science

The Turnout 2 – On Homeopathy, with Michael Marsh

5AgJv6Fn_400x400For the 2nd episode of The Turnout I spoke with journalist Michael Marshall of The Good Thinking Society (as well as the Be Reasonable podcast and others).

Michael was the man behind the 10:23 campaign  which was a …

mass overdose of homeopathy outside branches of Boots UK in several major cities throughout the country, to publicly demonstrate the inefficacy of homeopathic products and protest against their sale.

I asked Michael about the history of homeopathy and what it actually is, or indeed isn’t. I also asked him about it’s availability on the NHS in various parts of the country and what should be done about it.

We also got on to some of the wider dangers of “medicines” that are not based on any solid science.

Hope you enjoy

homeopathy.jpgDownload here if you right click THIS LINK and “save as”

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For Your Listening Pleasure – 3 – Astronomy Cast

This is the third in a little series explaining about podcasts I think are great – what can I say, I like the medium!

large_webI think Astronomy Cast is actually the first podcast I started listening to. They have now done probably 450 episodes (the numbering doesn’t take into account the question shows they’ve done), and I’ve listened to them all. It’s been going for 8 years and if you look through the back catalogue you are sure to find something to interest you.

The host is Dr Fraser Cain, who also runs Universe Today. He plays the everyman interviewer (even though he is absolutely by no means ignorant of the subjects which they address) who is having the week’s topic explained to him by the expert, who is Dr Pamela Gay.

The explanations of various astronomical phenomenon are clear without being too simplistic or too complicated and it’s always a good listen.

I won’t say any more other than that I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

 

 

 

Great Missing The Point Moments In History – 6 – Most People, President Included

This “missing the point” episode is a little different from the others in the series in that this time, it was the majority of people who missed the point.

1385main_MM_Image_Feature_17_rs4Giovanni Schiaparelli was born today in 1835.

Schiaparelli was an astronomer and a historian. His most famous discovery was of what he called “canali” on Mars and here is where the problem begins. “Canali” could mean “channels”, as in river channels, or “canals” is in man/alien-made. It was  translated into English as “canals” – and that word implies something that has been constructed and is artificial.

People around the world took this as evidence of life on Mars and subsequently all kinds of theories sprung up, books were written, maps were published, and all of these, without meaning to exaggerate, were utter bollocks. Some of these were even written by astronomers who in other areas were extremely successful, such as Percival Lowell.

Nevertheless, in an age where telescopes were not yet powerful enough to disprove the outlandish theories that had been constructed around the mistranslation, there were many true believers.

The best part of this story is that it provides a good example to point to when we would like to show that our (sic) leaders have any better idea what is going on than anyone else.

This example came when the story was finally disproved by the Mariner missions taking photos of Mars from closer in. Apparently, when Lyndon Johnson was shown the first pictures the first thing he said was “But where are the canals?”.

It would have been rather interesting to watch the presidential aides trying to explain that without offending him.

The Scottish Independence Podcast Episode 12 – Patrick Harvie

For episode 12 of The Scottish Independence Podcast I spoke with MSP and co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie.

We discussed the decision of the Greens to join the Yes campaign, some of the goings-on in Holyrood, the environmental advantages that Independence will bring, an increased focus on giving real powers to local government and much more besides.

Hope you enjoy it.

This is the direct download link (right click and save as).

If you go to the show’s homepage you can listen online or download from there.

Patrick is on twitter here.

A Bit Of Memory Hole Action

Well, not exactly, or even not at all, but it can’t be allowed to pass and I just liked that title.

Let me explain.

Last night I was listening to the podcast Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist from the BBC (at time of writing I am talking about the second episode down on that page with Doc Elizabeth Hagen). It is basically a science Q & A show.

Someone phoned in and asked a question about weapons being used to plant thoughts in people’s heads. Now, it sounded dodgy territory to me and the said Dr Karl went on to explain that the technology to do it in the way described doesn’t really exist. What the guy was saying sounded a wee bit conspiracy theorist for my liking.

Anyway, what got me interested after that was that Dr Karl then went on to mention the MK Ultra experiments and asked his friend if she knew what it was. She said “that was when they gave people LSD or something”.

Now, Dr Hagen is an anthropologist and also studies human evolution so she can’t be expected to know and therefore I am not suggesting conspiratorial cover-up or anything of the sort, I mean, he actually brought it up.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to add a few things to that summation of the experiments, so here are some of the facts from the wiki page…

  1. Project MKUltra, or MK-Ultra, was a covert, illegal human research program into behavioral modification run by the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Office of Scientific Intelligence. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and finally halted in 1973. The program used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy.MKUltra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people’s individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
  2. A precursor of the MKUltra program began in 1945 when the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency was established and given direct responsibility for Operation Paperclip. The program recruited former Nazi scientists, some of whom studied torture and brainwashing, and several who had been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.
  3. Go to this link to see the goals of the experiments.
  4. The experiments were exported to Canada when the CIA recruited Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron. Cameron had been hoping to correct schizophrenia by erasing existing memories and reprogramming the psyche. He  was paid $69,000 from 1957 to 1964 to carry out MKUltra experiments. In addition to LSD, Cameron also experimented with various paralytic drugs as well as electroconvulsive therapy at thirty to forty times the normal power. His “driving” experiments consisted of putting subjects into drug-induced coma for weeks at a time (up to three months in one case) while playing tape loops of noise or simple repetitive statements. His experiments were typically carried out on patients who had entered the institute for minor problems such as anxiety disorders and postpartum depression, many of whom suffered permanently from his actions.

This little article is not an accusation, more of a correction. These experiments were a lot worse than giving people LSD to see what happened.

I am just uploading the audio clip now so you can hear it so this article will update in a minute.

There were three ABC documentaries about the experiments from the 70s. You can watch them here.

There is plenty of reading here too.

How To Ruin A Good Idea

So a lot of scientists are saying that the 3-D printer could be the big one, the game-changer, the thing that after which nothing is the same again.

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using additive processes, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques (subtractive processes) which mostly rely on the removal of material by drilling, cutting etc.

This technology is already available and can be used to make an unbelievable amount of things. It is also becoming cheaper all the time and the designs it can make are more and more advanced.

It’s already happening.
In the future this technology could be used to make machine parts (it already is to some extent), to make machines, houses, medicines, even replacement body parts, basically anything you can think of to make life better…and it could be cheap too.

So what was one of the first things an American company came up with for this astounding technology.

Yes, you guessed right

Plans to print a gun halted as 3D printer is seized

A US project to create a printable gun has been derailed after the company supplying the 3D printer withdrew it.

In a letter published on the Wiki Weapon website, Stratasys said that it did not allow its printers “to be used for illegal purposes”

Defense Distributed, the group behind the project, had planned to share 3D weapon blueprints online.

“This project could very well change the way we think about gun control and consumption,” it said on its site.

“How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the internet?”

It’s predictably depressing.

Science And The Sixth of August

I wrote this one for Bella Caledonia at the start of the week…

SCIENCE AND THE SIXTH OF AUGUST

I got up early this morning to watch what, from every angle you look at it, was a triumph. However, I am not going to say it was a triumph of science and technology.

That said, going millions of kilometres and then landing something the size of a car that you have to slow down from terrific speeds and then, as someone memorably put it on twitter, “lower, using a parachute and a rocket-powered shelf” is an astonishing feat, and surely one of the most technologically challenging tasks ever successfully carried out.

Furthermore this mission, which should be able to run for years and send back vast amounts of information, cost much less than a quarter of the Olympics and much less than a month for an occupying army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It should really be something to remember the 6th of August for, were it not for something else that happened on the same date.

In 1945, the USA, determined to show who was going to be running things after the war, unnecessarily destroyed the town of Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) in order to finally win a war that was already won (NB – this article probably isn’t going to go in the direction you think it is at this point).

Shortly after, when the Japanese generals were on trial, an American General said that if the Allies had lost the war, the Japanese would probably have been justified to in holding similar trials of the Allied commanders. Surely the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in his mind when he said this, as was probably the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

Humanitarian disgust at the act has never faded, and never should. I am against nuclear weapons and power and don’t want them anywhere, never mind Scotland.

However, there is a group of people who occasionally use the invention of the nuclear bomb as a way to push an “all science is bad” position and they usually follow this up with the Einstein quote…

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

As the “science is bad” community tend to go hand in hand with the supernatural/spiritualist types, they also don’t tend to do their research so well. If they want to quote out of context they could probably be using this Einstein one as well…

“Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”

Returning to the first one though, it is surprising how often people read that to mean that Einstein was suggesting we should slow down technological discovery. Maybe, just maybe, he was in fact hinting that we should get a bloody move on with sorting out our humanity

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessary solving of an existing one. One could say it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively.

As an example of this you could think of the many pre-industrial societies that consumed or fought their way to their own demise.

Take this bit from a lecture he gave and pay attention to the bold…

Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it. In war it serves that we may poison and mutilate each other. In peace it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of freeing us in great measure from spiritually exhausting labor, it has made men into slaves of machinery, who for the most part complete their monotonous long day’s work with disgust and must continually tremble for their poor rations. … It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

At no point did he say that we should stop with technological development, what he said is that we “have not yet made sensible use of it”, which is a very different thing. I don’t think that means he is saying we should abandon it, just that we should try to be more sensible.

A lot of people are waiting for the technological big fix. A lot of others want to return to an imagined age of spiritual harmony (I always forget…was that harmony with flowers and trees or harmony with the Yersinia pestis bacterium that caused the black death?). This is probably because they tend to look at things like the Curiosity Rover and Hiroshima as triumphs or disasters of technology.

I think that the point, again, is that they are both triumphs and failures of humanity and therefore the struggle is the same one that has always been going on, that of sorting  out our humanity. The technology will do what it is told, for good or for ill.

In the current economic system that means that very often, though by no means always, technological development is geared toward making more money for a very few people as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean it has to be like that. Instead of mass-producing plastic fish that sing for Christmas presents that no one wants, a refocusing of what we are about could allow a bigger concentration on the fields of making lives easier, health better, work hours shorter, the environment cleaner, knowledge deeper and supernatural silliness less prevalent.

Way Off The Lamarck

“If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”

Albert Einstein

I was lucky enough to get 6 hours in Paris the other day and went for a wander around Notre Dame. Before you get there though there is the Jardin Des Plantes and I thought I would take a walk around. Didn’t have enough money on me to go into the evolution museum even though I wanted to but this statue caught my eye I was a little taken aback. Take a look…

When I first saw the statue my first thought, a little unfairly, was that Lamarck was responsible for the theory of evolution in the same way that cheese was responsible for the great train robbery – not at all (actually that was my second thought, my first was “wait a f**king minute!”). However, on thinking it over maybe a fairer way to look at it might be like da Vinci and the helicopter in that although their ideas would not have worked, they were among the first attempts to solve certain problems.

I’m fairly sure if you asked a French person now who was responsible for the theory of evolution they would say Darwin. It is highly probable that the trumpeting of Lamarck in France represented part of the battle between the British and French empires, the two major powers of that era, in that they were trying also to be perceived to be intellectually and culturally dominant. A similar stooshie went on over who discovered Neptune with the British trying to claim it from the French.

Although this is intellectually dishonest behaviour, I suppose it would be preferable to the kind of thing that the Americans are putting out these days to show their cultural dominance.

The Jardins Des Plantes is a nice place though, and there are a few more pictures if you click on the READ MORE below.

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