Monday, 30 May 2011

Bull. Shit! (Literally)

I've mentioned before how the credibility of science is exploited and mangled for the sake of advertising. So have more capable people, like Ben Goldacre. I was recently asked by a media representative to provide a critical perspective on the Dettol 'Mission for Health'. It seems that this major distributor of disinfectants has, purely out of the goodness of their hearts, conducted some research as to how badly infested with bacteria certain public transport services are. Why public transport? God knows. It couldn't be because so many people use public transport and this is a good way of alarming them and increasing their desire for disinfectants. That would be so cynical.

I was sent the Dettol press release, which described the different bacterial levels found on Cardiff Buses, Manchester trams, and so on. The numbers mean nothing out of context, or in the absence of any data about what's 'normal', and whether the (geographically and physically) distinct sample locations are comparable in any way. But it's OK, because the press release includes some comments from a 'media doctor' who says the bacteria levels aren't good. I was actually more alarmed by the revelation that 'media doctor' is a real job description these days.

The reporter who sent me the press release also included some comments from an actual qualified bacteriologist. These comments can be summarised as follows: 'Eh?'

It was gibberish, but it was just another example of corporations conducting a self-serving 'scientific survey' and just interpreting the data in a manner that suits their needs. Business as usual, I suppose. This sort of thing happens all the time.

Then, a few days later, I saw this. And that, for me, was the final straw for advertising-led science. I've never seen such obvious 'scientific' fabrications.

You might want to go over that article a few times, to convince your brain that yes, it does say what you think it says.

To summarise; on behalf of Laughing Cow, Comedian Milton Jones performed to a field of cows as part of an experiment in whether or not animals can laugh. And it turns out they can.

Essentially, it's a nonsensical experiment that bastardises science via the exploitation of the mediums of comedy and animal behavioural studies. Given my background, I'm not entirely convinced that this whole thing wasn't thought up with the express intention of annoying me specifically.

I will say right now that this is not an attack on Milton Jones, who is brilliant, and as a father of three trying to make a living in an increasingly crowded field (by which I mean comedy, not cows), I have no issue with him taking the corporate dollar. Plus, I imagine he felt it would be funny to perform to cows. And it is.

What's not funny in the traditional sense is the contribution of Bruce Woodacre. Bruce is, apparently, a 'Cow Expert'. Again, one of those jobs which I didn't know existed until I read this. His CV must be very interesting… Actually, it isn't. It's disappointingly normal.

Bruce has an MA in Animal Science from Cambridge. I don't know what that really involves (couldn't find it online, and he did the course nearly 40 years ago), but it sounds impressive. It's got 'science' in the title, but it's also an MA, not an MSc, so that's not 100% reassuring. But let's not get distracted by that*.

So, here's is my critique of this experiment, and why I disagree with the 'findings' that cows can be amused by comedians.


This wasn't written down anywhere that I could see, so I have to make conclusions based on what I saw in the video. It seems like the cows were herded towards a stage constructed in the middle of a field, and Milton Jones performed to them. My questions about this would be as follows;

  • Was there an interval between the cows being corralled and the performance starting? The sensation of being herded towards an unfamiliar construct would be likely to cause levels of activity in the subjects that could obscure the behavioural responses being assessed.
  • Why were there so few independent variables? 'Comedy' is known to have a very subjective component. Even if cows are capable of expressing amusement, there's no guarantee they would be amused by the surreal whimsy of Milton Jones. A repeat of the experiment with Frankie Boyle, Stewart Lee, Michael McIntyre etc. may provide a more robust assessment of whether cows can be amused.
  • In a similar vein, was it just comedians used? The cows are in a unique situation, were there measures in place to rule out the novelty of the situation as the main factor eliciting responses, rather than amusement? Did Milton Jones read out a tax return form at some point, or recite from the phone book? This would have shown whether the cows were actually understanding what was being said and not just 'laughing' at his hairstyle. Alternatively, was the behaviour of the subjects assessed when there was nobody on the stage? Some calibration and standardisation wouldn't have gone amiss.
  • Was this experiment repeated with multiple herds? The one herd used may have been more/less open to amusing stimuli than others. Or they may have been pissed. That makes a difference with comedy sometimes.


Bruce Woodacre is a cow expert. He has 'spent 40 years of [his] life trying to understand cows'. This immediately leads to thinking 'WHY?!?!' This also causes me to have some concerns as to the extent and nature of Bruce's 'interest' in cows. Seems a bit overenthusiastic, if I'm being brutally honest.

He also promotes different approaches to cow management on his website, and uses the term 'holistic' at one point, which is enough to make any scientist twitch nervously these days. I've also found examples of him saying that it's important to put yourself 'in the mind of a cow'. I don't really know how to do this. I tried, but after 5minutes of thinking about cud and grass I just got too bored to continue.

So, I'm sure Bruce knows a lot about cows. But this does not make him an expert behavioural analyst. I myself have spent much of my life in or around cars. However, I am not a mechanic.

There are several points in Bruce's expert analysis that I take issue with. These are as follows:

  • "This cow is a heckler. She doesn't like what Milton's saying. She doesn't think he's funny at all"

Said cow was seemingly chewing cud and moving her head around, in a manner much like most of the other cows in the video. She's also remaining audibly silent, which is not a form of 'heckling' any comic would recognise. Bruce is probably right in saying the cow doesn't think Milton's funny, in that the cow doesn't have any mental concept of what's 'funny' as we'd recognise it, and that goes double for the concept of 'heckling'. It also doesn't speak or understand English. Even if it could, it's spent its entire life in a cow rearing facility, so can't really grasp the social and/or cultural references that make Milton's (or anyone else's) jokes work. The reasons for all this can be explained by one simple fact; It's a cow, not a human.

  • "I don't think a cow laughs in the same way as a human does".

It wouldn't, Bruce. It's a cow. Have you seen any evidence anywhere that they laugh at all? Please provide references if so.

  • "[The cows] display signs that they wouldn't normally display. The position of its ears, its' rate of breathing, things like that, which could well be interpreted as laughter".

I'd be surprised if they weren't displaying signs they wouldn't normally display. Normally, they wouldn't be corralled into a field and forced into a small area in front an unfamiliar artificial structure and have a human in a flamboyant shirt make noises at them through a microphone. When animals are exposed to unfamiliar scenarios, they behave in ways that they wouldn't normally in situations they are familiar with. All these things could well be interpreted as laughter. They could also be interpreted as fear, confusion, curiosity, irritation, indigestion, stomach parasites, impatience, thirst, hunger or a response to any sensation or feeling an animal is capable of

  • "Another example, a pair of cows that are certainly paying attention to Milton…"

In the clip used, the cows in question are clearly paying attention to the camera in their face. Unless they had serious budget issues, I'm guessing it wasn't Milton Jones who was doing the filming. If he's referring to the fact that the cows in question are close to the front of the stage, this is undoubtedly what happens when you're forcibly moved into an area and have several dozen of your co-creatures (each weighing the best part of a ton) pushed in behind you. Admittedly, they may well be paying attention to Milton. He's an unfamiliar thing in an unfamiliar situation. Animals that don't pay attention to things like that are usually dealt with harshly by evolution.

  • "…and that one is showing clear signs of amusement".

'That one' has its mouth open. If that's a sign of amusement, I'm guessing cows find food hilarious. It does look like it's smiling, admittedly, but remember Bruce just said "I don't think a cow laughs in the same way as a human does". Inconsistency there, Bruce? What sort of cow expert are you, man!

  • "[This experiment] has been very useful. No, cows can't laugh in the same way as humans can, but we've shown they can show amusement, and that's got to be worthwhile".

You haven't shown that Bruce. You've shown that you can take some ambiguous footage and speculate wildly about what it means, and then bizarrely make firm conclusions based on these speculations. As for worthwhile, if this conclusion was accurate and cows can indeed perceive and understand jokes and humour delivered by a surreal English-speaking comic, then this would undeniably prove that they are thinking, intelligent beings capable of the complex logical processing required to appreciate jokes and recognise the structural elements that make them humorous. This would mean the cattle trade is responsible for the mass slaughter of thinking, intelligent, emotional beings like most die-hard vegans already think it is. I sincerely doubt the dairy and meat industries (who seem to pay Bruce's wages) would consider this finding 'worthwhile'.

I know I'm taking this far too seriously, but this is the worst example of utter bullshit (appropriately) science and ridiculous conclusions that I've yet seen. There's no indication that the analysis is a knowing joke or parody, it's presented as straight up fact. The publicity stunt would have been just as effective, possibly more so, without this horrendous attempt to make it seem scientifically valid. I think Bruce Woodacre has crossed the line, and is making claims that are not just exaggerated or cynically worded, but flat out wrong. He may disagree, and that's his prerogative.

After all, what do I know? I'm no cow expert.

Utter Bullshit.

* = Turns out, "Cambridge awards BAs that magically become MAs- for all disciplines". Why? Don't know, but there you go.

Email: Humourology (at) live

Twitter: @garwboy

Sunday, 29 May 2011

On your marks…

My wife is currently doing some exam marking, for the module she lectures in. She's also swearing a lot more than usual. I'm not sure if these two things are related, but it seems likely. Admittedly, marking large volumes of work is quite an annoying process, but one that needs doing. I know, as I've done a lot of marking myself in the past, and may be doing some more very soon if the Medical Psychology students I lectured opt to answer the questions based around my lectures. While I'd be pleased if they did, they may wish not to, as I can be somewhat puritanical when it comes to marking work.

Unlike a lot of my peers, once I got into it, I actually got to quite enjoy marking. Be it essay assignments, exams or practical reports, I got to do it at some point. For those of you who may not know, it's standard practice (in Cardiff University at least, but I'm told it's the norm elsewhere) to get postgraduate students to do a lot of the day to day marking in return for some extra cash or, in these constrained financial times, magic beans, or the opportunity to spend an evening with their family or loved ones who are struggling to remember what they look like these days.

I've never marked anything submitted by School students (G.C.S.E's, A-levels, finger paintings etc.), so my experience is solely in the Higher Education realm, but it's still quite an education to do some marking (excuse the deliberate irony of that statement). It's a bit worrying for some people, when they find out that the assessing of students work in Universities is done like this. Most people see Universities as big places where students go to be taught useful things in exchange for increasingly ridiculous fees, so it's disconcerting to hear that the assessment of the students output, which surely should be of primary importance since a) That is the function of the University, and b) they've saddled themselves with a lifetime of debt in order to pay for the privilege of being assessed, is a task which is handed down the ladder of responsibility until it reaches the bottom rung, namely the postgraduate students who don't have anyone else to dump it onto and are desperate enough for money to actually do it.

It's also weird and alarming to some people how the marks for a group of students are invariably adjusted to fit a predetermined pattern, usually the famous bell-curve, or normal distribution. It's assumed that all students in year will have a normal distribution of marks. In fact, it's assumed to thoroughly that it's actually made to happen every time. Too many students failing suggests the course isn't being taught properly or efficiently. Too many getting high marks suggests the assessment process is too easy, and therefore invalid. These things can risk an institutions funding in the long run, so they don't happen. This may seem a bit harsh. In a year that has an unlikely but still plausible number of driven, intelligent students who all score well on exams, the threshold for outstanding marks is increased so that only a 'normal' number of students achieve this. On the flip side, I know of several people who have final degree scores that even they agree they didn't really earn, because too many people got low marks and the standard for a higher mark was lowered.

But everyone does this, it's prevalent in our society. Even something as widely varying as intelligence is decided by the bell curve. The average intelligence of a population is 100. No more, no less. If 99% of the people in the country suffered blows to the heads tomorrow and lost half their cognitive abilities, the average IQ of the country would still be 100. It would just be a lesser 100 than it was previously. So any so-called scientists claiming that other races have IQ's lower than 100 is talking out of his arse from the off. Saying a country/society/race has an average IQ of less than 100 is like saying the metre there is 80cm long; it doesn't work like that. Although if they say they've marked student papers in that country, I can understand why they might feel like that.

I jest, of course. It's not a bad job, even if it does cut into an already overloaded postgraduate schedule. The lecturers and professors are busy with more important things, such as writing grant applications, shouting at postgraduates, and writing grant applications. But I actually grew to quite enjoy the whole process, to the point where I actually got complaints about my marking at one point. As a neuroscience postgraduate in a Psychology department, I got handed a lot of the marking for all the neuroscience and bioscience students doing psychology modules, of which there was a worryingly large number (worrying, in that I found it out after I'd agreed to do the marking). There were only two of us doing it one year, myself and my office mate. He was a great bloke, but more interested in doing actual research than marking the scribblings of undergraduates (which is unarguably the way it should have been for me too, but there we go). He was also French. Not just regular French, but French to the point of cliché in many ways. E.g. constantly playing the 'Amelie' soundtrack in the office, and having an authentic 'hee-hon hee-hon!' laugh. But more to the point, English wasn't his first language. His English was fine, better than mine in many respects, but when you're trying to read dozens of documents that you don't really care about, written by inexperienced authors using technical terms in a language that isn't your native tongue, I can't imagine your eye for detail is going to be that focussed.

I felt differently. I was a lazy student in my undergraduate years, to the point where if I could meet myself as I was back then I'd not hesitate to give myself a thorough beating to hopefully knock some sense into myself. Causality-violating autobeatings aren't an option though, so I have to do the next best thing; discourage that sort of behaviour in others via the medium of intense scrutiny in marking. This eventually resulted in a complaint being made about me to the course supervisor who, unluckily for them, was my PhD supervisor. Apparently, half the group of students were upset that the marks they were getting from me (overzealous and through) were lower than the others were getting from my office mate (French, busy elsewhere, didn't care). They felt this was unfair. The fact that there was an imbalance between the average marks they received and the ones who got the lower marks felt they were being treated unfairly to the point of officially complaining tells you everything you need to know about your typical British student. I'm not being deliberately patronising, odds are I would have done the exact same in their position. But I was the one who was following the marking scheme, so their objections to getting lower marks had no actual grounding for anyone to do anything about it. I never heard any more of this, presumably the students didn't bring it up again lest the focus turn to why the other group are getting higher marks than would be expected.

So I carried on marking, drunk on the insane power granted to me to directly influence the success of students who mimicked my own actions, in a veritable orgy of self-loathing and megalomania. Long may it continue.

And so, a lighter note to end on. In my experience, a typical piece of work is from an undergraduate student that falls into at least one of several categories. Marking is a long, repetitive and rather boring chore, but I you're keeping score with something that does help to break the monotony. So if you find yourself in the position of assessing students in this manner, make yourself a scorecard and see if you can fill it. Or even better, if you are a student who is writing something that is due to be assessed, check over your work and see if you fall into one of these categories.


The LOTL student is not necessarily a bad student, just one who doesn't really have a great deal of this 'application' going on. Typically, a student it equipped with handbooks and notes explaining how essays, practical reports and exams work once they're signed up to a course, and are regularly told important details and requirements for successful writing. The LOTL student will observe all of these requirements but completely fail to show any evidence of appreciating why they're necessary, or what they even mean in some cases. An integral study or report is cited, but after a vague or generalised section which is only peripherally linked to what that study is about. The report sections are all in the right order and format, but don't contain much in the way of useful information. Diagrams are presented in the specific, required manner despite having no bearing on the matter being discussed.

At some point in their education, a LOTL student usually just have an epiphany and 'get it', and become a reliable, decent student. Until then, they can be quite amusing to read. The best LOTL example I got was regarding references. This being a scientific report, it had been repeatedly explained how important proper referencing is. The issue of referencing websites had also been raised, and it was made clear that it's a judgement call, but it's unwise to use anything that's not properly edited or peer-reviewed for accuracy or authenticity. One LOTL student had obviously grasped the importance of the referencing, but not understood the whole thing about reliable sources. His/her references read as follows.

  1. [Main Module Textbook]


Maybe it's a side-effect of too many pro-plus, maybe some students find certain things far more interesting than others, maybe it's just genuine mood swings or varying temperament. Whatever the cause, some students display wildly varying levels of quality and care in a single piece of work. This is baffling, and a little distracting. A beautifully structured introduction section can be a followed by a methods section which is essentially them saying "this iz wot we dunn for the asperiment!" One question answered in an exam paper will be a work of genius, another could be just as worthwhile if written in crayon. It's possible that these students assume that the effort they put into one great section will drag the average up, so the other sections/parts don't need such thorough scrutiny. They're right in some cases, but the disparity itself will work against them. It's a seemingly unavoidable fact that any examiners that markers will always assess a piece of work in comparison to others they've marked recently. A very good section will only serve to underscore how bad the poorer sections are.

This is assuming that the piece isn't actually the work of two separate students, or one with a split personality. If the handwriting changes drastically as well, then it's worth considering these possibilities.


Writing at an academic level can be a bit of an adjustment, particularly for the scientific disciplines. You have to refine your style to be as neutral as possible, while including all the relevant information and sources, and you have to do this as accurately as possible. Any conclusions or declarations you make have to be shown to be the carefully thought out result(s) of all the available information, and your argument has to be justified in comparison to the alternatives. Gut feelings, opinions and emotions are not really something you can include. Some students take a while to realise this. This is when you get flashes of feelings and opinions in something that should be more sterile than an OCD sufferer's toothbrush.

I've seen questionable scientific experiments described as 'completely pointless', dubious government decisions described as 'undeniably stupid', ethical principle violators that 'really should have known better', and so on. I've not seen perpetrators of seemingly sadistic psychological experiments referred to as 'psychotic uncaring bastards', but several times I've read papers where I wouldn't be surprised to see it. It's hard, separating yourself and your viewpoint entirely from what you're writing about, but if we don't learn to do that, what would we end up like? Homeopaths, that's what! And there's plenty of them already, no need to further dilute the supply [insert your own inevitable dilution joke here, I can't be bothered any more].


I imagine this one is more specific to the science fields, and it's quite ironic that 'non-terminological' is not a recognised term for describing students. NT students do seem to understand what's going and what they're supposed to be talking about, but also seem to have a blind spot when it comes to remembering the accepted terminology for scientific or technical measurements. I've seen students that switch from metric to imperial within the same paragraph. Science reports have to be as consistent with their details as possible, and the details have to be accurate. So when I see a practical report which says 'the experiment is over when the subjects face stops dissolving', I tend to get a bit alarmed. It was a visual phenomenon experiment, where the transference of a motion after-effect from one eye to the other was investigated. Once the phenomenon had been induced, the students had to look at the faces of their partners and observe the 'movement', so to speak. At no point was a highly corrosive substance liberally applied to the face of anyone involved. Such a manipulation would have no bearing on investigation of the motion after-effect, even if ethical approval could be obtained. Which is couldn't. So don't even ask.

It's often apparent that NT students know what they're talking about and what they mean to say, but they hamstring themselves by not being able to make this clear in the accepted fashion. You could argue that this is more the fault of a rigid, dogmatic assessment system that values format and style over actual demonstration of knowledge and understanding. You may be right, but I'm not going to get into that here, lest I end up sounding like Patch Adams. As a doctor who also tries to do comedy, that's a constant fear of mine.


A tangentizer student is, by and large, a good student. Often a very good student. A thorough, thoughtful and dedicated student. They even, horror of horrors, do background reading, sometimes with sources that aren't listed as required reading on the course handouts! They go the extra mile, in other words. Thing is though, they really want you to know that they've gone the extra mile. And more often than not, that mile is a straight line in the wrong direction. Undergraduate students haven't really refined that ability to incorporate several studies into one seamless narrative (no reason why they should have, I still haven't). As a result, a tangentizer student will go to ridiculous lengths to direct the narrative toward the very impressive study they found all by themselves, even when it has little or no bearing on the subject being discussed. It's understandable, you go to ridiculous lengths to discover something nobody else in your group will have found, you're going to want to make sure that it gets noticed and appreciated, right? Otherwise, you'll have put a lot of work and effort into something for no reward whatsoever, and that's not fair, is it? …is it?

Welcome to academia, kid.


You were a good student at A-levels, you know you've got this University lark figured out, but suddenly they're using a lot of unfamiliar terms, these lectures are making no sense and they're making you write things that you've no real idea about. When in doubt, what do you do? That's right; bullshit your way out of it! It's a common tactic, used by everyone at some point, to just sound like you know what you're talking about, try to blend in, and hopefully people will assume you know what you're talking about and leave you be. In group situations or in situations where everyone is doing that all the time (e.g. corporate trading), you can get away with this. However, in situation where your output is being scrutinised by some misanthropic bastard with a grudge (i.e. me) it stand out like a flaming clown on an iceberg, and is just as hilarious.

I'm obviously coming at this from a science background, but I'm sure it's just as ineffective in every field (more or less). When students include big words, complex terms and profound observations to show they understand what they're talking about, they invariably give the opposite effect. It seems that they're under the impression that their work will be assessed by a bored secretary or fellow student who has as much understanding of the subject matter as they do. Desperation, wishful thinking, or some bizarre manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect? Do these students think they can get away with this because anyone who assess their work will be, at most, as smart as them? Do they genuinely think their surreal observations will go unnoticed? I imagine it varies between students, but it does occasionally provide an opportunity for a cruel, cynical laugh when you're marking your umpteenth paper in a row. My personal favourite was again the motion after-effect reports. Some TB student decided to end his/her report with the obligatory profound summing-up of all the data by saying the following.

"It is often believed, quite wrongly, that the eye that is open is the one we see with". That's not belief isn't wrong, that statement is. It's not one I would have closed with.


And of course, you get the ones who just don't do the work. They submit something for ever assessment and exam, but you do sort of wonder why they bother. Pretty much always hand-written, which isn't against the rules, but discouraged as a) it's much harder to mark, and your marker becomes resentful, and b) there are invariably dozens of computers and printers available for students to use, if they're willing to leave the house. The latter is often too much for some people though, so we get hastily scribbled reports and essays, which are usually slightly-reworded versions of the core text, or practical experiment reports with barely a paragraph for each section, and a pencil graph for which a half-chewed beer matt served as a ruler.

If you want to go to University and not do the work, fine. It's your money at the end of the day, it's not a mandatory procedure. But why embarrass yourself and infuriate your assessors by doing less than the bare-minimum of work required to even stay on the course. It is, quite literally, a waste of time for all concerned. Some people work hard to get into university and never make it, so if you're not going to take it seriously at all why not work out some sort of exchange programme like in the Prince and the Pauper? I won't have to mark shit work, and you might get a made-for-TV film out of it.

I swear once I got handed in a paper that had cat footprints on it. If it had been used to line a litter box, I'd understand. It was already covered in shit, might as well go for broke.

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The 10 Commandments: 2.0

21st of May, next week, is the end of the World. Apparently. Biblically speaking, anyway. And I find there's nothing like a looming deadline to realise all the things you haven't done. If the reality predictions are wrong, then it'll become clear that the Bible and associated religions need to be updated. If the rapture does occur, then we only have a few days to show the almighty vengeful God who embodies all peace and love on goodness that we have been paying attention all along, and what better way to do that than by reworking the religious teachings so that they still apply to modern society?

Granted, there are probably hundreds of better ways, e.g. going to church, praying devoutly for hours a day, and suddenly setting fire to your homosexual or alternative-faith friends. But that sounds like a lot of work and expense (petrol alone is ridiculously expensive these days, whether you use it for travelling/burning). But none of those make for a particularly interesting/legal blog. We already have a secular Bible thanks to AC Grayling, but in today's modern fast-paced society, who has time to sit and read a massive book? Even if it's presented via a 'cool' high-tech medium. But more and more of us seem to be coming more rational and dismissive of religion, so an attempt to incorporate science and reason into the Bible, although counterintuitive, is probably essential, as Grayling has noticed. Especially with, you know, the rapture and that. But in this culture we need sound bites, summaries and abstracts.

I've always felt like the 10 commandments are like the 'blurb' of the Old Testament. Easy to remember, quick to read, generally useful pointers for daily life. But you could easily argue they're outdated, considered by most of society to be less outright 'rules' and more 'rules of thumb'. A good example of a rule of thumb would be 'never base a cliché on wife beating', but that's beside the point. As a result, I reckon the 10 Commandments are ripe for a new version, a full overhaul, to make them applicable and useful for modern times. The originals were read on a tablet, so it seems ideal really.

So, what are the 10 Commandments, why are they outdated, and why should they be updated


"I am the Lord your God, thou shall have no other gods before Me.

Obviously, this one comes first. It's good business sense, God at the time was new and fledgling, so the first he'd need to do was make sure his followers stayed loyal. Even today's trendy modern youngsters can get their heads round this, judging by the number of hysterical overreactions I've seen when someone loses a facebook friend or twitter follower. But although logical, it's not necessarily accurate. Longer versions of this commandment specify that God freed Moses and his gang from Egypt, where there was a veritable plethora of Gods. And the Greeks, and Romans, and those in the Middle East, and India, and China, and so on. There were loads of Gods before God. But I understand that it's not saying God was the first God, but that you 'shall have no God before me'. But technically, this rules out people converting to Christianity, which doesn't seem like something they'd agree with. It essentially is the Bible hanging a 'no girls allowed' sign on the door of it's clubhouse (which doesn't sound too far from the truth, actually), so is effectively ignored. This seems to encapsulate up a general and worrying tendency of many people to selectively adhere to the truths that are convenient for them, while discarding others which are equally valid but less convenient. Whether religious or not, it's important to acknowledge and accept facts. If you believe God is the true God because it says so in the Bible, then the rest of the stuff in the Bible should be equally valid, especially if it's by the same author. Likewise, if you believe something because a 'scientist' said it, then other scientists should have just as valid a claim to say it's nonsense. If one scientist says something, but if hundreds or thousands of more qualified scientists in the same or even more relevant fields say the first scientist is wrong, you can't just ignore them (see antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists, global warming deniers and David Icke). So, in order to maintain adherence to these commandments and the rules they lay down, and discourage mad behaviour and beliefs, the first Commandment becomes

Updated: Thou shall not accept some truths and ignore equivalent truths on the basis of convenience and preconceived notions.


You shall not make for yourself any engraven images, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.

This seems like a re-emphasis of the first commandment. It reads like 'Seriously, I'm the only God you're allowed to have. I don't care if you make it yourself, it's not a God, I am'. I guess people worshipping home-made objects was a big problem in the old days. Although you could argue it's persisted somewhat. It's quite grating to be around anyone who owns multiple iPhones and sees Steve Jobs as some kind of Techno-deity. These Macolytes even have their own churches and rally's, all for the worship of small flat plastic things. And how many manufactured bands or celebrities are famous purely by dint of the media surrounding them? Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, they clearly aren't normal humans as we know it so clearly have been engineered in some way, and yet they are adored without question. This goes for the self-help gurus, radical scientists, alt-med practitioners, and so much more. Obsession and fanatical adoration of non-real or non-genuine people and things is as rife as ever. Perhaps with a bit less emphasis on religion and home crafts, this one's a keeper.

Updated: Thou shall not worship or praise without question anyone or anything, unless you have a bloody good reason for doing so.


Thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…

Basically, don't bad-mouth God. On that count, I'm earned a number of extra eternities in the pit of fiery torture for this blog alone. But these days, when people say things like 'Oh, God' or 'Jesus Christ!', it's not people actively wanting to disparage religious icons, it's just our language has evolved to the point where the original blasphemous nature has been replaced by a pure frustration or surprise at what is undoubtedly not a spiritual or miraculous event. But restricting what people say in this manner runs completely contrary to freedom of speech. Stopping people saying things on the ground that you 'don't like it' isn't really on at all (despite the best efforts of some). You being offended by something is no excuse to stop something happening, unless the thing being said is being said purely to upset and offend and has no logic or merit outside of that. Unfortunately, the ease of communication these days means this sort of thing is very common and easy to do, and there are many who clearly feel some satisfaction from being anonymously and pointlessly insulting to complete strangers. Freedom of speech is one thing, but freedom to be a pointlessly vindictive twat? I don't think anyone gave their lives for that.

Updated: Thou shall not Troll (even on youtube)


Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The Sabbath is not so holy these days, not since Wetherspoons started opening on Sundays. Also, given that the Sabbath immediately follows Saturday nights, it's unlikely that anything particularly holy or spiritual occurs to most people. Not in the mornings, anyway, although many will probably have made vows and religious proclamations while embracing the porcelain. But there are always complaints of things being too hectic lately, to fast paced, too stressed, so an emphasis on relaxation is probably a good idea. Less stress means less anger, less violence and less intoxication.

Updated: Remember to use all your allotted annual leave before the end of the working year.


Honour your father and your mother.

A reasonable point, be good to your parents. A more cynical person could view this as an attempt to make sure people are subservient to a higher authority, and then God becomes our 'Father' and gets indirect respect an obedience via a learned reflex. Lucky I'm not cynical, then. This can lead to abuse and bad results though. People from broken homes and/or who have parents that really shouldn't be allowed near lamp posts, let alone children, they're bound by this rule to honor and obey the people who birthed them for no reason other than a biological fluke. But also, it is not always parents who raise you or help you out, it can be foster homes, or just good friends. And the father and mother thing suggests it only applies to typical heterosexual couples, not same sex couples. Christianity doesn't much like the idea of same sex marriage anyway, it seems, but what if you want to obey this commandment but have two mothers or two fathers. Do you respect one and subject the other to constant streams of hideously abusive language? If so, how do you choose which one? I think this commandment actually needs to be less specific.

Updated: Honour those who have honoured you, for whatever reason.


Thou shall not murder.

Somewhat hard to argue with this one. And yet, what with all the killings in the name of religious ideals, it seems like some people still can't quite get the hand of it. Some people write it as 'Thou shall not kill'. Still, same lack of understanding. Perhaps it doesn't count as killing or murdering if it's someone who's not part of your religion? Well, we can't have that these days, the streets would literally be filled with blood, and many other gristly, hairy, horrible bits, no doubt. No, this commandment should be made more encompassing so that nobody has a get-out clause or a way of interpreting it so as to give some ambiguity. Also, it could take into account the rise of technology, seamlessly melding with another set of established rules.

Updated: Thou shall not injure or kill another human being, or through inaction allow another human being to come to harm


Thou shall not commit adultery.

Again, one that seems perfectly reasonable in isolation. Did you promise to marry and stay with someone forever? Yes? Do you want to have sex with other people as well? Yes? Well, don't! That's cruel and rather gittish. But once again people can interpret this in rather worrying ways. By specifying adultery, it's possibly implied that other forms of negative sexual behaviour are fine. Technically, rape is not adultery if you're not married, so it's ok? No, of course it's not. But it's not specified. And we all know what some priests (self-proclaimed unmarried, chaste men) get up to with children under their care. So although I agree with the point of this one, lets enhance it so it applies to, you know, everyone.

Updated: Thou shall not engage in any form of sexual behaviour with someone who is not willing or mature enough to allow you to do so


Thou shall not steal.

Yup, can't argue that. Might benefit from a bit of clarifying to encompass modern definitions of 'stealing' though.

Updated: Thou shall not steal, and that includes plagiarism, proclaiming that somebody else's property was actually yours to begin with without considerable supporting evidence, and illegally pirating materials from a body or source that is not sufficiently successful, powerful or evil to warrant it.


Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

I think this one is about lying about your neighbour, and neighbour being a catch-all term for 'someone else who categorically isn't you'. So basically, don't tell lies about other people. I can get on board with that. Seems to be a nasty habit of politicians and lobbying groups the world over. It boils down to people wanting something to happen (or not happen) and being unable to achieve this without removing or discrediting someone who is preventing this thing from happening (or causing it), so they shift blame or cast discrediting aspersions like a bunch of dicks. This sort of behaviour is pathetic and offensive, but also insidious and ingrained in many systems in society, so should be covered by a more sweary commandment to emphasise the point.

Updated: Thou shall deal with your own shit yourself or shut the fuck up about it, and not falsely blame others like a twat


Thou shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour's.

Although an essentially well-meant commandment, it's not exactly practical any more. Although it's probably spiritually beneficial to not want things other people have, and to be happy with what you've got an look for some peace in that, if everyone stuck to this rule there's a really good chance that our capitalist economy will collapse. It's still getting itself together after that last time that nearly happened, it's in no fit state to risk it again. People wanting things they don't have is normal and human, and somewhat to be encouraged as it encourages them to work harder. It's the people who just want things for no other reason than greed or status, that's not good or helpful to anyone. Especially when, as is the case worryingly often, they are in charge of banks; or, in several cases, countries. And I also don't like the way that wives and servant are bundled in with inanimate objects and pack animals. That can't be good for the people involved.

Updated: Thou shall not seek to obtain anything or anyone that you are not entitled by virtue of your own efforts only (N.B. being born in privileged circumstances does not classify as 'your own efforts')

So there we are, here are the 10 commandments, updated for modern times.

  1. Thou shall not accept some truths and ignore equivalent truths on the basis of convenience and preconceived notions
  2. Thou shall not worship or praise without question anyone or anything, unless you have a bloody good reason for doing so.
  3. Thou shall not Troll (even on youtube)
  4. Remember to use all your allotted annual leave before the end of the working year
  5. Honour those who have honoured you, for whatever reason
  6. Thou shall not injure or kill another human being, or through inaction allow another human being to come to harm
  7. Thou shall not engage in any form of sexual behaviour with someone who is not willing or mature enough to allow you to do so
  8. Thou shall not steal, and that includes plagiarism, proclaiming that somebody else's property was actually yours to begin with without considerable supporting evidence, and illegally pirating materials from a body or source that is not sufficiently successful, powerful or evil to warrant it.
  9. Thou shall deal with your own shit yourself or shut the fuck up about it, and not falsely blame others like a twat
  10. Thou shall not seek to obtain anything or anyone that you are not entitled by virtue of your own efforts only (N.B. being born in privileged circumstances does not classify as 'your own efforts')

There you go. Feel free to read, ignore and trust your own better judgement immediately. And yes, I did get a lot of these commandments from The Simpsons. So don't go trusting my theology on this or anything related. Just so you know.

P.S. See comments for corrections of my (no doubt numerous) mistakes and misinterpretations. It's the Bible, baby! Happens to the best of us (a group to which I can only aspire to)

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

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