Sunday 29 April 2012

Incontrovertible Photographic Evidence of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Sadly, incontrovertible photographic evidence is of little value to the moon landing denialist.

Apollo 14 Landing Site

For example recent photographs released by NASA that were taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) clearly showing hardware left on the lunar surface by the Apollo missions, (including the “Moon buggy”), are easily dismissed by the moon landing deniers as “fake” as, to the mind of the denialist, NASA are quite obviously “in” on the conspiracy.

Photographic evidence has indeed been subject to much analysis by the moon landing deniers who have spent hours poring over images captured during the Apollo missions in search of anomalies that they believe can only be explained by far-fetched conspiracy theories.

For example the following famous picture taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission showing Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface next to the American flag with the “Eagle” lunar lander in the background, has received numerous criticisms from the deniers.

Many claim that the image has in fact been produced by the manipulation of several composite images in order to create the photograph.

Careful examination of the lunar surface itself by inspection of the physiology of the rocks and craters have led many denialists to claim the lunar surface seen in the photograph is actually a still from the Wallace and Gromit film, “A Grand Day Out”.

Other denialist claim the the Eagle is a shoddy paper model photoshopped into the image.

The American flag in the image has also been contentious with many conspiracists asserting that it is in fact a small cocktail flag crudely merged onto the image.

More astute deniers have even proposed that the space suit worn by Buzz in this photograph is not contemporary with the NASA space suits of the time.

Official Apollo 11 Image copyrighted by NASA 1969 and reproduced with kind permission

I really just don't know what we need to do to convince them.

Saturday 28 April 2012

New Scientific Study Proves the True Power of Prayer

When Bolton Wanders midfielder Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed during the FA Cup quarter-final tie again Tottenham on 17th March 2012, all right-minded and compassionate individuals understandably wished him well and hoped for a speedy recovery.

The succinct phrase or sound bite that quickly gained traction to raise awareness of Fabrice's condition, and to perhaps provide some well-meaning thoughts on how best to help was the twitter hashtag #PrayForMuamba.

I am unsure if many people use the phrase "pray for" as a vernacular term for "think about", "feel compassionate towards" or "hope the best for" or whether people genuinely use the term as a literal petition for supernatural intervention. Perhaps the English language simply lacks a suitable rational verb to convey a more enlightened interpretation of the term pray without losing the warmth, empathy and tenderness associated with the established religious term.

Whether or not the term was used in a literal sense or not, I have a problem with the concept of prayer. If there is no God, or if the god or gods are impotent in the powers required to intervene with human affairs, then prayer is ultimately futile and pointless. If there is an all powerful divine entity with the ability to intervene and alleviate human pain and suffering, then I am concerned as to why he waits to be asked. I am not prepared to plead to a God who is perfectly willing to allow pain and misery to continue unabated until some sycophantic  acolyte sees fit to ask him nicely enough. Hence I find it far more comforting to conclude that the inventors of Christianity created themselves a vindictive and ambivalent deity desperate for praise and adulation from their own fear and ignorance than to believe that I will one day have to answer to such a tyrannical despot.

For this reason I thought prayer a highly unsuitable solution to Fabrice Muamba predicament and rather than hope for capricious divine intervention, I hoped that medial science would be able to successfully intervene. However, I considered it ill-advised to criticise the hashtag at the time of the incident as any criticism of the method would certainly be falsely misconstrued as a lack of concern or care in Fabrice Muamba's condition.

I was of course delighted that a month after Fabrice's heart had stopped beating naturally for just over an hour, he was discharged from the London Chest Hospital and in a statement released by the hospital said "“I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to every single member of staff who played a part in my care".

Subsequent examination of the phenomenon of the use of the word prayer in such circumstances raises several questions though. Is it just a turn of phrase? Do we have an inbuilt irrational mechanism to revert to supernatural pleading in times of crises? And why do the people who still choose to credit God, rather than the Hospital staff, for Fabrice's recovery not stop to consider why God saw fit to stop his heart in the first place. But of course the ultimate question it raises is: Does prayer actually work?

Many serious studies have been conducted into providing a scientific answer to this question. Analysis of the results of the studies of the efficacy of intercessory prayer has mainly concluded that there is no discernible effect. However some less rigorous studies have shown a slight effect (some positive and some detrimental). In cases were prayed for patients fared slightly worse than non-prayed for patients, Richard Dawkins has suggested that the added pressure and anxiety of prayed for patients can have a small negative effect. Conversely it could be argued that a purely natural placebo effect could also have small positive effect if not properly controlled for.

Ultimately though science and religion disagree on the efficacy of intercessory prayer. To date, science has no reliable evidence to support any discernible effect whatsoever for prayer and religion is more than happy to take random anecdotal evidence and statistically expected chance outcomes as sufficient proof. Furthermore, many religionists simply dismiss the unpalatable conclusion of scientific trials showing no efficacy for prayer on the grounds that such answers cannot be determined by science. Preferring instead to believe that their all powerful supreme power would rather ignore scientifically controlled prayers (and thus choose not to prevent death and suffering) than being tricked into be proven to exist. Not entirely unlike Douglas Adams' Babel fish conundrum.

However, new evidence recently plucked from my arse has at last shown a proven scientific effect for prayer. The problem with all the previous studies is that science has been looking for the results in the wrong place. There is obviously no change in the outcome of the patient or person being prayed for, celestial appeal is not one of the myriad of variables at play in the ultimate outcome. There is though, a not insignificant effect in the state of the actual person doing the praying. We all like to think we can contribute to a better outcome, we like to think we've played our part, we like to delude ourselves that we have helped make a difference. Even if we've done fuck-all to actively contribute to a successful outcome we'd still like a little bit of credit, and this is where the true power of prayer lies.

In a completely fabricated study, we measured ten attributes of patients before and after prayer and recorded the percentage increase in each attribute. The following graph shows the unequivocal significant discernible effect of the power of prayer.

Incidentally, if you've recently realised the futility of prayer and are missing some of the personal effects described above, can I recommend becoming a blood donor. It works a treat.

Saturday 21 April 2012

University Challenge: Science v Religion

I'm always rather bemused as to how much the science and religion debate still rages on the interwebs. After all, I thought we'd sorted it out in Britain back in 1976 during a quarter final round of University Challenge.

In case you don't remember, here's a few stills from that episode which I have kindly annotated with the original transcripts of the show.
I seem to recall science made it to the final that year where they had a cracking game against philosophy.

BTW, apologies for using such tired and cliched questions, but it was David Aaronovitch's avatar what made me do it.

Sunday 15 April 2012

How To Make Your Very Own Chupacabra

Eye witness accounts of the Chupacabra or "goat sucker" have been reported ever since 1995.

The first documented sighting by Madelyne Tolentino in Puerto Rico was investigated by skeptical researcher Benjamin Radford. Tolentino described the animal as walking on its hind legs with quills down its spine. In fact, come to think about it, almost identical to the creature “Sil” from the 1995 Hollywood blockbuster, Species, which Tolentino had coincidentally only just watched a few weeks previously.

Once established, the chupacabra phenomenon quickly became a rather handy first port of call to explain the killings of any local livestock. However, not wishing to miss out on all the chupacabra fun south of the border, inspired yahoos from the States started reporting sightings of shabby dogs and coyotes as further evidence of the phenomenon.

Chupacabras soon became the criptid of choice in the Americas and entered popular culture.

Chupacabras therefore make the perfect gift for the budding cryptozoologist and are fun and easy to make.

To make your very own chupacabra you will need:

  • 1 large friendly family dog
  • 4 cans of shaving cream
  • 2 packets of disposable razors
  • 1 set of novelty werewolf fangs
  • 1 tube of superglue
  • A pointy stick (to provoke the beast)
  • Time on your hands
  • incorrigible deviant tendencies

Saturday 14 April 2012

Bring Out Your Gay!

In the unlikely event you haven’t read this weeks news about the banned  “Gay Cure” bus adverts booked by the Core Issues Trust click here. Similarly if you haven’t read Lord Carey’s bigoted rant in the Telegraph click here. Finally I’ll take it as read that, like me, you know your Holy Grail verbatim.

MIKE DAVIDSON:  Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!
      Bring out your gay!

  CHRISTIAN:  Here's one -- where's the cure?

  GAY PERSON:  I'm not gay!


  CHRISTIAN:  Nothing – where’s the cure?

  GAY PERSON:  I'm not gay!

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  Here -- he says he's not gay!

  CHRISTIAN:  Yes, he is.

  GAY PERSON:  I'm not!

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  He isn't.

  CHRISTIAN:  Well, he will be very soon, he knows the names of lots of colours and he’s very well coordinated.

  GAY PERSON:  I fancy that Katy Price bird with the big knockers!

  CHRISTIAN:  No, you don't -- you like that nice Mr. Clooney.

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  Oh, I can't cure him like that -- it's against regulations.

  GAY PERSON:  I don't want to be cured!

  CHRISTIAN:  Oh, don't be such a baby.

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  I can't cure him...

  GAY PERSON:  I feel heterosexual!

  CHRISTIAN:  Oh, do us a favor...

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  I can't.

  CHRISTIAN:  Well, can you hang around a couple of minutes?  He’ll listen to his musicals again in a minute.

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  Naaah, I got to go on to Elton John's -- they've got loads.

  CHRISTIAN:  Well, when is your next round?

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  Thursday.

  GAY PERSON:  I think I'll go and buy a copy of Nuts magazine.

  CHRISTIAN:  You're not fooling anyone y'know.  Look, isn't there something you can do?

  GAY PERSON:  I feel straight… I feel straight.

      [reparative therapy]

  CHRISTIAN:  Ah, thanks very much.

  MIKE DAVIDSON:  Not at all.  See you on Thursday.

  CHRISTIAN:  Right.

      [Lord Carey chips in with a warning about Christian’s being vilified]

 BORIS JOHNSON:  Who's that then?

 KEN LIVINGSTONE:  I don't know.

 BORIS JOHNSON:  Must be a former Arch Bishop.


 BORIS JOHNSON:  He's talking shit.

xckd: Austin Powers and the Enfield Poltergeist

Thursday 12 April 2012

Explain Love You Atheist Bastard

You’ll be familiar with this situation. Sometime after the event, perhaps whilst on the drive home, you’re mulling over the conversation in your head. At the time you didn’t have a good answer to that unexpected question. You hesitated, you floundered, perhaps you went off on a bit of tangent, but now that you’ve had time to think about it, you now know what you should have said. After five mental iterations of the conversation you have honed your answer. Now you have a clever, profound and witty riposte. If only you had thought at the time to call him a bellend and tell him to fuck off. But the moment has passed. The opportunity is lost.

Three years ago I packed my son and daughter off on a summer camp. Camp Quest was the UK’s first summer camp that openly promoted a rational worldview. In addition to the normal camping activities there were sessions on philosophy and critical thinking. The media jumped on the story, relabelled it as an Atheist Summer Camp and found a way to connect it to the ever popular Richard Dawkins. In addition to deftly fielding the unnecessary and arbitrary media interest herself the camp director also asked if any of the parents would be prepared to talk to the media. I put my best foot forward.

I did a short interview for the BBC World Service, the local BBC TV evening news and a local radio phone-in show with a rather pious Anne Diamond. I also got asked to pop into Broadcasting House to record a piece for the Radio 4 Sunday morning religious slot with Roger Bolton. The interview went quite well, Roger was a very likable host and I think presented a reasonable and balanced overview of the camp. He did however catch me slightly unawares with a perennial poser that I really should have anticipated. I’m not quite sure why I happened to be thinking about it again this morning, but only three years late, I have finally composed my rejoinder.

After establishing my lack of belief and my preference for more rational and scientific explanations I was posed the familiar question of how I explain love. An emotion so overwhelming that its explanation transcends the ability of mere science to explain or even comprehend. Leading to the only possible conclusion that love is evidence of some divine power beyond the realms of human logic. I’m sure there’s also an unspoken implication in the question. By daring me to reduce the appreciation of art or even love itself to a series of mere electrical impulses or chemical reactions I would demean the whole experience. By denying the unexplainable spiritual nature of such experiences I would somehow lessen them. Perhaps it’s even assumed that such cold rational reasoning has rendered me incapable of experiencing love with the same intensity of the faithful. If such an implication exists, I object to it.

Time to wheel in the analogy. I’m sure it must have been made before, but it’s only just occurred to me…

I do like a nice magic trick. When Penn & Teller or Derren Brown perform some inexplicable feat of magic that appears to contradict the fundamental physical laws of the universe, I am suitably impressed. I am suitably impressed despite realising that rather than actually breaking the fundamental physical laws of the universe the magicians have simply tricked me. Indeed appreciating the skilled sleight of hand or the ingenuity, planning, practise and banal ground work that is required in order to achieve an effect that I cannot easily explain, is actually more impressive than a naive belief in magic. Removing the irrational belief in magic has not cheapened the trick, on the contrary it has forced me to consider more complex, fascinating and ultimately, more truthful mechanisms. I invariably fail to conclude the exact method of the trick, but there is no doubt that it is a trick. The more you understand the magician’s techniques, the more impressed you tend to be by a really good trick. Nature can pull of some pretty neat tricks too, and love is certainly one of it’s better ones, trying to understand it in biological terms will inevitably add more awe and wonder to it than indiscriminately crediting it to an supernatural force. I may still have failed to answer what love actually is, but I shan’t be cajoled into thinking that when science eventually works it, it will be in anyway diminished.

So I’ve committed these thoughts to memory just in case. In the unlikely event I am ever asked back on the Ann Diamond show and am posed once more with Roger’s tiresome love quandary, I shall be ready with my prepared retort: “Fuck off Anne, you bellend.”

Sunday 8 April 2012

More Quacking Word Art

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I rather enjoyed knocking up a few religious symbols yesterday, so thought I'd knock off another one this morning. BTW, the word art was created using this rather nice website.

Saturday 7 April 2012

What Do Religious Symbols Say To You?

I'm sure religious symbols say many different things to many different people. Here's what they say to me...

Friday 6 April 2012

The Kepler 22B Curiosity Rover

The discovery of brave new alien worlds has always excited and fascinated humanity.

The verifications of other planets within our solar system by the early astronomers have rightly been identified as momentous scientific discoveries. The earth-based optical telescopes used to discover our immediate neighbours in the solar system may not be capable of glimpsing planets around other stars. However, new and innovative scientific methods such as gravitational microlensing, radial velocity and the transit method are now being deployed to detect a host of exciting new exoplanets beyond our solar system.

The Kepler Spacecraft launched in 2009 has used the transit method to observe the brightness of a star dimming as an orbiting planet passes in front of the star from our vantage point. Observing this dimming allows astronomers to calculate the size of the planet, the length of its year (based on the frequency of the transits) and occasionally even the composition of its atmosphere using spectral analysis.

Kepler 22b is one such recently discovered exoplanet which many scientists believe could even have oceans, continents and may possibly even have living creatures roaming its alien surface.

Enthused by the prospect that such a planet in the “Goldilocks” zone could potentially harbour extraterrestrial life, NASA are already contemplating a new Curiosity Rover mission especially designed to search for and explore life on this distant world.

The probe carrying the Kepler Curiosity Rover would take a slightly disappointing 11,000,000 years to complete its epic journey to Kepler 22b, but once there, will be capable of beaming back the results of its extraterrestrial investigations at the speed of light, reaching our earth bound eavesdropping scientists in a mere 600 years.

The project will of course dwarf the 2.5 billion dollars invested in the Mars Curiosity Rover, but thanks to specially designed scientific life detecting equipment developed by NASA, scientists are optimistic that their advanced technology will ensure they yield the maximum available data on any alien species encountered on Kepler 22b.

Like the Mars Curiosity Rover, the Kepler Curiosity Rover is too heavy to deploy airbags like those used to cushion the landing of the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers and will instead rely on a series of thrusters to manage a controlled descent onto the planet surface.

Once the landing sequence has successfully completed the Kepler 22b Curiosity Rover will ensure that it cannot be seen by any credible alien witnesses. The Rover will then await an unsuspecting local idiot that no one will ever believe and incapacitate them with a bright light.

Once the alien subject has been suitably debilitated the Kepler 22b Rover will deploy its undercracker removal unit to detach any garments blocking access to the subjects’ lower exploration portal. Once the approach has been cleared the Kepler 22b Curiosity Rover will insert its scientifically enhanced rectal probe into the unwary arsehole of the alien subject.

A made up spokesman for NASA stated that scientists have explored many options in alien communication methods. This has included both audio and visual signals transmitted at various wavelengths and frequencies in order to convey universal non random patterns such as prime number sequences that are capable of being interpreted by intelligent life forms that have evolved in an alien environment. However, extensive research of alien visitations here on earth has shown that such methods are in fact far less effective at gaining an understanding of alien biology, physiology and culture than strategically bum raping them with a shiny metallic dildo.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Multi-faith Transubstantiated Snacks

Those who have frequented church services in the past will be aware that Christian worship often includes a short brunch, lovingly referred to as the Eucharist. This jolly little ceremony is of course based on the last supper and bread and wine are drank and eaten in remembrance of the Christians beardy best friend.

The wine represents the blood of Christ and the bread (or more commonly, wafer) the body of Christ. However in a spectacular attempt to stretch credulity to its absolute limit, good old Roman Catholic theology takes this sacred snack one step further. Once the presiding cleric has uttered the magic spell: “This is my body, broken for you etc etc”, the wafer ceases to be a mere wheat based nibble and quite literally becomes a piece of the actual body of Christ. Not a symbolic representation. A genuine actual real sliver of raw flesh faithfully butchered from the scrawny body of a rather mouthy Nazarene joiner. I shit you not.

I’ve comfort snacked on our Lord and and it turns out that Jesus actually has a rather vapid flavour and would probably benefit from a condiment or two. However, I am reliably informed that it is bad form to season our Lord and Saviour before you pop him into your mouth. But despite his rather insipid taste he’s the Sunday morning breakfast of choice for over a billion devoted Catholics.

Perhaps some of the other religions could take heed of this popular gastronomic ritual and provide their own followers with a similar morsel of holy tuck, flavoured with the deity of their choice.

Large congregation packs of communion wafers are indeed already freely available to purchase from your favourite online retailer. Why not simply provide the wafers or indeed any wheat, potato or maize based deep fried snack pre-blessed and transformed into the fleshy tissue of your preferred divinity?

In much the same way that traditional potato chip manufactures add various flavours to their snacks, an assortment of priests, mullahs, monks and poojaries installed at the end of the factory production lines could magically transubstantiate the savoury nibbles into the required god by muttering a quick incantation as they pass by.

In a consumer driven, connivence seeking, modern multi faith society like ours, I think a range of pre-blessed god snacks, suitable for all faiths could be a real winner. Here’s some suggested lines that I think would go down a treat: