Saturday, 1 January 2011

Science, Reason & Critical Thinking in 2010

Writing this blog in 2010 has been both an immense pleasure and a bloody pain in the arse.

When my befuddled brain aimlessly stumbled across a cunning idea to look at a news item or a piece of pseudo-scientific or supernatural nonsense in a vaguely amusing or satirical way, the posts invariably wrote themselves. And the resulting number of page views and global feedback was at times quite intoxicating.

However, like all drugs the intoxicating high inevitably subsides and one has to resort to trawling the inter-webs for the next hit.

As I am currently in between ideas I thought I'd just reminisce on some of the highs from 2010 whilst I patiently await inspiration.

Perhaps my personal favourite post of 2010 was The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense. A wholly unoriginal idea that mysteriously came to me shortly after reading a tweet from a rather obnoxious clown pointing me to a periodic table of swearing. Having immediately spotted how easily this format could be commandeered to comic effect to represent pretty much anything, I had a quick google to check if anyone else had bothered to knock up a periodic table of bullshit. As no one had, I bravely shouldered the responsibility myself. The post was quickly cobbled together initially in MS Word and then conveniently given a push start by a kindly passing TV Science superstar who re tweeted the link 5 minutes after posting, while it was still riddled with typos, spelling mistakes and duplicate symbols. I have had ideas for other items that could be nicely represented on a periodic table, but have so far resisted the temptation to milk the concept dry.

Flushed with the success of the periodic table of Irrational nonsense, I racked my brain for another iconic image to bastardise to my own nefarious ends, and thought of the London Underground Map. Again, another wholly unoriginal idea, although I was only pointed at the Great Bear after I had completed the first draft. This particular post has taken longer to put together than pretty much every other post in 2010 combined. Furthermore, my brilliant idea of adding a nice little mouse-over image for each scientist has turned out to be a colossal task that is still in progress. I'm also still not happy with the contents of the map. I do intend to update it at some point to recognise some more recent Nobel laureates.

However, one of the primary reasons for starting the blog in the first place was to tweak the nose of religious nonsense. And whilst I try and steer clear of specifically targeting religious believers in general, I do enjoy a good pop at the Pope as much as the next rationalist. What's more, I thought I really ought to mark the Pope's 2010 UK tour with something that points out both the lunacy and dangers of his authority. The Twat in the Hat came about whilst thinking of some of my old favourite childhood books I could parody to this purpose. Whilst my rhymes themselves demonstrate a clumsiness and disregard for meter second only to Adrian Mole, it was still one of the most enjoyable pieces to write.

The idea of parodying the Mr. Men books also came at a similar time and sat in my pending folder for a period of time originally intended as a vehicle to take heartless pop shots at a number of religious beliefs on each page. However it failed to progress as I had no idea what Mr Credulous should look like. Then following Councillor John Dixon's infamous tweet, I rewrote the ending and culled about half of the original pages, and then after re-listening to the old Tim Minchin ditty, "If you open your mind too much your brain will fall out" I finally realised what Mr Credulous should look like.

But I wasn't done with Pope Benny yet, and whilst perusing facebook for inspiration I spotted the Pope's formal and rather dry official facebook page. I thought this would be much more entertaining if the Pope used facebook to post his innermost personal thoughts. With that idea in mind, it was a relatively simple task to knock up a faux facebook page for the Pope. Incidentally, I understand the National Secularist Society got a few complaints after including a link to my papal facebook mock-up in one of their weekly news letters. It was also far too easy not to cobble together a few more posts along the same lines featuring comments from Osama Bin Laden and Her Majesty.

Other posts have of course proved to be less popular. I rather liked my idea of having Malcolm Tucker as a papal advisor, but apparently most people didn't agree. But curiously what I thought was a rather mediocre alternative therapy flow chart, hastily knocked up whilst the wife was watching Midsomer Murders, went on to become awfully popular.

Going back to the start of 2010, the ten23 campaign had many of us targeting the magic water of homeopathy. Homeopathy is a satirists dream, as it's absurd concept is so ripe for ridicule. And of course I couldn't resist jumping on the band wagon with some suggested packaging for Boots and other manufactures, another Ladybird book, the leaked ten23 video, confessions of a ten23 safety officer and the parliamentary select committee on homeopathy paraphrased with python.

But despite all the fun we hand poking a shitty stick at those crazy water wizards and other newage fruitcakes, the skeptical highlight of the year came on April 1st with the astonishingly liberal judgement at the court of appeal in favour of Simon Singh. This gave me the opportunity to finally add the happy ending to my Ladybird Book of Chiropractic Treatment and English Libel Law that is so badly lacked and gave me the opportunity to plunder the python archives once again.

In contrast, one of the skeptical low points of the year, was Dr. Evan Harris losing his seat in this years general election, just as the Lib Dems are finally getting their grubby little paws on the levers of control and sadly proving themselves no better than any other bugger.

But the most page-views on this blog in 2010 came from the combined Skeptic Trump cards thanks to the brilliant illustrations by Neil Davies and skeptical heavyweights like Stephen Fry, Dara O'Briain, Dave Gorman and Phil Plait kindly linking to their cards on this blog. Although we have sort of run out of steam with the Skeptic Trumps, there are a few notable skeptics still not included that we may hopefully rectify at some point. Also, I've had a number of requests from various people enquiring about purchasing a physical copy of the cards, an idea I haven't entirely given up on yet. Many thanks to vast majority of the Skeptic Trump card subjects who have responded so positively to their cards, and apologies to Rebecca Watson who thought she looked like she was having a seizure on hers (personally I thought she looked kinda cute). Oh and apologies also to Neil Denny who's new trump card has not yet materialised due to a slight cock-up involving an author and lawyer who happens to share the same name. Still I'm sure Neil takes solace in the fact we have now included his co presenter Padraig Reidy in the deck. But most of all thanks to Daniel Pope, Neil Davies and Simon Perry who managed to spring an unexpected Skeptic Trump card of my own on me at TAM London. And finally on the subject of Skeptic Trumps, I've not yet heard from Ricky Gervais.

Well that just about wraps it up for 2010 but I fully intend on continuing to take the piss out irrational nonsense as and when it arises in 2011. See you then.
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