Tim Michin's Storm - About your inner skeptical rage.

Just leaving the house, but noticed from Tim Minchin's twitter stream that he's put 'Storm' up. Which despite being a 9 minute beat poem is really bloody excellent. If you've visited this site, then I'm pretty certain you'll find this little story of social awkwardness a little close to the bone.

Sorry about that last post again....

The Media on 'Sex when young gives you prostate cancer'

Warning: Only just this second noticed this and it has annoyed me into knocking-this-out very quickly, so if the maths is off, it's totally my fault. Please pick me up on it. This post will also include lots of euphemisms for sexy-time.
Update I: Said 'colon' when meant 'prostate' cancer. As I said I'm not a (medical) doctor. Fixed now. Though my shame remains.

Update II: There are, rather elementary, flaws in this post - but the overall point just about holds - though lots of timbering is more statistically significant than my first, quick guesstimate (it's not just the increase in risk, it's the duration of that increase).  See the comments. 
The BBC, The Press Association, A Canadian site I've never heard of and an Italian site called AGI news are all reporting that increased amounts of genitalia-wrestling when between 20 and 30 increases your risk of Prostate Cancer.

Fuck!! Sex is awesome isn't it!? Things we love being bad for us always makes for a depressing story, which is of course a good story for the media peeps. 

Saying that the BBC story is quite good actually, pointing out that the sample size is too small and so on, but the others are worse. The Italian one starts like so:
Sexual abstinence, besides opening the gates to paradise, also seems to prolong the lives of men.
That's a neutral point of view if every I saw one. But more importantly not a single one of these articles mentions the increase in terms of the quantitative risk of getting the disease (aka the natural frequency, or in this case how many people per 100,000 will get prostate cancer every year). As we will see is kind of a big deal. I've had a spare ten minutes so I've just guesstimated what that would be. 

So lets ignore the very small sample size. Lets ignore the complexity of comparing the rate men masturbate. Lets ignore the fact that people who have more sex might do lots of other things to excess too (like drugs and rock and roll) so the idea that it is specifically sex isn't necessarily true (though they make sensible sounding hormonal claims to my non-biologist ears). Anyhow lets ignore all that and take the worst values we can find.

For about 400 cancer stricken men 40% had lots of bump-and-grind.
For about 400 cancer free men 32% had lots of chummy-time-sex-wees.

So you might think that means your chance of getting Prostate Cancer increases by 20% by plunging-your-oats to excess. Which sounds quite scary until you realise that's only a 20% increase over the natural frequency of getting the disease in the first place. 

And from a quick google  117 in every 100,000 men get prostate cancer in a year. (according to UK Cancer Research - oh and I chose the largest value I could find - because if your doing a quick guesstimate you may as well go conservative).

Which means that at maximum if everyone had lots and lots of how's-your-father, then the number getting prostate cancer would increase from 117 in every 100,000 to 140 in every 100,000.

Or to put it another way by having lots of hide-the-sausage your chance of catching prostate cancer skyrockets from 0.116% to a absolutely no less scary 0.140%. A massive 0.024% increase! QUICK TO CELIBACY! Never shall my loins mingle again!

Remember this isn't to do with the legitimacy of the science involved. This is purely an issue about the way it has been reported. For this, my friends, is how the media turns non-scary medical research into scary everything-you-love-kills-you stories. I know it may come over a little pedantic to say this, but a lot of people would have read this today and felt guilty over a natural part of their lives, and the media hid the values that might have reassured them that the sex is so fucking worth it in order to make it scarier.

Unless your making a horror film why would you want to make peoples lives scarier than needed? Is circulation really that important to you? Is it too much to ask for you to report the risks in a way we can easily judge it?

(Oh, and if you are thinking I only wrote this because I've just read Ben Goldacre's book - you would be right)

Richard Dawkins and Derren Brown have a natter

So this is a good month and a half old, but I haven't seen it so I'm posting it here regardless. It's an hour long, and repeats itself often enough (as all interviews whose final destination is to be chopped into soundbites tend to do) but it is great stuff non the less.

I'm posting this because I'm currently reading Trick of the Mind by Mr Brown and so far it's very good. A skeptical book by a magician is always an interesting read if only for the pub tricks you'll pick up.

Sorry for the quick, cheap post - but I'm trying to get something up every Monday - so that will obviously lead to (even) lower standards. Saying that, next mondays post is awesome.

Do you know Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for Gullible?

Click the link if you don't believe me.


*Waits a few seconds*

Did you? 

The "Hey, did you know gullible isn't in the dictionary?" joke has been going around since time immemorial so I'm guessing the majority of you wonderful, skeptical readers knew the game I was up to and so didn't click that link. 

If that is the case, please click the link. I'll wait.

Moral: we should never rely on our healthy skepticism when simple and easy tests are available. 
Disclaimer: Someone could easily make a Gullible page now to ruin all this. Especially if you are reading this in a few days time. But as it stands I love this little post-modern curmudgeonly waste of your time. And like a broken escalator the worst this little game can become is stairs. 

The Top 11 'skeptish' things I didn't mention in 2008

Hello again! Long time no see. How have you been?

Phew. Shall we, at last, get started again?

I've missed so many little bits and bobs over the last couple of months that I think I need a quick summary post to get them all out of my system so we can start a fresh. And we might as well call it a count down, because people pretend to like those in the new year. I'm far to lazy to put it in a specific order mind. Anyway lets get cracking....

11) The Mirror has got into INVESTIGATIONS

There is nothing in this link that I don't love. The photo of Penman & Sommerlad. The names Penman & Sommerlad. The font. The article and especially the comments. More please Mr Mirror. Seriously.

10) There have been some amazing pictures of the Earth published.

Number 5 is especially amazing. The best picture of fractals in nature ever. Maybe.

9) Apparently we spend £3.5 billion a year on 'Fake Psychics & Bogus Lotteries'

Or at least it says so here - I wonder what we spend on the genuine articles.

8) The New Humanist made some God Top Trumps

Whats to say? They got in trouble for one of the cards. I'll let you guess which.

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I've always enjoyed mixing Religious humour with Top Trumps humour.

7) Anonymous are still alive

One year of protesting Scientology. Fair play to them. Especially as the 'rest' of anonymous now hates them. Oh and recently it appears that Scientology has been trying to ban people for protesting near their buildings because they are HIV positive. Which is nice.

6) China's internet 'spin doctors'

China pays people to post on blogs and websites to attempt to influence public opinion. Lovely. I really think that a huge part of school education needs to be about evaluating evidence and sources. As the cost to publish falls the need to be able to critically appraise that material increases. Especially as governments, companies and so on can benefit so greatly from influencing our opinions. I've been thinking quite a bit about this recently as it seems from my logs that a school is using parts of this site in their education on 'Society and Religion' - and I can't decide if thats a good thing or not.

5) Ben Goldacre's written a book about Bad Science.

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Who would have thought it? I read this over xmas and it was great. Changed my opinion on the way to best handle the kind of topics Skeptobot covers - so you might notice a few changes here. A mini review might pop up at some point - or this might suffice.

Either way you should buy it this very second.

4) Defiling the Eucharist is worse than genocide

It would appear that whilst any old Bishop can forgive murder or genocide if you defile the Eucharist (aka mistreat a rubbish piece of bread) then only Mr Pope himself can forgive you. To be fair that is a little bit of exaggeration of it all. They are being pedantic rather than actually compiling a top ten crimes list. But it is another example of the Catholic church being completely unaware of the hypocrisy of itself.

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That leg room reminds you of Jesus on his Donkey doesn't it?

3) 9 Christmas Carols for Godless people was on in that there London.

And it was terrific, with an incredibley impressive line up: Stewart Lee, Phill Jupitus, Mark Thomas, Natalie Haynes, Chris 'in the thick of it' Addison, Ben Goldacre, Christina Martin, Simon Singh, Josie Long, Jo Neary, Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins, Tim Minchin, Darren Hayman, Robyn Hitchcock, Andrew Collins and on and on. For £15. Wonderful stuff. Makes you realise that our gang is bigger than you think.

2) Our Civil Liberties are going down the pan.

"The Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely [and remotely] hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant." says the Telegraph. So without a warrant they will be able to access the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging. Which is outrageous. And insane. The internet black box database continues. As does ID cards and the ID database. It is madness.

What is worse is that these ridiculously dangerous databases may be farmed out to private companies

Thankfully we still have NO2ID and MySociety fighting for us. But we still need to help too. So it looks like this will still be a feature of Skeptobot in 2009. Great.

1) A load of buses proclaim there is 'probably no God'.

This is splendid. A scheme to raise money for a bus or two to have an advert for doubt (as a response to a chrisitan advert saying you were going to hell) rasied £135,000 and so 800 buses are now rolling around in London and the rest of the UK.

The response has varied a lot. Most positive, like this wonderful take by Stephen Tomkins:
In fact, speaking as one myself, I think it shows quite a cheek for Christians to make a fuss about this. We've spent decades covering public places with verses from the Bible, and posters promising that if you let Jesus into your life everything will be all right for ever.

Then as soon as the opposition get the money together to do the same thing we're outraged, and think that God is as cross as we are.

Personally, I think that if God is anything like as big and clever as we claim he is, he can probably take it.
Whilst some doesn't make much sense, like this guy who refused to drive buses with the advert on. That settled down so now he doesn't have to drive those buses unless no other buses are available. Which is an entertaining precedent to set. Please, if any bus drivers are reading thi refuse to drive any bus which has an offensive advert on it. Despite that being a good 90% of buses. Or at the very least refuse to drive buses with religious adverts on it. If just for the giggles.

The most insane response has of course come from Christian Voice (who you will remember throwing their toys out of the pram over Jerry Springer the Opera). The head, Stephen Green, has complained to the Advertising Standards Agency saying the adverts break the ASA's codes on substantiation and truthfulness. Which of course could lead to the ASA ruling that there is probably no god in what could turn out to be the biggest footbullet of all time.

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Richard Dawkins, pleased with himself, yesterday.

The cynical might say it helped that Ariane Sherine (who ran the project and is in the picture above) is tremendously attractive. Even more cynical people might say that I only wrote that to mention how tremendously attractive she is. They would be right.


Phew, all done. Right thats all the stuff I can think of right now. So I feel I've got a fresh slate to approach 2009 with. I hope you'll hang around.

P.S. I like the term 'skeptish' as in things that are not necessarily skeptical, but of interest to skeptics.