free sharing of ideas can't just be within an ivory tower of scientists, especially when creationists and their ilk are banging on the gate. We need our work to be in the public domain more than ever. With Wikipedia a bare minimum.

I often think we need a figure head to galvanise us on this. We need our own Larry Lessig.

How Scientology will stalk you. A guide to protesting on Saturday.

(Sorry for the rambling of this poor update, but I wanted to get this info out before the next protest in case it's of use to anyone.)

In the next few posts, I'll be reviewing how Anonymous handled itself in the February protests, what having an E-meter reading is like and what it's like being tailed and followed by Scientologists, and hence whether you should wear a mask.

I'll focus on the latter first, as I'm running out of time before the next protest happens. Also I'm writing this at 3 am when I really should be sleeping, so expect the spelling and grammar to be even worse than the normal terrible standard. Sorry.

In my *last post* on the the whole Scientology vs Anonymous shennagins I tried to explain who exactly Anonymous are and what the whole thing was about. Long story short, Anonymous is a joke that the real world (like FOX news) took seriously, and so ironically created. [The game will be played till they get bored. Since the first article It seems the majority of the community involved have got bored, but their seems to be a strong, if more traditional, group that's been created by all this.)

The Pre Game preparation (it's not paranoia if they are really out to get you)

Waking up, hung over, in an unfamiliar house, the idea of trampling around London didn't seem that appealing. Would anyone turn up? Uptil now I had seen just a few jpeg posters and comment threads, so for all I new it might just be a dozen people. Or no one. Still I had agreed to meet a friend, so I had no choice.

First issue, should I wear a mask? The fliers recommended it, but I didn't feel I had to hide who I was, so I decided I wouldn't. But the tails of *'revenge'* scientologists have been known to take on protesters meant I grabbed some shades and a bandanna on my way out.

So, thanking my kind hosts who had put me up and nursing the mother of all hang overs, I left for the nearby North london Tube station (about 5 stops north of their Dyanetics centre) to head south to their HQ, holding the Sunglasses and Bandanna in my hand, feeling stupid that I thought such measures might be necessary.

When a man took my photograph.

I looked at him, and he preceded to continue to photograph the wall behind me, whilst his friend waited for him to finish. I walked on a few meters and turned into the station. I stood their for a second, composed my thoughts leant back round to look at him.

He was there with his friend. Watching me watch them. I realised they both had big, black SLR cameras. One of the ones with big telephoto lenses.

Whilst topping up my Oyster card my confusion started making me feel paranoid. I decided to lean round the corner and snap a photo of the two. Just in case.

Free Image Hosting at

Yeah, not very good is it? But the two suspects, are the two blurs facing away from me hidden by those in the foreground.

During the tube journey I realised that I was being stupid. They wouldn't be photographing people before they got to the protests would they? Before you had put on your mask?

Of course they wouldn't be...

Realising that I had some time to kill before I met my friend I hopped of the tube at Goodge Street thinking I would check how the centre of Dynatics was behaving before the protests were scheduled to start. Anonymous's (sic?) plan was to protest the HQ in the morning, have a break for lunch and reconvene at the centre about 2.

One thing lead to another and I ended up having a E-meter reading. But I'll save what happened till later.

20 minutes later, I'm heading down to meet my friend, and we make our way to the UK Headquaters of Scientology. You have to remember this was something organised on the internet with no real figureheads. No leaders. I didn't expect many people. I definitly didn't expect this (click to biggify):

Free Image Hosting at


I'll save a review of the protest till later, but the people were friendly, they were polite, and they had fliers and banners and were enthused with talking to the public. I caught a number explaining why they felt they had to wear masks to passers-by. I started to see their point. The protest was of such high quality that a few people had decided they were on clean up duty and were collecting litter. I was impressed.

But then I got creeped out. I expected the Scientologists to be filming everyone. That was a given. But I realised that the staff members, typically 18-35 year old males in casual clothes wandering around taking photo's of the protestors, all had the same black SLR camera.

The same camera those two men had early this morning. Scientology must have placed its members around tube stations in London to try and pre-emptively photograph people before they arrived at the protests. There was no other explanation.

A Trip to Forbidden Planet and a hasty retreat

During the break we headed back via the tube. Hundreds of masked anonymous people on the underground was quite a site.

As was the fact that there were already the same mid 20's man with black SLR cameras. Trying to get photos of people without their disguises on the tube. Assuming quite rightly that many would take them off to avoid the wrath of the transport police.

Frankly, it had been a strange day. I was hung over and creeped out. A little on edge we decided that before going to the place where I had already introduced myself to everyone by having an E-meter reading a disguise was in order.

So we decided to go buy one of the V for Vendetta masks that everyone was wearing from Forbidden Planet, the main provider of the mask of choice of Anonymous.

And this is where it gets fucked up.

Inside forbidden planet we see another two people. This time a man and a woman. Late twenties. With the same identical big SLR cameras.

Scientologists were staking out the geek shop to look for people buying masks.

We watched the woman pretend to be interested in some Dr Who figures for about ten minutes. Who would keep scanning the store looking for trouble makers.

I decided to try and get footage of the two of them, by pretending to make a phone call whilst using it's camera to film them from across the store (my camera phone is shit, it didn't work). I'm no James Bond, but if they were just ordinary shoppers they wouldn't have noticed anything. Or at least not cared. But they weren't.

We left the store, and quickly realised that we thought we were being followed. Like in some poor movie.

Thinking fast we did what anyone would have done. We went round the nearest corner, stopped and waited for them.

And waited, and waited, and waited.

And just as we were giving up and assumed we imagined it, they came round the corner camera high snapping away. Whilst we took this:

Free Image Hosting at

QuickPost Quickpost this image to Myspace, Digg, Facebook, and others!
Here they are in the bottom right.

We waved and smilied and the scientologists, who were visible shaken and quickly left.

In hindsight we should have repeated the favour and followed them. But we didn't.

Likewise the next protest had even more scientologists scattered around the area trying to photograph suspects on the way to the protest. And plenty shoving their cameras into the crowd. Like this guy:

Free Image Hosting at

QuickPost Quickpost this image to Myspace, Digg, Facebook, and others!

Free Image Hosting at

QuickPost Quickpost this image to Myspace, Digg, Facebook, and others!

So sorry for the rambling nature of this post, but I wanted to just give some advice on the level of surveillance Scientology will employ tomorrow. The joke may have got old, and no one may turn up. But the scientologists will. So even if your not protesting, if your travelling around London keep and eye out for them by the tubes in North London. I'll try and improve the post over the next day. But I'm snowed under with work...


John McCain thinks vaccines cause autism.

And you thought it was bad in the UK. When replying to a mother with an autistic child in a town meeting a few days back the republican presidential candidate said the following:

"It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines."

Image Hosted by

It's especially depressing when you realise compared to Huckabee and Romney, this is the Republicans most 'pro-science' candidate. 

You can read more about it here and here.