Monday, 30 August 2010

A Beginner's Guide to Skeptical Dickery

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve become known on the internet due to my science-based letters and other comedy articles. When I say ‘known on the internet’, it’s the equivalent of someone saying they’re ‘known on TV’ because they once did a guest spot on a 3am call-in show on Challenge TV, or one of those other pointless channels where the nameless presenter tries to remain jovial but ends up looking psychotically desperate while talking to strangers drunk enough to think calling a premium rate line is a good idea but too drunk to work out a simple word jumble like ‘MASTE OF WONEY’. But still, it’s more than I expected. So, thanks for that.

Anyway, as a result of my blogging and satirical approach to science, it appears that I’m now part of the skeptic community (and it’s sKeptic for a specific reason apparently, but damned if I can remember what it is right now). I wasn’t invited to join, nor did I apply, it just sort of happened as a result of my attempts to make science interesting/amusing.

For all the use of the phrase ‘skeptic community’, there is no discernable central organisation or committee that regulates skeptic activities; you just sort of get acknowledged as a part of it and that’s it. This is by far the best possible system. If there were a central organisation you had to apply to, imagine the paperwork you’d have to fill in to prove your identity to a bunch of superskeptics? You’d probably have to submit a video of your actual birth along with DNA samples of all your family members before they’d even agree to send you the forms.

Either that, or maybe there’d be some ancient entry ritual involving the slaughter of a goat or virgin (presumably just to prove that such an act has no superstitious or unnatural consequences other than a lot of screaming, a terrible mess and a high likelihood of imprisonment).

But lately, it’s been pointed out several times that a lot of skeptics are dicks. Either that, or they come across as dicks, which to a casual observer is the same thing. As skeptics spend a great deal of effort trying to encourage others to join in or at least see things differently (i.e. more rationally), this isn’t a useful trait.

This has caused a lot of discussion and heated debate as to who exactly is being a dick and why. One side usually accuses another of being dicks because of their ‘incorrect’ actions when engaging others, and these in turn accuse their accusers of being dicks because they’re ‘clearly’ the ones in the ‘wrong’. And on and on, like a bunch of dicks.

Oh, the irony. Also, my preferred term of 'skeprick' hasn't been picked up.

The whole thing is quite confusing; especially for someone like me who is relatively new to the skeptics (I’ve still not got my membership card). So, in order to make some sense of this for myself and other potential newbies, here is a list of the type of skeptical dicks I’ve noticed, coupled with what I’ve learned about the skeptic community to make some sense of the ‘why’ of it. And as an experienced stand-up, I have a lot of experience dealing with dicks (metaphorically) so have suggested some strategies for dealing with these people should you be on the receiving end of their dick-ness (again, metaphorically).

(DISCLAIMERS: This list is based entirely on my own observations and conclusions, no examples are cited because I’m trying not to be a dick to people myself and, conversely, much of it can be applied to me).

· THE EVIDENCE JUNKIE: A lot of things are just accepted as fact. E.g. If I let go of my coffee mug, it’ll fall and probably scald my leg, and lo there shall be heard much foul-mouthed cursing throughout the land. I don’t need evidence to know that’s the case. For anything less certain, skeptics are very big on evidence, which is as it should be, but none more so than the evidence junkie. When debating a contentious issue, a typical skeptic will demand evidence for the opposing argument. If this is presented, they should then adjust their position. However, an evidence junkie will want evidence that the evidence is real. Present this evidence, and they’ll question the validity of this follow up evidence, and on and on. For an evidence junkie, sufficient evidence is like the speed of light; something that can be approached with massive effort, but never actually reached. These skeptics are the ones that most closely resemble opponents of skeptics, and are always in danger of switching sides, becoming moon-landing deniers or antivaxxers

o BEST DEFENCE: If possible, respond with the same strategy. Demand evidence for every claim they make, even if blatantly true. They may realise they’re being unreasonable. If you’re especially lucky, you might cause them to question their own existence, at which point they’ll leave you alone in order to escape the Matrix, or something.

· THE “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!SKEPTIC: There is no manual on how to ‘do’ scepticism. Certain skeptics feel that their way is correct, and that other people’s methods are wrong (usually with regards to effectively engaging non-skeptic). When they feel the need to tell everyone else why they’re wrong and what they should be doing, that’s when they become a YDIW skeptic. They mean well, and may have many logical points, but they tend not to suggest but instruct others in the ‘correct’ approach despite being unable to confirm that their way is ‘correct’. And people don’t like that. Imagine an art class where an unknown fellow student keeps tearing up your paintings or squashing your wet clay sculptures because ‘they don’t look right to me’. Whatever their rationale, the unshakable impression they can generate in their victims is ‘and WHO THE F**K ARE YOU, exactly?’ Civilised debate with someone is difficult if they make you want to kick them in the nuts as soon as they open their patronising mouth.

o BEST DEFENCE: A passive approach is recommended as a YDIW skeptic usually means no harm. For someone who feels they are experts in effective engaging, pointing that their approach is infuriating may cause enough of a logical contradiction for them to revise their strategy. Or they might call you a prick, which further undermines their argument.

· THE IMPERIAL CONQUEROR: Upbringing and background varies considerably from person to person, and is possibly the most significant factor in deciding how a person behaves and what they believe. For an ‘imperial conqueror’ skeptic, none of this is an excuse. Like an imperial conqueror, they feel they have free reign to belittle and insult those from ‘inferior’ communities, and feels duty bound to bring skeptical civilisation to the savages. Backed up with their cast iron logic and evidence, an IC will wade into any debate or discussion and ridicule those with a less-than-rational viewpoint, no matter what the reason for their position. An IC is the sort of person you could imagine visiting a tribe of Native Americans and spending the whole time mocking them for not inventing iPods.

o BEST DEFENCE: Can be quite aggressive. Avoid if possible. If it’s an option, single out a physical flaw or failing (e.g. being overweight) that they could do something about but haven’t. Accept no excuses for this ‘oversight’ as, by their own arguments, they should know better

· THE ‘PRESENT COMPANY EXCEPTED’ SKEPTIC: Despite the rumours, some skeptics do have friends. You can sometimes spot these anomalies as they are equally enthusiastic as other skeptics about debunking ridiculous beliefs or pseudoscientific theories, except if they have a close friend who shares those beliefs, in which case they’re off limits to criticism. And not just to themselves, but often anyone else who probably doesn't have the same friends and sees no reason to make allowances. Accommodating the views of others is fine and diplomatic, as is not wanting to upset close friends, but with a PCE skeptic you do get the impression that they’d verbally tear you a new one if you mentioned you supported homeopathy, but would argue in favour of the merits of genocide if Idi Amin came to their house for dinner once and complemented their wallpaper.

o BEST DEFENCE: Claim to have friends who are committed sex-offenders or drug dealers, and that you see nothing wrong with their actions. If you manage to get them to face their double standards, the subsequent cognitive dissonance may cause their brains to reboot.

· THE 'GOAD AND WITHDRAW' SKEPTIC: People who have beliefs that aren't supported by science tend, to compensate, to get very angry when they're challenged. As such, skeptics have an instinctive distrust of people who argue from an emotional base rather than a logical one; citing an emotional element in your argument is akin to a Godwin's law of scepticism. Skeptics also like to win arguments. A GAW skeptic will get their debate-winning fix by deliberately making statements that have some supporting evidence but are clearly shocking or controversial to many people. They will then appear to be shocked and alarmed at the emotional response, retaining the moral high-ground by claiming to be simply trying to generate debate. Anyone with a logical argument delivered in an emotional manner is disqualified.

o BEST DEFENCE: Defence is only required if you're the one being goaded, in which case just reply rationally and calmly. If this isn't an option, simply overplay the emotional aspect; threaten to turn up at their house and bludgeon them to death in their sleep. You will be scorned for your childish overreaction. Then turn up at their house with a lump hammer. Upon seeing you, future goading should cease.

· THE 'WEIRD PRIORITY' SKEPTIC: Vaguely similar to the Goad and Withdraw, the WP skeptic will engage in debate but dismiss their opponents argument for reasons which have little or no bearing on the debate itself. E.g. incorrect grammar, the use of slang, a known relationship with a religious person etc. A current prominent example is the attacking of Jenny McCarthy's support of the anti-vaccination movement. Many skeptics claim that she has no possible credibility as she used to pose nude. Under this logic, any woman who performs in a strip club to pay their tuition fees (quite common, I'm told) is just wasting their time, as if you've exposed yourself to strangers for money you are incapable of having an informed view on anything. In truth, McCarthy being a dangerously deluded idiot is unlikely to have anything to do with her physical features being more familiar than most people's.

o BEST DEFENCE: Should a WP skeptic point out a ridiculous flaw which invalidates your argument, do everything possible to emphasise this flaw. Abandon grammar all together, adopt an incredibly dense cultural patois (preferably not your own), just strip off there and then. This should enrage/confuse/arouse them to the point that their own arguments become incomprehensible.

· THE ‘RELENTLESS KILLJOY' SKEPTIC: Science has yet to really accurately define and quantify 'fun', ergo some skeptics seem to feel that it doesn't (or shouldn't) exist. Harmless non-scientific or irrational activities that people enjoy are unacceptable and not to be tolerated, and any objection by people who enjoy these activities is irrelevant as joy can't be calculated on the metric system. You could easily imagine an RK skeptic turning up at Disneyworld and ripping the heads off the Mickey Mouse costumes worn by the entertainers, before angrily remonstrating with them and the crowd about how it's physiologically impossible for a mouse to have evolved into a bipedal humanoid. RK skeptics don't get on with PCE skeptics, partly because they see no exceptions for the application of ruthless rationality, partly because they don't see the point of friends.

o BEST DEFENCE: The RK is relentless. Your best bet is, when you see them approaching, fling a well known fictional novel (e.g. Harry Potter) off to one side, then make a run for it after they pounce on it and start crossing out all the bits which science does not agree with.

· THE 'ACOLYTE' SKEPTIC: Some people get involved with the skeptics because they want to be cool. As ridiculous as this sounds, being different is sometimes the same as cool, and most people aren't skeptics. As they're clearly influenced by the opinions and views of others, these people tend to latch to the most well known skeptic community figureheads and agree with anything they say, and react aggressively to anyone who dares criticise them. This completely misses the point of skepticism, but then again that's not why they're involved

o BEST DEFENCE: If on the receiving end of a monologue/rant about how great their hero is, casually slip in a mention of something you heard/saw about that person which is completely incongruous with their image (e.g. "Have you seen that video of Richard Dawkin's mud-wrestling with a sheep?"). They'll either think you have a superior knowledge of their idol's work, or make their excuses and immediately go to check your claims. Either way, rant over.

· THE 'SQUIRREL' SKEPTIC: The squirrel skeptic is not a dick, just inadvertently irritating. When someone finds out about the skeptic community, it can be very liberating to realise there are many others who share your interests and views. Sometimes though, these newcomers can be a little overzealous in their enthusiasm, scampering around the internet finding examples of pseudoscience and irrationality or blogs/articles they've written and sharing them with anyone who listens, like a squirrel gathering nuts with a rodent-like exuberance. However, they run the risk of repeating very familiar points, digging up old arguments or presenting you with things that you'd rather not have to encounter, like a cat dragging dead birds into your house. The squirrels are also the closest the skeptics have to cheerleaders, eager to defend skepticism as and when challenged, with an enthusiasm that can seem quite over the top.

o BEST DEFENCE: The Squirrels mean no harm and will most-likely settle down into a typical grumpy skeptic curmudgeon. Should they suddenly wade in to a polite debate you're having and risk upsetting the whole thing, just throw a stick or ball; they'll be compelled to chase it.

· THE 'ARISTOCRAT' SKEPTIC: Whereas many skeptics feel the need to engage with non-skeptics in some way, some seem to have a very specific view of the kind of 'non-skeptic' that should be engaged. Usually, people who aren't university educated, aren't scientists, have an arts/humanities qualification, have had or do have any connection with pseudoscience or irrational beliefs in any form, have read the wrong sorts of books, have read the right sort of books but have the wrong views about them, and so on. Being interested and keen to know more is not nearly enough, you have to meet their personal entry criteria. People who don't aren't referred to by Aristocrats as 'proles', 'muggles' or 'scum', but you can easily imagine them wanting to use those terms. Anyone who doesn't 'meet the grade' but dares to ask a question can either expect a hideously patronising indulgence (think house guest confronted by host's toddler showing off the contents of their potty) or utter disdain (think an expert film critic being told by someone that their favourite film is 'Dude, Where's my car?').

o BEST DEFENCE: If confronted by an Aristocrat, ask many random questions that can have no logical answer, such as "If ghosts did exist, how much would they weigh?" "When will science finally get round to producing the jetpack?" or "Would people pay more attention in talks/lectures if the speakers were forced to do them in the style of movie stars from the '80's?" They may attempt to answer the question, which will end up with them looking stupid, or they won't be able to answer, at which point you can indulgently accept their limitations, infuriating them.

· THE 'INSECURE JOKER' SKEPTIC: Probably a newcomer to the skeptic community, this one finds himself overwhelmed by the genuine intellectual curiosity most people involved demonstrate, and in order to compensate for his failings in this area becomes flippant and satirical where important issues are concerned. Highly qualified, but this is not evident in his output. Uses humour in all his dealings as a clear attempt to compensate for lack of knowledge. Makes wide and sweeping generalisations about diverse groups for the sake of a joke, but then pursues it too far and it gets boring and monotonous. Probably keeps a blog which varies wildly from relentless self-depreciation to breathtaking arrogance, such as adopting the mantle of the entirety of Science. Tries to be funny and incisive but probably ends up pissing a lot of people off, but carries on regardless.

o BEST DEFENCE: Defence is unnecessary, the 'insecure joker' knows how pointless he is already.

So there you go. In truth, every skeptic everywhere occasionally wanders into some of these categories to a certain extent, most likely without being aware of it. Because skeptics, like scientists, pseudoscientists and religious people the world over, are people; messy, confusing, complex, changeable people.

There are plenty of dicks in the skeptic community, I've even advocated being a dick myself, but (based entirely on my own experiences) they're the exception, rather than the norm. If people wish to generalise based on the few, that's their prerogative, but if you want to see truly breathtaking levels of self-aggrandising dickery, just take a look at any of the groups who oppose the skeptics.

Now, if we've spent enough time giving the dicks a spanking (a 3rd 'metaphorically' for luck), let's get back to work.


e-mail: humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

My second application for a job as a Homeopath

A significantly higher than normal number of people appear to have read my previous application to be a homeopath. So thanks for that.

I was one of several scientists/skeptics who applied for the position, so competition is stiff. However, it appears that the potential employee, NHS Tayside, has tried to deal with this abundance of pseudo-applicants by effectively moving the goalposts, so to speak.

It appears that most, if not all of those who applied have been sent a hard-copy (known in the old days as 'paper', I believe) set of forms to apply for the position in response to our 'expression of interest in the position'. An understandable strategy, maybe? I don't think they can legally just throw applications in the bin, for all that they're blatantly cynical efforts to ridicule an institution for wasting ever decreasing public funds. This way, they allow all the 'applicants' to pursue their application further should they wish to do so, while (probably correctly) assuming that those just taking the piss won't have the time or inclination to go through all the forms.

And, quite tellingly, have removed the 'statement in support of application' section which provided the bulk of the mirth and scorn in the blogosphere

However, they underestimate how unemployed I am, and the fact that, unlike most skeptics, my background has given me extensive experience with pushing a joke to breaking point and beyond. So here, for your perusal, are the forms I have sent back to NHS Tayside.

(N.B. My handwriting is, undeniably, shocking. This is true of all doctors, we actually have to undergo an intense 3-month penmanship disruption course before we're even eligible to submit a thesis or sit a final exam)

They also requested 4 copies of my CV. Being a job vacancy for a homeopath, I realised that a comprehensive summary of my scientific credentials would, if anything, work against me. I have also filled in a number of job applications recently, so have received all the regular advice about CVs. The main recommendations is that they be eye-catching, concise, clear and memorable. As a result, my CV is rendered largely in cartoon form.

(N.B. As it turns out, my drawing skills are even worse than my handwriting. This may be due to the aforementioned handwriting disruption course, or my scientist's subconscious mind resisting any attempt I make to engage in a form of 'art'. You choose)

Also, they asked for a copy of my passport.

So there you go. If I hear anything back form them, I'll post it here asap


twitter: @garwboy

Sunday, 15 August 2010

My application for a job as a Homeopath

(The follow-up to this post is now up here, and the THIRD application for another vacancy is here)

So, as the excellent blog by twitterer and skeptic xtaldave points out, NHS Tayside are advertising for a £68,000 a year homeopath, despite having to sack about 500 people due to budget cuts. As a form of polite rebellion, he encouraged as many real scientists and skeptics as possible to follow his example and apply for the job. I'm bored and jobless, and after being urged to do so by Scientology-baiter Councillor John Dixon I thought I'd contribute my satirical skills to the fun.

And in the same style as xtaldave, what follows is what I wrote on the titular section on my application form that I have sent off. I swear blind that this is word for word what I put.


I am keen to apply for this position as I am currently seeking work in the Scientific field. However, I am also considering non-scientific work, and the position of Speciality Doctor of Homeopathy seems ideally suited to the latter category.

I am a qualified doctor of Neuroscience, so am aware of many long and complex words which I often use to convince people I know what I’m talking about, when in reality I am just exploiting their ignorance for my own amusement. As such, I feel I would be an ideal candidate for the post of doctor of homeopathy. Ridiculous claims that I have successfully convinced people are true include the following:

· Australia is actually a different planet

· McDonalds make all their burgers in one restaurant in the USA and sends them around the world at supersonic velocities in hydraulic tubes (hence the squashed, flattened look of most burgers)

· Hiccups that last more than 2 minutes are an indicator of final stage lung cancer (the resulting terror of this diagnosis usually cures the sufferers hiccups immediately).

· The North and South Pole are actually the same place; it just looks different depending on how you the direction from which you approach it.

As you can see, I am highly skilled at convincing people that ludicrous notions are factually correct, and as such I would appreciate the opportunity to put this skill to use in the workplace.

Although not a registered homeopath myself, I am completely familiar with all the literature that proves the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. Other things I am familiar with to a similar extent are the number of palm trees on the moon and every Richard Littlejohn article which doesn’t read like it was written by a bile-filled screaming anus with a pen jammed in it.

As stated, I am not currently a registered member of the Faculty of Homeopaths, I am however a member of several institutions of similar levels of prestige and credibility, e.g. I currently own a Blockbuster Video card, and technically my membership of the Desperate Dan fan club was never cancelled, so I may qualify for a senior position in that long-running organisation.

Regarding the practical aspects of Homeopathy, although I have no certified training in the practice, whenever I make squash I don’t add much cordial, so am pretty good at diluting things. I also tend to pour a lot of bleach down my toilet whenever I clean it, to the extent that I worry that I may be personally responsible for the decline in cod stocks in the North sea, so clearly I have a very tenuous grasp on the effect of substantial dilution on the potency of a chemical, which could be easily ignored in favour of the salary offered for this position.

My personal research into homeopathy reveals that, following dilution, a homeopathic remedy should be ‘succussed’, which appears to be a specific style of striking, usually with a leather book or perhaps other leather-clad objects. I have, admittedly, never practiced succussion, but I believe (should the post require it) that I shall be able to perform this procedure with no difficulty. Although I have, as I say, no direct experience, I did once affectionately pat a cow at a petting zoo. I have also worked as a cook in several kitchens and tenderised many steaks as part of these roles. A reversal of these two actions would logically lend itself to successful succession. I also have an uncle Greg who has extensive experience with striking things with leather (although he is legally banned from working with, for or anywhere near the general public following the scandal with the rooster, the toaster and the mail-order bride, so I shall only seek his professional advice if the situation genuinely requires it)

Unlike the majority of scientists, amongst which I count myself, I do not believe homeopathic remedies have anything to do with the Placebo effect. Although I find some of their songs (e.g. Nancy Boy) quite catchy, the ambiguous gender of Placebo’s lead singer does make me feel uncomfortable and definitely not aroused in any way (although I can’t say the same for uncle Greg). Homeopathy has never provoked any similar effect in me, so I find the comparison nonsensical.

It's true that there are many laws of chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics and basic reality that would prevent homeopathy from existing as is described in the real world, but I like a challenge. I would also bring more benefits to the role and therefore the hospital as a whole than someone specifically trained in homeopathy. The government recently stated that homeopathy should be available on the NHS as a matter of patient choice. I would be willing to offer patients an even greater deal of choice regarding treatment methods, up to an including exorcism and trepanning. More choice for the same money would mean even greater savings for the hospital and NHS overall.

I hope you will consider me as an applicant. To show my commitment to the role, I have provided as little information as possible on my application form, under the assumption that the smaller the amount the more potent it is. Therefore, I expect to be awarded the position, and a promotion and a raise before I even start.

I am a well-rounded, highly qualified candidate and enthusiastic proponent of teaching and promoting evidence based science to the general public and encouraging others to do the same. I need the money though, so am willing to say balls to all that if I get the job.

e-mail: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Thursday, 12 August 2010

"Dear Psychics, from Science" (No. 24)

Not done one of these for a while, hope I'm not too rusty. Anyone think it's time the grief-exploiting crowd-pleasing liars that are psychics get a bit of a communique to the smartest of all anthropomorphic personifications?

Too bad if you don't because that's what I'm doing.

"Dear Psychics

Hello, it's me, T.A.P.O Science.

(By the way, T.A.P.O = the anthropomorphic personification of-, just so you know. I put that in to save a bit of time when writing this, but on reflection the act of explaining it appears to have lengthened my passage massively [fnarr!] so it's been a waste of time. But speaking of gargantuan wastes of time, back to you...)

This missive is an attempt to try and reconcile our differences. For starters, I won't be making the obvious jokes about 'why don't you read my mind?' when referring to our methods of communication. I wouldn't expect you to be read my mind, even if you genuinely could/can, as I am the personification of all human scientific knowledge and wisdom; attempting to read my mind would be akin to cleaning your ears out with an industrial sandblaster, so I'd advise you not to.

But it's often pointed out to me that I 'don't know what the mind is capable of''. And you know what? It's true. I will hold my metaphorical hands up and admit it; the mind is very much a grey area to me. It's generated by the grey matter too, which seems appropriate. But the mind is something that is presently unquantifiable, unqualifiable, unmeasurable and largely unknowable with the tools currently available to me (rest assured, I'm working on that).

This is why most people think the properties of mind are largely debated by philosophers. Even my behavioural scientists study neural activity and map it onto behaviour, skipping the bit with mind.

There's gaps in my knowledge, is what I'm saying. And hell, given the weird complex nature of quantum physics, parallel realities and the observer effect, who's to say mind reading, predicting the future or even speaking to the dead is impossible?

Although invoking the use of Quantum properties to read minds throws up even more questions, what with the fact that the properties of quantum mechanics means that quantum information cannot be copied, only transferred (a process which destroys the original). Reading someone's mind would effectively wipe it, and that would never do. That would mean that people who choose to go and see psychics would be very ill-informed, credulous and ignorant individuals who believe whatever their told, and I think we'd have noticed if that was the case!

So, I'm not saying that what you claim you can do is impossible. The claim that YOU can do it, I find ridiculous, but for now let's take you at your word. So if your claims are genuine and you wish to gain some valuable credibility, would you be so kind as to clear up the following points?

1: I notice that the majority of your public displays involve instances of imparting personal details about people, speaking to their deceased loved ones and making 'accurate' predictions about their lives. Please, what is the telepathy/necromancy/clairvoyancy ratio a proper psychic must possess? Or is it like Biology/Chemistry/Physics to a scientist? i.e. You tend to pick up bits of all of them if you get seriously involved in the field?
If this is the case, do you have the equivalents of doctors and professors? Specialists who focus on one specific area? E.g. Predicting future events that occur on Tuesday afternoons between 3.45 and 5.0, contacting people who died in the Victorian era of the pox? Please, enlighten me.

2: The tarot card thing, is that anything to do with you? I was just wondering how darkly lit rooms and ornate clothing helps predict the future via the medium of randomly shuffled pictures of things?

3: Speaking of cards, someone who can predict the future and read minds would be unstoppable in a casino. Do you ever have trouble when you fancy a gamble? My people get in trouble for just being aware of probabilities, so you guys must have one hell of a time. What's the official casino policy when you show up? And before you argue that using our powers to gamble would be unethical, bear in mind you seem to make most of your profit exploiting the bereaved and/or gullible.

4: Why do dead people stutter so much? It's true that the causes of stuttering are psychological in many cases, some sort of performance anxiety is believed to be an issue, but I'd have guessed that 'dying' would rule out most concerns on that basis. If it was a physical stutter then having no physical form would surely sort that out. But every time you talk to them it's always 'D- d- d- d- da- da- da- dav - dav- Dave? No, Dav- Davina? yes, I meant Davina'. Often, even when you're talking to a live person, supposedly reading their mind, they mentally stutter but no vocally. What's that about? Or is it the rate at which you can receive information is quite low, like dial up internet? Why not just wait for the full message to download then, people wouldn't mind and it would probably take less time that the whole 'shout out letters and hope somebody recognises what I'm saying' approach.

5: Do you hear peoples thoughts (dead and alive) constantly, or is it only when you're being paid to do so? If it's the former it must get annoying, especially in the shower and places like that. And how come you don't just eventually snap and run screaming naked down the street with your head in a lead bucket? If you can control it, what part of the brain is it that's processing the stimuli? I've looked through all the lobes and I can't seem to find any nucleus or region that seems to fit the bill. There's the limbic system of course, which activates when you lie. Just saying...

6: How do you get on with Christians? You push the argument of there being an afterlife (which they like) but also dabble in undeniably occult practices (which they really don't). I would include the other religions in this question too, but like the Christians, they keep saying it's none of my business. I'd be fine with that if it was a two way thing, but they keep interfering with my textbooks and I'm supposed to just sit there and take it? I'm the one with the nukes and the Universe-imploding accelerators, they have old books and shouting.

7: Do you ever channel animals? That sounds like it would be hilarious.

So yeah. I'm sure there are other issues, but if you could answer these questions for now that would be great. Please reply via any physical means you can (if you attempt to send it via psychic link, you'll just get a 'busy' signal).

Love and kisses

Science (BA Hons)

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

"Dear HRH Prince Charles, from Science" (No. 23)

He's at it again, the crazy old Prince of Wales. What with his Dad monopolising the outrageously-offensive-behaviour-toward-foreigners-while-completely-missing-the-irony-that-technically-he-is-one approach to public engagement, and his mother covering the waving-and-looking-stern-at-public-functions side of things, Prince Charles has opted to compensate for the ever-diminishing power of the monarchy by attempting to use his influence and position to promote alternative medicines to the general public via numerous means.

He also sells biscuits, like you'd expect of anyone who's first in line to the throne.

His Foundation for Integrated Health closed due to the small matter of a massive case of fraud

(that's the 'unofficial' reason of course, the 'official' reason is that the FFIH closed because it had 'achieved all its aims' or something, which suggests that its aims were 1. Spout gibberish. 2. Have funds nicked by a notorious swindler. 3. Go home)

However, much like another sort of fictional Doctor, it has regenerated into a different form as a 'College of Medicine'. This does seem to be pushing it a little bit, so time for somebody to receive a communique...

"Dear HRH Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales

All right Chuck? How's it hanging? It's me, Science, the anthropomorphic personification of that concept you try to avoid as if it were a diseased commoner.

Still peddling those organic biscuits? You do realise that being 'organic' (whatever the hell you think that means) doesn't automatically make a food healthy, right? I'm not saying that eating one of your biscuits is like injecting 500ml of tans-fats directly into your aorta, but they could be compared to deep fried place-mats on the healthy-eating scale of things.

Obviously, it would be very naive of me to assume you had a grasp of even the most basic principles of health, given the increasingly mad theories and pseudoscientific guff you keep trying to push into the public domain, like a man trying to force a courgette into a passing strangers ear (an equally pointless and potentially damaging activity, no matter what his intentions).

Normally I expect such activity from people in your position. You have been raised to believe in the notion that people like yourself deserve to live in unrestrained luxury funded by others because you're inherently superior due to who your ancestors are. There is no logical basis or evidence for this conclusion aside from the 'it's been this way for a very long time'. A fair point, a system that persists for a very long period of time must work because it endures, right?

On a related note, have you ever considered living in the sea? Technically, your ancestors lived there for a lot longer than they lived in palaces. Just wondering...

But I don't really feel it fair to antagonise you for your questionable faith in alternative medicine, given that you've received an upbringing which doesn't really encourage much questioning and rational thought, and that's no fault of your own. And you may not know this, but alternative medicine may have a long history with the Royals. Allow me to explain.

If you look closely at history, it seems that while it was Samuel Hahnemann who is credited with the creation (yes, creation, not discovery) of Homeopathy, the concept may have been first established around 200 years older, by your own ancestor and namesake!

Remember Charles I? You probably don't personally, unless you've aged a lot better than most people. He was a Monarch called Charles who tried to impose his illogical self-serving beliefs on others, and look what happened to him (I'm not saying you'll be decapitated for your behaviour, I'm just letting you know that there is a precedent).

According to reports from the time (nearly 400 years old, so that makes them more reliable, right?) when King Charles' head was severed from his body (that's what happened, in case your parents always told you that he "went to live on a Scottish farm with a castle" if ever you asked about him), people crowded round in order to collect as much of his blood as possible. I imagine there was a fair bit of it, the carotid artery alone would have had quite a copious output when suddenly exposed to the air.

Why would anyone do this? I'll admit there may have been some cynical Vatican-like people who thought they could make a quick profit from an influential figure dying by splashing some t-shirts (or whatever the 17th century equivalent was) with suddenly-much-rarer Royal blood and selling them to the crowds. But this was a time when the common people believed Monarchs were imbued with magical powers by God (note the past-tense, there), and it is said they collected the blood believing it to have healing properties.

It's only a simple logical step to conclude that, given the meagre amounts anyone could have collected, it was diluted to prolong it's use. Diluting something without affecting its healing potency? Now, why does that sound familiar? This is just conjecture though, it never caught on as a method at the time. Maybe they overlooked the 'like cures like' law of similars preached by modern homeopaths? If this were true, diluted kings blood would probably have treated nonsensical delusions of superiority. Or maybe in this case, headaches.

So maybe your love of homeopathy is based on a subconscious desire to follow in the footsteps of your namesake? (excluding the public execution bit, presumably). Or maybe its just that, considering the size of your gene pool (gene-puddle?), whatever rational parts of your subconscious mind are remaining recognise the problem and are constantly screaming about the benefits of dilution, but the message is being scrambled by your powerful bullshit processing centres? I'd be happy to discuss this with you some time, get you some help if you want it.

Anyway, enough preamble. I noticed that your Foundation For Integrated Health (or 'Foundation For Shite' as I call it, FFS for short) is now a 'College of Medicine'. You think this is acceptable? I know that officially you 'aren't involved', just as 'officially' you probably don't hand-make each of those lard biscuits you sell, but let's drop the pretence. But Colleges of Medicine are quite blatantly my territory, not yours. You can't just borrow my terminology because you don't have enough credibility! I'm not a politician, I won't stand for it.

So here's the ultimatum; change the name, or at least make it clear that you aren't teaching and giving degrees in medicine. If you don't, then in every credited scientific teaching establishment throughout the world, I'm going to introduce a new qualification for scientists. It'll be a one page exam, all they have to do is fill in their name. They instantly pass the moment they turn up, and they shall be have achieved the qualification of 'Highly Ridiculous H'exam' (the extra H makes it sound posh). As such, anyone who passes it shall be able to put the letters HRH before their name.

Consider this a formal warning. Your move, your Highness.

Love and kisses

Science (BA hons)

email: Humourology (at)
twitter: @garwboy

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Skeptical Vandalism, part 2

Regular readers (hello, Wes and Jonnie) may recall that I recently engaged in a spot of Skeptical Vandalism.

People seemed to like it, so I did some more to alleviate the boredom of an otherwise pleasant Sunday. It was either this or go outside.

So, as per usual, I looked up everyone favourite supplier of far-fetched nonsense outside of the Vatican's public relations department, Natural Health magazine

I selected a typical cover image at random. This one

And, with a few tweaks, made it look a bit more acceptable

Feel free to print it out and pass it on, or sellotape it over any offending articles in medical places you might come across.

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