Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Some Views of "A Skeptical Look at Atheism"

As many of you are aware we had Professor Andy McIntosh come and talk to us at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub on “A Skeptical Look at Atheism”. Andy is an Emeritus Professor in Physics, specialising in thermodynamics and is also a Young Earth Creationist on the speakers list for Answers in Genesis. His talk was, to say the least, different to the usual that we have at Skeptics in the Pub. The Q and A session wasn’t nearly enough to address everybody’s questions and comments and so we thought we would crowd-source a few for interest. I was going to summarise and edit the views sent in but I don’t think I can do that fairly and keep all the excellent points that the contributors made. I apologise therefore for this mammoth post but please stick with it as there are some great points made and some interesting news at the end.

Our first review came from Andy McIntosh himself via none other than Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis! Surely we’re the first Skeptics in the Pub group to get a review by that particular person. Imagine if we could get him over to talk!

You can read Andy’s
review here, he seems to have enjoyed his opportunity of preaching to the largely unconverted and was happy that his combination of scientific and philosophical argument was listened to and may have planted seeds of faith.

Lets contrast that with this excellent review sent in by Mil:

OK, before I start I should mention that I didn't stop for the second, Q&A part. I needed to catch a train - I don't live in Birmingham, because, given the choice, you don't live in Birmingham.

The thing about Professor McIntosh's talk - and I honestly don't say this to mock - is that it felt like watching someone go incrementally insane. Putting aside his opener about the feather (presumably included because he could not resist catching Richard Dawkins saying that he, Dawkins, had 'faith' in something), the first half of the lecture was informative and within striking distance of well-reasoned.  Whether one finds McIntosh's conclusions sound and persuasive or not, it did address the matter of the creationist invocation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as a bar to evolution. The typical response to a creationist saying entropy must increase is to simply reply by finishing the sentence - 'in a closed (or isolated) system'. And that's generally the end of it: the creationist goes off to find another half of a sentence to use, and you can sit back and have a biscuit while you wait. Professor McIntosh explained why such a brisk dismissal of his position mischaracterised it. He, of course, is aware of what the law states and that the Earth isn't an isolated system; his argument rests, rather, on energy that's 'useable' by what he refers to as 'machines'. This is all fair enough as a clarification of a subtler argument, drawing on established scientific principles and so on.

That was the starting point. The finish was that Jesus is our Lord and the eye-witness accounts in the Bible prove it.

It really was like watching someone descend into delusion before your eyes. My internal response to the things he was saying followed this sort of path: "OK... Ahhh... Um... Eh...? What...? *What*...? WHAT...? ARGGGHHH!" At the beginning what he's saying at least appears plausibly worth addressing; in the middle he's, for example, telling us that atheists have no response to the arguments CS Lewis puts forward in 'Miracles' (so he's now reached what one might - generously - call 'shaky ground'); by the end it's the kind of stuff that wouldn't fly in a Year 10 classroom debate - I expected at any moment to hear the words 'Pascal's Wager', 'There are more of us than you', and 'Hitler'.

Professor McIntosh seems like a decent chap, he has genuinely-held beliefs, he's laudably keen to engage with those of differing views, and he's no doubt orders of magnitude a better mathematician than I am. Yet as the talk went on his reasoning simply fell to bits in breath-taking fashion. The room listened, and everyone really, really wanted to be polite, but towards the end there was a distinct rippling noise from the crowd - no one was actually interrupting, it was rather the sound of two hundred people all furiously trying to bite their tongues.

It was great to have a speaker who wasn't preaching to the choir, though. I'm very glad the Birmingham SitP invited Professor McIntosh, and I'm glad I went to listen. I have, however, not changed my position on the place of 'Intelligent Design' in school science lessons.”

It might come as a surprise to some but not all the skeptic regulars are atheists. One of our greatest supporters is the wonderful Abby who sent us this review from a Christian Skeptic perspective:

“As Christians neither me nor the friends who joined me on Weds, are literal creationists, and I have heard that nearly all mainstream Christians within the sciences refute creationism too (one even wrote of being cured of it) so I had my doubts as to how we’d find the evening, but that particular argument wasn’t really dwelled on during the evening. As I’m not highly qualified in science, here’s a more technical response from a couple of my friends who came along from church,  one’s a physics  teacher, and one’s a biologist, currently doing a PhD in immunology.

Both friends said that there was nothing contained within the evening that they hadn’t already thought about themselves. However, they said the science did seem to have a point:

The physics teacher says that indeed, "Thermodynamics says that entropy will always increase (everything tends to a state of maximum disorder) - which is seen in nature (physics at least).

The biologist tells me; in agreement with a sceptical counter-argument I heard following the talk, that entropy actually increases the amount of information. However, she said we have to ask ourselves what kind information there is in random noise, something structured / self-producing... It’s all very well it being 'information' but it’s got to be the right kind and that’s where the entropy argument comes in as it also refers to energy. To create the structures of life, you have to have energy.

However, both people, like myself, thought that the talk could have been presented in a much more clear and engaging way, making the relevance of what he was pointing out a little more self-evident (without needing a resident physicist and biologist on hand, guilty as charged). The biologist said “I was a little annoyed he didn't delve deeper. He was almost a little patronising constantly saying that he 'wouldn't go into that”. We all said we know this is difficult though, as by its very nature it’s specialist stuff, and he didn’t always have the time to expand.”

From our comments section Tituslivius gave us this succinct and pointed view of the night:

“I was expecting something a bit more heavyweight than this. I was mystified by one of the arguments presented (actually an ad-hominem attack) concerning Richard Dawkins' response to a question about the structure of a feather. We were only given half a sentence, without context, of what Dawkins was supposed to have said, and then invited to draw the inference that his entire stance was thereby compromised. Nothing was proved or even demonstrated by it. I would be interested to hear from people who stayed for the question session”

Also from the comments, Gurbie0 addressed some of the scientific and moral arguments presented by Professor McIntosh:

“His comment on how, according to an atheist view on the human mind (in that atheists don't believe in a separate 'soul' and our thoughts are just 'chemical reactions'), it would be possible to tell what someone was going to think using a large enough supercomputer was very interesting. I don't know enough about brain mapping or supercomputers to know whether this would be possible, but I can see how hypothetically it could be. However, even if it were possible I don't see what McIntosh's point was. He seemed to think that just because he found the idea disturbing that the idea was therefore flawed. He used a similar argument when talking about another aspect of the human mind, where he said that seeing humanity as 'chemical reactions' seemed 'miserable'. I'm sure some people do find the idea miserable, but that does not mean it's not true. Just because you don't like an idea does not decrease its validity.

He spoke about 'information', the point of which (as far as I understood it) was that a 'code' (such as that carried in DNA) could not exist unless a message existed prior to it. Then the message could be put into code, and then interpreted somewhere else. Of course if this were true then DNA could not have evolved or appeared naturally, as it would need a message provided by something else. McIntosh suggested that this initial message must have been provided by God. This idea can be debunked using a simple analogy: I, or a computer, could write down 20 entirely random letters, without any 'message' written into it or any code devised. This could then be given to someone, and that person could devise a random letter substitution system in order to 'decode' my sequence of letters (e.g. a=t, b=e, k=d). This, almost certainly, would just give a sequence of letters just as random as the original code. However, if the person did this 10 million times, devising a new decoding system every time, then one of those time would almost certainly result in a sentence with meaning, and 'information', even though the was no 'information' in the original code. That is how DNA could arise, with natural selection 'picking out' the meaningful sequences from the nonsense.

He seemed to think that atheism gave no explanation for 'morality' or altruism. Of course these things are easily explained by evolution, but since he had already decided the science proved evolution impossible he must not have considered this. He also assumed that atheists agreed with the idea that there is an absolute morality, which of course many do not, and many have very different ideas on the meaning of the term 'morality'.”

Our previous contributor Mil posted this response to Gurbie0’s comments:

“... your mention of McIntosh saying one could “tell what someone was going to think [in fact, be able to tell *everything*, not only thoughts, in advance] using a large enough supercomputer.” What he was doing there was simply giving a microprocessor face to ‘Laplace’s Demon’. The notion can be criticized on the basis of it being, mathematically, impossible for any such ‘all knowing predictive thing’ to exist. Which, IMHO, misses the point very badly – it’s like saying that ‘infinity’ is a false concept because you can’t build infinity as there’d be nowhere to put it. The other major criticism of it is that causal determinism is mugged by quantum randomness. Now, some argue that so called quantum randomness isn’t, or has not been demonstrated (and could never be demonstrated) to be truly random - Galen Strawson, for example. That, IMHO, again, misses the point too, though less badly. What’s at issue here is freewill, and introducing randomness doesn’t save freewill – chance is not choice. So, it doesn’t matter very much that you (and I) aren’t experts on brain mapping and supercomputers. You’re gleamingly correct: the real rubbing nub of the issue is McIntosh’s focus not on whether something is correct or not, but on whether it’s preferable. He might as well say, “Reality worries me, so I’m going to believe in something else instead.” Which – I’m sure you’re ahead of me here – could explain his position on quite a few other things too.”

Personally I wondered how somebody so sure about their ultimate answer (God) could look at any science totally objectively. It seemed to me that the science of the talk quickly gave way to his faith and that the latter was the stronger of the two. He obviously has a better grasp of physics than I do but to establish the kind of belief that he has you would have to discredit or ignore the consensus of scientists from multiple disciplines including geology, biology, astronomy and palaeontology to name but a few.

This topic is far from over and you don’t need to let me have this final word. You can continue to contribute to the discussion, we welcome any comments that you would like to make. For those of you that couldn’t make the event, or aren’t quite sure you did actually hear what you thought you heard, we’ve produced a DVD of the entire talk which should be available at our February meeting. It has a snazzy cover designed by Paul Bryant (@thebigyeti), photos by Simon Brettell (@simonbrettell) and video editing by Chris Richardson (@christheneck). You can watch the talk and the questions unedited, free to throw peanuts or shout at the screen from the comfort of your arm chair Let us know if you want a copy and we'll try to bring enough along. The cost will be £3 if you buy direct in person or with added cost for postage and packing if you live elsewhere. You can email us at skepticaldvds (at) gmail (dot) com or via our contact page.

We’re not uploading the talk because the speaker doesn’t want us to and because we don’t want to. We appreciate the work that our speakers put into their talks so if we do video them we’d rather not dilute their future impact by uploading, (although if it was a homeopath perhaps diluting would make it more effective). If you’re interested in buying one of the videos any profit made will, as always, be put back into Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub so that we can continue inviting great speakers and plan for even bigger and better future events.

Patrick (@paddyrex)

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Weekly Round Up w/e 22/01/2012

Howdy all and welcome once again to the Birmingham Skeptics weekly round up, gathering the good the bad and the faintly ridiculous from all corners of the web. I did think of having a lie in this week and just posting up a black page in protest to SOPA and PIPA, but with support for those measures rapidly waning I’d better just get on with it.

Let’s start with the trials and tribulations of Rhys Morgan. Not unaccustomed to having to defend his views Rhys found that the use of an image from the online cartoon JandMo as his Facebook status attracted the attention of people around him that had, at best, only an ironic grasp of the notion of freedom of speech. Rhys used the image in support of the UCL Secularist and Humanist Society who had been forced to take that image down and whose president resigned over the matter.

Rhys eventually had to remove the Facebook image after pressure from his school and a disgusting level of threat from his so-called peers but you can read about it on his blog and the clear and admirable way he addresses these issues. It’s difficult not to be reminded of the kind of horrific abuse that Jessica Ahlquist has been undergoing since beginning her stance to have a prayer banner removed from her school. There is a reasonable summary of events here, but have a scan down her blog to contrast her measured approach to that of those who pile invective and hate upon her.

Oh those crazy homeopaths always something to chuckle about with them. When they’re not treating aids with water and sugar pills, headaches with water and sugar pills in fact, most anything with water and sugar pills they’re providing all kinds of unscientific and damaging medical advice. Read these Short and Spiky posts here and here for a reminder of the sheer insanity of this ridiculous treatment. The second one is a whole new level of stupid.

It’s time to go down under for our next couple of items. No, we’re not talking about Australia; we’re talking derrieres and their emissions. In these days of heightened security and identity theft it’s good to know that scientists are unafraid to probe novel areas of recognition. And finally on this topic, have you ever stopped to consider astronaut flatulence? No, why not, are you weird or something?

Here’s a remarkable story of scientist, Paul Callaghan, trialling an alt med cure for cancer on himself. I’m not sure why he’s bothering though because as this post in the Telegraph explains, a mere lack of scientific evidence of effectiveness isn’t actually a lack of evidence of effectiveness, or some such nonsense.

There’s another twist on the ongoing Burzynski debacle from Andy Lewis over at the Quackometer. I don’t know why but the words to the Pseudo-Scientist’s Song pop into my head at this point. Andy’s just launched a Facebook page too so if you’re on that particular mode of social media head on over and “Like” it.

In an interesting sting Which? asked several nutritionists for health advice and found them sadly lacking. It’s a good read and well worth scanning down to the comments where we can see our old friend David Colqhoun performing his usual stirling defence of science. You can read his take on it over at his own blog.

I find that just balancing my budget is hard enough, but it must be even trickier for a whole US State. It’s good to know that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has his priorities so well sorted to guide him. “Get your coats on kids, we’re heading to Bible Land, don’t worry if you can’t read the signs you don’t need education in heaven.”

The very Welsh and wonderful Dean Burnett entertained us with not one, but two Guardian articles this week. Firstly he explained why Blue Monday is a depressing day of pseudoscience and humiliation, and then went on to challenge some PR guff masquerading as science. Good work that man!

Don’t forget that we have the Birmingham Skeptics Social coming up and not long after the wonderful Alice Sheppard will be entertaining us with her talk “When the Universe came to the People – Citizen Science for Skeptics” and it’d be wonderful to see you there.

They're not new but they are a lot of fun so we'll leave you with some of Richard Wisemans quirky science tricks.

This week's round up was put together by Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub co organiser Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) with helpful suggestions from regular attendee and all round great guy Roy Beddowes.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Weekly Round-Up w/e 15/1/12

Welcome to this week’s round up and well, would you take a look at us? We’ve broken through the 300 mark of people who ‘like’ us on Facebook and we’re pretty darn pleased with ourselves, however, there’ll be none of that dining in hell stuff for us tonight – no, sir. If you’d like to meet up for drinks though, have some interesting chat with some friendly people, share your views on the latest speaker maybe, then you could always come along to our next Brum Skeptics Social at the Square Peg, Corporation St. on January 24th at 7.00pm – loin cloths and daggers are, of course, optional.

Failing that, meander over to our usual Victoria venue on 8th Feb where our next speaker, Alice Sheppard, will be taking us through some of the best and worst of Astronomical history. We’ll also be looking into citizen science and Galaxy Zoo with When the Universe Came to the People.

Stamping rampantly into the first of our Round-up articles:

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A Skeptical Look at a Skeptical Look at Atheism

Hi Folks

What did you think of Andy McIntosh's talk?

We're asking for your thoughts or observations to collate into a full blogpost. They need not be fully formed blogs in themselves as that would be too much to ask of everyone but it will be interesting to see what impressions  people came away with and whether you thought his presentation was consistent or not.

If you want to leave us your thoughts you can email us at birminghamskeptics (at) or use our contact form.
You could also comment below this, mention @Brum_Skeptics on twitter or post on Facebook but of course those comments would be immediately public.

Needless to say we will not publish people's email addresses, but please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.

Thanks in advance

Saturday, 7 January 2012

What's it all about?

Please forgive this rather hastily written blog but I feel I need to write something down quickly. There’s been a bit of chat about our next speaker at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub on Twitter, which in itself isn’t bad but some of it I’ve found, a bit confusing and a little insulting.

I’m the person that invited Andy McIntosh to speak. He is a physicist and a Young Earth Creationist. I find it incredible that he can be both and I’m interested to hear how he can hold such apparently disparate positions together.  The title of his talk is “A Skeptical View of Atheism”. I want to hear him speak and I think that in all likelihood I, and many of the regular skeptics, will disagree with his views, but hopefully it will be interesting to hear them nonetheless.

It’s been suggested that we have invited him to set him up for ridicule. That’s not true. Other people seem to think there may be trouble of some sort. What do they imagine, a mob of angry skeptics, torches blazing, carrying the limp body of the creationist away for a lynching? The speaker knows the audience and he is willing to come and talk. I respect him for that.

Last year Intelligent Design proponent Steve Fuller asked us what we were skeptical about? He called us “polite angry people”. Maybe we don’t have to be so polite, but surely the main weapon of the skeptic is logic and reason (or is that a Vulcan?).  I don’t think that the content of that talk was world changing but it certainly created a buzz that lasted a good while. People still talk about it. I would be shocked and disappointed if there were people in the room that resorted to plain rudeness and I don’t think it will happen and it wouldn’t be allowed to happen. Argument, yes, debate, yes, disagreement of course, rudeness and troublemaking, no. In my latest podcast Becs O’Neill describes skepticism as something like “the examination of extraordinary claims.” I like that definition and sometimes it’s worth inviting those claims in to have a look at them.

What is Skeptics in the Pub for? It’s a debate that I usually keep out of, but for the record here are my views. It’s a place where you can be challenged or where you can go to be with people you know think similar things to you. It’s a place where you might learn things and it’s a place where you will hopefully be entertained. Everybody should be able to come through that door and I have invited people from evangelical churches to come and join in. Should they be worried if they come? Of course not! We are Skeptics in the Pub not fanatical factual fascists in the boozer. I think that this has the potential of being a very interesting evening and I hope that you’ll come. If you do you’ll be very welcome, whoever you are.

This rather hasty blog was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) and doesn’t attempt to reflect the views of any other @Brum_Skeptics organiser or anybody else in particular.

Weekly Round-up w/e 8/01/2012

Welcome to the latest round-up. Let's have a look what the first full week of 2012 has for us. Hmm.

A quick reminder first that Andy McIntosh will be joining us at the Vic for our
first talk of 2012. He's a Professor of Thermodynamics but also a devout Christian and Young Earth Creationist, so expect the night to be lively. Also later in the month we have our first Social of the year on Tuesday 24th at the Square Peg in Corporation Street, and make a note of future dates as we have Alice Sheppard (@penguingalaxy) in February and Deborah Hyde (@jourdemayne) in March.

In local news  a new group called
Birmingham Girl Geeks launches on Saturday 21st January at the Urban Coffee Company in Church Street with guest speaker Denise Jacobs and Birmingham now has a MathsJam which meets on the last Tuesday of the month at the Tap and Spile in Gas Street. It clashes with our Social this month but you can go next month can't you?

Slightly further afield, the speakers at
Thinkcon on 17th March in Cambridge have been announced with an impressive line-up (FB & Twitter). It's a week after QEDcon in Manchester, so for those who wanted another QED the weekend after last year's, here's your chance.

Skeptic news on the net includes the launch of a monthly page of actions to familiarise yourselves and others of psychic's tricks and scams. This month is on
newspaper astrology & Barnum statements.

Also just released are
Professor Bruce Hood's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. All of them appear to be up and here's the first.

One of the big stories of the week is the instigation of legal proceedings by the disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield who claimed a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism and was struck off for unethical procedures carried out on children from which they gained no benefit. He claims his reputation has been, err,
damaged by an article published a year ago. A running round-up of articles is being collated by @lizditz here and for those of a legal bent I'd recommend the thoughts of the Skeptical Lawyer and of Ken at Popehat highlighting Texas's new anti-SLAPP statute designed to stop actions like this. There are some interesting theories on why Wakefield might be taking this action using a non-specialist lawyer despite his small chance of success. As Orac says, the plot thickens.

This case may seem far removed from us, however libel threats and actions continue to surface on a weekly basis. Vaughan Jones from Nuneaton has a case going through the High Court as I type. There's more on the case here, but as the review and articles in question have been removed from public view we'll have to wait until matters conclude to see what all the fuss was about. We wish him well. Here's his take on the state of our current libel laws and why it should matter.

Also this week, news has reached us of William Foxton who has lost his job at Chamber Report, a magazine highlighting the great and the good (and the bad) in the legal profession, for green-lighting a story in which the facts do not seem to be in question. The story involves an individual who, despite having been hung out to dry by his own legal firm in Dubai, has an awful lot of money.
It's a desperately sad indictment of how our libel laws currently work. After reading that I'll just leave this here. It's the homepage of the Libel Reform Campaign. They have a donations page. Just saying.

There is also disquiet in the psychiatric profession as preparation of DSM5, the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders referred to by Jon Ronson when he visited us in July,
seems to be being hindered by the legal insistence of confidentiality clauses and commercialism.

Right, let's point and laugh at things religious for a bit. Always fun, but the first are not aimed at the believer but at the atheist or skeptic. Many will have heard of the fact that radical islamic extremists who blow themselves and others to pieces in the name of their deity ascend to paradise to be greeted by 72 virgins. Well, I say “fact”. If I were you I'd take a look at
this from skepchicks. Maybe those who recently explained to someone how Christmas was stolen from the story of Mithras or Dionysus or Horus should have a wee look here and here too.

The Telegraph reported this week that
Scientology “is becoming a hollow moneymaking machine run by an autocratic ruler” as yet another senior devotee takes a pop at the top dog claiming that the cult longer adheres to the “teachings” of L Ron Hubbard. Here's hoping they implode.

Some outright idiocy now as someone muses as to what
would have happened had Jesus not existed. It reads like it should be a Poe, but I suspect not.

Lastly, as we're talking religion, there's obviously some nastiness as highlighted in this piece on the practise of
muddying the waters between science and religion to indoctrinate children.

A wonderful blog now, from Richard Wilson (@dontgetfooled) on the problems of “policy-based evidence-making”, how those in public life cherry-pick evidence with no qualms and what is being done about it.

A question sometimes raised at Skeptics in the Pub meetings to speakers who are active in the realms of alternative medicines is why skeptics seem to gravitate towards alt med and not take on broader spheres such as politics, The reasons why the latter are difficult is discussed in the above blog however, specifically, people blog about CAM because the mainstream media in this country predominantly give it a free ride as shown here by @jdc325

I suppose that now gives me licence to point out that taking Vitamin D will not help people avoid heart attacks or cancer and the horrendous unpleasantness of publishing a book aimed at “4-10 year olds on... ...the ineffectiveness of vaccines” (sic).

On a slightly related note, this is one reason why
you shouldn't have certain New Year's Resolutions.

As for the mainstream and printed media you could learn from the Telegraph (again) that there are no longer any homeopathy degree courses in Britain and that other CAM courses are in steep decline however it is bewildering to see that Nature seem to have allowed inclusion of a supplement in their magazine on Traditional Asian Medicine (sic) and seem happy to state that they carry “sole responsibility for all editorial content”. I wonder if the cash was worth it.

Following on from Sense about Science's
Celebrities and Science pdf as mentioned last time (worth a look if you missed it) we can now bring you the Climate Crock BS of the Year Awards. There are some fun (and occasionally funny videos)  and the usual suspects are there although there is a slant towards Americans. And Republicans. And Christians. And people with lots of money and oil companies. Prepare to facepalm or headdeak (your choice).

This last blog blows a hole in the “more expensive is better” meme that seems to permeate society but this time in music. Do you think you could tell the difference between a Stradivarius violin and a new one? Ed Yong shows that you can't,
and neither can the experts. That said, to some people especially Paypal, value matters.

As I mentioned virgins above, I thought I'd leave you with a video of a virgin birth in fact the fourth virgin birth in four years. There's the minimum of pain and gloop though, very little intervention during the birth and it is unlikely to give anyone nightmares.

Unless you're a shark.

This week's round-up was written by Chris Richardson (
@christheneck) with additional links provided by Roy Beddowes.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Round-Up W/e 1/1/12

Hello and welcome to the first round-up of the year.  We're looking forward to 2012 as we have a host of interesting speakers lined up as well as some very special guests that we've not managed to pin down to an exact date yet.  Happy New Year to you all, here's the round-up.

Here’s Richard Dawkins talking about our next speaker, Professor Andy McIntosh of Leeds University.  Andy will be with us on Wednesday 11th January at The Vic as always.  The talk is entitled ‘A Sceptical View of Atheism’ and we’re looking forward to some lively debate.  Details of the talk are here.

Hertfordshire Police have begun to use polygraphs to detect lies told by sex offenders.  Bruce Burgess, a former chairman of the British Polygraph Association (BPA) is in favour of this you’ll be surprised to learn.  Independent tests have found it to be little better than chance.  For those that require a little more evidence than the word of those with interests, then here’s a review of the current scientific status by the British Psychological Society.

Lie detection has never fared well when subjected to scientific rigour, the Department of Work and Pensions trialled Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) software in 2008 to detect benefit cheats.  They found it to be not sufficiently reliable and therefore decided not to introduce it.  The company that supplied the VRA software got upset and sent the lawyers in, another example of libel threatening science in the UK.

Cee-Lo green has spoketh, all ye atheists repent.  According to that bloke that sang that song last year, you know the one that had swearing in it sometimes, all religion is true.  He decided to cover John Lennon’s Imagine and change the bit that goes “and all religions too” to “and all religion is true” the prat.  FU Cee-Lo (DYSWIDT?)

JOB SECTION: Famous physicist requires computer genius to maintain wheelchair with integrated custom-built computer-controlled voice synthesiser.

PAREIDOLIA CORNER: Another Jesus one (Isn’t it always?), this time in the Telegraph, perhaps they’d run out of pictures of pretty young women or bashed the BBC all they could this week.  So, Jesus has appeared in the crumple of a sock, thanks for that The Telegraph.

It’s the Sense about Science (SAS) annual review, always good for a laugh and a cry.  SAS correct some of the bullshit spouted by celebrities throughout the preceding year.  According to one ‘famous’ person, the sea is salty due to whale sperm.  Another regurgitates the old detox stuff and, more dangerously, the anti-vax myths are squirted into our ears.  Tracey Brown talks about the review here.

Nice to see the BBC prominently reporting the detox is claptrap story.  My Facebook feed is always full of discussion of detox products at this time of the year, sadly not concerning the evidence base.

Police time is wasted by people requesting information of reports into zombies, UFOs, werewolves etc.  That is according to Chief Constable Ian Arundale of Dyfed Powys Police of course, maybe he’s just saying that because he’s scared that people are cottoning onto the truth that these things are among us.  “There’s no evidence for it, but it is scientific fact” Dr ‘Neil’ Fox.

Suzanne Somers is famous in America and she survived breast cancer.  She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. Oh, and she also had injections of mistletoe extract.  In her opinion, it wasn’t the evidence-based treatment she received that helped her survive, it was the mistletoe.  Now she has become a scientific guru touring the talk show circuit and selling her book.  Joe Schwarcz writes about Pseudo-scientific blather and star power, a crazy mix.

Fresh from taking on ‘mongs’ and ‘the PC brigade’, Ricky Gervais has turned his attention to more worthy targets, fundamentalist Christians.  This is not in anyway a PR move after his recent bad press.

Rebecca Watson calls out inappropriate behaviour in atheist reddit groups.

Cracked ran a list recently of 4 things both atheists and believers need to stop saying.  Kazim responds to this.

It seems that the Righteous Indignation podcast has come to an end, at least for the moment.  Hayley Stevens talks here about ‘Talk about Strange’, her new podcast which is a relaunch of the Ghost Field Guide.

The Telegraph is not looking good in this week’s round-up, now we have someone who believes the war on Christmas is real, and on top of that, the atheist barbarians are winning.

God has announced crab 2.0, now with forward motion.

Sadly, Tim Minchin's excellent Woody Allen Jesus song got cut from the transmission of Jonathan Ross' ITV show. Here it is:

This week's Round-Up was patched together by Birmingham Skeptics co-organiser Paul Bryant (@thebigyeti)