Monday, November 9, 2015

SCIENCE IN THE MEDIA - CFI EVENT on 12th December Conway Hall (my birthday!)

This is going to be brilliant. Book your tickets now. I am presenting.

Science in the Media: Dodgy Science Reporting, Ghostbusting, and Doctor Who

Hear about the science of Doctor Who from a scientist who is also a consultant to Doctor Who's scriptwriters, find out about the credibility (scientifically and otherwise) of ghosthunting TV programme from a former ghosthunter now turned ghostbuster, and discover just how much bullshit science reporting there really is in our national press.

12th December 2015

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL
Nearest tube: Holborn

10.30 Registration

11.00-12.00 Meet The Real Ghostbusters
Hayley Stevens

Welcome to the weird world of modern ghost hunting. A world inspired by reality paranormal TV shows where only the brave dare tread... but what is it that goes bump in the night? And why are the ghost hunters actually scarier that the ghosts they claim to hunt down? Join us on this whirlwind tour of the ghost hunting subculture, the nonsense that comes with it, and how it all came to be in the first place. 

Hayley Stevens is a skeptic paranormal researcher based in Wiltshire, England. Believer-turned-skeptic, with over a decade of ghost research under her belt, she is often sought for an expert opinion on weird stuff - from ghosts to monsters and fairies. Hayley has written for Skeptical inqurer, The Skeptic, Paranormal Magazine and more, and has spoken internationally about the paranormal. She blogs at

12.15-1.15 Follow the formula: the fake science behind real headlines
Michael Marshall

All too often we see stories which seem to be based on science turn out to be nothing more than marketing and PR. By highlighting and dissecting examples from the recent press Michael Marshall will show who is behind these stories, who benefits from them, and who can be said to be at fault when even legitimate science gets distorted in newspaper print.
Michael Marshall is the Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and Project Director of the Good Thinking Society. His Bad PR project exposes the often-unseen influence of public relations in the mainstream media.

2.15-3.15 The Science of Doctor Who
Edward Gomez

Travelling to alien worlds is one of the regular features of Doctor Who. But how could the TARDIS travel there and what would those alien worlds really be like? During this talk I'll discuss what we currently know about the several thousand alien worlds we've discovered in the last 20 years and if any of the worlds the Doctor has travelled to look familiar.

Edward Gomez is an astronomer and education director for Las Cumbres Observatory, based at Cardiff University. He is interested in searching for asteroids which travel close to Earth, and in open access for science and education. He has been a life long fan of Doctor Who and gave science advice to the script writers for several episodes.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Class-ism - the unrecognised bigotry

Just heard the Archers by accident and was struck by the class stereotypes. It really is: 'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, HE made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.' ('All Things Bright and Beautiful' - a hymn of poisonous lies from beginning to end).

Of course, many middle classes now suppose it's not God that's responsible for the entrenched social hierarchy but Darwinian social selection selecting for intelligence: 'Middle class children have better genes' says former OFSTED head Chris Woodhead.

What's the biggest obstacle to entering the prestigious middle class professions: sex, race, or class? Who would find it hardest to climb that greasy pole, a black middle class male, a white middle class female, a white working class male? I would guess class is the biggest obstacle. And unjustly so. Class-ism: the bigotry that's still largely unrecognised.

If the The Archers were to pander to and entrench racial stereotypes the way it does class stereotypes, it would be off the air in a week.

P.S. I remember having to sing those lyrics at school and thinking "WTF?" Nowadays they're often omitted. But not here.... (verse 3)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


SCIENTISM: here's the final paragraph of the chapter I just finished which will appear in Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry's forthcoming tome Science Unlimited.

I have provided three illustrations of how the charge of scientism is made in a baseless and indeed irrelevant way against some critics of religious and/or supernatural beliefs. It is not difficult to find many more. In the hands of some - including many theologians - the charge of 'scientism!' has become a lazy, knee-jerk form of dismissal, much like the charge of ‘communism!’ used to be. It constitutes a form of rubbishing, allowing - in the minds of those making the charge - for criticisms to be casually brushed aside. No doubt some things really are beyond the ability of science, and perhaps even reason, to decide. But there's plenty that does lie within the remit of the scientific method, including many religious, supernatural, New Age, and other claims. However, because the mantra 'But this is beyond the ability of science to decide' has been repeated so often with respect to that sort of subject matter, it has become heavily woven into our cultural zeitgeist. People now just assume it's true for all sorts of claims for which it is not, in fact, true. The phrase has become a convenient, immunising factoid that can be wheeled out whenever a scientific threat to belief rears its head. When believers are momentarily stung into doubt, there are those who lull them back to sleep by repeating the mantra over and over. The faithful murmur back: 'Ah yes, we forgot - this is beyond the ability of science to decide.... zzzz.'

Monday, November 2, 2015

Life as 'a journey' is a hoax: short video with Alan Watts

This is great. Life as journey is 'a dreadful hoax' … Thanks to Blakeley Nixon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The supposed 'hypocrisy' of critics of Labour MPs who abstained on Osborne's Fiscal Charter vote

So 20 Labour MPs abstained over Osborne's Fiscal Charter, rather than vote against with the rest of the party. There has been fury from many in the party about that. Others however say that, as Corbyn rebelled and voted with his conscience on many occasions, so these 20 MP's are now entirely within their rights to do the same.

Maybe. It depends why they abstained. Did they abstain because their conscience on the Fiscal Charter required it of them? Or did they abstain  to try to help bring down Corbyn? A lack of explanation from them as to their reasons looks suspicious (why, if they are simply undecided about Osborne's Charter, not just just say so?). Surely they owe us such an explanation, as our elected representatives?

Abstaining on conscience is one thing. Abstaining in order to try to damage and bring down a leader elected and mandated by the members of the party by a huge majority is quite another. It's a far more serious offence. In effect, MP's abstaining for that reason are saying 'Fuck you' to the members. And the members are then fully entitled to say 'No, fuck you' in reply and move to deselect them. Nothing inconsistent or hypocritical about that.

That's not to say I think MPs should be deselected if it turns out they're just voting to bring down Corbyn. That may not be desirable at all. But the 'hypocrisy' charge made against those Corbynites furious at MPs whom they suspect of voting or abstaining to try to bring down Corbyn is bullshit.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CFI EVENT with Chris French, Richard Wiseman, Caroline Watt, Carla McKinnon

CFI UK Day Conference – Night School: The life-changing science of sleep

Centre for Inquiry UK, the British Humanist Association and the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit present present: Sleep is a major part of our lives that we barely understand - and as a result, lots of cultures have developed unique beliefs and ideas about sleep and dreams. Why do some people claim to experience mysterious 'visitations' and presences during the night, such as aliens, or demons? Why do people think dreams can predict the future? What, if anything, do our dreams mean? How can we decode them? And can you really learn a language by playing lessons while you sleep? This will be a fascinating day of talks by some of the world's leading researchers.
10.30-11.00 - Registration
11.00-12.00 - Devil in the room:
The art and science of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a fairly common anomalous experience that occurs between sleep and wakefulness and consists, at a minimum, of a period of temporary paralysis. In some cases, however, it is accompanied by a range of other symptoms, including a strong sense of presence, terrifying hallucinations, difficulty breathing, and intense fear. Not surprisingly, it has inspired artists of all kinds. Prof Chris French & Carla MacKinnon will consider both the art and the science of sleep paralysis including a screening of Carla’s award-winning film, The Devil in the Room.
12.15-13.15 - In the eye of the beholder?
The psychology of precognitive dream experiences. Have you ever had a dream that came true? Prophetic dreams are amongst the most frequently reported paranormal experiences. Dr Caroline Watt will discuss how seemingly ordinary processes of unconscious cognition, selective memory, and creative thinking can lead to these extraordinary experiences.
13.15-14.15 - Lunch
14.15-15.15 - Wake up to the power of sleep:
Prof Richard Wiseman will explore the power of the sleeping mind, including the truth about sleep learning, how you can get the perfect night’s sleep, how to decode your dreams, and how to improve your life without moving a muscle.
Speaker Biographies
Dr Caroline Watt has taught and researched parapsychology at Edinburgh University Koestler Parapsychology Unit for almost thirty years. A former President of the Parapsychological Association, Caroline has over one hundred research publications, including the forthcoming Parapsychology: A Beginners Guide, and she teaches a popular online parapsychology course.
Professor Chris French is Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal and related claims. He writes for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine. His most recent book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.
Carla MacKinnon is a filmmaker and an interdisciplinary producer. She was creator of the Wellcome-Trust-supported Sleep Paralysis Project, a cross-platform project aiming to raise awareness of the phenomenon of sleep paralysis while also exploring it creatively through the production of a short docu-horror film, Devil In The Room, in 2013. The film has since screened at more than 40 festivals events and conferences. Website:
Professor Richard Wiseman holds Britains only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and has written several best-selling books, including 59 Seconds and Quirkology. His latest book, Night School, explores the science of sleep and dreaming.
November 7th, 2015 9:30 AM
LG02 - Professor Stuart Hall Building
Goldsmiths University
London, SE14 6NW
United Kingdom

Friday, July 3, 2015

CFI event: God, Religion, and The Bible - Sat 19th Sept. Conway Hall WC1R

Old Bible With Sword
Join Professors Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Dr Keith Ward and Dr Stephen Law in debate and discussion of God and the Bible.

10.30 Registration

11.00-12.10: Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou: The real religions of the Bible

Francesca Stavrakopoulou is Professor of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient religion at Exeter's Department of Theology and Religion. She presented the BBC TV series The Bible's Buried Secrets and also contributed to Channel 4's The Bible: A History. Prof Stavrakopoulou is an atheist. Her books include Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judea.

12.10 - 1.10 Break for lunch

1.10 - 2.40 Keith Ward and Stephen Law: Does God exist?

A conversation (with extended audience Q&A) between theologian and priest Keith Ward and humanist philosopher Stephen Law, looking at evidence for and against the existence of God. Keith Ward is one of the world's leading philosopher theologians, and also author of many popular books on God, including his recent  The Evidence for God. Stephen Law is Provost of CFI UK and author of a number of introductions to philosophy including The Philosophy Gym.

2.50-3.30 Plenary Session

Q&A with Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Keith Ward, and Stephen Law. 3.30 END.

September 19th, 2015 10:30 AM   through   3:00 PM
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
Holborn, WC1R 4RL
United Kingdom

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Muslim-produced image of Mohammad

Image source here. This five-storey mural was commissioned by the Iranian Government in 2008.

As this article points out, the tradition of depicting  Mohammad in human form 'is common in Shia Iran, where until recently postcards, pictures and even carpets depicting the prophet could be found on sale.'

POSTSCRIPT: Below is a postcard on sale in Iran in 2001. Prophet holding the Quran. Source.CORRECTION despite what the source says this is not an image of the Prophet. It is an image of Imam Ali ibn abi Talib.