I Believe

The ever-entertaining Digital Cuttlefish has another wonderful poem that sets out what he, as an atheist, believes.

I believe in love and kindness
I believe in helping hands
I believe in strong opinions
I believe in taking stands
I believe cooperation
Overcomes the steepest odds
I believe we have a fighting chance

I don’t believe in gods.

He posted this as a counterpoint to some American journalist complaining that atheists don’t believe in anything. I’d have just written “well, what a load of bollocks”.

Click below to read the rest.

via “Atheists Believe In Nothing, Including You.” » The Digital Cuttlefish.

Links for July 26th

AI: Thanks, Assholes.

This afternoon I would like to send a special thank you out to Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, Meryl Dorey, Age of Autism and anyone else who encourages parents not to vaccinate their children. It’s just so great what you guys are doing. You’re so warm and fuzzy with your adorable plea to “green our vaccine” and your desire to hold our hand while you, “help the children.” All of your worthless advice is based on your oh-so-cute and imagined mommy instinct, bad science, fear mongering, conspiracy theories or apparently just a plain old desire to f*%$ shit up for the rest of us and now all your tireless work is paying off. You have helped to create a whooping cough epidemic the likes of which we have not seen in 50 years! Way to go. Give yourselves a round of applause.

Sunday Sacrilege: Unorthodoxy

I saw something wonderful at a science fiction convention a few weeks ago. At these events, people often put on odd and extravagant costumes, and I saw one rather obese young man who’d made a minimalist choice: he’d come as one of the Spartans from the movie 300, which meant he was standing in the crowd wearing a red speedo and a bright red cape…and nothing else.

Now imagine this same young fellow at an event at your high school. It would have been brutal. I know; when I was in high school, I was a little poindexter, ostracized, laughed at, and treated like a space alien, and I was treated mildly: being even more different, being the fat kid or the gay kid or the homely kid or whatever excluded you from the Jock Clique or the Heathers or whatever ideal the majority of the student body worshipped meant merciless torment and unremitting cruelty.

Sunday Sacrilege: So alone : Pharyngula

Scientists and atheists do something that many believers find repellent: we shatter their perception of their relationship to the universe. And understandably, they don’t like that.

Whooping cough now an epidemic in California

According to a statement just released by the California Department of Public Health, pertussis — whooping cough — is now officially an epidemic in California.

That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California. There have been well over 900 cases of pertussis in that state this year, over four times as many as this time last year (and 600 more suspected cases are being investigated). If this keeps up, California may see more cases in 2010 than it has in 50 years.

If that doesn’t anger and sicken you enough, then this most assuredly will: there have been five deaths this year from pertussis as well, all babies under three months of age.

Joe Power, non-Psychic non-Detective: A Clarification « The Merseyside Skeptics Society

From time to time in the world of skepticism, something happens which you really don’t see coming – something totally unexpected. Often, these are positive things – like the media interest in our 10:23 Campaign, or the random discovery that comedy-legend Ed Byrne knows who you are. From time to time, they’re somewhat negative things – like discovering childhood-hero Johnny Ball thinks farting spiders are responsible for the high CO2 levels in the world. And then there are the things that are just utterly unpredictable, out of the left-field, and hard to wrap your head around.

On Friday of last week, I got a phone call. From Ormskirk police. The polite and friendly officer assured me there was nothing to worry about, but that he was looking into alleged threats of violence coming from people on Facebook. Specifically, within the group page of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. And aimed at non-psychic non-detective Joe ‘I’ll just pop to your toilet‘ Power.

The Magnetic Therapy Water Wand: A Debunking from History

the Daily Mail offered its readers, “30 ways to relieve hayfever: From pills to nasal prongs, our guide to beating pollen”.

The article is a pretty good example of everything that is wrong with health journalism. Whilst, no doubt, amongst these thirty tips there is some good and reliable advice, it is also so full of unchecked quackery, nonsense and falsehood that it renders the whole article as unreliable and useless. It serves only as an advertisement for the suppliers of the products, pills and potions mentioned.

One product caught my attention, and it faced some stiff competition from the qu chi bands and ear candles. Magnetic Therapy Ltd, a Manchester based company, is selling something called the ‘Magnetic Water Wand’.

Why the Digital Economy Act simply won’t work

With the passage into law of the dread Digital Economy Act comes Ofcom’s guidelines that are the first step toward rules for when and how rightsholders will be able to disconnect entire families from the internet because someone on or near their premises is accused of copyright infringement.

Consumer rights groups and privacy groups – such as the Open Rights Group, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Which, and Consumer Focus – participated in the process, making the Ofcom rules as good as possible (an exercise that, unfortunately, is a little like making the guillotine as comfortable as possible).

But this isn’t the last word in the copyfight – not even close. Because disconnection for downloaders will only serve to alienate entertainment industry customers

Medical advice for head-bangers

The British Medical Journal investigates the health risks from head-banging and recommends protective gear and “adult-oriented rock”

These cuts won’t hurt a bit. Unless you’re young or poor

This is only the appetiser, not even the first course, just the amuse-bouche to whet the appetite. With a hint of lip-smacking relish for the coming cuts, George Osborne and David Laws today sharpened their knives. There were no expressions of regret, not even a crocodile tear or two for the real suffering they were inflicting. That attitude may be their downfall in the year ahead.

What’s £6.2bn? A mere bagatelle, David Cameron kept saying throughout the election. It’s only a hundredth of government spending, so why the fuss?

Links for March 31st

Measles Outbreak Triggered by Unvaccinated Child

What began as a family trip to Switzerland in 2008 ended up as a public health nightmare in California.

The family's 7-year-old boy, who was intentionally unvaccinated against measles, was exposed to the virus while traveling in Europe. When he returned home to San Diego, he unknowingly exposed a total of 839 people, and an additional 11 unvaccinated children contracted the disease.

Three of those infected were babies, too young to have yet received the measles vaccines, and one of the babies was hospitalized for three days with a 106-degree fever, according to a report to be published in the April issue of Pediatrics.

The pope is not above the law

One of those accused in the Verona deaf-school case is the late archbishop of the city, Giuseppe Carraro. Next up, if our courts can find time, will be the Rev. Donald McGuire, a serial offender against boys who was also the confessor and "spiritual director" for Mother Teresa. (He, too, found the confessional to be a fine and private place and made extensive use of it.)

This is what makes the scandal an institutional one and not a matter of delinquency here and there. The church needs and wants control of the very young and asks their parents to entrust their children to certain "confessors," who until recently enjoyed enormous prestige and immunity. It cannot afford to admit that many of these confessors, and their superiors, are calcified sadists who cannot believe their luck. Nor can it afford to admit that the church regularly abandoned the children and did its best to protect and sometimes even promote their tormentors.

An open letter to conservatives

Dear Conservative Americans,

The years have not been kind to you.  I grew up in a profoundly Republican home so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now.  You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America.  Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation.

First, the invitation:  Come back to us.

Now the advice.  You’re going to have to come up with a platform that isn’t built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from yours; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more.  But you have work to do even before you take on that task.

Sunday Sacrilege: The greatest blasphemy of them all

We are so tired of being told that we can't be moral without an objective external source of goodness…yet here we have a group of people who most loudly claim as their professional calling a direct insight into the mind and will of the cosmic lawgiver, and what do we find? Violations of basic human decency at every level.

Stand up to Murdoch, Armando Iannucci tells BBC

In language worthy of his most famous creation, Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci today called on the BBC to do more to defend itself from its critics – and "find someone to articulately tell James Murdoch to fuck off".

Iannucci was speaking at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards, where his political satire won a hat-trick of awards. These included a first acting prize for the show for its star, Peter Capaldi, who plays Tucker.

The creator, writer, director and producer of the Thick Of It, Iannucci thanked the BBC for "holding its nerve over the series, especially when they have been under a lot of pressure over taste and decency and all sorts of things".

"I love the BBC dearly and would fight for it to the death," he said. "My only wish is that whenever it is accused of something, even if it's something it hadn't done, I wish it wouldn't go to the first police station and hand itself in.

It’s True: Hot Water Really Can Freeze Faster Than Cold Water

Hot water really can freeze faster than cold water, a new study finds. Sometimes. Under extremely specific conditions. With carefully chosen samples of water.

Ministry of Justice announces move on libel reform

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has announced that the government believes the case for libel reform has been made, and that the Ministry of Justice will now move to make reforms to England’s defamation laws, potentially with a Libel Reform Bill.

Commenting on the findings of the Ministry of Justice libel working group, Straw said the government would seek to address the issues of single publication, the strengthening of a public interest defence, and procedural changes to address issues such as early definitions of meaning and libel tourism.

Is the music industry trying to write the digital economy bill?

Two weeks is a lifetime in politics – especially in the political life of the backwards digital economy bill, Labour's gift to the incumbent entertainment industries that government is bent on ramming into law before the election.

In my last column, I bore the bizarre news that the LibDem front-bench Lords had introduced an amendment to the bill that would create a Great Firewall of Britain. This would be a national censorwall to which the record industry could add its least favourite sites, rendering them invisible to Britons (except for those with the nous of a 13-year-old evading her school's censorware). Over the following days, the story got weirder: the LibDem amendment got amended, to add a figleaf of due process to the untenable proposal.

And then it got weirder still: a leaked memo from the BPI (the UK record industry lobby) showed that the "LibDem amendment" had in fact been written – with minor variances – by the BPI.

The pope’s entire career has the stench of evil about it.

On March 10, the chief exorcist of the Vatican, the Rev. Gabriele Amorth (who has held this demanding post for 25 years), was quoted as saying that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican," and that "when one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' in the holy rooms, it is all true—including these latest stories of violence and pedophilia." This can perhaps be taken as confirmation that something horrible has indeed been going on in the holy precincts, though most inquiries show it to have a perfectly good material explanation.

Concerning the most recent revelations about the steady complicity of the Vatican in the ongoing scandal of child rape, a few days later a spokesman for the Holy See made a concession in the guise of a denial. It was clear, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, that an attempt was being made "to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse." He stupidly went on to say that "those efforts have failed."

Brits: ask your MP to demand a debate on new copyright law before voting

Last week's extraordinary leaked UK record industry memo on the Digital Economy Bill candidly asserted that the only reason Britain's retrograde, extremist new copyright law would pass Parliament is because MPs were "resigned" that they wouldn't have a chance to debate it properly.

For context: Labour cancelled its anti-fox-hunt legislation because there wasn't time for proper debate, but they're ramming through this copyright bill even though it's far more important and far-reaching — for one thing, a broken UK Internet will make it harder for people who care about fox hunts one way or the other to organise and lobby on the issue.

Now, 38 Degrees is asking Britons to write to their MPs and ask them to call for a full debate on this law before they vote on it. […] No matter what side you come down on for the Digital Economy Bill, is there anyone who wants law to be made without debate?

Links for March 12th

Cyprus conflict closes leaders’ eyes to water shortage

Water has been rapidly disappearing in Cyprus since the 1970s, but conflict between Turkish and Greek communities means fixing the problem is not high on the political agenda. Alex Bell finds that Cypriots are now struggling for control of land that is slowly dying.

Atheists meet in Melbourne to celebrate lack of faith

More than 2,000 atheists from around the world are gathering in Melbourne, Australia, to celebrate their lack of religious belief.

It is thought to be the world's largest gathering of atheist thinkers.

They plan to issue a statement on what they say are the negative effects of religion on society.

Leaked documents: UK record industry wrote web-censorship amendment

Last week, the UK LibDem party was thrown into scandal when two of its Lords proposed an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would allow for national web-censorship, particularly aimed at "web-lockers" like Google Docs and YouSendIt. Now a leaked document from the British Phonographic Institute suggests that the amendment was basically written by the record industry lobby and entered into law on their behalf by representatives of the "party of liberty."

Leeds University Students’ Union refuses to show Fitna

If you've been reading this blog today, you might have seen that I've been engaged in a strong debate on the post below about the merits of right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who's in town today to show his anti-Islam film at the House of Lords.

Funnily enough (perhaps they'd been reading my earlier post, I don't know), just this afternoon I received an email from the secretary of the Leeds University Atheist Society telling me about how Leeds University Students' Union banned the society from screening Fitna at an event.

BBC News – Internet access is ‘a fundamental right’

Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests.

The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.

Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.

International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.

Expiration dates mean very little

There's a filet mignon in my fridge that expired four days ago, but it seems OK to me. I take a hesitant whiff and detect no putrid odor of rotting flesh, no oozing, fetid cow juice—just the full-bodied aroma of well-aged meat. A feast for one; I retrieve my frying pan. This is not an isolated experiment or a sad symptom of my radical frugality. With a spirit of teenage rebellion, I disavow any regard for expiration dates.

The fact is that expiration dates mean very little. Food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored.

Australian copyright society blows more than it gives to artists

The Copyright Agency Limited, an Australian copyright collecting society (an organization that collects money on behalf of authors for use of their copyrighted works) is spending more than they give to authors on their own salaries and expenses. The Chief Executive is paying himself AU$350,000 a year out of the money that he is meant to serve as trustee for. They've also paid for staff junkets to China and Barbados out of the sums. All told, the staff are spending AU$9.4 million a year, and giving the creators whom they are meant to serve AU$9.1 million per year.

The Bleakest Day for Homeopathy

The much anticipated House of Commons report into the Evidence Check on Homeopathy has now been published and it may well be the report that changes the face of homeopathy in the UK. But more than that, its implications will also be felt around the world.

In a thorough appraisal of the issues and evidence that will become required reading for any health official looking at the public funding and provision of homeopathy, the MPs conclude,

By providing homeopathy on the NHS and allowing MHRA licensing of products which subsequently appear on pharmacy shelves, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy. Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.

Grow Onions from Discarded Onion Bottoms

This Instructable outlines how to grow fresh onion plants from discarded onion bottoms that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. You can theoretically create an endless supply of onions without ever having to buy bulbs or seeds, and if you're as big of an onion lover in the kitchen as I am, you'll have a full bed of onions in no time.

Links for December 4th

Don’t strike up the band

Visit a pub and there’s every chance you’ll hear background Muzak, or high-volume Sky Sports coverage of Premiership football. But what are the chances of hearing live music?

At least as good as they have ever been, says the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which controls the licensing of pubs. Nonsense, say musicians, who blame the 2003 Licensing Act for drowning live music in red tape. The facts to settle this argument ought to be there, but aren’t.

Ever since the act came into force there has been a long-running argument between the department and its critics, who assert that dodgy statistics, misleading statements by ministers, and a failure to collect the right sort of data make its claims unbelievable. Far from “flourishing”, as the Government claims, music in pubs is declining or dying, they say.

New Agers and Creationists should not be President

New Age beliefs are the Creationism of the Progressives. I move in circles where most people would find it absurd to believe that humans didn’t evolve from prehistoric ancestors, yet many of these same people quite happily believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation, the Tarot deck, the i Ching, and sooth-saying. Palmistry and phrenology have pretty much blown over.

If you were attending a dinner party of community leaders in Dallas, Atlanta, Omaha or Colorado Springs and the conversation turned to religion, a chill might fall on the room if you confessed yourself an atheist. Yet at a dinner party of the nicest and brightest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and (especially) Los Angeles, if the hostess began to confide about past lives, her Sign and yours, and her healing crystals, it might not go over so well if you confessed you thought she was full of it.

Study shows lower autism rate in vaccinated kids

A study just released claims that kids who are vaccinated against measles have a much lower autism rate.

Web giants unite against Digital Britain copyright plan

Some of the biggest names on the web have written to Peter Mandelson to express “grave concerns” about elements of the Digital Economy Bill.

Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay object to a clause that they say could give government “unprecedented and sweeping powers” to amend copyright laws.

“We urge you to remove Clause 17 from the bill,” the letter read.

However, the government has said it believes the clause will “future-proof online copyright laws”.

Australian skeptics cheer David and Toni McCaffery

Continuing with Australian Skeptics awards, they are giving out a new award in honor of Fred Thornett, a skeptic who died earlier this year. The first recipients of The Fred, given to outstanding promoters of reason, are David and Toni McCaffery.

The McCafferys are heroes of mine. Earlier this year, their four week old infant daughter lost a battle with pertussis. Yes, whooping cough. She was too young to be vaccinated, and because the antivaccination movement is strong in their area, vaccination rates were low, and the herd immunity was in turn too low to help little Dana.

When this grieving couple was shrilly and mercilessly attacked by Meryl Dorey and the AVN, the McCafferys fought back. They went on TV, they gave interviews, and they told the truth: their daughter died from an easily preventable disease, and that people like Dorey and the AVN are a public health menace.

Deepak Chopra: redefining “wrong”

I am no fan of Deepak Chopra. For years he has gone on TV, in print, and in his books, peddling all manners of nonsense. Here’s a quick reality check: if his claims of “quantum healing” are correct, why is he getting older?

Anyway, he has gone to the very font of new age nonsense, the Huffington Post, to spew more woo: he’s written an article about why skepticism is bad. It’s almost a bullet-pointed list of logical fallacies.

Brits 2, Scientologists 0

It’s nice to see the Brits sticking it to the Scientologists – first I read how English Heritage have turned down an application from the cult’s supporters to place a blue plaque on a building once occupied by founder L Ron Hubbard in London’s Fitzroy Street, and then I read this story on how Winston Churchill’s descendants are threatening legal action over a Scientology poster (pictured) which uses the wartime PM’s image. The poster was aimed at recruiting new Scientologists to work, funnily enough, at the same Fitzroy Street building for which English Heritage denied the blue plaque.

Keeping cyberspace open to the public

Bill Thompson doesn’t want to see the online commons enclosed by private interests.

Why does Peter Mandelson favour the Analogue Economy over the Digital?

Mandelson is standing up for the Analogue Economy, the economy premised on the no-longer-technically-true idea that copying is hard. Companies based on the outdated notion of inherent difficulty of copying must change or they will die. Because copying isn’t hard. Copying isn’t going to get harder. This moment, right now, 2009, this is as hard as copying will be for the rest of recorded history. Next year, copying will be easier. And the year after that. And the year after that.

And don’t suppose for a moment that other countries are in the dark about this. Right now, the future of the world’s economies hangs on each government’s ability to ignore the Analogue Economy’s pleading.

Countries that declare war on copying – and on all those businesses that are born digital – are yielding their economic futures to countries that embrace it, creating a regime that nurtures the net and those who use it.

Links for November 4th

Childhood vaccines, autism and the dangers of group think

Wallace has run smack into an abiding, perhaps growing, phenomenon of the Internet Age: Citizens armed with information are sure they know better. Readers who brush up against expertise believe they have become experts. The common man rebels against the notion that anyone — not professionals, not the government and certainly not the media — speaks with special authority.

Where it stops, nobody knows. But already we see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job.

Unhappy with the scientific consensus that man’s activities have exacerbated global warming? Then just find and promote the academic naysayers. Or merely post your personal musings: “Climate change, bah, there’s a foot of snow on my lawn.”

Heavy illegal downloaders buy more music – Boing Boing

A new British independent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori concluded that the people who do the most illegal downloading also buy the most music. This is in line with many other studies elsewhere and is easy to understand: people who are music superfans do more of everything to do with music: they see more live shows, listen to more radio, buy more CDs, buy more botlegs of live shows, buy more t-shirts, talk about music more, do more downloading — all of it.
And of course, these are the people the music industry’s supergeniuses have set their sights upon for bizarre enforcement regimes like the one that British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has promised

3 Silly Religious Beliefs Held By Non-Silly People

Not everything is a matter of opinion or perspective. Not everything can turn into something completely different if you just look at it differently. Some things are either true or not true. It is not true that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. It is not true that the sun goes around the earth. And it is not true that evolution is shaped by the hand of God, or that consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul, or that the universe is sentient.

Denying physics won’t save the video stars

Peter Mandelson’s proposal to disconnect the families of internet users who have been accused of file sharing will do great violence to British justice without delivering any reduction in copyright infringement. We’ve had 15 years of dotty entertainment industry proposals designed to make computers worse at copying. It’s time that we stopped listening to big content and started listening to reason.

An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry[…] Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, […] administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

[…]

So what has this award-winning 58-year-old scientist done to elicit such venom? He boldly states[…] that vaccines do not cause autism or autoimmune disease or any of the other chronic conditions that have been blamed on them. He supports this assertion with meticulous evidence. And he calls to account those who promote bogus treatments for autism — treatments that he says not only don’t work but often cause harm.

European Internet sinking fast under 3-strikes proposals – Boing Boing

Things look bad for the European Internet: “3 strikes” (the entertainment industry’s proposal for a law that requires ISPs to disconnect whole households if one member is accused — without evidence or trial — of three copyright infringements) is gaining currency. Efforts to make 3-strikes illegal are being thwarted by the European bureaucracy in the EC.

The Pirate Party, which holds a seat in the European Parliament, proposed legislation that said, essentially, that no one could be disconnected from the Internet without a fair trial. When the proposal when to the European Commission (a group of powerful, unelected bureaucrats who have been heavily lobbied by the entertainment industry), they rewrote it so that disconnection can take place without trial or other due process.

‘Bracelets’ useless in arthritis

Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps are useless for relieving pain in people with arthritis, say University of York researchers.

In the first tightly controlled trial to look at both alternative therapies, there was no benefit to their use for pain or stiffness.

All 45 patients tested a copper bracelet, two different magnetic wrist straps, and a demagnetised version.

An arthritis charity said people should not waste their money on the therapies.

Jabs “as bad as the cancer”

“Jab ‘as deadly as the cancer’” roared the giant black letters on the front page of the Sunday Express this week. “Cervical drug expert hits out as new doubts raised over death of teenager” said the subheading, although no such new doubts were raised in the article. We will now break with tradition and reproduce a whole paragraph from the Express story. I’d like you to pay attention, and perhaps build a list of its claims in your mind. This is one of those stories where every single assertion made on someone else’s behalf is false.

Reading Kafka improves learning?

New research suggest that exposure to bizarre, surreal storylines such as Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” can improve learning. Apparently, when your brain is presented with total absurdity or nonsense, it will work extra hard to find structure elsewhere. In the study by the University of British Columbia psychologists, subjects read The Country Doctor and then took a test where they had to identify patterns in strings of letters. They performed much better than the control group.

Links for September 17th

BBC looks to copy protect content

BBC plans to encrypt Freeview HD data have come under fire from critics, who say it will effectively copyright free BBC content.

Under plans submitted to regulator Ofcom, the broadcaster has requested that it be allowed to encrypt certain information on set top boxes.

Only trusted manufacturers would be offered the decryption keys.

How to read articles about health

People often ask “how can I spot bad science in a newspaper article?” as if there were a list of easy answers, and it can be very difficult – given the lengths newspapers go to in distorting evidence, and witholding facts – but here is an excellent set of pointers. It’s written by Dr Alicia White from the Behind the Headlines team, and this is a resource I cannot recommend highly enough: they describe, in everyday language, the actual scientific evidence behind each day’s major health news stories

Run, Izzard, run and run again

It’s the last leg of Eddie Izzard’s 43 marathons in 51 days. How did the less than athletic comic pull off such a feat of endurance?

Tomorrow’s World classics go online

As footage of the weird and wonderful inventions that defined Tomorrow’s World is released online from the BBC archives, it is a good time to remember how much of the technology we now take for granted was demonstrated for the very first time on Tomorrow’s World.

Patry’s MORAL PANICS AND THE COPYRIGHT WARS: elegant, calm, reasonable history of the copyfight

Few people are as qualified to write a book about the copyright wars as William Patry: former copyright counsel to the US House of Reps, advisor the Register of Copyrights, Senior Copyright Counsel for Google, and author of the seven-volume Patry on Copyright, widely held to be the single most authoritative work on US copyright ever written.

And Patry has written a very fine book indeed: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is every bit as authoritative as Patry on Copyright (although much, much shorter) and is absolutely accessible to a lay audience.

Salford 24-30 Leeds

Leeds finished the regular season with the League Leaders’ Shield after a battling victory over Salford to spoil Robbie Paul’s final Super League game.

Tries from Luke Adamson and John Wilshere helped Salford to a 12-0 lead but Leeds were level by the break after Kallum Watkins and Jay Pitts scores.

The Rhinos carried their momentum into the second half with Luke Burgess and Brent Webb putting them 24-12 up.

Salford fought back late on, but Carl Ablett’s try was enough for Leeds.

Help! I’m a Beatles hater

The re-release of the entire Beatles album catalogue has unleashed another wave of veneration for the 60s pop band. But could there really be anyone who actively dislikes their music?

Sex, flies and videotape: the secret lives of Harun Yahya

Inspired by the high profile of its Christian American counterpart, Muslim creationism is becoming increasingly visible and confident. On scores of websites and in dozens of books with titles like The Evolution Deceit and The Dark Face of Darwinism, a new and well-funded version of evolution-denialism, carefully calibrated to exploit the current fashion for religiously inspired attacks on scientific orthodoxy and “militant” atheism, seems to have found its voice. In a recent interview with The Times Richard Dawkins himself recognises the impact of this new phenomenon: “There has been a sharp upturn in hostility to teaching evolution in the classroom and it’s mostly coming from Islamic students.”

The patron saint of this new movement, the ubiquitous “expert” cited and referenced by those eager to demonstrate the superiority of “Koranic science” over “the evolution lie”, is the larger-than-life figure of Harun Yahya.

Musicians hit out at piracy plans

An alliance of music stars, songwriters and record producers has spoken out against UK government proposals to kick file-sharers off the internet.

Persistent file-sharers could have their internet accounts suspended in an attempt to crack down on piracy.

But Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, a member of the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC), said: “It’s going to start a war which they’ll never win.”

The FAC said “heavy-handed” tactics may turn fans away from music for good.

Links for September 1st

British plan to tackle asteroids

A team of British scientists are developing plans for a spacecraft that could stop large asteroids from destroying the Earth.

The 10 tonne “gravity tractor” would deflect any orbiting rocks years before any potential collision could happen.

The device, which would rely on the force of gravity, is being developed by Stevenage space company, EADS Astrium.

However the idea is still in its early stages and the company admits a prototype has not yet been made.

Merciless

What bugs me is the complete lack of comprehension of the quality of mercy that seems to have crept over the US political class this century.

Even if Al Megrahi is a mass-murderer, the fact remains that he is dying. It is long-standing policy in Scotland to exercise the prerogative of mercy when possible; in general, if an imprisoned criminal is terminally ill, a request for release (for hospice care, basically) is usually granted unless they are believed to be a danger to the public.

That’s because the justice system isn’t solely about punishment. It’s about respect for the greater good of society, which is better served by rehabilitation and reconcilliation than by revenge. We do not make ourselves better people by exercising a gruesome revenge on the bodies of our vanquished foes. Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, did exactly the right thing in sending Al Megrahi home to die.

Why I love Britain’s socialized healthcare system

My eldest daughter had a rough first week. Born after 22 hours of hard labor, her pink skin proceeded to turn an alarming shade of yellow on the second day of her life. It was a bad case of jaundice. She would need to be placed in an incubator, whose ultraviolet light would hopefully clear up the condition. If not, a transfusion would be required. My exhausted wife and I watched in numb horror as our child was encased in the clear plastic box that was to become her crib for the next seven days. What we had hoped would be a straightforward delivery had turned into a nightmare.

Homo religious

Did humans evolve to be religious and believe in God? In the most general sense, yes we did. Here’s what happened.

Long long ago, in an environment far far away from the modern world, humans evolved to find meaningful causal patterns in nature to make sense of the world, and infuse many of those patterns with intentional agency, some of which became animistic spirits and powerful gods. And as a social primate species we also evolved social organizations designed to promote group cohesiveness and enforce moral rules.

The enlightenment’s operating system

Bill Thompson has been using Unix for a quarter-century – and doesn’t plan to stop now.

WHO warns against homeopathy use

People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned.

It was responding to calls from young researchers who fear the promotion of homeopathy in the developing world could put people’s lives at risk.

The group Voice of Young Science Network has written to health ministers to set out the WHO view.

WHO TB experts said homeopathy had “no place” in treatment of the disease.

To be fair, homeopathy has no place in the treatment of <em>any</em> disease

Downloading is not enough

Young people’s attitudes to music may be too complicated and fast-changing to measure, says Bill Thompson

6 Reasons to Jailbreak Your iPhone | Gadget Lab | Wired.com

Hacking your iPhone to run unofficial, third-party apps may seem unnecessary since Apple hosts its own App Store. But the corporation’s recently enforced prohibitions on some apps, such as the banning of Google Voice, are reviving the incentive for customers to jailbreak their iPhones once again.

5 Tips for Raising Your Girl Geek | GeekDad | Wired.com

As geek parents, we often have rosy colored notions about our children growing up. We actually want them to be geeks. From the earliest of ages we dress them in WoW gear, teach them to quote Star Wars and wonder when is too early to start reading The Hobbit. We nurture them in the way of the Geek, hoping that, when the time comes for them to choose their path, they won’t stray far.

But being a geek kid isn’t easy; and being a geek girl might even be harder. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are raising a geek girl that might help her–and you–get through the school years.

Links for July 6th

Coffee ‘may reverse Alzheimer’s’

Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists say.

The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease.

Previous research has also suggested a protective effect from caffeine.

Historic Bible pages put online

About 800 pages of the earliest surviving Christian Bible have been recovered and put on the internet.

Visitors to the website www.codexsinaiticus.org can now see images of more than half of the 1,600-year-old Codex Sinaiticus manuscript.

Fragments of the 4th Century document – written in Greek on parchment leaves – have been worked on by institutions in the UK, Germany, Egypt and Russia.

Experts say it is “a window into the development of early Christianity”.

The truth at Last, in which Paul Carr is reminded that, while comment is free, facts can be a real pain in the arse

It all started on Friday when a story appeared on Techcrunch concerning music recommendation service Last.fm. Back in February, Techcrunch ran a story alleging that Last.fm had passed listening (or “scrobbling”) data to the RIAA, the trade body representing American music labels. The story came from an anonymous source close to CBS who, apparently, was subsequently fired (leaving them slightly less close to CBS).

Love at no sight

In a looks-obsessed world, are blind people immune to appearances when they fall in love? As a new film looks at how sight-impaired people find romance, Damon Rose who is blind, says you don’t have to be sighted to be shallow

Couple’s 81st wedding anniversary

Britain’s longest living married couple have celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary.

Frank and Anita Milford, who live together in a nursing home in Plymouth, Devon, exchanged vows on 26 May, 1928.

Frank is 101 and Anita will be 101 next month.

I’m an atheist, OK?

Disagreement over the definition of atheist and agnostic has cluttered up various threads here, scattering confusion in its wake like a muckspreader in autumn.

The cause of the confusion is that atheists and theists have different definitions of the words agnostic and atheist, and adamantly refuse to accept the validity of each other’s definitions.

Here is a short form of the definitions from the two separate points of view.

Theist version: An atheist is certain there is no God, an agnostic is not certain.

Atheist version: An atheist believes there is no God, an agnostic doesn’t know.

The two versions are only subtly different, but a great deal of hot air has been expended on this difference.

When the new becomes old

Even the new gets old – and that includes the Internet, says regular columnist Bill Thompson

Irish church knew abuse ‘endemic’

An inquiry into child abuse at Catholic institutions in Ireland has found church leaders knew that sexual abuse was “endemic” in boys’ institutions.

It also found physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of institutions.

Schools were run “in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff”.

Reznor takes a byte out of Apple

Apple has reversed a decision blocking a Nine Inch Nails (NIN) iPhone app.

The application – nin: access – was rejected last week on the grounds it had “offensive or obscene content”.

Nin: access allows users to access streamed music and video content from the NIN homepage, including a song called The Downward Spiral.

The band’s frontman, Trent Reznor, accused Apple of double standards – the song could be bought on iTunes – and a few days later Apple relented.

Web tool ‘as important as Google’

A web tool that “could be as important as Google”, according to some experts, has been shown off to the public.

Wolfram Alpha is the brainchild of British-born physicist Stephen Wolfram.

The free program aims to answer questions directly, rather than display web pages in response to a query like a search engine.

The “computational knowledge engine”, as the technology is known, will be available to the public from the middle of May this year.

Surveillance fears for the UK

The UK is risking sliding unwittingly into a police state because of the growing use of surveillance technology, says security guru Phil Zimmerman.

“When you live in that society and it changes incrementally over time you are less likely to notice the changes,” he told the BBC. “But if you come from outside the picture as it stands is more abruptly visible as something wrong.”

Agency denies internet spy plans

The UK’s electronic intelligence agency has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement to deny it will track all UK internet and online phone use.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said it was developing tracking technology but “only acts when it is necessary” and “does not spy at will”.

The denial follows the home secretary scrapping plans for a single government database for all communications.

Links for April 27th

Giving It Away

The thing about an e-book is that it's a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm (nasdaq: PALM – news – people ) device, pasted into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life. Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation–when I worked in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up…." The friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.

Plan to monitor all internet use

Communications firms are being asked to record all internet contacts between people as part of a modernisation in UK police surveillance tactics.

The home secretary scrapped plans for a database but wants details to be held and organised for security services.

The new system would track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use, including visits to social network sites.

Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow’s Economy

An interesting article about the Information Economy. Related to my latest OU assignment

50 Incredible Photography Techniques and Tutorials

In this post we present useful photographic techniques, tutorials and resources for various kinds of photography. You’ll learn how to set up the perfect environment and what techniques, principles and rules of thumbs you should consider when shooting your next perfect photo.

Book Review: Questions of Truth: God, Science and Belief

John Polkinghorne's former student Nicholas Beale runs a website on behalf of his mentor, on which questions about religion, and the relation of religion to science, can be posted. This apparently self-published book is a compilation of 51 of these website questions with Beale's and sometimes Polkinghorne's answers. The questions range over creation, the existence of evil, evolution, intelligent design and most of the other familiar old debating points, plus "How does the death of Jesus save the world?", "Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?" and "How much do you need to believe to be a Christian?"

Since these latter questions premise membership of the asylum already, I shall focus just on the various questions that touch on the relation of science and religion

Owning a camera doesn’t make you a criminal

When George Bush pronounced the war on terrorism as the "war on tourism", we thought it was because he was an idiot.

Maybe not, because it seems that tourism and terrorism are the same thing – or at least, they are to some police officers. How else can we explain the harassment of tourists who took photographs of a bus station?

Study finds pirates 10 times more likely to buy music

Piracy may be the bane of the music industry but according to a new study, it may also be its engine. A report from the BI Norwegian School of Management has found that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don't.

40 Amazing Online Photography Magazines

Whatever country we live in, we’re probably all familiar with the well-known photography magazines available in our newsagents and bookstores. The UK has Practical Photography, France has Photo, the Italians have Zoom and the Americans have American Photo. What you may not know is that there are many more photography magazines that are only available online. And some of them are good, very good.

Free data sharing is here to stay

Since the 1970s, pundits have predicted a transition to an "information economy". The vision of an economy based on information seized the imaginations of the world's governments. For decades now, they have been creating policies to "protect" information — stronger copyright laws, international treaties on patents and trademarks, treaties to protect anti-copying technology.

The thinking is simple: an information economy must be based on buying and selling information. Therefore, we need policies to make it harder to get access to information unless you've paid for it.

That means that we have to make it harder for you to share information, even after you've paid for it.

Links for April 10th

To Newspaper Moguls: You Blew It

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and they’re preaching up at their own choir loft with angry, self-righteous fire and brimstone about their plight. They need to hear a new message, a blunt message from the outside. Here’s the speech I think they should hear:

You blew it.

Free-access World Digital Library set to launch

Libraries and archives from around the world have come together in a project to share their collections of rare books, maps, films, manuscripts and recordings online for free.

Almost four years in the making, the World Digital Library will launch on 21 April, functioning in seven languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish – and including content in additional languages. A prototype of what will be on offer includes a voice recording of the 101-year-old grandson of an American slave, a 17th-century map of the world and 19th-century Brazilian photographs.

The brainchild of James Billington, from the US’s Library of Congress, the project has been developed by Unesco and the Library of Congress, along with 32 other partners from around the world, including national libraries from Iraq, Egypt, Russia, Brazil, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Uganda.

How can DRM be good?

Here’s a thought. I just had lunch with someone who works for a broadcaster and is wrestling with the idea of distributing content online and we both agreed that what’s missing from the whole DRM debate is a strong case for “just enough DRM”.

Phorm eyes launch after hard year

Online advertising firm Phorm is pressing ahead with plans to launch more than a year after it first drew criticism from some privacy advocates.

Phorm executives will meet with members of the public on Tuesday, following a similar meeting in 2008.

The service has proved controversial for some campaigners who believe it breaks UK data interception laws.

”Lap-dancing nun’ performs for Church

Anna Nobili is no ordinary nun.

The 38-year-old used to be a lap-dancer, and spent many years working in Italian nightclubs.

She is now using her talents in a rather different way – for what she calls “The Holy Dance” in a performance on Tuesday evening at the Holy Cross in Jerusalem Basilica in Rome, in front of senior Catholic clerics including Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican’s Cultural Department.

Miss Nobili told the BBC World Service that the transformation from podium lap dancer to nun happened gradually.

No use crying over spilt ink

It’s the end of the party, the booze is all finished, almost everyone has gone home, and the rest are too drunk to make conversation. You decide to call it a night and, bidding your host farewell, you step over a pool of vomit and make your way out of the flat, heading for the stairs. It’s then that you hear her. The fat girl half way down the stairs, sobbing her fat little eyes out. You know the one – she’s always there, at the end of every party you’ve ever been to.

Science IS imagination

People don’t understand science.

And I don’t mean that your average person doesn’t understand how relativity works, or quantum mechanics, or biochemistry. Like any advanced study, it’s hard to understand them, and it takes a lifetime of work to become familiar with them.

No, what I mean is that people don’t understand the process of science. How a scientist goes from a list of observations and perhaps a handful of equations to understanding. To knowing.

And that’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful thing.