Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz


Media manipulation from Hillsborough to Leveson

Soho Skeptics


Chris Atkins is probably best known for his documentary film Starsuckers and he told us a bit about how it came to be and some of what’s happened since at the first Soho Skeptics event last week.

Chris pointed out that his talk could probably be summed up by one story that was doing the rounds that day – that of Brian Cox supposedly slamming the BBC for not letting them listen for alien transmissions live on air, lest it conflict with editorial guidelines…

But moving on to the talk for real, we started with documentaries. What is their purpose? They should communicate truths to the audience. Chris cited 3 of his favourites as Fog of War, Man on Wire, and Inside Job. However, he likes to do the opposite; tell the story through lies in order to expose people.

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John Maddox Prize 2012

Comments on this post are now closed – thank you to all civil contributors!

Last night I was lucky to be at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for the annual Sense About Science reception.

I am a member of Voice of Young Science, which is a network set up and supported by SAS that allows young scientists to get involved with pro-science activism. Through this group, we are able to participate in public-facing discourse about science and challenge common misconceptions. This takes the form of supporting campaigns (such as Libel Reform) and contributing to publications. For example, I picked up a copy of Peer Review: the nuts and bolts last night because I joined discussions about its content and aims. Anyone young scientists who’d like to, definitely sign up!

Many of us London-based VOYS members went along last night to show our support for SAS and the RPS, and to find out who won the first John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. Sir John Maddox was a long-term editor of Nature and helped expand Sense About Science as a charity, supporting and encouraging its work, as well as helping to establish programmes like VOYS.

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Libel Reform update: 3 years on


A couple of years back I attended a Skeptics in the Pub meeting in Holborn at which Dave Gorman and Prof Brian Cox came to support Simon Singh. He had been served a libel threat by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for criticising claims from chiropractors about curing colic in babies and so on. A dangerous claim to make, and, as Simon put it, a “bogus” one.

Fortunately, Simon won his case. Others haven’t been so lucky, and more threats are being issued.

There are many problems with the UK libel laws – lots of background information can be found here at libelreform.org and I’ve written some posts over the years (really rather a lot of posts actually), if you’re interested in past events.

Essentially libel laws are often used to silence fair, necessary and important criticism. People without the money to fight these hideously expensive cases tend to just give up. Individuals are bullied by large corporations, medical debates are stifled, unethical behaviour is hidden.

The libel reform campaign has been set up and run by the three charities, Sense About Science, English Pen and Index on Censorship. Two years ago there was the Big Libel Gig, to fundraise for victims of libel threats.

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I think it’s time for me to say something on this subject. It is after all very closely related to my current… vocation (if one can call it that, being a PhD student still!) and impacting directly on some of my friends.

One of those friends is my co-host of our long-neglected podcast, Super Duper Woo-Fighting Duo (With Capes)! – Rhys Morgan.

Edit: even BoingBoing is on it this evening!


Feel free to scroll down to ‘The Threats‘ and ‘Some Interesting Correspondence‘ sections if you know all this…

The subject is one Stanislaw Burzynski, based in Houston, Texas. He offers an experimental treatment (though to call it that is probably a bit generous) to cancer patients called “Antineoplaston Therapy”. These antineoplastons are claimed to be peptides (bits of protein – though they’re generally not, technically – see comment 11 for more) found in urine. When a difference between cancer patients’ and healthy individuals’ urine peptide profile was found, an assumption was made that cancer sufferers were lacking these protein chunks and therefore replacing them should be an effective cure. A list of his patents and publications can be found here. This NYT article is extensive and demonstrates the shocking wealth accumulated:

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The 3rd Perspective

In the spheres of skepticism and alternative health there are two main perspectives we encounter:

The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’

1)      That of the incredulous skeptic who insists all is bullshit, gets angry at the quacks and tries to stop them peddling rubbish at gullible people.

2)      The alt med proponents; be they sellers or consumers, they aggressively try to persuade you that it works and big pharma/your doctor are lying to you and the global conspiracy has suppressed all the ‘natural cures’.

Of course there are various severities of those views, stronger and milder, but they’re the most prominent types.

The Ugly?

However, there is a point of view that receives less attention. The sufferers of chronic incurable conditions whose friends and family, often merely out of care and concern, insist on telling them about this or that treatment/remedy/ritual/product that will make them better or even cure them.

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One Year On: Libel Reform Update

December 2nd 2010 at the Free Word Centre: an update on the progress of the Libel Reform

all-important refreshments


Hosted by Jonathan Haewood of English Pen, John Kampfner of Index on Censorship and Tracey Brown of Sense About Science.

English pen have their photos from the evening on Flickr; I managed to avoid being in any of them this time!

From the literature distributed at the event:

The One Year On event follows weeks of further revelations of the impacts of the libel laws:

– Plastic surgeon Dr Dalia Nield was threatened with libel action by the manufacturer of a ‘Boob Job’ cream for saying she was concerned the product was potentially dangerous*

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Libel Reform is ongoing

Hello all. It’s been a horrible week for free speech in the UK; look into Paul Chambers’ #twitterjoketrial (and #iamspartacus!) for the main example.

Sorry I do not have time to do a more personal take on this at the moment, but do read and pass this on because it’s important and I’d love you more if you did :)

The Mass Libel Reform Blog

Fight for Free Speech!

This  week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

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