Saturday, 30 October 2010

Animal Testing Blog: Some interesting reactions

Yesterday, I put this up.

Originally a spoken piece for the Pod Delusion, I thought it wise to put a written version up as well. Obviously, I made it as provocative as possible (in the title at least) to get attention, and also to vent a bit at the violent campaigners who feel it's fine to intimidate and threaten people in my profession.

And it is the violent, law-breaking, threatening ones I a talking about, not the respectful, organised, official campaigners. They're generally all right, I agree with them on most issues as well. I thought I'd made this clear in my piece. Apparently not. My bad, I suppose. Some of the responses have been quite interesting.

A lot of the traffic is coming from Metafilter. My piece has come under a lot of criticism, but primarily (at least at first) because they don't think it's funny. Fair enough, other people do, and they have credited me with far less self-awareness than than I do in fact possess (e.g. I'm fully conscious of the fact that making meat-based references in an animal-rights rant are neither 'edgy' nor particularly original), and if you listen to the Pod Delusion episode I hope you'll pick up on the sarcastic tone with which I make the aforementioned jokes. But then that's the problem with text; inflection is hard to get across. But no matter.

The comments on the blog post are a joy to behold, feel free to scan them. From interesting, considered criticisms to insane religiously-inspired condemning of me and my soul. And again, a lot of people feel that attempts to insert comedy into my rant nullifies the points I'm trying to make. An understandable viewpoint, but not one I agree with. I've learned first hand that inserting humour into serious things makes people MORE likely to listen and take it in, not less. Hence The Daily Show and its ilk are seen by many as the most reliable news source in the states, and Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell in the UK are arguably the most popular and respected pundits on all manner of subjects; they can take hard truths and unpleasant facts, and deliver them in an incredibly amusing, entertaining fashion. I would never claim to be capable of their standard of writing, but I'm willing to give it a go.

Also, this has always been a comedy blog, which has developed a worrying number of regular readers. A deadly-serious, passionate rant about such a controversial subject would be incredibly jarring. So I tried to stay 'in character', as it were.

Now, the fun begins.

My blog was lifted wholesale and posted on the animal activists website named 'negotiation is over'. The title alone shows what their stance on the issue is. I believe the lovely devout Lisa who bemoaned my toxic heart in the comments section is there. I do like the way it's put up as if I actually voluntarily sent them the piece to put up like a prick, and I love how I'm introduced as 'Mutilator Dean Burnett', but seriously, check out the website comments if you want to see extreme vitriol and a complete disregard for Godwin's Law.

Interestingly, my old school headmaster was called Mister Godwin, and he was a bit of a racist right-winger if memory serves. Life's weird like that sometimes.

And finally, the emails. I've had a few. Some have been supportive. Some have been critical but nice with it, some have been like this. Being a shameless attention seeker, I can't help but reply.

Subject: france
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 11:39:22 +0000

i'm french and i FUCK YOU, you says "go fuck" to animal lover ?

Come to see me in Marseille, i will show you, who will fuck who ... may be your mother want to come ? i will fuck her too !!!


Thank you, Anonymous French person

Maybe it's a translation thing? At no point did I say "go fuck" to animal lovers, I'm not sure that even works as a threat or a command in English, but what I was trying to say was "go fuck yourselves" to people who think it's OK to threaten and intimidate people doing essential scientific research. Most animal lovers don't do that, so telling them to "go fuck" would be pointless.

I've never been to Marseille, is it nice? I'm actually quite busy at the moment, but I'll see what my mother is up to if you like, she's due a vacation.

Cheers again for the email, it will make an excellent addition to my blog.

All the best

I really Like to be a part of your blog thanks You !!!
Essential reSearch ?? CAN i laugh ? Essential money may be You want to say !

I don't like what i've readed when You speak about vivisection, and Marseille is not Nice ... Don't take vacation here, it's very dangerous.

Please link me your blog, this Will may be give me some buzz !!!!!! Thanks!!!


Anonymous French person is named Nico, as it happens. He/She doesn't like me and my kind. Fair enough, it's just nice to get the attention.

To: humourology
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 17:25:43 +0200
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 2010 17:25:43 +0200
Thank you, Anonymous person in South Africa

Thanks for the email. Not sure if it's a formatting thing, or if you meant it to be written in such a massive font, but rest assured that I read it fine, especially as I have a particularly large computer monitor as well

I'm sorry you didn't laugh at my article, that's the problem with comedy, it's very subjective, and it is a tricky subject to make jokes about. A lot of the crap jokes were deliberately inserted to lighten the tone in a self-depreciation style, but it's tricky to get this across in print.

There are many reasons for me being out of a job, partly because I'm an average Doctor of Neuroscience, not a great one, and partly because my wife's job means I'm geographically limited. Believe it or not, the inability to make random strangers in other countries laugh is not seen as a handicap when applying for scientific vacancies, so I tend not to mention it on my CV.

Cheers for the email, it will make an excellent addition to my blog.

All the best
To: humourology

That last part is quite a strange thing for stranger who felt it necessary to abuse me via email to say, when you think about it.

And then it got serious

Diana Meinor

Mr. Burnett -

I am writing after having read your recent blog post at Science Digestive in
which you defend caging and killing nonhuman animals. I believe that this
will be appropriately interpreted by many as an open call to violence on
your part against nonhumans. In other words, it's an act of aggression.

In the course of the post you acknowledge being "trained and experience in
animal testing" and that you are "not ashamed". This means that you are not
a mere advocate for violence against the innocent but also an assailant.

I suspect that none of what I am saying comes as a surprise to you. Suffice
it to say that you have not gone unnoticed.

Diana Meinor

Diana Meinor

Thank you Diana

My post also contains the following phrases

"the conclusion that 'innocent creatures suffering is bad' is a very hard one to disagree with, and I won't attempt to do so"

"Huntington’s life sciences did terrible things to animals all those years ago, nobody is disputing that. If they are, they need to be escorted to the nearest padded room as soon as possible."

"I've worked in animal labs, and I've yet to meet anyone who, despite the accusations and implications, actually enjoys animal experimentation. Pretty much everyone who does it manages to develop a necessary sense of detachment, but it's never easy. As I always strive to point out, the vast majority of scientists are actually people, and we don't like psychopaths or sadists any more than the next person."

"A suffering animal is, scientifically, pretty much useless"

"the logic of scientific research means it's essential that animal subjects experience as little discomfort as possible."

"if there was an effective substitute that offered the same complexity and sophistication offered by a living organism, we'd be using it."

"Someone once asked me 'what gives us the right to decide how and when an animal dies?' I genuinely don't know, nor do I know if we can be said to have the right to anything we do as a species"

All of these phrases clearly advocate and support the ethical treatment of animals, for reasons of scientific research and basic morality. The fact that you have chosen to take select quotes and jump to wide conclusions that you use to make thinly veiled threats to me suggests that you have no interest in rational debate or discourse.

I doubt this will make any difference to your views, but as depressing as it is to have to resort this, I have forwarded your email to the relevant authorities such as the police.

I hope we can remain civil about this

Dr. Burnett

There's always someone who has to ruin it by making actual threats. I'll put up any further interesting ones if/when I get them.

People have described me as 'brave' for saying what I did. I don't think so, I'm just an attention seeker. But it's nice to know it's having some effect, as the responses clearly show. Fun times!

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy

Friday, 29 October 2010

Animal Rights Protesters: Go F**K yourselves! (deliberately provocative title)

The following written tirade is an unedited companion piece for a section I recorded for the latest Pod Delusion . It's something I've been wanting to get off my chest for some time now. Please send all hate mail and death threats to the email address at the bottom.

Animal Rights Protesters: I Protest!

As a doctor of neuroscience who is also a comedian, I've had more than my fair share of bizarre experiences. But I have to say, it’s weird, sitting down to write something that you know in advance will probably cause you a great deal of unnecessary hassle from people who probably will see a few key-words in it and make wild conclusions completely in defiance of the actual views contained within it. But it’s come to the point where I have to get this off my chest. I can’t go on living a lie any more, I have to be me. Here goes…

I am trained and experienced in animal testing, and I am not ashamed of this fact. There, I’m out.

Recent events have compelled me to make this admission. Firstly, there is increasing speculation over an animal rights campaign and protest targeted at my former workplace. Good, hard-working people who have done nothing wrong, who are actively trying to further scientific and medical understanding, are now having to undergo extra security checks and procedures as their personal safety is under threat. Also, there was the recent news story about the protesters jailed for their hate campaign targeting Huntington Life Sciences. Oddly, so familiar is this occurrence that a quick google search brought an almost identical story from over a year ago.

I need to make several things clear first and foremost. Firstly, I have no problem with people being opposed to animal testing on moral grounds. I disagree with the majority of arguments put forward to defend this position, but the conclusion that 'innocent creatures suffering is bad' is a very hard one to disagree with, and I won't attempt to do so. Also, to me there is something quite inspiring and, ironically, uniquely human about opposing members of your own species on behalf of another. You don’t get that anywhere else, I’ve yet to see Lions taking on other lions in order to defend the grasshoppers, and I doubt I ever will outside the realm of a CGI summer kids movie. Similarly, any vegetarians get my grudging respect, as I doubt I could ever be one, not least because my father, a borderline carnivore, would likely disown me.

I don't get vegans, though. Bonkers, the lot of them.

My main beef (yes I said beef, deal with it) is with the violent protesters and campaigners who make the lives of scientists a lot harder than they need to be. To these people, on behalf of myself and my fellow researchers, I'd like to make the following statement;

Fuck you! Fuck you and the tofu-based gluten free horse you rode in on!

Now, while they’ve gone off in a frothy rage to find out where my deceased relatives are buried or to construct some sort of letter bomb, here’s why I felt it necessary to say that.

I want to make it clear that Huntington’s life sciences did terrible things to animals all those years ago, nobody is disputing that. If they are, they need to be escorted to the nearest padded room as soon as possible. I was told during my training that the Huntington's incident was dealt with severely by the relevant authorities, the perpetrators were punished and disgraced, and the whole infrastructure of the institution was changed to ensure this never happened there again.

Whether you trust this assertion or not is another matter, I can certainly see how you could argue that the source of the claim wouldn't be impartial, given the context of it being in an animal experiment training session. HLS is also a largely commercial body, so exactly how much control the Home Office would have regarding their infrastructure is questionable. But even bearing that in mind, the argument that the awful crimes which were committed at Huntington's means all animal research is evil and must be stopped is blatantly ridiculous. Using that logic, we should imprison all GP's for life because of Harold Shipman's crimes. It's the only way to be sure, obviously...

As a scientist, I feel I have the insight to set a few things straight. We're constantly discouraged from doing this, purely because of the possible ramifications of protesters finding out and targeting us. For the safety of our colleagues and those we work with, we have to behave as if we are guilty of the things we're accused of, and skulk about in order to avoid detection. Those who don't risk being disciplined by their superiors.

Well I'm presently unemployed, so the only one I have to answer to is my conscience, and that has about as much say over what I do as a Lib Dem MP in the cabinet.

Firstly, I've worked in animal labs, and I've yet to meet anyone who, despite the accusations and implications, actually enjoys animal experimentation. Pretty much everyone who does it manages to develop a necessary sense of detachment, but it's never easy. As I always strive to point out, the vast majority of scientists are actually people, and we don't like psychopaths or sadists any more than the next person.

Even if you don't believe that, if you think that all animal researchers do it for the sick thrill of hurting furry creatures due to some trauma experienced while watching Return of the Jedi, or you believe that all scientists are dead-eyed emotionless robots who care for nothing but their precious data, look at the practicalities. A suffering animal is, scientifically, pretty much useless in most cases. Pain or discomfort have a complex physical, biological basis, so an animal in distress is going to provide unreliable results and throw off the data obtained in any experiment that studies anything other than pain. Granted, the study of pain is medically very important, so is ongoing and uses animal subjects. Whether you believe this is acceptable or not is up to you, but keep it in mind next time you take an analgesic for a slight headache. But by and large, the logic of scientific research means it's essential that animal subjects experience as little discomfort as possible.

People opposed to animal testing often shout about how we should use alternatives. What alternatives? Where there's an option, we use it. Why wouldn't we? Even if you still subscribe to the emotionless robotic data monger view of scientists, animal testing is a pain in the arse. If your research requires animal subjects, you spend the majority of your time maintaining and caring for the animals, making sure they're healthy and well, and the research often seems like an afterthought. Cleaning, feeding, weighing, record keeping, it all must be done to the highest standards as at any moment a Home Office inspector could turn up and, if the animals seem to be cared for imperfectly, will shut the entire place down. And they do this often. Lab animals have cushier lifestyles than most domestic pets, as government inspectors are unlikely to turn up and evict you from your house if you don't clean your hamsters cage regularly enough.

Believe me, if there was an effective substitute that offered the same complexity and sophistication offered by a living organism, we'd be using it. Perhaps some futuristic Quantum computer will eventually fulfil this function? I'm confident that all scientists would jump at the chance to use something like that, we bloody love new gadgets (I bet it'll have a bloody glowing apple logo on the side too, knowing my luck). Of course, something like that would be fantastically expensive at first, so we'd still be stuck using animals unless science research funding gets a massive increase. In that event, the protesters would start protesting those who are responsible for not funding science sufficiently, right? Right...? No, probably not.

Undeniably, Britain loves its animals, more so than most other countries. We have possibly the most strict and tightly regulated animal welfare laws in the world, even the NSPCC was founded long after the RSPCA (the first child cruelty case was actually brought by the RSPCA after a child was successfully classified as 'a small animal'). Let's not forget that very recently a cat placed in a bin received more sympathy than the masses of potentially innocent people killed in the floods in Pakistan. I wonder if I'm alone in thinking this was somewhat worrying? For as much as I love animals myself, I think people should come first. Hundreds of animal subjects being sacrificed to obtain information that could alleviate the suffering of thousands or millions of humans is, I think, a fair trade. A bit Darwinian of me perhaps, and there are certainly many people who I'd rank as less important than your typical cockroach, but overall I stand by it.

Apparently, this attitude makes me a torturer and murderer. I have been called both these things, totally seriously. Often by other comedians, who seemingly have no issues with using victims of rape and paedophilia to get cheap laughs, or with using the end product of the blood-drenched cocaine trade. No, I'm the bastard for doing research to enhance society's understanding of how things work.

It does surprise me how animal testing seems to skip all the logical or rational checks people normally use when judging something and go straight for the moral outrage. Even many skeptics have expressed a moral opposition to animal testing. People who claim to believe in evidence and rationality above all else, who condemn pseudoscience, alternative medicine and religious fundamentalism on the grounds they have no basis in evidence and can lead to innocent people coming to harm, they think the exact opposite when it comes to animal testing. We can't win.

It's amazing how seemingly rational people can be so morally outraged by it. A fellow PhD student, a Neuroscientist like myself (a field which wouldn't exist without animal testing), was fundamentally opposed to it, and took every opportunity to attack me over it. Then she found she had a rat in her flat and immediately called the council to deal with it. When I challenged her over this, about why me killing animals for science is wrong but her doing for her own piece of mind it is fine, she was shocked. She actually said "The council won't kill it will they? I thought they'd re-house it". I'd genuinely like to know if there are any families out there willing to adopt a filthy sewer rat as a pet, really I would.

Whenever I see the protesters, so many questions come to mind that I'd really like to have answered.

Why do all the posters and banners feature dogs, monkeys or the cute mammals? The vast majority, 90% plus, of experiments on mammals are performed on rodents, rats and mice. Admittedly, I think mice are little furry balls of evil, but where's the rats poster campaign? Or don't vermin 'suffer' in the same way as the more popular creatures? And that's just the mammals, why do you ignore all the others? The pigeons, the fish, the newts? What about poor Drosophilia? The fruit fly that's had its entire genome mangled many times in the name of science? It seems that unless it's furry and friendly, they don't give a shit these animal rights protesters. It's Animal rights only for the select few, apparently. How very right wing. Almost Catholic-like in their bias for creatures they deem 'worthy'.

On a similar matter, how come only scientists trying to make valuable discoveries are protested against? Why not protest Rentokil or other companies, which profit from the killing of innocent animals in the name of people's convenience? One argument is that vermin and infestations can carry diseases so exterminators are necessary. But medical research is not? So killing animals is OK if it benefits people's health, but not if it benefits people's health. I see. Except that I don't.

Why are battery farms and slaughterhouses generally let off the hook? Places where animals suffer in far greater numbers and in far less humane conditions that laboratories so that people can have greater choice in their cuisine?

Why not protest tanneries, where animals are killed so that people have nice things to wear or durable wallets? Why not protest the companies that cut down trees, undoubtedly traumatising or killing the many animals that live in them or depend on them in the process, in order to make paper for you to use to construct banners calling me and my sort a pack of bastards?

These things are apparently essential or at the very least acceptable, whereas medical research is not. I don't know who makes these decisions, but I'd like to see the method they use. I'm guessing a blindfold and a dartboard.

Using misinformation and intimidation to attack and persecute innocent people in order to defend a non-sentient organism in a manner which is in-keeping with their sense of moral superiority is usually the domain of pro-life and anti-abortion campaigners. Far be it from me to draw parallels between them and animal rights protesters, but they're there is you want to look.

Someone once asked me 'what gives us the right to decide how and when an animal dies?' I genuinely don't know, nor do I know if we can be said to have the right to anything we do as a species. But we've been doing it for millions of years, and still are on a massive scale, and for far less noble reasons than in the name of scientific discovery and the alleviating of the suffering of others.

No animals were harmed in the making of this report, although admittedly a few straw-men got a serious kicking.

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Saturday, 23 October 2010

TAM London Blog: No. 8 - Kirby your activism

(2.30 pm, 16th October, TAM venue, Edgeware Road, London )

Hello again. Another massive break between blog reports about TAM London speakers where there was no actual break between the talks themselves. I feel like I'm introducing an element of discontinuity where there was none. In a way, this makes me like a very very low-key Time Lord. Interestingly, I live within a few minutes walk of a number of Doctor Who locations, and the official Doctor Who exhibition is in the cinema/restaurant complex down the road. You should go there some time, it's actually much smaller than it looks from the outside. It's a bit like and anti-TARDIS, in a way.

Anyway, back to the talks.

We were first treated to a quick talk by Karen James, who told us all about the ongoing Beagle project. It's a very inspirational project, which you can read all about in the links I just put down. Basically, it's a project to rebuild the famous Beagle, the ship that carried Charles Darwin across the world, and re-make the original journey, during which he invented evolution. I've always loved the way that, before Darwin, the world was only 6000 years old and everything that existed had always been that way and dinosaur bones were put there as a joke by a deity who, despite having infinite knowledge, infinite space and infinite power with which to put these things to good use, clearly has a low boredom threshold so amuses himself by burying the remains of monsters for the sole purpose of confusing some of his more curious apes.

Flippancy aside, it's a wonderful project and quite inspiring when you think about it. There was talk about an incident where an astronaut on the International Space Station voluntarily got involved and ended up speaking to a group of Brazilian School children. That's either an incredible account of the inspirational actions that people do in order to promote and further the wonder of Science, or the absolute mother of all wrong numbers. Either way is cool for me.

It's a great scheme, and I do think it's worth the time and effort that's being put into it. Although Karen did say that they were needing a £100,000 donation to complete all their aims. I genuinely expected the hat to be passed around at this point. It's a ridiculous sum to ask people to cough up at a moments notice, but then I was persistently surprised by how many people were able/willing to put up the £200+ entry fee for the conference. It was amazing that so many people were at the meeting, to be honest. Maybe that's why it's called that?

(Just a note, I also tweeted during the talk that I was surprised that the Beagle was docking in Pembrokeshire, seeing as they don't have evolution there. This was of course a stupid joke, as we all know that Pembrokeshire has lots of evolution; the place is riddled with Neanderthals)

The next talk was by Paula Kirby. This was one of the best talks, as far as I'm concerned, because it was simultaneously baffling, amusing and terrifying. It was essentially a run-down of the actions, aims and views of the UK Christian Party. They are, in the loosest sense of the word, a political party that wants to, um, further the values of Christianity in UK society. I say 'um' because, as someone raised in a nominally Christian environment, I don't recognise any of them. They include:

- Opposition to all forms of equality apart from those that favour devout Christians, which sort of undermines the whole concept of 'equality' when you think about it.

- Abolition of CCTV cameras and other forms of social control measures, and replacing them with bands of roving street Pastors (an idea which I actually quite like, as I'd want to see what happens when they have to 'control' a clash of Cardiff and Millwall football fans. Do the spiritually enlightening qualities of the Bible prevent it from causing damage when forcefully inserted into various orifices?)

- A complete crack down on teachers in general as they are somehow linked to the sexual corruption of children.

- Free speech for Christians only. And only 'proper' ones. None of these liberal types, they may as well be sodomising minors while smearing chocolate Koran's over their oiled torsos as far as the Christian party are concerned.

- The promotion of Christian love and compassion via the use of oppression and death (e.g. they support the death penalty and nuclear weapons, which makes sense when you consider that without the death penalty Christianity wouldn't exist, and a mushroom cloud does look slightly like a cross).
I don't really recognise this aspect of Christianity. Presumably it's based on the gospel according to Saint Psychopath. it seems that the Christian party has no chance of being elected, but the fact that they exist at all and seem to be entitled to respect and consideration is still a worrying fact. There was also some discussion of why the majority of Christians don't oppose or resist these despotic bastards, and why Christianity gets an easier ride of it in UK society than other religions. It was very interesting and thought provoking, to the point where I don't want to sully it by making crap jokes about it. Kudos Kirby, an exemplary talk from an interesting person.

The final part of this section, before lunch, was the panel discussion. This was delivered by the holy trinity of the skeptical society (inappropriate religious overtones very much intended), Dr Evan Harris, David Allen Green (a.k.a. Jack of Kent) and Dr Simon Singh. All the brief introductory talks they did were very good, but unfortunately I didn't see much of the discussion as I had to run outside and re-charge my iron-age Nokia to continue my twitter stream. It's a shame really, I doubt anyone was actually reading them but seeing as I had a press pass I felt duty bound to continue it. It was quite enjoyable, like the on-line equivalent of a tramp shouting in the street at cars; pointless but strangely cathartic.
I did learn several interesting things though. Dr Evan Harris really doesn't like singing, like he did at the Science is Vital rally (I was there, remember?), but this may have effectively combated the Science cuts. It's like a WMD, only to be used when absolutely necessary. David Allen Green showed us that, although lawyers are widely disliked and regarded as untrustworthy, if they have a Birmingham accent this completely offsets the clichés and makes them likable again.

Simon Singh is possibly one of the most respected and popular people in the scientific community. And rightly so. I'm biased of course, as he actually wanted to speak to me r.e. my Science is Vital talk and to offer me help with my scientific promotions. He also announced the launch of the Nightingale Collaboration, an organisation designed to help coordinate and streamline sceptical activism activities. Read about it, it's well good.

I was outside for this bit though, so missed most of it. Bet it was fun though. Then there was a coffee break. I've been to many conferences all across the country, and there appears to be one rule which unties them all; the coffee is always shit. It does the job though, and if you have to make enough coffee for nearly a thousand people in a very short space of time, quality is bound to suffer.

Unless this was a subtle reminder of how nonsensical homeopathic claims are? Seems a bit unnecessary though, seeing as how everyone there had forked out £200+ to be there. You wouldn't do that if you were still 'undecided', surely? But then maybe that's just me.

Email: Humourology (at)
Twitter: @garwboy

Thursday, 21 October 2010

TAM London Blog: No. 7 - Some Scary S**t

(1.40 pm, 16th October, TAM venue, Edgeware Road, London )

As has been mentioned previously, I was at TAM London because the organiser and all round wonderful human being Tracy King decided to take my sarcastic request for a press pass at face value and granted me one. She said I'd caught her in a good mood. I worry that this good mood was one of the extreme chemically-facilitated judgement-impairing sort, but I kept my mouth shut about that.

But as a member of the 'press', I was given several perks, outside of the fact that I get allowed in without paying. But I didn't take advantage of these perks, I was already feeling massively guilty about wasting everyone's time as it was. I sincerely doubt anyone's even reading this right now.

But as a member of the 'press', we had reserved seats in the front. I ignored these, I feel you need to be in amongst the people to get a real impression of how things are going at an event like this. But then I'm not a proper press person, so I would say that wouldn't I?

The press were also granted the opportunity to go to a press conference with James Randi himself at 1pm. I went and had lunch instead. I'd missed the earlier opportunity to eat as I was talking with Simon Singh, who is well important and brilliant and actively suggested we meet up so that's nice. It meant I didn't get to eat, and I was hungry. People seemed shocked that I'd consider passing up the opportunity to meet the great man himself, but I was ravenous. And besides 'are you a gnome?', what would I ask him?

Anyway, that happened. Back to the people saying stuff.

First talk after lunch wasn't a talk per-se, but a bit of a chat between Richard Wiseman and Andy Nyman. Say those two names together, it sounds like some sort of mystery-solving duo. This isn't too far from the truth really. The problem with this talk for me was the fact that I wasn't really familiar with Andy Nyman's work. The name was ringing a bell, so to speak, but when someone is introduced and treated like a big star then this is a bit confusing when you're as clueless as I was.

Turns out Nyman is sort of like the Buzz Aldrin to Derren Brown's Neil Armstrong, being his writing partner in his various big screen outings. He's also responsible, with Jeremy Dyson, for creating the show Ghost Stories, which is brilliant and terrifying by all accounts.

Then it was pointed out where I knew him from; he was the evil producer Patrick in Charlie Brooker's Big Brother based zombie horror Dead Set. You'd think this would help me appreciate the conversation and anecdotes, but in fact it made it worse. If you haven't seen Dead Set (it's very good if you like that sort of thing), at one point Nyman's character defecates explosively into a bin. That's not an image that's easy to forget, and it kept coming back to me throughout the interview.

"So, how did you first come up with the idea for Ghost Stories?" "Well, I he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin and then Dyson suggested that he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin it turns out Liverpool is full of Catholics he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin he shit in a bin and thank you all for coming".

Andy Nyman, clearly a very talented, intelligent and charismatic man. Who once shit in a bin.

Email: Humourology (at)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

TAM London Blog: No. 6 – The Alpha and Ow-Mega

(11.00 AM, 16th October, TAM venue, Edgeware Road, London )

The reason this post is different from the last one is a result of hassle with timings, resources, low battery power, hectic schedule and the incompetence of the author in looking after his stuff, e.g. notes, so this is all based on memory and old tweets. So that's nice.

I reality though, there was literally no break between the Dawkins talk and the ones I describe here. Unless you count Prof. Wiseman's MCing duties, which were excellent as always. I've already mentioned that though, so won't go over that again.

The next talk was from Cory Doctorow. Coroy Doctorow is, as far as I can make out, not a real doctor. But he has 'Doctor' in his name, which is quite cool. Doctor Ow made me think he would be some sort of super villain in a superhero cartoon aimed at the under 5's. This may in fact be the case, but he wasn't there in that capacity, that much is certain.

I hadn't really heard much about Doctorow before the talk, so didn't know what he would be speaking about and in what capacity. One thing I do know is that he has terrible timing. I say this because as soon as he was introduced, that was the moment my bladder decided it was no longer happy about having to act as a receptacle for my waste fluids, so I had to run out and use the toilet. Ergo, I missed the part where he explained who he was and what he would be talking about.

It turned out to be Copyright law in the end. And very interesting it was too, particularly the original story about how Hollywood was originally founded by people who had essentially nicked Thomas Edison's camera technology and used it outside his stranglehold. I was pleased by this, I don't really like Edison for ripping off Nikolai Tesla, the genius physicist who has a cooler name and a mighty moustache.

Doctorow essentially informed us all about the pros, cons and potential impacts of the various different copyright and information controlling plans with regards to new technology. A highlight was the observation of the way that everyone who uses a new technology to share creative works gets called a pirate by those who did the exact same thing previously. Whether or not Eye-patches or parrots were included was not addressed. I like to think they were

Up next was Adam Rutherford, he of the broody byline picture (check the link, it's impressive, or creepy, one of the two). The celebrated Guardian columnist told us all about his experiences with the Alpha Course. When I heard the title, I assumed it was some evening class that taught you how to be more dominant and assertive in your business dealings, some 'release you alpha male' shite. Something that turns you into a vacuous irritating dickhead, in other words. Turns out it's some ongoing course/campaign which intends to subtly convert people to conservative Christianity. Something that turns you into a vacuous irritating dickhead, in other words.

Dickheadedness seemed to a theme for the Alpha course from the off, with a lot of their promotional material being based on the trashing of actual impressive things the world has to offer. There's also the massively weasely manner in which they try to oppress homosexuals without actually saying they're doing that. They clearly want to have their cake and eat it. Don't know why they're bothering, it would probably just turn to messiah flesh in their mouths anyway, and that can't be nice. I've seen pictures of Jesus, he looks quite stringy.

It does have a very culty vibe to it, but then you could say that about a lot of things to do with promoting religion. The most amusing part was when he informed us that the Alpha course uses two texts to underpin much of it's teachings. These are the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. Much hilarity and surprise greeted this revelation. Apparently, people were surprised by the possibility that a Christian group would base much of its ideals on long-winded largely fictional books, which I felt was a little naive.

But, as per, the talk was excellent, but even if it wasn't I would have given it top marks for inclusion of the phrase 'solipsistic wanker'! I challenged everyone to say it at least once a day from now on.

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

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