Archive for the News Category

What TAM Australia Means to Me

Posted in News, personal views, skepticism, Trips and Visits with tags , , , on June 9, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just a few days ago it was announced that TAM Australia tickets would go on early-bird sale June 20th, with full public sale on July 4th. What is “TAM” and why do I care? First a little background.

TAM stands for ‘The Amazing Meeting’ and is a science and critical thinking conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). For the last seven years it’s been held in Las Vega and just last year they branched out across the pond and held a TAM in London. Now it’s our turn, time for a TAM meeting down under! If you’re not aware, the JREF is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering critical thinking in new generations and providing information and resources for the public and media about paranormal or psychic claims (amongst a host of other things). Most famously they are know for the $1,000,000US challenge, the prize pool of which is available to any claimant that can demonstrate the existence of anything paranormal under stringent and mutually agreed upon conditions. The Amazing Randi himself is far more than a name for the JREF, he is still, at the venerable age of 82 a fearless warrior on the front-line of battling harmful pseudoscience and paranormal nonsense.

When I was first introduced to the organized skeptical movement in 2006 through the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast it became immediately obvious just what a figure James Randi has been over the last half a century. The SGU team with their ‘Randi Speaks’ segment gave me a direct channel to hear from Randi and the podcast itself opened my eyes wide to movement as a whole. Now, four years on I am completely enthralled by the entire culture, constantly reading blogs, browsing the SGU forum, writing my own blog, following fellow skeptics on twitter, reading the books and of course, still listening to the podcasts! (with a host of others like Skepticality & Skeptoid added to the pile). Over the last four years the idea of attending a TAM event was like a far off dream, something that I may be able to do in a hefty number of years. I imagined by the time I finally attended a TAM (if they were still running), most of the names I’m familiar with would have passed out of the spotlight in the movement and made way for equally hard-working, yet less personally important folks.

But now the chance has come. Later in the year I will (hopefully) be flying off and coming face to face (or at least room to room) with many of my skeptical heroes, including the group that got me into it (the SGU). TAM offers a chance to connect face to face with international skeptics and reach far beyond the small pocket I’ve seen in Perth. I have no idea what the conference will be like or how comfortable I’ll feel at a conference of mostly older professionals but I have no doubt it will be a remarkable and gratifying experience.

Now I just have to grab an Australian Skeptic subscription so I can get an early bird ticket. Oh, and I need to start thinking about why I deserve a $150 student reimbursement :P

Electron Boy Saves the Day!

Posted in health, News with tags , on May 8, 2010 by cpolsonb

I love this story, I really do. This is just so awesome and touching that I had to write about it. No it’s not really a science or skepticism piece but my gosh, it’s just so cool.

Everyone has heard of the Make-A-Wish foundation right? They are a charity that arranges special occasions, trips and meetings for terminally ill children. It began in Phoenix Arizona in 1980 when seven year old leukemia patient Christopher Greicius was granted his wish of being a police officer for day. The media coverage of the event prompted the founding of a national organization which soon went international and now operates in more than 30 countries. Tragically Christopher Greicius died of his illness just four days after his wish came true.

Just last month one particularly special wish came true and garnered international attention. 13 year old Seattle resident and liver cancer patient Erik Martin was granted his wish of becoming a superhero. Thus began the amazing story of Erik Martin Electron Boy and his amazing lightning rod! Erik was met by Spiderman in the morning (one of Electron Boys pals), who asked for his help in freeing the Seattle Sounders who were imprisoned in their locker room by Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy. Electron Boy quickly put on his costume and hopped in the Electron Mobile driven by Moonshine Maid went to the rescue. Oh and I musn’t forget the 20 motorcycle officer escort along the closed off main road!

Upon arrival Electron Boy met up with Lightning Lad who gave him the lightning rod which he promptly used to free the Sounders. After many heartfelt thanks from the team and a re-energizing power up secret handshake from Lightning Lad Electron Boy went onto the oval where he was awarded a signed football and personalized jersey. But the trouble wasn’t over because over the Jumbotron Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy announced that they planned to take over Seattle and make it dark! Electron Boy was off to the rescue and hopping in the Electron Mobile went and freed the head of the local electric company from atop a cherry picker. After that he needed to free some workers from a trapped elevator and then prepare for the final confrontation. In a battle of epic proportions Electron Boy faced up against the evil duo and managed to freeze them with his lightning rod.

All in all hundreds of people were involved in the occasion. The day was executed flawlessly in a light-hearted and feel good manner that left everyone smiling. Not only were the local police force and football team part of it but many local actors were given roles and hundreds of electric company employees gathered to cheer Electron Boy on. After the final battle Seattle City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw granted Electron Boy the key to the city and announced that Thursday would be known as Electron Boy Day. Erik was clearly enjoying himself the whole time despite his ailment. He did have one thing to say though:

“This is the best day of my life.”

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Images Courtesy of Seattle Times

Breaking News – Victory to Simon Singh BCA Admits Defeat!

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , on April 15, 2010 by cpolsonb

How totally cool! Big win for skeptics and rationalists in the UK as the British Chiropractic Association admits defeat and ceases legal proceedings against Simon Singh. There have certainly been a lot of ups and downs in this case, with most of the ups coming in the last 6 months of so after a shaky first year for Simon. What trickle down effects this will have for chiropractic remains to be seen but one things for sure, the old addage “any publicity is good publicity” doesn’t really apply here. This victory is of course unrelated to the continuing campaign for libel reform in the UK which hopes to ensure this kind of legal bullying cannot happen again.

The BCA today served a Notice of Discontinuance bringing to an end its ill-fated libel claim against Dr Simon Singh arising out of criticisms he made of its promotion of treatments for childhood ailments.

Dr Singh’s predicament as the sole defendant in an action brought in respect of a comment piece in the Guardian newspaper (to which the BCA never directed any complaint) was seen as a rallying point for those concerned about the abuse of UK libel laws in connection with scientific debate.

Interest intensified when Eady J ruled that his words were not comment and that in order to defend himself he would have to prove the objective truth of what he wrote.

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling and this has lead the BCA to abandon its claim.

The Big Libel Gig!

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by cpolsonb

This past Sunday (14/3) at the London’s Palace Theater in jolly old England, artists, scientists, authors and performers from all walks of life put on a show to help raise awareness (and money) for the fight for libel reform in the UK. For more information on what Libel Reform is all about take a read of my previous blog on the subject here. This Big Libel Gig really did have a stellar bill, including such talent as: Dara Ó Briain, Tim Minchin, Marcus Brigstocke, Robin Ince, Ed Byrne, Shappi Khorsandi, Professor Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Professor Richard Wiseman, Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. All of these talented and gifted individuals gave wildly popular talks/performances many of which had the audience in stitches (figuratively).

Seeing such a group of people come together for such a worthy cause is just super awesome, how I wish I could have attended. Libel Reform is such a passionate issue of mine because it is well beyond a mere scientific issue, it is one of human rights. This is an issue that any member of the public can feel outrage over, regardless of their religious or philosophical viewpoint. For me it’s much more of a humanism fight than a scientific one. It is also a prime example of how a ground swelling of support from the skeptical movement can translate into a public issue. There is perhaps no better current example of the influence that skeptics and rationalists are actually capable of wielding. So far 197 members of parliament have signed “Parliamentary Early Day Motion 423” and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, leading Tories and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP have all praised the Libel Reform campaign since 10,000 letters were sent to MPs. This comes on top of the chilling effect it’s had on UK chiropractors (a prime example of abusers of current libel) which you can read about in my blog entry here.

For a taste of what was in store at the Big Libel Gig I’ve embedded two videos of backstage interviews conducted by skepchick founder Rebecca Watson and host of the Little Atoms podcast Neil Denney. The first is with psychologist, author, magician and master of British wit Richard Wiseman and the second is with wildly popular musician and comedian Tim Minchin.


Coarse Language Warning (including some Libel of their own)

Richard Dawkins on ABC’s Q&A

Posted in News, Philosophy, Spirituality with tags , , , , on March 12, 2010 by cpolsonb

This past week Richard Dawkins appeared on the ABC program Q&A to answer some predictably heady questions. For those of you who don’t know Q&A is a weekly panel program where questions are posed to the panelists from the live studio audience or via the internet. The members of the panel change each week with some occasional repeats. Topics discussed vary greatly between weeks but if it’s a burning social, political or philosophical issue you can bet it’ll be featured on Q&A. It was really great of Richard Dawkins to accept his invitation to appear on Q&A, he must be aware that his reputation will precede him no matter where he goes and that he’ll often be fighting an uphill battle. Nevertheless he strides brazenly straight into the enemies line of fire and comes back safely having taken no prisoners.

For those of you in Australia you can watch the episode in full from the ABC website by following this link: ABC iViewNow unavailable

Everyone worldwide can still watch the episode in this slightly poorer quality version found here: Vidoemo

The other panelists alongside Richard Dawkins were the following:

Patrick McGorry – Australian of the Year
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Tony Burke – Minister for Agriculture
Julie Bishop – Deputy Opposition Leader
Steve Fielding – Family First Senator

If you’re curious about the questions that were asked, here is a complete transcript of the questions. You’ll have to watch the show to hear the answers though…

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Quick Update: UK Chiropractors on the Ropes

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , on March 2, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just a quick update to let everyone know that chiropractors in the UK have taken another serious blow. The latest news is that Simon Singh’s case and the libel reform campaign that took off in his wake are having some major effects on the ability of chiropractors to ply their trade. According to this article in The Guardian a staggering 1 in 4 of the 2400 chiropractors in the UK are now under investigation for making misleading claims. This is a fifteen fold increase since before Simon’s case hit the news stands! Check out this juicy quote from the Guardian article:

As the British Chiropractic Association’s battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the financial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice “baffled”. What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council.

What an awesome blow against quackery! It’s probably too much to ask for but a small part of me can see this really snowballing into a complete collapse of the BCA (warning: wishful thinking). The poor chiropractors have really been suffering blow after blow this last year or so. Back in June a leaked e-mail from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association had this warning for it’s 800 members:

“If you have a website, take it down NOW.

“REMOVE all the blue MCA [McTimoney Chiropractic Association] patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice.”

Sound like someones panicking? Does to me. What was equally as awesome was when the BCA was pressured into revealing the “plethora” of scientific evidence supporting it’s claims that it had been citing tirelessly for some time. They only ended up showcasing 29 citations, every one of which was ripped to shreds by science bloggers. The icing on the cake was when the esteemed British Medical Journal also took a swing and releasing their own scathing critique of the poor excuse for science that was the BCA’s “plethora” of evidence.

That’s all for now. I’ll be sure to keep a critical eye out for any other updates on this promising campaign.

Vaccines in the Local News and AVN Update

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , on February 28, 2010 by cpolsonb

This little article comes from the February 23rd edition of the “Eastern Reporter”, the local community newspaper in my slice of Perth. I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything science or pseudoscience related in future issues and reporting my thoughts.

Not really a whole lot to say on this one, just pleasing to see something pro-vaccination in the media. It’s not even all that surprising and it’s sometimes easy to forget that most people seem to be largely sensible, mature, intelligent and generally pro-science. Like most issues it’s the vocal minorities who tend to have the loudest voice, amplifying gradually as you diverge from the mean until a sudden decrease in amplitude once you enter timecube territory.

Perhaps this caught my eye in particular as it comes hot on the heels of the deceptively titled “Australian Vaccination Network” appearing the be on the verge of collapse. For those of you who weren’t aware the AVN (headed by Meryl Dorey) is the stronghold of the anti-vaccination movement in Australia since it was founded in 1994. Since that time they have launched a continual mis-information campaign spreading dangerous lies and paranoid conspiracy thinking under the guise of “public awareness”.

Click to read open letter to parents from the Australian Skeptics

Even the title of their organization is deceptive, why can’t they just call themselves what they are, the “Australian Anti-Vaccination Network”. Just last year in 2009 a complaint was filed by Ken McLeod in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics against the organization to the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission. In addition to this the Australian Skeptics published an excellent advertisement in “The Australian” last year providing an evidence based retaliation to claims of the AVN and a plea to the parents of Australia.

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