Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Irish Blasphemy Law Passes

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


Well, shit.

Ireland passed the blasphemy law.

What does this mean for Irish citizens? It means you can be convicted for trashing someone’s beliefs if you cause “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” (Again, what is a “substantial number”? Who knows.)

Paliban Daily offers up some frightening consequences, given that “blasphemy” isn’t very well-defined:

  • Atheists can be prosecuted for saying that God is imaginary. That causes outrage.
  • Pagans can be prosecuted for saying they left Christianity because God is violent and bloodthirsty, promotes genocide, and permits slavery.
  • Christians can be prosecuted for saying that Allah is a moon god, or for drawing a picture of Mohammed, or for saying that Islam is a violent religion which breeds terrorists.
  • Jews can be prosecuted for saying Jesus isn’t the Messiah.

Those aren’t all accurate… for example, Jews can say Jesus isn’t the Messiah because their religious beliefs are protected under the law. But I suspect if they went around saying as much, holding posters that said he wasn’t the Messiah in a dickish sort of way, and made a “substantial number” of Christians angry, then we’d have problems.

We’re also told that academic and theological debate isn’t subject to the rules. But again, it’s tough to say what constitutes those kinds of debates. Can bloggers tear apart religious arguments and those who make them if they’re not professors? Can Irish people call certain Catholic priests rapists and attribute it to their faith and just say it’s part of theological debate? Can we call out certain adherents of a fundamentalist version of Islam as terrorists if that is warranted? Either everything in these categories is blasphemy or nothing is.


Randi’s TAM 7 Opening Speech transcript

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


Written by Phil Plait

Today marks the official start of The Amaz!ng Meeting 7! The ceremonies were opened by Randi himself, and below is a transcript of his talk.

Greetings, all! First, welcome to The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. The JREF staff and I have been repeatedly astonished – if not “amazed” – at the steady growth of this annual event, and we are appropriately grateful and humble for your presence here. But, I must explain my somewhat subdued appearance…

This is what I call a major bummer. During a routine medical examination more than a month ago, it was discovered that I had a nasty visitor inside me – yet another stunning example of Intelligent Design at work, friends. My doctors went in and removed it, and things are looking up again. I’ll be pretty weak for a couple of months, but I assure you all that I’m fighting this thing with the very best technical help – I’m not at all shy about embracing technology! – and I’ll be able to keep up with my regular duties as the treatment proceeds.

This is the reason you’ve not seen any recent videos from me. Of course, I’m very fortunate to have good folks like Phil Plait, that Bad Astronomer, along with the ever-present, ever-diligent, and very fierce Linda Shallenberger, to back me up. They stepped in to manage and resuscitate TAM 7, and I think the results speak for themselves…!

The public response to my illness has been very generous and flattering. I’m now all the more aware of just how important our work is, and I intend to stay around for a long time because I’ve got a lot to do. My prognosis is good, even though I’ve decided to go along with this old-fashioned “orthodox” medicine, cutting back on the prayers and faith-healing, and opting for minimal voodoo ceremonies.


Amazing News

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

Via @krelnick on Twitter we get this bit of Amazing News:

BREAKING NEWS: @BadAstronomer announced at Amazing Meeting that the @JREF Million Dollar Challenge will continue!


Do YOU want to add 20 years to your life? Of course you do!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

And, obviously, of course you can’t through a pill, no matter what the Daily Express wants you to believe.

A WONDER pill could extend the lifespan of people by up to 23 years.

I’m intrigued!

The “elixir of life” anti-ageing drug was made from a compound found in the soil on Easter Island – one of the most remote places on Earth – which is created by a microbe living in the soil.

Going good so far. Of course you need “one of  the most remote places on Earth”. That implies it is untempered with, which implies it is natural. We all know how freaking great natural stuff is, no? And having a place called Easter does not hurt either. It adds a religious layer to this whole thing. Good marketing!

It is hoped that the findings could lead to the creation of drugs that dramatically slow down ageing, allowing people to be healthier for longer.

Hoped? HOPED? I thought we had a WONDER drug on our hands, what’s hope got to do with anything?

The Easter Island compound – called rapamycin after the island’s Polynesian name Rapa Nui – was found to extend expected lifespan by 38 per cent when tested on mice.

Oh that’s why, it’s only been tested in mice so far (and we dont’ even know the details of that research, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being)! I guess that’s wonderful news for rodents.

Dr Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Institute, said: “I’ve been in ageing research for 35 years and there have been many so-called ‘anti-ageing’ interventions over those years that were never successful. I never thought we would find an anti-ageing pill for people in my lifetime. Rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that.”

Ah, news flash Dr. Richardons, all the failed anti-ageing interventions showed great promise in the initial stages of research. I would advise at least a pilot study on humans before you start touting what a great deal of promise rapamycin offers. Come on a bit of skepticism, doctor! Maybe you should take a cue from your colleagues at Oxford.

Dr Lynne Cox, researcher in ageing at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, said: “This is a very exciting study where a single drug with a known cellular effect increases the life expectancy and lifespan of mice.

“In no way should anyone consider using this particular drug to try to extend their own lifespan as rapamycin suppresses immunity. While the lab mice were protected from infection, that’s simply impossible in humans.

That’s right folks. Of course the study is exciting but check your horses before you start patenting this stuff.

So where do we, as skeptics, stand with regards to this particular drug? We should find the results of the study interesting and exciting. If the study was conducted properly and it had the effects it says, and it can be fairly reasonably replicated this could be very interesting. But being interested by a possibility is vastly different from a headline that proclaims that “NEW PILL CAN ADD 20 YEARS TO LIFE” or having a first sentence in your article that says “A WONDER pill could extend the lifespan of people by up to 23 years.”. Not it can’t! No it couldn’t! Not yet we cannot make such statements.

I wonder: do headline writers even read the article they’re writing the headline for?

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The Story So Far: Vikings In The Bar, Envelopes, Randi’s Big White Limousine, Some Notes On Food, The Conference Begins

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


Written by Brandon Thorp

The Del Mar bar is empty right now, which is weird. It is a big bar, roughly the shape of an oyster shell, separated from an ocean of evil-looking slot-machines by several hundred feet of polished brass railings. Each of the slots advertises an ever-growing jackpot, which had edged up near $1,300,000 last time I checked. But we are not interested in slots. We are interested in the bar. By 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, a small band of early-bird skeptics led by a large and improbably cuddly Danish Viking named Toby had colonized one of the Del Mar’s central tables. We were a small bunch, but loud, and The South Point Casino’s more traditional patrons eyed us curiously as though we were some rare, geeky species of desert fauna.

The South Point is a glittering, T-shaped hunk of rock and metal rising up out of the desert a couple miles south of the Las Vegas strip. It is owned by Michael Gaughan, the man who, it is said, originated the practice of plying gamblers with free booze. South Point, once known as South Coast, is the biggest building around. It is so big that the Casino hasn’t yet found time to mention all of its restaurants on its website. Somewhere on the first floor there is an “Equestrian Arena” with room for over 1,000 horses, and South Point is so big that no one I speak to has yet set eyes on this arena, nor can say with any certainty where it is. The casino’s hotel contains over 800 rooms on 25 floors. You could get lost here, and many have — it’s like something out of a Steven Milhauser novel; a place that you never need to leave, and which can very quickly rejigger your Circadian rhythms and leave you completely indifferent to the comings and goings of the outside world. I haven’t seen sunlight or been outside for over 24 hours, and I don’t feel weird at all. Here, the casino floor is the outside; the public square through which one must pass to get from here to there. The ceilings are high, and the thousands of machines give off a diffuse, twilighty glow that makes every second look and feel like happy hour.

The five skeptics in the bar at 3:30 on Tuesday had turned into a dozen by 5:00. Jay Novella arrived. Hal Bidlack swooped down from somewhere, and so did Richard Saunders. By sundown we had five tables, and by the time I went to bed we had ten. 24 hours later, the bar was ours entirely and the non-skeptics had fled. They must have wondered: Who are these people? And what’s up with all of these origami pigs?We didn’t give up the Del Mar until this morning, when the TAM registration desk opened up on the second floor and people began arriving for the Science-Based Medicine workshop. The specific chain of events that led to our launch this morning is too complicated to explicate comprehensively here — not to mention too boring — but here are some notes.


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Tam 7 Begins!

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


For those of you not attending TAM, I can understand if you’d rather not read about it. After all, you’re missing out on the premiere skeptical event of the year, and possibly the largest skeptic gathering of al time. But, I urge you to read this, because technology has moved forward, and you can actually attend TAM in the comfort of your own home. Ok, not really… but you can share the excitement in a bunch of new ways:

  • If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow @TAMLive for frequent updates with photos. Also, search #TAM7 for a lot of chatter about the event.

  • We will be trying to UStream some of the event, including the live Million Dollar Challenge on Sunday. For the uninitiated, UStream is a live video streaming web application that will allow us to send audio and video of the event straight to your computer.


Skepdude says: I want to be there. I WANT TO BE THERE! Why am I not there? **sobbing uncontrollably**

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