Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Scientology Re-branding

Following yesterday's BBC Panorama Special on the Church of Scientology, the empathetically struck out complaint against Councillor John Dixon and a twitter hashtag that went viral, The Church of Scientology today reveal their new re-branded west coast headquarters.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Skeptic

So a couple of months ago I got an email from the Editor of the Skeptic magazine asking if I could help with the cover design again.

The main article was a piece by the legal blogger and lawyer David Allen Green on Simon Singh and the now infamous misconceived libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association.

I immediately had an idea of what the cover should look like.

Looking back on the events that eventually led to the BCA's final capitulation, the clear turning point was way back at the support rally meeting held in The Pendrell's Oak Pub on the 18th May 2009.

At that meeting I sat quietly in a privileged position behind the main speakers next to Richard Wiseman. I took a few shaky photographs on my iPhone, and later edited together some video footage took by Nick Pullar, that helped me form a clear image of what the cover should be.

In my minds eye, I could see Simon with the microphone, and David watching from the wings, pin-stripe suited, arms folded and quietly smiling to himself. I could see Brian Cox in the front row, and Chris French, Dave Gorman and Evan Harris behind the speaker. As these were all characters that had recently had the Skeptic Trump treatment I pictured them wearing their skeptic caricature faces.

I thought I could perhaps salvage some of the photo's and video footage and photoshop on Neil Davies' artwork. I rang Neil, to ask for his permission to reuse the images for the cover. Neil pointed out that the lighting would be all wrong, but said he he would be happy to paint the scene from scratch.

I explained the concept to Neil, and over the following weekend he emailed me constant updates of the work in progress as the image in my minds eye gradually emerged on my computer through Neil's talent.

I think the final painting is a complete triumph and a perfect facsimile of what I had originally envisaged. So here is the full unadulterated copy of the picture on the cover of the current issue of The Skeptic magazine.

Check out Neil's blog where you can buy a high resolution, limited edition print signed by the artist.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Modern Science Map 2.0

I'm currently in the process of producing version 2.0 of the Modern Science Map.

The new version will allow you to hover the mouse over each scientist and reveal a summary panel of information on each scientist as well as being able to click to access the full details from Wikipedia.

I have now uploaded a prototype of version 2.0 here. The hover feature is currently only enabled for a limited number of scientists, mainly on the Physics line between Albert Einstein and James Clerk Maxwell.

Check it out, I was quite pleased with it so far.

Keep checking back, I should have them all down in a few weeks. There's not much on TV at the moment anyway.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Sign from God?

It appears as though the UK Highways Agency have heeded the warnings of the inherent dangers associated with irrational beliefs highlighted by the recent Protest the Pope rally.

The following new road signs have been designed to be placed on public highways near places of worship or irrational religious gatherings where other road users are at risk of a collision with nonsense.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Pod Delusion Live

The Pod Delusion celebrated its first birthday by recording a live podcast at London Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 13th September 2010. The live performance seemed to be awfully well received, so I suspect there may well be another one at some point.

In the meantine, here's a quick video of me stumbling through an unrehearsed recital of my papal poem from an old blog post.

Or better still, visit the Pod Delusion Web Site and download the special edition extended podcast of the evening presented as usual by James O'Malley and featuring: Jon Treadway, Naomi Philips, Liz Lutgendorff, Sean Ellis, Martin Robbins, Alex Foster, Will Howells, Me, Milton Mermikides, Carmen D'Cruz and John Gregson.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Crispian’s Cryptic Comedy Catholic Crossword

Science, Reason and Critical thinking would like to celebrate the joyous occasion of the state visit of his holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Despite the excitement of the ocasion, even the most faithful know that some of the prayer vigils and lengthy Latin masses can get just a little tedious. To relieve the monotony and help you while away the long hours, I have created the Cryptic Comedy Catholic Crossword to print out and take with you.

Click the printer friendly image below to embiggen and print:


Science, Reason and Critical Thinking does not condone the abusive and offensive answers that Daniel Pope has curiously managed to squeeze into the crossword grid.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mr. Credulous

original artwork by India Jago

Mr Credulous has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the marvellous Mr Men series of children's books created by Roger Hargreaves

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

On the Origin of the Modern Science Map

The origin of the Map of Modern Science is not as noble as I would wish.

Flushed with the success of my Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense, I started to consider what other iconic image I could bastardise in order to promote my pro-reason agenda. The London Underground Map was the obvious candidate. After a quick Google to check no one had already commandeered this eminent image for the nefarious purposes of rationalist propaganda, I set about the task myself.

My initial concept was not in fact to restrict the map to modern science, but to show the ideas of the enlightenment and how they evolved out of the age of reason. I therefore embarked on the project with the grandiose idea of including politicians, authors, philosophers, scientists and indeed all the great thinkers (maybe even the odd theologian at a push), who have helped shape our modern understanding of the world.

It became clear from very early on that with the limitation of a single page map, (even a very large single page map and a tiny font); I could not delve into the level of detail I wanted and maintain such a wide remit. I therefore initially sketched out just 4 lines for 16th century Philosophy, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy and Natural History.

Philosophy remained on the map for a number of revisions, until it grew so large that I was forced to cull the entire line, and place it in my pending folder as a potential project for another time.

Having now in effect restricted myself to modern science, I thought it wise to define a clear boundary so that I wouldn’t end up discarding another major chunk of nugatory work. Having performed some rudimentary research on the major scientific disciplines I once again came to the conclusion that the topic was still too wide and narrowed my scope again to cover just the natural sciences.

With a more achievable purpose now defined I attempted to complete the one line I felt most comfortable with, Evolutionary Biology. This line seemed to work quite well, it had an obvious scientist at its root; I had a good idea of the major contributors and I had some ideas on where it would intersect with other disciplines such as palaeontology and genetics.

Other lines were more problematical; the London Underground Map is far from a perfect analogy for the history of modern science and as such I was forced to make a number of compromises.

Reality is not as clear-cut as my oversimplified map. In most cases the origins of a discipline cannot be wholly attributed to one scientist, as required by my selected format. Consequently I made a number of uncomfortable decisions on where best to split the lines, which disciplines to merge together for map clarity and which lines to place certain scientists on. These decisions are of course wholly subjective and the price I had to pay for a nice flowing single page map.

At this point I acknowledge the argument that ramming the square peg of scientists into the round hole of the London Underground Map renders the whole exercise fairly pointless. However, even if the result is too crude for serious science historians, I still hope the output retains enough honesty to make it a useful starting point for the exploration of the history of science to the interested layperson or intermediate geek.

Having progressed thus far, I paused to further research the scientists in the other disciplines that I needed to complete the map. I trawled the Internet for the major contributors in each discipline and compiled a large spreadsheet of well over a thousand names. I then worked my way through the list whittling it down to those scientists I felt had made the biggest advancements in their field.

As I have commented before, it seems rather perverse that I should wield the power of decision on who to include. Ruthlessly casting aside numerous great minds that I simply didn’t have the space to accommodate.

Having reviewed the list and assigned the lucky remaining scientists to the most suitable lines, the actual task of drawing the map was relatively straightforward. Although of course I habitually encountered the problem of not having a certain scientists near enough to a converging line, forcing me to continually reroute the lines.

Despite now restricting myself to the natural sciences, I found that many of the early scientists I had listed had crucial intersections with mathematics. Having linked these together I was then compelled to follow the mathematics line through to the present day thus extending my carefully constrained scope into one of the formal sciences.

The Mathematics line was therefore the last to be added. It is also the line for which I have received the most comments and suggestions for improvements; perhaps pointing to an area I should read up on a little more.

A number of key modern mathematicians I found myself including where in fact primarily computer scientists, forcing me to re-label the line to Mathematics and Computing. Although now that I look at the map again, I think that perhaps there is a need to split computing off onto its own line.

Other lines contain similar problems; Palaeontology and Geology would benefit from a split, Microbiology has inadvertently become a messy catch-all for all other biological scientists I wanted to include and my split of chemistry is probably not as logical as it could be. These are all potential improvements for a future version.

Another area of consideration was what to do with the more controversial scientists. Prominent Russian scientist Trofim Lysenko for example undoubtedly had an immense influence on society through his exalted position that enabled him to promote what can now been seen as pseudoscientific policies. After consideration I opted to simply leave him off the map.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck on the other hand, despite being primarily remembered for the now discredited theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics as the mechanism for evolution, was nonetheless an early visionary and influential figure in the development of evolution biology. It is perhaps therefore a little disingenuous to shove him at the terminus of a dead-end line.

Looking at the completed map, it’s probably quite clear that I am a mere consumer of popular science rather than a proper scientist with a lab coat, safety goggles and an impressive flask collection. As a consumer of popular science I am therefore easily swayed by the great science communicators.

This opened me up to a criticism that I fully expected to receive. In anticipation of being derided for the inclusion science celebrities at the possible expense of omitting higher contributing but lesser-known scientists, I added a brief justification to the blurb on the side of the map. However to answer the criticism more fully, I do intend to include the worthy lesser-known scientists that my ignorance may have initially overlooked, that’s why I have invited your comments. However, I refuse to demote the science communicators I have already listed. Without the passion, enthusiasm and precious skill-set of science communicators like Carl Sagan, many of the scientists who will make the next breakthroughs may never have been inspired on that path in the first place.

So finally, as of version 1.1 there are a total of 477 scientists on my map, perhaps and arbitrary cap of 500 scientists in 500 years would be a reasonable limit to keep things readable.

Many thanks to everyone who suggested improvements to the map, I’m still working my way through them with the intention of a further update to the map later, but not before normal service of scathing skepdickery has been resumed.