Sunday, 6 November 2011

Stanislaw Burzynski: Cancer fundraising for quack treatments

Stanislaw Bursinski.docx

Stanislaw Burzynski sells a number of things, among them are books, movies and cancer treatments. The primary thing Mr. Burzynski sells, however, is hope. Hope is a powerful and heady treatment; it can do many things. It can help your friends and family to raise money for expensive overseas treatments. It can inspire well know bands to, with the best of intentions, donate a signed guitar to help raise funds for the same reason. Hope can bring you succor during the darkest times of your life, it can help you through tough times and give your the courage to face another day of suffering. The one thing it can't do, however, is cure cancer. And if the hope you are sold is false, if it costs you and your family their livelihood and potentially your life, then it is worse than worthless, and those who sell it are opportunists and vultures of the lowest order. An author might be indulged for a moment to imagine that, when such vultures as these gather in their circling, fetid flocks, they may pause in their horrid shrieking and take a moment to murmur to each other across the winds a single name; "Burzynski ".

Stanislaw Burzynski was born in 1943 in Poland, where he received his education and qualifications, and later moved to the USA to practice and conduct research. In 1977 he founded the Burzynski Clinic in Huston, Texas, with the intention of treating people with what he calls Antineoplastons, a group of substances isolated and extracted from urine by none other than himself. He was featured on day time TV back the in the 80's as a genius doctor possessed of a miracle cure to otherwise incurable cancers. Several of the patients touted as 'cured' on the show later died, but this failed to stop Burzynski, or the myth of his miracle cure. Antineoplastonshave been tested by other institutes in Japan and elsewhere, but only Burzynski's own studies have turned in positive effects in the treatment of cancer. In 1990's the state of Texas came down hard on Burzynski; he's been found guilty of health insurance fraud, been ordered to cease and desist advertising his products as cures for cancer, and has been ordered to stop selling them without FDA approved clinical trials. How is it that Burzynski is still in business? Well, he's conducting those trials of course. Expensive, costly trials of consistently unproven treatments that you can take part in. For a price. Somewhere in the region of €75,000 euros per year, in fact.

I heavily recommend reading Orac's blog on Burzynski, as he gives an excellent breakdown of the clinics activities and the dangers of this sort of treatment. Go ahead, read it now. I'll wait.

You're back - excellent. So, given that Burzynski has been so well torn apart by Orac, and others, why am I writing about him again? Well, for a simple reason. Last year a movie was release called Burzynski - Cancer is Big Business which details the trials and tribulations of this modern day Hippocrates. It paints him and his treatment in the best possible light, and has unfortunately catapulted the Burzynski Clinic back into the limelight. It was shown last year in alternative health centers and nutritional centers throughout Ireland, even appearing in our very own Galway. Unsurprisingly, this has lead to a wave of desperate people in Ireland and England to seek treatment from this... man. You may have already heard of a toddler in Cork who died after her parents choose Burzynski's treatment over chemotherapy. There are Burzynski fundraisers going on right now in cities across Ireland, run by good, well meaning people who are earnestly trying their best to save a friend or loved on from death. This kindness and goodwill will all be for naught if the treatment funded turns out to be unproven, useless rubbish. In England, Radiohead are selling a signed guitar on E-bay to raise money for the Billi Butterfly Fund to pay for cancer treatment at Burzynski's clinic for a four year old girl with inoperable brain cancer, whose mother is also suffering from breast cancer. I'm not going to link to Billi’s site, because frankly you don't want to read it. It is literally heartbreaking. The brave will find it as the first hit if the google the phrase above. This girl's cancer may not be treatable conventionally, I have no idea, but this money would be better spent on palliative care, on research funding, on a trip for Billi to Disneyland, or on literally anything else. Instead it's going to line the pocket of a cancer quack with a very real body count to his name.

So please, if you know anyone thinking of spending money on Stanislaw Burzynski, or the Burzynski Clinic, then please, be considerate, be understanding and be supportive. But also please be sane, and just direct them towards Orac's blog, or here, or any of the other solid skeptical sites that have investigated him. It's likely you'll be met with hostility; often criticism is interpreted as negativity, but do it anyway. There's a very real chance you'll save a life.

Thanks to Orac, @Zenbuffy (Link to her excellent blog here), and others for the info and inspiration used in this post.

Monday, 12 September 2011

All cancers cured with magic flower bombs! For real this time!

Anyone who glanced at Monday's Evening Herald couldn't help but notice a title not too dissimilar to the one above sprawled across 60% of the page. "Humble flower that could be smart bomb cure for all cancers" read the headline, and if you're so inclined you can read the article here.

Above: A humble flower smartbomb - destroying all cancers, perhaps?

Well, I'm sure glad that's over. Cancer will affect 1 in 3 of us, so no self respecting news paper would ever sensationalise a headline like this unless humble flower smartbombs, hereafter referred to as HFSBs, really were destroying cancers left right and centre. Right? Well, no, unfortunately not. Though there is a fascinating story here, and a potentially promising cancer treatment which may even see use in a few years, a magic bullet to fix all cancers there is not. At least, not yet.

The story focuses on the work of Laurence Patterson and his team at University of Bradford, UK, who have worked up a rather interesting potential treatment for solid tumorous cancers. (Note that this treatment is aimed at tumours only, despite the headlines promise of a treatment for all cancer.) Using an extract from the autumn crocus called colchicine, they plan to attack tumour cells directly by inhibiting cell growth and blood flow to cancer. Colchicine itself has been tested in this role in the past, and has actually worked quite well. There is, however, a downside; colchicine is toxic enough to rule it out for cancer treatment, and has even been historically used as a poison. In order to get around this rather serious downside, Petterson's team did some clever molecular hacking on the colchicine itself, rendering it harmless unless it combines with an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase-1, or MMP1. This enzyme occurs naturally in the body, but in much larger quantities in tumours. It's role in the body is in the breakdown of intercellular collegen; tumours use it to expand their size and network of blood vessals. Thus, the Colchicine remains harmless until it runs into a tumour and becomes toxic again, halting the growth of or outright killing the cancer.

Or so goes the theory. To read the Herald's, and many other media outlets take on this, the treatment is essentially ready. Unfortunately this is far from true, with Patterson's team still firmly in the preclinical stage. So far the modified colchicine has been used only on mice infected with grafted human tumours, and even at this stage was effective on only half the mice tested, and only then in some trials. The quantities required to treat humans could still turn out to be toxic, or any other number of problems could arise, as it always the case with pre-trial drugs. While there is talk of going to human trials in the next 18 months, it is unfortunately still a little too early to get overly excited about this potential treatment. In fact, the article is mostly based on a recent talk which mirrors a paper released in 2010. So why exactly is this making the papers just now? Well, it could have something to do with the fact that Patterson is currently trying to drum up the roughly €3 million required to bring the drug to trials.

While I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, least of all Patterson and his team's who have done some really excellent science thus far, it nevertheless remains the case that the general media tends to fail badly when it comes to science reporting. For every dozen potential cancer treatments which arise, there is perhaps one which ever sees use in treating humans. Is it too much to ask for a little perspective?

Links of interest:
The July 2010 paper which initially describes the treatment.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Independent Voices 5x15: Johann Hari on free speech and religious fundam...

I can't say I like Johann Hari's writing that much, but he gives a good talk here on the importance of free speech.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Final Flight of the Shuttle

Wow, it's been a while since I posted! Anyway, I didn't want to pass this up: the final Space Shuttle launch of the Atlantis is about to take place which, though not quite skeptical, is nevertheless a momentous occasion. You can watch it live here, and as soon as it appears on Youtube I'll post a couple of links to the same. If you like real time updating social media type stuff, you can check out #STS135 on Twitter. So wherever you are, try to keep and eye/ear out for a view of this momentous milestone in the history of human spaceflight. The launch is due for 15.26GMT, and currently seems to be on schedule and the tanks are full. All four astronauts are currently aboard and, as you can see;

it's something of a tight fit! That's Commander Chris Ferguson, squeezing in for his third space flight.

Best of luck to all involved!

Shuttle up, everything according to plan, despite a slight delay at T-31 seconds! Video below: Lets hope this is only goodbye to the Shuttle program, and not goodbye to the role of humans in the exploration of space. Video here

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Censorship is a terrible thing

Across the world people have begun to pay tribute to James Joyce’s magnum opus of modernist literature, Ulysses, by eating breakfasts of inner organs of beasts and fowls, thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes, and of course, grilled mutton kidneys which give to the palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. As a classics student, I find that I love the narrative, the references and the story, but at the same time I can see how anyone who isn’t at least mildly schizophrenic could have difficulty following it, not like it and be branded as a cynical philistine.

The book was dismissed as indecent and blasphemous when it was first published for its language, vivd lavatory guide by Mr. Leopold Bloom, and light hearted attitude to religion. I find it amazing to think that the ballad of Joking Jesus could be considered offensive, but it just goes to show you how insecure people are about their beliefs (“If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine, he’ll get no free drinks when I’m making the wine”). Although Joyce is one of the giants of literature who shows that we Irish have other talents besides political backwardness and alcoholism, the book itself was rejected in Ireland, but did not quite suffer the fate of the many, many others that were outright banned in Ireland.

State censorship is a terrible thing, and if there were an award for it, Ireland would be up there with North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Airstrip One. It’s been said that the 1957 Register of Prohibited publications reads like an everyman’s guide to twentieth century literature. Being banned in Ireland was a mark that you’d made it as a writer, and everyone from Steinbeck, to Huxley to Hemingway, not to mention Irish writers, Joyce, Beckett, Kavanagh, Sean Ó Faolain and others was presented with this badge of honour. The State would have been kinder to the trees to publish a list of books that weren’t banned. The ban-happy Censorship board were not the sole culprits in these grave crimes; the Customs authorities and An Post used to search imports from “disreputable publishers” to make sure people couldn’t pollute their minds with "indecent" and "obscene" materials. What these words actually meant was left entirely to the discretion of the Censorship Board, a quintet of busybodies from the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland and the Knights of Columbanus, with a token Protestant from Trinity College thrown in for good measure. Eventually, the superfluous liberal from Trinners resigned because of the committee’s in-built 4-1 majority, and the board became exclusively Catholic, now unhindered to bring the dream of the Ayatollah-I mean, Archbishop McQuaid and Dev to life.

The Ayatollah’s- sorry, slip of the tongue, Archbishop’s vision was realised in the form of an Ireland where literature could not pollute the minds of Irish virgins and boys. Pity Kohmein-, McQuaid’s own institutions didn’t have similar aspirations for their bodies. An average of 589 books between 1949 and 1953, and an utterly disgraceful 1,034 bans in 1954, all copies of these books were met either with return-to-sender or burning, yes book burning.

Censorship is absurd, as are the individuals who take it upon themselves to go out in the world to find things to offend them. It reminds me of the story about the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. After the publication of A Dictionary of the English Language, he was approached by two ladies who commended him on the exclusion of all naughty words. "What! my dears! Then you have been looking for them?" he retorted, and they promptly dropped the subject.

Before I picked up Ulysses and followed the story of that famous Dublin day in 1904, I read Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and what made the book all the more pleasurable, (although it's an amazing and excellently written story in its own right) was a sense of defiance surrounding it. All the way through, I remembered that there are people out there who do not want me to read this book, and there are people who would have (and indeed have) killed because of it, and that made the book a precious thing. That I could read it and enjoy it was a triumph of freedom of expression and ideas, and to take a lead from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, no amount of censorship or violence will silence ideas, because ideas are bulletproof.


EDIT: Apparently I had my facts muddled up when I wrote this. Ulysses was not banned in Ireland, but it was rejected by publishers in the country.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Behind the times, late redesigns, donalfall with his head hanging low...

Hallo all the Galway Skeptics...

Sorry I've been neglecting the blog for a few weeks, I was distracted by Birthdays (mine) and Work (also mine). I'm still hoping to get my other big article together, and we're still holding out many, many spare days on the blog for anyone who wants to contribute?!? Still looking for more of the female voices, btw. *cough, cough*

Anyway, more than a day late, a quick update for all you all. Got this lovely email from the JREF to the Galway Skeptics email address - it's nice to know we're being counted!

Hi, everyone.

My name is Brian Thompson, and I'm the new Field Coordinator for the James Randi Educational Foundation. If you're receiving this message, your group has been listed in our database of grassroots skeptical organizations all around the world. We currently have nearly 200 such groups on file, spanning from North America to Europe, Africa, and Australia. Groups like yours represent a huge number of people who value science and reason over credulity and superstition. Many of you have even spearheaded local, national, and international campaigns to fight what the JREF's founder James Randi famously calls "woo-woo". In the process, you've educated the public about those who purposefully or unintentionally do them harm, and I like to believe you've even saved some lives.

Many of you have been in touch with the JREF before, but this may also be the first several of you have heard from us. As one of the premiere skeptical organizations in the world, we have the resources and the ability to serve as a helping hand for groups like yours, and I'm writing to let you know that hand is always extended. In the weeks ahead, I'll be providing you with more specific details about what we have to offer, but some of our services include free educational materials and classroom modules on topics such as ESP, dowsing, and even the Cottingley fairies. JREF staff and colleagues are also available to visit your local groups and lead workshops on skeptical activism, and we continue to offer educational grants. Plus, in the near future, we'll be opening our own speakers bureau to bring the most entertaining and insightful voices for science and reason right to you.

We also want your ideas for services we can provide to you in the future. If there's a project you've always wanted to start but didn't have the knowledge or resources to get off the ground, we would love to hear about it. I'm your personal contact with the JREF, so please feel free to get in touch either by email or phone at any time. The JREF sees groups like yours as our foundation. You are of the utmost importance to us.

Thank you for all the work you do, and get excited about the future.

The best is yet to come.


Brian Thompson

So, if anyone has any ideas for projects that could do with funding, or any ideas for them, email the galwayskeptics (at) gmail address & I'll pass you on Brian's address. Also, if anyone wants to join the blog schedule, send in an email also.

I'll be more active now, with a promotion sun & a blog redesign. Hoping to hear from you all. Don't forget the next meeting is next monday in McSwiggans around 20:30 PM.

donalfall out.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Media Hysteria. Amen.

Yea, and behold our glorious and infallible Media hath come down from the mountain of W.H.O. bearing the grimmest of news! Oh wretched peasants, run in the streets with fear, for truly the Devil himself walks among our number, to bring more untold suffering! Having wrestled with the Archangels of Science, the Prophets hath decreed that our mobile phones shall smite us with cancer of the brain! For the Media, whose newspapers’ word is true hath spoken. Run in the streets and denounce the nefarious infernal devices, lest ye be struck down! Preserve thine children from the vices of text messaging and Angry Birds! Mark in this warning from on high, my flock!

At this rate, it would be easier to make a list of the things that don’t “cause” cancer. Certainly, it would be shorter. The lists of carcinogens and superfoods seem to increase with each new issue of the Times' Health Supplement. The latest in these prohibitory commandments from Mt. Scienai comes from the Gospel according to W.H.O. “And thus it came to pass that the Lord spake unto the two-dozen and eight scientists from fourteen nations, saying ‘Thou shalt not partake of either the mobile phone, or the Android, or the Blackberry or the iPhone, for I hath decreed these to be contraptions of great turpitude, and he who doth not obey, I shall smite with cancer most foul.”.

The press, that old nest of vipers, often misrepresents scientific findings, the most catastrophic incident of this in living memory is the popular hysteria induced following the publication of Andrew Wakefield’s paper in the Lancet which alleged a correlation between MMR vaccination and autism. Following investigations by reporter Brian Deer, it came to light that Wakefield had engaged in all manner of unethical behaviour, a veritable multitude of sins, and had and interest in manipulating a certain outcome of the “study”. Wakefield was subsequently discredited, banned from practicing medicine and the paper was retracted. But, because of the media’s unwavering faith in Wakefield, the damage had been done. Now the little seeds of doubt had been planted in parents' minds, and we’re reaping what they have sown. Vaccination rates have fallen beneath acceptable levels, and as a result incidents of these preventable diseases are on the rise. Forgive them, for they knew not what they did? Misled by a false prophet? I say, spare the rod, spoil the paparazzi.

Sure, it’s easy for me to judge with my holier than thou skepticism, but when it comes to Antivaxers, my cup runneth over with condemnation. What the public should have taken from that disastrous nontroversy, is that you cannot believe everything in the press, on television or on the internet. And now, all three have teamed up to tell us that mobile phones will give us inoperable cancer. I, for one, can’t remember a time where I wasn’t told my phone might give me cancer. A detail that might, just might be significant that the press seems to be downplaying is the conclusion of this WHO paper that it’s "not clearly established that it [mobile phone usage] does cause cancer in humans". I genuinely found it difficult to stay awake while reading the various papers’ bits of filler on the issue. In the end I was left with the impression that my mobile is definitely maybe but probably just possibly carcinogenic, and so the best action would be inaction but I should still be concerned about it.

Cells in our bodies turn cancerous every day, it just means that they start reproducing ceaselessly, it’s one of those unfortunate flaws of the imperfect processes of natural selection. A tumour is a mass of cells descended from a rogue cell that slipped past the immune system, and when the cells metastasise to other parts of the body, that’s when things get complicated. There’s myriad of factors which determine the probability of developing cancers, everything from genetics to diet and lifestyle. You can abstain from wine, women and song for your entire life (which will only have the effect of making your life seem longer) and there’s still no guarantee that one of the little buggers won’t slip past your white cells. When it comes to radiation, it helps to have some perspective on the matter . Here endeth the lesson, but if you want to see an absolutely surgical dismemberment of the W.H.O. Study, check out Brian Hughes’ post on

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

So it was a spiritual coming

Well none of us ascended to heaven on Saturday and it was rain falling from above instead of fire and brimstone. I've been excitedly waiting for Harold Camping's statement since he was proved wrong again and it's pretty special.

You can see a video of it here and here but essentially what he says is that it was a spiritual coming, rather than a physical coming as he had understood it would be, but that we are now being judged. A merciful god spared us the pain and suffering of five months of hell on Earth, but the world is definitely still ending on October 21st. Great how he managed to turn that one around isn't it but what's he going to do in October in the wake of a 3rd failed prediction? And the end of the world sure would ruin my birthday plans.

Amusing as the whole thing was on the face of it, there are a lot of his followers now left with nothing having donated large sums of money to his station to finance the billboard campaign, left their jobs or not made adequate plans for the future they thought would never come. A few reports muse over the possibility of suing, but it seems unlikely since it was a "charitable" cause and they used the money on billboards as intended.

The sad thing is a lot of those people will believe him again and find themselves in an even worse position on October 22nd. The fact that people still believed him despite his failed prediction in '94 really goes to show that no matter what evidence and precedence is there, some people won't be swayed. (I've got to think of Bill Hicks portraying a playful god planting dinosaur fossils to mess with us)


P.S. I particularly like when he says "I don't have spiritual rule over anybody. Except my wife." Poor woman.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The guys had fun at the fortnightly Galway Skeptics meet up this evening. Sadly, donal was stuck at work.

Some interesting links for you to peruse!

Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics has been tapping away at the concepts and conceits behind the bad use of PR in news and the media. The run through of his most recent "case" was a backbone of the most recent episode of Skeptics with a K. If you're not into podcasts like myself, he did a write up in this blog post here which touches on some really egregious use of "stats" in the news recently.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe had some great news articles this last week, but it also had a fantastic interview with Jon Ronson about his new book, The Psychopath Test, which I am *really* looking forward to.

That's it for neow. Galway Skeptics out.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Our Lady of A-Stump-tion.

Apologies for the brevity of my previous post, but now that I’ve conquered the Manflu (using the traditional remedies of my people; tea, strepsils and Flat 7Up) I can get back in the skepticmobile for a spin around the neighbourhood of superstition and ignorance.

If you’ve ever looked up at the clouds drifting across the sky, you’re sure to have noticed a cloud that looked like something familiar: a rabbit, a dragon, perhaps an iPhone or a piece of fruit. Seeing shapes in the clouds like this is a popular cliché in film and television, often with a foreboding or prophetic element to it. The reason for this is a phenomenon called Apophenia, or as Skeptic Michael Shermer calls it, Patternicity. Humans are pattern seeking animals, it’s one of the many reasons why we survive and adapt to new environments so well. It makes sense that the animal with that’s at least a little bit paranoid and good at finding patters would be a good survivor; if you mistake the stick for a poisonous insect it’s no big deal, but it could cost you your life if you mistake the poisonous insect for a stick.

Speaking with Richard Dawkins in his 2010 documentary, Faith School Menace, Dr. Deborah Kelemen of the Child Cognition Lab in Boston College said that young children have a propensity to offer purpose based explanations for the origin of objects. One of the examples given in the documentary was the posing of the question to young school-children “Why are rocks pointy? Because lots of stuff pilled up over a long time, or so that animals could scratch themselves on them?”. The children typically elected for the purpose driven explanation. For me, that drives home the fact that the oft touted religious assertion “Everything happens for a reason” is genuinely puerile. When you combine this with our natural disposition towards pattern seeking, it’s no wonder that in the past, humans placed such an importance on divination and religion. Astrology, Palm Reading, Phrenology, and other antiquate curiosities are all based on the assertion of meaning or intent in meaningless patterns. The Roman Senate, once the most powerful government in the ancient world, would not sit if their Augurs saw the gods’ disapproval in animal entrails. Our species has such an aptitude for perceiving intention in randomness that it once frightened governments into inaction! Crucial decisions were taken by generals based on the flight path of birds or the position of the planets in the sky at that moment in time. Sheer lunacy!

This unfortunate combination of traits can explain various paranormal phenomena from UFOs, to ghosts, to Martian structures, and to the oh-so-frequent apparition of Biblical figures on toast. The best and most cringe-worthy example of this in recent memory being the Holy Stump of Rathkeale, Country Limerick. Some locals believe that the Virgin Mary and Jesus appeared in the stump of a tree that was being chopped down outside the Parish Church. You’ve honestly got to worry about these peoples’ higher reasoning faculties. The question has to be asked, what is more probable, that omnipotent super-beings and a bimillennigenarian¹ Jewish woman have a penchant for making appearances on burned pancakes and tree stumps or that humans brains are pattern seeking and have a childish disposition towards seeing purpose and intention in random events?

¹ Bi means two, millennial means thousand, and -generian à la octogenarian, an eighty year old. So it’s an obscure but perfectly cromulent word.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

So I have an upcoming birthday :D and the lovely Yolande O'Brien may have bought me a Kindle! I've been super excited about the idea of getting one since a friend paraded one around in front of my nose. Well, I've been excited about the idea of getting one for years.

So obviously, when you sync up your account to your brand new unit to your Amazon Account, you go browse their offers and see what you can get cheap! There's the usual Amazon catagories - Recommended for you, and Bestsellers. Now, poking around through the bestsellers, there is a lot of woo & religion. A LOT. Probably not as much as the General Fiction stuff, but a lot none the less. Worse is when it turns up in the "Recommended for You" list. I buy a lot of stuff through Amazon. I rate it all, accurately. I put up reviews & rate Authors I like, as well as "liking" books on Facebook that are important to me. You'ld think it would be fixed by now, although I know its all to do with behind-the-scenes "meta"-tagging that I can never influence.

There's been a lot of talk recently about who's "winning" the attention and mindspace of the general populace in the Skeptics/Woo Spectrum. Even in articles like this one from the ScienceBit, shared on our Facebook group by the redoubtable John Birrane, while purporting that Science and Skepticism is winning, holds the implication, in Ben Goldacre's tweet and other date, is that it is a little more complicated than that. Brian Dunning put up an article on Skepticblog that goes with his vote is that "we" are "losing".

I'm naturally inclined to assume the best in my endeavours & the causes I support (although I do usually prepare for the worst). My optimistic side is quite dominant these decades. So, what do I think? Let's say, what do I think of the transition in the last decade, 2001 to 2010 or so? I think the biggest percentage gain in terms of starting position has *definitely* been made by the Skeptic end of the equation. There's Skeptic groups appearing everywhere. NUI, Galway is even home to our sister group, The NUIG Skeptics. When I was there, that would be an unthinkable proposition. It just would never have gained ground. There is a lot to celebrate, and the journey undertaken has been immense. I personally think Mike Hall's point that Skeptic groups need to flourish to give the community spirit to rational thinkers that church gives to the religious, and I think that that part of the movement is expanding like crazy. Just have a look around, or indeed at the Birmingham Skeptics Groups Page.

But I do agree with Brian, mostly, sort of. While not expanding at the same rates as the Skepticism movement (and indeed being beaten back in places), but man, there is a lot of money in being "alternative". It's frickin everywhere. The prices paid to alternative therapy vendors, magic talisman wielders, church bats ad nauseum, gives them a lot of clout. If anyone tries to convince you that they're the friendly, down-home option when compared to "Big Pharma" or whatever, be in no doubt that they're a GIANT INDUSTRY. A giant, very profitable industry. Maybe individual proponents represent a mom-and-pop version, but they are holding the minority stake in the practises of selling hope to the gullible.

I'm economically liberal. If you work out a way to profit from what you preach or peddle, more power to you. The woo sells on message. Even as a sort-of-founder of a Skeptics group (this one), I can't imagine selling Skepticism on message. As Brian says in his piece, our message is usually don't give away your money.

So I suppose I'm mostly winding up to a question here, and that is, what do you think? Which way do you think the spectrum is heading? To be honest, I think the vast majority of people have no opinion in either direction (with the exception of religion, which is still very dominated by pro-church sentiments). To follow up on my starting points, I bought a copy of Flim-Flam for my Kindle and skipped on the "Recommended for You" Randi's Prize (What?) and Heaven is for Real (C'MON AMAZON).

PS - don't forget our next get together is next monday, the 23rd of May!

PPS - I'm still writing a bit on some academic... things... and some courses that have attracted my attention. Proper institutions are, as I said last time, slow to respond over the summer. Another, less proper place, seem to have googled me and refused to send me information. Highlarious. One fake email address later, I fixed that and had what I needed. Maybe so many of my social network profiles shouldn't say "skeptic" in the descriptor. :D

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Well I didn't have time to research anything but it occurred to me that I should simply write what I know. As an archaeologist it amuses me when people show superstition regarding ringforts, and I've encountered it with some intelligent people.

Attributing natural features and ancient constructions to kings, heroes and mythological beings is something that we find in the mythology, such as the Giants' Causeway, Black Pig's Dyke, the five principle routes etc. It's understandable that in the past people attempted to make sense of the world around them by concocting stories, many of which served the dual purpose of glorifying particular families through their ancestry.

Ringforts have had this treatment through the belief that they are "fairy forts" and linked to the Tuatha De Danann. But if we take a moment to actually read the sources or assess the results of excavations we find that ringforts were used right up to the 17th century where Gaelic influence still prevailed. Far from being mystical, ringforts are nothing more than medieval farmsteads. Some are small and quite mundane, while others are stunning examples of multi-vallation and would have been the residence of someone of wealth and importance.

The evidence is in the records and lying in the ground so why does this belief survive? Thankful as I am that it is this superstition which has protected archaeology from damage for some time it is still counter to what archaeologists are trying to achieve in their study of the past. We are trying to reconstruct the past and understand the lives of the people in it. To deify and glorify our predecessors makes it impossible to come to objective and logical conclusions about their lives.

All I can say is that those people who persevere in this belief must be lacking in the information which proves ringforts to be simple and mundane (though at the same time still fascinating if like me you're into that sort of thing) constructions. This information is not that hard to find, nor even to understand, so it makes me think that there are people out there who will continue to believe in quacky medicine, seances, horoscopes etc. If you believe the first things you learn and never set out to question it, or lack the facilities to understand work which proves it wrong, then that's that really. It's impossible to reach everyone, but as far as superstition is concerned, this one isn't really hurting anyone...


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot

Sorry for the brevity of this post, but I'm struggling with an unholy combination of exam preparations and manflu.

This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and inspiring orations in human history. It's Carl Sagan's reaction to the famous "Pale blue dot" image from the voyager satellite. I once used a picture of this as a Christmas Card and captioned it "This is the only photo I could find of everyone". The speech reminds us of the fragility of our world, our duty to preserve our planet and the importance of showing kindess and solidarity to our fellow human beings, as our blue pixel drifts through a lonely cosmic void.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

What's your pornstar name?

So, what's your pornstar name? Way back in the age of the early commercial internet, it was a big meme on forums and bbs etc to have a thread going around asking what people's "pornstar names" were. There was usually a few varieties of how this was posted or authored, but it was usually your first pet's name followed by your mother's maiden name. This meme came and went - actually, a quick search on for 'pornstar name' - reveals the idea has been revived there several times over the last few years.

So while sitting around drawing and casually watching Facebook update as Twitter ticks along pleasantly - my new triumvirate of hobbies :) - I noticed that the idea has come around again in the Facebook generation. Suprising, but I looked into it. There are Facebook pages dedicated to "What's your pornstar name", apps that "work out your pornstar name for you" and groups where people just post their pornstar names, with no other connective thread between users.

And it can be funny. It produces odd results, non-sequitur type of titles and phrases that you have then to imagine yourself, or other people you know, using those names as a sort of "Nom du Porn" in the title credits of some hideous third-rate porno to attempt to disguise your presence out of shame. An Alan Smithee shield for you, the pornstar.

My crudely photoshopped Facebook results.

Scams are weird. Scams as a way of life involve long, tedious trawling of thousands of people for that one or two that fall for it. Now, you can go for the "Bar Scams" that Brian Brushwood - a good skeptic, btw - popularises on Scam School to get a free drink or small change, but I'm talking about the long term idea, the attempt to hit it big, or even hit it medium enough times that it could feasibly be a living. Your Nigerian 419 Scam is one of those. Skimming or ripping off credit card numbers for small fees by the hundreds theoretically makes you thousands, all that kind of thing. Perhaps that was the aim of the recent PSN security compromise, perhaps not.

As an example, a colleague was recently trying to sell a relatively new car through an online sales service. Contacted by someone abroad, he was sent a cheque for far more than his asking price, in the wrong currency. This is the kind of thing that would take a couple of weeks to clear to his bank. He got an email from the buyer professing that it was an accident, and could he send back a cheque for the change, after which the buyer would arrange to collect the car. Luckily he had some good advice - not from me, but from another workmate who has enough common sense to urge caution. Sure enough, the original cheque wouldn't cash when processed. But if even a few people selling expensive, new cars online "bite" on that kind of scam, you make a few hundred or - in this case - a few thousand per bite, and spend minimal amounts setting it up.

Pretty tawdry though, right? Really time consuming and tedious, checking out sellers, making new accounts on online sales sites, getting barred, posting cheques, lather, rinse, repeat. But there has to be enough in it to keep it rolling. And I would imagine, as outlined in the fantastic book by Mishy Glenny, McMafia that it takes organised crime to make so many small amounts with so much effort "pay off", although there must also be many amateur efforts in play as well. So many looking for information about potential targets that if you leave information publicly available, one of them is bound to find it.

That's the usual side of finding a way around security, that we've all heard about or experienced many, many times. Trawling through morasses of data until you find the point where human error or laziness lets down the system designed to keep other information safe. It becomes easier and easier when the stakes are low, or the amount of people many. And there are a lot of people on Facebook. 500 million, according to their stats.

So, who cares about Pornstar names? Well, cast your mind back to registering your email account. Or maybe your Amazon account. Or your online banking details. They probably asked you to supply a security question. That was probably your mothers maiden name, the name of your first pet or your first address. Now, I'm no computer genius, although I'm certainly more than literate. Within 5 minutes of searching Facebook for "pornstar names" under "posts from everyone" and then checking the profile of the first couple of individuals who posted theirs, I could go to their email addresses, ask for the security question "forgot my password" access and - in 2 of the 5 cases I checked - be in a position to enter one part of their "pornstar names" for access.

I didn't though, I emailed them instead. So, if you see a friend post their pornstar name on a social network in particular, tell them to delete the post. Or at least make sure their security question doesn't match either part of the meme. Way back in 1995 or 1996, I registered for my first free web-based email, at It was the account that suggested my internet moniker when my real name wasn't available and my security question was my mothers maiden name. Years later, in a context where only acquaintances were privy to an online conversation about "pornstar names", my account was hacked and used for a tiny, malicious misdeed or two. Painful. But if it happened now, with my new account, the person would have passwords and confirmation codes for real money, as opposed to whatever detritus was in my webmail account.

Someone with some minions, internet access and patience could do some damage to, anecdotally, 2 out of 5 Facebook users. The moral of the story? Always be a little skeptical of even the most harmless-seeming memes, especially if they're being posted publicly.

PS. If you're free on Thursday and want something to do, the outstanding Dublin Skeptics only have BLOODY RICHARD BLOODY WISEMAN talking, FOR BLOODY FREE in The Exchange, Dublin at 21:00. If you're running there from Galway, you can hop in a Go Bus and be up within 3 hours or less. And if you're not keen on staying in Dublin, you can be on a bus back just after! Exciting. It's unlikely I'll be there because of work, but that's a great evening for 20 europes worth of travel money.


PPS. This post was also thrown together while I'm waiting for certain institutions to write back to me with information on certain questions I put to them. I guess you have to expect colleges etc to be somewhat slower during these summer months. But it is annoying.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Have you been Rolfed?

As the week ran on, I became increasingly aware that my two current side projects for this blog were not going to be resolved in time. So, rather than rush a post that really deserved a little more input, I decided to go ahead and be skeptical about the deep and interesting practice of Rolfing.
“Wait”, you may say, “surely what happens between two (or more) consenting adults is their own business?”. Well, get your head out of the gutter. Rolfing isn’t nearly as exciting as whatever it is you’re thinking about. Rather, it’s a fairly widespread form of woo with practitioners stretched from it’s founding school in Boulder, Colorado to our very own Ireland.

What is Rolfing? 
Essentially takes the form of a very deep tissue massage, aimed at realigning your fascia, or soft tissue. Why? So that your organs can be arranged into a better structure, allowing your personal gravity to ‘flow’ more freely. Depending on which Rolfer (As they are known. No, really.) you ask, this is either a metaphor for how the treatment allows you to better manage your body under the constant effect of gravity, or an actually metaphysical realignment of ones ‘gravity field’ to allow said field to reinforce your ‘personal energy field’. Presumably this gives you some benefit in deflecting photon torpedoes, but this goes strangely unmentioned. There is no lack of other claims of incredible benefits, however. The regulating bodies website,, promises that the procedure will remake you ‘physically, emotionally, and energetically.’ Another practitioner promises to take 10-15 years off your biological clock, improve sports performance and leave you better equipped to deal with emotional difficulties. All this from a massage.

While clearly I’ve enjoyed writing the name over and over again, why exactly is Rolfing called Rolfing? The practice was founded by one Ida Rolf, who called the technique Structural Integration, a name which thankfully, for those of us with an appreciation for ridiculous sounding names, didn’t take. She established the school in the 1950’s, having previously left a career in biochemistry to experiment with Homeopathy, Chiropractic and Yoga. She’s the one who wrote the claim above that Rolfing could help align your personal energy field (whatever that is), and emphasised the link between Rolfing and gravity. Eventually a formal school was formed in Boulder, Colorado, which brings me to my main three criticisms of Rolfing. 

Rolfing makes a lot of claims to aid your health in a myriad of ways, and some of these claims even seem to have a kernal of truth about them. A number of studies have shown that Rolfing can help with stress, some muscle pain and a few other symptoms; for example, those which seem to respond with any other form of massage. It’s in the bold, metaphysical claims of Rolfing where the problems lie; there’s no evidence for most of it’s supposed benefits at all. It’s like massage mixed with Reiki in that regard, interacting as it does with a strange and untestable energy field which regular medicine for some reason ignores. 
My second complaint is the cost; at €1,000 for a 10 session treatment, it’s an fairly expensive form of not doing anything for your health problems. But that’s really par for the course when it comes to most forms of ‘alternative’ medicine.
Finally, there’s an extra element of exploitation involved in Rolfing; that of the practitioners themselves. Remember that school I mentioned in Boulder? It’s the only place you can become a certified Rolfer (thought rival schools do exist) and charges between $15,000 and $17,000 for the c.1,100 hours of training required to receive your certification. All that time, money and effort for what essentially boils down to a pseudo-scientific massage. After buying into the practice to that degree, I can only imagine most Rolfers are themselves more than a little insulated from criticism of their chosen profession. I know I would be.
So the moral of the story is this; if someone offers to give you a good Rolfing, just remember; they might be well meaning, and something of a victim themselves, but regardless they're unlikely to do you any good.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Minding our P’s and Q’s. Or rather, our K’s and C’s.

In October 2009, the first meeting of what would be the NUI Galway Skeptics’ Society took place in Smokeys Cafe on the Concourse. After a bit of coffee and banter we decided what our aims were, pitched some ideas for events and the like, and of course decided on the name. I had been corresponding with Kevin and Niall that summer about the society, under a variety of names, including, among others, “Rationalist Society” and “Godless Society”. At the time I was in favour of calling it the “Atheist Society”, but looking back at it Skeptics’ was the best choice. Once we resolved on that, I picked up the application form to make it official, but I once I had scrawled a nice capital “S” on the paper, the society met it’s first challenge. I looked up and asked the group “Hold on, do we spell it with a ‘k’ or a ‘c’?”

Thankfully this didn’t escalate into a Civil war and semesters of hostilities between Skeptics and Sceptics à la the Judean Peoples’ Front/Peoples’ Front of Judea. As you can tell by my spelling, I prefer the hard “k” to the soft “c”. English, with it’s wonderfully ambiguous spelling allows for both. I choose “k” for two reasons; firstly, there’s a risk that the word would be pronounced “Septics” owing to the slender “e” after the “c”, and yes, before you say it, I’ll be the first to admit that this is beyond pedantic, but that’s just my way. Secondly, the word is of Greek origin, Σκεπσις, meaning inquiry or doubt, and due to my classical leanings I prefer to spell Greek words with the Greek “k”, rather than the Roman “c”. The most eagle-eyed among you could argue that by the logic of the second point I ought to spell it “Skeptik”, but that’s far too Germanic looking for my liking. (The German is actually skeptisch, which I’m told is how I pronounce Skeptic after the one that’s one too many)

When the Romans transliterated Greek words into Latin they often used the Latin “c” in place of the Greek kappa. Although in later times the Romans adopted the Greek letters zeta, upsilon and kappa (“zed”, “y” and “k” respectively) for Greek loanwords, “scepticus” would remain as it was, kayless, giving rise to the French sceptique, Spanish escéptico, Italian scettico, and all the renditions in their sister-tongues. Both the OED and the New Oxford American Dictionary list “Skeptic” as the American English spelling, and “Sceptic” as the British English. Look out Ireland, Skeptic Soc are here to steal your “u”s and “s”’s.

In closing, both “skeptic” and “sceptic” are both acceptable, and the Skeptics’ Society elected for the “k”. At the end of the day, it really is a matter of personal preference, but whenever I see the latter spelling, much like with uncapitalised “I”‘s (ih) and unapostrophised “you’re”’s (youré), I’ll mentally pronounce it as “septic” and direct all my loathing towards whatever you’ve written.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ooops, new post wednesday! Podcasts & recommendations

As I was saying before, who minds so much if someone's post is a day late or even non-existent! I've been working up to write a big piece of semi-investigative work, but people and institutions are slow to write back with some information I need for my piece. Also, I'm in no rush. :)

So just another general information post for you today. It's impossible to understate how great and informative podcasts have become. In the spreading of information of all kinds, skeptical and otherwise, they're becoming a cornerstone of modern life. You could yak on and on about citizen journalism and the death of print and blah blah blah, but they certainly do form a cornerstone of whatever our consumption of media and information is becoming.

If you carry a phone around with you, you almost definitely have a platform to listen to some podcasts right there in your pocket. There are a huge amount of ways to get your home computer to download your podcasts automatically, from iTunes to Juice and a gigantic range in-between. In fact, now that smartphones are getting to the point where downloading podcasts directly becomes easier and easier, there are plenty of apps like Stitcher which let you stream your audio rather than download it.

For the last couple of years I've been listening to upwards of 40 podcasts a week. They keep you highly entertained at work, that's for sure. I do have a hardware question for the community though - my Sony Ericsson XPeria X10 is a great phone, but 6 hours of continuous audio kills the battery - these Android phones just don't make good mp3 players. My previous phone could make it more than 24 hours, playing music the vast majority of that time. But I'm kind of hooked on these smart phones now, so my question for you is, what is the Battery life like on the Blackberry range of phones? If anyone has any experience with them, I'ld appreciate the feedback. My enviromentalist sensibilities discourage me from charging my phone as much as I do.

Anyway, some podcast recommendations for you! If you haven't tried out the podcasting thing, I encourage dipping your toe in the water. Here's some pro-science, rational, skeptical podcasts for you to try. They're generally very entertaining too. Stick them on your phone or mp3 player and try one out on your commute/gym trip/while ironing - they just might change your entertainment habits.

Here's some recent Irish podcasts - local and skeptical:

Dublin SITP's Skeprechauns via RSS.

On DCU FM, Occam's Barbershop.

Just across the water, some great skeptical podcasts from the UK:

From Merseyside Skeptics, Skeptics with a K & InKredulous - very funny!

Righteous Indignation, a weekly podcast about skeptical issues.

And elsewhere, another bunch of podcasts to keep you informed and entertained:

The premiere example of skeptical podcasts, NESS' Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

George Hrab's hugely popular and entertaining Geologic Podcast.

From Australia, The Skeptics Zone - also worth subscribing to their email newsletter.

There are so many more that this is just the tip of the iceberg. But it's an iceberg that's well worth mapping out and investigating for yourself. If you haven't tried listening to podcasts before, you really should give a few a listen. I'll be back soon, hopefully with the results of what I've been looking into.

ps. The Birmingham Skeptics did a nice link page on their blog, which you can find here. We got a line there, as well as linkage to this blog. If you use google reader or some other RSS reader, you should give them a follow, they post good stuff there. If you're on twitter, follow them @Brum_Skeptics. I'm going to push the design of this blog around soon, put up a similar page for us and get a better look and feel to the page, as well as linking in all our members contact details, blogs, etc. If you have a blog and/or twitter account or other site you want highlighted, email galwayskeptics@gmail and I'll add it to the list!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Yolande's first post in which she didn't have time to research

I didn't have any time to research anything for my day. Hopefully I'll have something prepared for next time, if I can fit it what with the frantic knitting and PhD stuff I have to do over the next few weeks.

So I just thought I'd link to a fun website which sells T-shirts with the definition of Bogus:
1. Counterfeit or fake, not genuine.
2. Incorrect, useless, or broken.
3. To claim chiropractic can treat colic or asthma.
4. To use libel law not evidence to defend a claim.

They were created when Simon Singh was being brought to court under British libel laws by the British Chiropractic Association which they eventually dropped. I had thought the funds went to that whole thing because he was put badly out of pocket by it, but it doesn't mention it there. Oh well, they're cool t-shirts anyway.

I'm sure most people here know it but the whole thing is summed up at anyway.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. I don't blog so I'm not really savvy with social faux pas etc. Meep!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Genesis (Not the band)

The Book of Genesis is the first of the Five books of the Hebrew Torah in which the author recounts, among others, the story of the creation of the World by Jehovah. The story includes many of the perceptions of the world from its era and location; for example, the sky is seen as a firmament or dome, parting the “upper waters” from the oceans, and the creation of Humans from dust, both comparable with contemporary Greek, Egyptian and Babylonian creation myths. While it might be expected that we, as a species would have collectively moved on from these simplistic views, sadly a disturbing number of people in the Western World, despite the immense scientific evidence amassed since the 19th Century, still hold this text to be an accurate account of the history of our world.

At least some forty percent of Americans believe that the world was created according to this text, somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, in spite of radiometric dating of the oldest rocks on earth (indicating how much these rocks have decayed atomically) and microwave background measurements (light travelling through space since the Big Bang) which place the age of the Earth and the Universe respectively at 4.6 billion and 13.7 billion years old. The number of Europeans is considerably lower by most accounts, but still embarrassingly high. In 2006, a poll in the United Kingdom found that twenty-two percent of respondents professed a belief in Creationism, and seventeen percent in Creationism-by-another-name, otherwise known as “Intelligent Design”. Only a little over half of the respondents accepted that Natural Selection was responsible for the development and diversity of life.

There are two important questions here; why do these people believe these things, and is there any merit to their beliefs? The Science in these fields is well established; life originated from organic molecules (although the exact mechanism of abiogenesis has yet to be established or replicated) and then diversified and adapted to survive in an astounding number of ways. The Universe began to expand 13.7 billion years ago, and while what happened before that is unknown to us, we’ve filled a great number of gaps between then and now; Hydrogen clouds formed in the Big Bang coalesced into Stars, and as they died the debris from supernovae formed the heavier elements, which over time, accreted to form planets, you, me, and all life on Earth.

So, while the second question can be answered with an upfront “no” and I’ll elaborate on it later, why on earth do people believe these things? Well, although I hate to take personal experiences into these things, I will state that I have yet to meet a Creationist (out of the three or so I’ve actually discussed this topic with) who actually understood what Natural Selection is. They have a tendency to believe a misconception about Charles Darwin’s 1859 On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; Usually that they think that the theory states that the complex life we see today sprung into existence ex nihilo. Feel free to take a moment to laugh at that. Creationism proposes that all life sprang into existence from nothing, but because they say “God did it” that makes it less ridiculous in their minds than a misunderstanding of a scientific theory. In essence, they believe that the book proposes a theory of abiogenesis, and this could not be further from the truth. In his lifetime, Darwin only ventured as far as to speculate about the conditions of abiogenesis;

It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.

But he was aware that the science of his era was not nearly able to tackle such an immense question. Natural Selection, often known as Evolution, is the process by which life adapts and changes over time. The theory doesn’t cover the origin of life, but rather the origin of the immense diversity of life. Darwin, and the co-discoverer of the theory, Alfred Wallace came to their conclusions after years of hard work, travel and observation of diverse forms of life. So, how did the author(s) of Genesis come to the conclusions which they came to? Divine revelation? Pshaw.

In all probability, Genesis was the product of an earlier Oral tradition, perhaps even several different traditions, which I have no doubt is related to the stories of contemporary societies in the Near-East. In a strange move for a monotheistic religion, God has an unusual habit of referring to himself in the first-person-plural ( Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ). Earlier in the narrative, the term Elohim “Gods”, is used to refer to God, but later he undergoes a name change to the more familiar name Yahweh. Interestingly, the Canaanites, another Semitic society had in their pantheon two deities, also known as Yahweh and El. Perhaps the story was a synthesis of several earlier narratives, and when it was codified the scribes decided to be mumpsimuses and not alter the polytheistic references. The Story of Adam and Eve bears a remarkable similarity to Mesopotamian Epic He who saw the Deep, or Gilgamesh which recounts the story of the wild man Enkidu, who after having sex with a Temple-prostitute, is feared by the animals he once hunted with, and said to be wise and “like a god”. Sound familiar? If you read the Epic of Gilgamesh, you’ll see that the chances of the Bible being either Holy Writ or divinely inspired are somewhere between “slim” and “none”.

Taking a moment to justify my earlier “no”, it’s plain to see that these archaic beliefs hold no merit. We have developed numerous theories which account for much that was unknown to us in the Bronze Age, and if new evidence comes to light, contradicting earlier evidence, (Rabbits in the Precambrian, or the like) then we’ll change our theories to suit the new facts, once again illustrating the difference between Science and Religion; Science has no holy unalterable text, no divine laws, science is the pursuit of knowledge, religion is the pursuit of fantasy. Essentially these people reject reality because they’re kept in the dark, either by parents, teachers, preachers, themselves, or a combination of the four, and don’t even know what the facts are. Anyone who has looked at the “arguments” against Natural Selection will see that they’re entirely based on a misconception of the theory, one of the most hilarious being “Well then why have we never seen a monkey give birth to a man?”. Aquinas would be proud.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Tuesday rolls around awful quickly when you're not paying attention.


I'm glad to see page view numbers are picking up for our group blogging experiment here for Galway Skeptics. It's really important to me in any group I'm part of to get word out about what I/they do and let people know that there's no secrecy or in-group nonsense going on. A blog is a nice way to get the word out and let people know what we're thinking about.

I'm currently involved in looking into something I'm *highly* skeptical about but I haven't got all the details I want to share with you yet. Suffice to say it involves the not-so-hallowed halls of Irish Academia and Homeopathy and other nonsense. Hopefully I'll have more details for you by the time my next posting day rolls around.

Anyway, one of my main worries at the moment is this linkage of a certain brand of Swine Flu vaccine with an onset of Narcolepsy in younger patients. There's a lot of news on it about at the moment, so I won't tire you with details you can easily find on google if it does interest you. It's one of those media storms that has so many facets that you could spend a hundred years unpicking the inferences of all the different takes on it. Luckily, it comes down to 2 straight facts to take away -

1. There are side-effect free H1N1 vaccines from other companies that we can rely on instead.

2. There is no denying that the idea of developing narcolepsy is terrible, especially in the case of children & young adults, but the idea of a flu pandemic killing thousands of that same cohort would be worse, right?

A possible third take away is that if you're a large pharmaceutical company and there's even an outside chance that your vaccine may give people some kind of side effect, don't give it a Sci-Fi/Horror Tabloid-Frenzy-Friendly name like "Pandemrix". Seriously, it sounds like something marketed by the Umbrella Corporation.

Back in two weeks with something more thought out!



Monday, 4 April 2011

Admin post from galwayskeptics

Hey everyone! Don't forget we have a gathering next monday in McSwiggans at 20:30 GMT. You can find the page for the event here - event!

Also don't forget to spread the word to any who are interested in Skepticism in the west of Ireland. You can jump onto our Facebook Page to stay in touch.

And we're still looking for you guys to sign on to the group blogging effort here on the blog! (no pressure!) :D

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Blog Schedule/Rotation etc

 Okay, so we're looking for contributors to the Galway Skeptics blog. The basic idea at the moment is that there will be a fortnightly rotation, where each person will have a "day" to fill. The topic can be a full blog post, or even just a link/picture/item of interest the author found interesting in the days since their last post. The users' post may even just be a question they want their fellow Galway Skeptics to have a think about and respond to if they have a chance.

Our slots are slowly filling up:

Week 1

Monday - Admin post from galwayskeptics@gmail
Tuesday - donalfall
Wednesday -
Thursday - Charles Doyle
Friday -
Saturday -
Sunday -

Week 2

Monday - Admin post from galwayskeptics@gmail
Tuesday - Yolande O'Brien
Wednesday - 
Thursday - Podge Murphy
Friday - 
Saturday - 
Sunday - John Birrane

get in touch for a daily posting slot!

Friday, 1 April 2011

What a great day for Skepticism!

What a great day for Skepticism!

Why, you ask? Is it because Galway Skeptics in the Pub finally has its own blog? (Thanks @donalfall) Or perhaps because said blog is fortunate enough to have me as one of its contributors?

Nope, nothing so vain, thankfully. Rather, it is because today is April 1st, widely celebrated as April Fools’ Day around the world. It’s the one day when even the most credulous of people will, upon reading or hearing just about any story, advertisement or article, think; “Is this really true?”

Now if only people applied the same thinking all year round.

Thursday, 31 March 2011