Friday, December 21, 2012

Pod Delusion: MAYA-POCALYPT-AGEDDON! (but I feel fine)

Podcast: Download

In an odd turn of events, I've ended up singing a sparkling one-off theme tune for this week's END OF THE WORLD SPECIAL Pod Delusion.

I wrote the lyrics and Professor Music himself, Milton Mermikedes slapped them onto a backing track of R.E.M's "It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".

As it was all done in a last minute rush, with sub-optimal equipment ..*cough*.. the lyrics aren't as clear as they could have been had I had a decent piece of software. As a result, a few have asked what all the lyrics are, and so I've put them here for posterity.

A new thing for me - and a fun thing. Hopefully, it will be considered less preferable to the apocalypse. Apologies to Berry, Mills, Buck and Stipe.


ITEOTWAWKI (AIFF) - Pod Delusion Version

It’s great, a lefty liberal, podcast, award-winning and not afraid
Partnered with the BHA

Sally Morgan. Psychic test. This week’s special guest.
Pussy riot sent down. Solar System Marcus Chown.

40 days for life, dead, Simon Singh, Libel Win.
Human cyborg clatter with Science Thing, Girl Thing

Faith in your face, represent Michael Gove in a government for
hire in a bad twitter joke.

Pineapple prophet, Robin Ince, threat of libel
breathing down your neck.

Crowd sourced reporting, Ayn Rand, begging slot. Look at that bold

Assange. Rape.

Uh oh, Jeez and Mo, let the GM crops grow, creationism.
Jesus saves, Starbucks save.
Workfare its shirkfare, listen to the Tory chair.
Tell me of the rapture and the Snoopers on the right.

Al-Khalili, Lovelace, Drew Rae, fail whale
Fuck You Daily Mail.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

The other side. Hitchens died. Continent is secularised.
Darwin. Obscenity. JAMES O-MALL-EY.
Elizabeth Lutgendorf, Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant.
Ban the burka, council prayers, Richard Dawkins, boom!
Use censorship. Membership.
More Pod Delusions, right? Right.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Inkredulous : Episode 16

Podcast: Download (Duration: 1:25:48 — 29.5MB)

Back again with another Inkredulous podcast, this time with George Hrab from the Geologic podcast, and MC of QEDcon 2011 and Jay Novella from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe Podcast.
Jay Novella

George Hrab
You may have come across these rational heroes before - they are SO FAMOUS that they each have their own Wiki page, (I know!) so you can imagine it was a pretty daunting for a shmo like me.

Still, it was a total blast and, as seems to happen every time I record one of these things, immediately afterwards I have the fear that I was rubbish, but when the edit comes out, Andy (@inkredulosi) somehow makes it seem not so bad..... Here's a line from Jay that made me feel all warm and wanted :)

As always, the text is below, although the Honey Blues are greatly enhanced by George and his demon guitar-fingered noodling.




Here is my "Honey" blurb for Question 1:

This is the story of the weird coloured honey appearing and proof IF PROOF BE NEEDED that all women love chocolate…and it goes something like this.

I woke up this morning
Doing what I do
I went to my beehive
And all my honey was blue
I got the blues so bad baby,
All my honey has turned blue
And even stranger than what I’d seen
Some of my honey had turned green…

Andy, French farmers have recently been finding that their honey, which normally consists of sweet sticky sugary honey goodness, currently consists of sweet sticky sugary honey goodness and a large amount of highly coloured contamination. Cries of “Sacre Bleu LITTERALEMENT” could be heard throughout the town of Ribeauvill√© as honey farmers stared in amazement at their jars of blue, green, and turquoise honey. For European listeners, Ribeauvill√© is near Strasbourg and for the US listeners it is …like…. near Iraq.
Andy, honey is a natural product and bees, of one form or another, have been making honey for about 30 million years.  Which is about 30 million years (give or take a few thousand) before man was created by God, if US Senate Candidate Todd Akin (who sits on the House Committee of Science, Space & Tech) is to be believed. Indeed Mr Akin, won’t believe evolution, but probably would believe that Samson off of the Bible ate some honey which bees had made inside a Lion’s carcass, a lion which he had killed with his own bare hands a few verses earlier. No really, he did. Judges 14 – all true.
As I know you know, I keep bees myself and the honey bee life cycle is phenomenally interesting and, you’ll be surprised to know, very different from our human one  – for instance, it is matriarchal society made up of a Queen bee at the top, and worker bees lower down, all of whom are female. Fancy having a workplace with women at the top and all the workers women! It’s institutionalised misandry, is what it is. Every hive has a handful of drone bees whose only real purpose is to mate – they are effectively dungeon sex-slaves. After a drone has had sex with a queen, which happens mid-flight, his tiny little bee-cock detaches inside the queen and pulls out his abdomen, causing the male bee to die.
This has almost never happened to me.
So all the worker bees – and in this newstory, most importantly the ones who go flying about looking for nectar, - are all women. Their plan is to go out into the big bad world, using a combination of ultraviolet and coloured light, smell and random chance to find their food – pollen for now and nectar to make honey for winter. Once they find a good source, they can convey this information to other bees. If those bees also find the good source, they will tell more bees and so on so forth. If the source is big enough eventually, a high percentage of the foraging bees will end up at that source.
When the French honeyfarmers near Ribeauvillé came to collect their honey, it was various shades of blues and green. This meant that was a fairly big source of highly coloured nectar or nectar like product.
And so it turned out that the source was a biomass plant processing waste from a local M&M’s production facility, who had left the waste from the Mars factory uncovered, and the sticky, sugary chocolately mess had been hovered up by the hungry bees.  The bees then regurgitated this highly-coloured pre-honey, into the honeycomb and then fanned it with their wings to evaporate off some of the water to leave blue honey.
So there you have it. Weird coloured honey and proof all women love chocolate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Infant Colic - A Whole New World of Manipulating the Vulnerable

Maybe the title oversells itself, maybe not. I'm writing this as a parent with no medical background.

As I mentioned in my last post, last Christmas I became a parent for the first time. Like probably every other parent since the dawn of time, my wife and I became over-joyed, sleep-deprived, ecstatic, irritable, jibberish-talking, mono-dimensional, indecisive, happy-as-its-possible-to-be, braindead and amazed all at the same time.

Probably also like every other first time parent, it felt like it wasn't just the first time for us, but for the whole of mankind. It turns out, I now know, that the total sum of 25,000 years or so of human knowledge on early day parenting is pretty much "Do what you think is right".

I had never realised how effective sleep-deprivation is at reducing the average human to a jibbering jelly-wobble of indecision in just a few nights - it is used as a torture method for extremely good reasons, as a prisoner can be reduced to basic functionality very quickly, and as result the practice is banned under the European Convention on Human Rights. Very soon, dealing with the three basic childcare functions (eating, sleeping and nappy-filling) becomes more difficult than that dream you have when you are on Mastermind answering questions about 12th Century Russia, and you realise you're only wearing your pants. Stories from the hilarious near-misses to the other horrific extreme are plentiful and at least in part caused by an otherwise well-intentioned but sleep-deprived parent.

On top of the zombified brains of the parents, it turns out that the innate language of the newborn is loud crying - it appears to operate on a many-to-one relationship with no assistance given in establishing what issue is caused the howling. The amount of crying varies a lot from one to another, but the scale goes from "A LOT" to "INCESSANT". Throw in sleep deprivation and you have the following:

1. Potential for marital discord, postpartum depression, Shaken Baby Syndrome, suffocation,  frequent visits to doctors and an increase in maternal smoking amongst other outcomes.
2. A huge and continual group of people, whose reasoning ability has been crippled, and who would do almost literally anything to alleviate the pressure they are under.

You can hear the marketeers of magic potions rubbing their hands.

Everyone knows what colic is and how it's dealt with. Except it turns out they don't, instead relying on perceived wisdom passed down the generation or osmosed from friends and adverts. My experience (from friends) is that having a baby screaming for what feels like an eternity for no reason on a fairly regular basis for those first few months is common and is just babies doing their newborn thing. This, in my experience, is difficult to deal with has two extremely painful psychological outcomes:

1. To have this beautiful bundle of happiness that relies on you for everything screaming without reason is surely indicative of BAD PARENTING and the noise hell is YOUR FAULT.
2. A responsible parent would DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. (The something is irrelevant, as long as it is being done.)

It's no wonder that there is a huge market for colic relief products - what self-respecting marketeer could miss out on the opportunity to medicalise a natural part of life and sell some placebos to such a vulnerable, inexhaustable strata of exhausted consumers who are actively looking for an elixir?

It's even better for snakeoil salespeople that colic is undefinable - the strict definition is "a condition of a healthy baby in which it shows periods of intense, unexplained fussing/crying lasting more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks" but in reality it is a term given to any fussy/crying baby that seems to be crying more than the person would expect a baby to cry for. It resolves both the pyschological situations above - my baby has colic, and so I am not a bad parent and it is not my fault. More than that I CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Colic is historically assumed to caused by trapped gas somewhere in the innards - the babies tend to be stretching, bending, farting and burping whilst in the midst of a big yell, so it seems to make sense, but the truth is more likely to be a complex variety of causes and indeed it's poorly understood. This is only a minor inconvenience to the marketeers - people reckon it's gas, so they sell a product that treats the issue parents think their babies have.

It's worth noting that it was chiropractors claiming to treat colic that led Simon Singh to write in the Guardian in April 2008
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, [...], even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments
The quote lead to the BCA suing Simon Singh for libel, which resulted in the "Quacklash" (my own assistance is here), and lead to the BCA dropping the suit.

The Breastfeeding Network UK has provided an overview document here called "Assessing the Evidence - treatments for Colic" (2002) which covers most of the major products around - given the fact that colic is now considered to be a multi-cause issue, I'd be surprised if there was much new to discuss in the decade since it was written. Let me know if this is isn't the case. 

Unsurprisingly, the major products treat (either directly or indirectly) the problem of trapped gas -

- Simethicone (sold in UK under the brandname of INFACOL(R)) is the leading selling product and has been shown to be no better than distilled water. Of course, such a minor truth wouldn't stop them from claiming that the "Trusted help for infant colic is right here".

- lactase enzymes (brand name COLIEF(R)) that are supposed to assist with transient lactase deficiency have also shown to be ineffective, or at the very least have a small number of poor quality trials that sort of show a dubious effect in some cases.

As you can see from the pic, COLIEF(R) claims to Reduce the Hours of Crying. Any sleep-deprived, vulnerable parent with a colicky baby seeing this will read no further than the marketing strapline and head for the tills. Obviously, it doesn't make mention of the fact that the studies (which involved very small numbers of babies) only looked at those cases which were believed to have been caused by lactase deficiency and that previous larger studies had found no correlation between lactase deficiency and colic. Talk about cherry-picking...

Mrs Dr*T picked up a similar COLIEF(R) leaflet in her GP's surgery - the marketeers making sure they had access to as many de-sleepified automatons as possible.

More positively, the UK adverts watchdog has today ruled that both the website and the leaflet were misleading and the claims could not be substantiated. The company who markets COLIEF(R) in the UK, Crosscare Ltd, despite being in Ireland and technically outside ASA's remit, were told that they had to have adequate substantiation before they could make efficacy claims in future and the ad must not be used again.

In my view, putting misleading literature with dubious claims in a doctor's surgery to cash in on vulnerable parents is not very classy. In fact, it's pretty shitty.

Most of our friends have tried and used these dodgy products sometimes with anecdotal success - given the cause of colic is unknown, it's path of presentation is also unknown, as is it's longevity. It's easy to see how a confusion of causality with coincidence could occur - colic only tends to last 12 weeks in the majority of cases, it'll take a few of those to get you to breaking point and a few more trying various treatments. Throw in a handful of regression to the mean and you can see how you get the mix up. We tried the one of the products ourselves on the advice of the health visitor. I was apprehensive and did some research only to find the evidence found wanting. In truth, the psychological impact of "doing something" was extremely persuasive, and it was a battle of rationality over gut-feeling to convince ourselves that the treatment was pointless, and we were just psychologically manipulating ourselves.

(The health visitor went on to recommend cranial osteopathy (which deserves a blogpost of its own) - when I said that the NHS website says there is no evidence for it, she claimed that was because "the NHS don't provide it and they only want people to use their services". Indeed.)

We're through the worst of those crazy, fun, exhilerating, desperate days and the brain is currently doing an excellent job of rewriting history and making me think that it wasn't as bad as we initially remembered, which I guess is a good thing.

One thing it won't stop me doing though, is getting angry and vociferous about companies who are prepared to see weak, vulnerable, sleep-deprived parents as an acceptable demographic for their bullshit potions.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

QEDcon 2012: Inkredulous Podcast Episode 12

Just realised I hadn't put this up here, even though the actual event was on 10th March. Well, that's kind of how things are the minute, being a new, first-time parent...

Inkredulous - Episode 12 (Play in New Window) 

I hadn't planned to do anything at QEDcon this year, just attend, as the recent arrival of Baby*T had efficiently hoovered up most of my free time (in a good way!). However, on the Sat, someone planning to be on the Inkredulous Podcast panel couldn't attend, and after asking almost everyone in attendance, Andy asked me if I would oblige.

Sunday morning was spent INCREDIBLY hungover, trying to cobble together something suitable (and hopefully funny) for the live recording. When I've done Inkredulous before, we've recorded about 3 - 4 hours of blether, in the hope of winnowing out an hour of passable material, so this was going to be a mission. To add to the pressure, Times columnist David Aaronovitch and TV magician Paul Zenon were on the panel, as well as Marsh from Merseyside Skeptics.

In the pained, hungover state I was trying to prepare in, I think my quality control gene was misfiring, and so hastily ended up with something that could have been offensive, sprinkled with a selection of cheap cock jokes. In the end, I think the audience was as hungover as I was, so perhaps we communicated on the same wavelength....

Oh, and being a new parent has exposed me to a world of bullshit science that I never knew existed. One day, I'll blog it, once I've had a good night's sleep.....



Andy, there is a sickness in this land. A sickness that will lead to the inevitable destruction of global humanity. The Pope has voiced it and Our most senior UK catholic has voiced it.

This apocalyptic behemoth is not religion, which provides peace and charity throughout all countries of the world,

it is not racism which is largely non-existent as demonstrated by US republican politics,

it is not sexism, which apart from a few excitable loudmouth woman is largely an academic interest. I explained this to someone last night in the elevator.

It isn't the global arms industry, which is worth 1.5 trillion dollars/year, which helps sustain stability, and peace In difficult and testing circumstances.

it isn't hunger, famine, disease or pestilence or natural disasters

no, in fact this evil that will explode the cornerstone of society is


Apparently some of these diseased people want the same rights as normal heterosexual people and want to get married! Married Andy!

When will the lunatic leftie liberal fringe in this country realise that when you choose to be gay you are choosing a lifestyle with reduced rights. Rights are for Adam and Eve not Madam and Eve. (a twist on an old favourite)

The sacraments are God-given and not up for being changed by men, willy nilly, and I use the phrase advisedly. It's a slippery slope. Next thing you know The Gays will be wanting to have the same rights at other religious events. You know, things that right-minded people would baulk at - dignified funerals and such. Sickening really.

Marriage is about children, Andy. Which is why old people aren't allowed to get married and I should also point out that the pope also says cohabiting couples and sex outside marriage are both quite evil, but at least they follow the "manufacturers instructions" and don't become genital-jailbreakers.

That's why today, a letter from UK's highest catholic, a man in a skirt - I pass no comment - is being read out in churches pleading to its parishioners for more intolerance, to be more homophobic, more exclusive, more hating, and ultimately more irrelevant.

This is yet another example of religious people exhibiting their unhealthy predeliction for dictating what other people do with their fizzy bits.

In fairness, it's just gay men probably. Given these religions are entirely men, it's possible that lesbianism is a *cough* "tolerated evil", I don't know. But it does seem to be all about the outer danglies.

Can you imagine the effect, if the church had, as they have in this case, assembled their efforts, made loud proclamations, got letters read out in all churches, and used their media contacts to investigate and bring justice to the hundreds of people abused at the hands of the paedophile priests within that same organisation? Would that not be a more edifying effort?

Rather than bring justice to those who they have sinned against, they'd rather promote intolerance and hatred of gay couples who want equality. This from the mouth of a man who wears a dress - to be fair,  it's not a dress it's called a cassock. A word that comes from the union of ass and cock.

I personally don't think that gay marriage is something that will uproot civilisation as we know it, but given that it is 2012 can any of you prove that it wasn't this that brought down the Mayans?

Food for thought.