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An Analysis of ‘PepsiGate’
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 8 July 2010
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Fizzy drinks and computers famously don’t mix, which is why I no longer drink Coke during BBC Question Time. But it turns out that they don’t work too well in blogs either, as Seed Magazine are finding out to their cost.

The story, in a nutshell, is that Seed - the company behind ScienceBlogs - and Pepsi - the company behind obesity and tooth decay - have entered a partnership in which Pepsi will pay to have their own ScienceBlogs blog. This is obviously a break away from the usual model in which bloggers apply to the site, are accepted on merit, and receive some pocket money from advertising.

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[Review] The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 12 June 2010
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This is the first in an occasional series of posts based on the premise that people send me things for free, and I then review them. If you’d also like to send me anything for free, please get in touch.

Today’s subject is a book called The Sun Kings, by Stuart Clark. It also has a subtitle, “The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began.” The subtitle is, I think you will agree with me, pretty crap, and the front cover is a dire mixture of red and greenish yellow that would look nice on the dinner plate at my local Indian Restaurant, but doesn’t make the cover particularly attractive or easy to read.

Sadly, I expect most people’s reaction in a bookstore these days would be “Who the **** is Richard Carrington?”

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Jeremy Laurance: When Science Journalism Goes ‘Meh’
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 12 June 2010
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Over the last week, a miniature storm has been brewing on the intertubes, and it concerns a subject which everyone is sick of talking about, but which everyone feels compelled to talk about anyway: no, not house prices, but the state of science journalism.

Specifically this is a response to Jeremy Laurance, a man who does not like criticism, and so will probably not like this post, should he ever develop enough of an understanding of the internet to find it and read it.

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Scientific Data and Freedom of Information
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 26 April 2010
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So last week I was given a bit of a roasting by guest blogger Sarah over a remark I made on Twitter, where I said that I couldn’t see why academic data should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, Twitter is not a good place to put things in context, so here’s a post clarifying my views.

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The Litmus Test: Science policy at the general election
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 26 April 2010
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All this week, I’ll be running a series of six articles and a podcast at The Guardian examining the science policies of the various parties contesting the imminent General Election. We’ve put a series of questions to eight of the parties, and we’ll be reviewing their answers as well as posting them in full on our special microsite:

The Litmus Test: Science policy at the general election

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Science and the General Election - An Analysis Begins
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 22 April 2010
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Last year, Frank Swain of SciencePunk and I put a series of questions to various parties ahead of the European Election in an article that ended up creating a lot of debate, particularly in and around the Green Party.

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More on Blogging vs Journalism
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 17 April 2010
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Earlier this week I put up a piece on science vs. journalism, in which I took Fiona Fox to task for failing to understand that blogging is a medium, not a style of writing, and that journalism is a style of writing, not a medium. Since then, Ed Yong, Quackometer and Jack of Kent have pitched in with their versions. One of those three are right, the other two are, I think, flawed.

Ed’s take on this is brilliant (and hilarious), and he really seems to get it.

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The Giants’ Shoulders #22
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 16 April 2010
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Welcome to the 22nd edition of The Giant’s Shoulders, a carnival all about scientific research from days gone by, when you couldn’t just look it up on Wikipedia and you had to scratch a wet stick across a bit of dead tree to get your point across and Pluto was still a planet. Ah, the good old days.

Anyway, on with the submissions:

JUST A MON explores how astronomy has been used to date historical events, and how the results may not always be as accurate as we might wish.

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BCA Fold
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 15 April 2010
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Moments ago, it was announced via Simon Singh’s lawyers that… well, here’s what they said:

The BCA today served a Notice of Discontinuance bringing to an end its ill-fated libel claim against Dr Simon Singh arising out of criticisms he made of its promotion of treatments for childhood ailments.

Dr Singh’s predicament as the sole defendant in an action brought in respect of a comment piece in the Guardian newspaper (to which the BCA never directed any complaint) was seen as a rallying point for those concerned about the abuse of UK libel laws in connection with scientific debate.

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Bloggers vs. Journalists: A Response to Fiona Fox (and Richard Littlejohn)
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 14 April 2010
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In a fit of apparently unintentional irony, Fiona Fox of the Royal Institution’s Science Media Centre, has posted a blog on the BBC’s journalism blog about how blogging isn’t journalism.

I’ll get to that in a second, but Richard Littlejohn has also criticized blogs recently, and I can’t resist sharing his views with you. Littlejohn is a man with many intelligent and nuanced points to make about new media, as evidenced in his latest column, published on the internet:

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BCA Statement in Response to Today’s Ruling
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 1 April 2010
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Just a quick post - the BCA have responded to my request for a statement on today’s ruling (surprisingly quickly). Click on the link to read it. I’ll blog more on this when I have time later.

Statement

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Legal Threats against Layscience.net
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 24 March 2010
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On March 11th, I received a letter from some lawyers in Yorkshire. Who they are doesn’t really matter, they’re just one of many provincial firms of solicitors in the UK. They were engaged by Principle Healthcare, a firm selling vitamin pills, motto: “Our reputation is your insurance.”

Unfortunately for Principle Healthcare’s reputation, another blogger and regular guest writer on The Lay Scientist, James Cole, spotted some claims on their website one day that seemed to be a bit dodgy. He decided to do some investigating, and he reported his findings to the MHRA, and to Trading Standards.

They weren’t very pleased with Principle Healthcare. The MHRA said:

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What have the Scientists ever done for us?
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 18 March 2010
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Somewhere in the interior of PARLIAMENT. A darkened room with a very conspiratorial atmosphere. MANDELSON and BROWN are seated at a table at one end of the room. DARLING, dressed in Activist gear — black robes and a red sash around his head — is standing by a plan on the wall. He is addressing a committee of about eight Masked Activists. Their faces are partially hidden.

Darling:
We get in through the underground cooling system here… up through to the hadron collider chamber here… and the collider itself is in this big ring here. Having grabbed the collider, we inform Cox that it’s in our custody and forthwith issue our demands. Any questions?

Harris:

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Science is an Economic Solution (New Scientist)
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 17 March 2010
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Brian Cox was not faced with the toughest audiences at the Old Monk in Westminster last night. His talk was delivered to Westminster Skeptics; an assorted rabble of scientists, sceptics, bloggers and journalists led by legal blogger Jack of Kent, who meet once a month to discuss issues dear to rationalists. Brian’s message - that science funding must be protected and ideally increased - was not a particularly hard one to sell to such an audience.

Continuing reading here or, read an edited version at New Scientist

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The Homeopaths Strike Back (The Times)
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 9 March 2010
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It’s fair to say that 2010 hasn’t been a vintage year for homeopathy so far. At the end of January, a mass public ‘overdose’ by critics aiming to demonstrate the fact that homeopathic remedies contain no active ingredients received widespread coverage. Weeks later, the Science & Technology Select Committee released a report that damned not just homeopathy, but the homeopaths themselves, ultimately concluding that homeopathy works no better than placebo, and that NHS funding for the alternative medicine should be scrapped.

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Singh Case Puts Chiropractors Under Siege
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 1 March 2010
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As the British Chiropractic Association’s battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the fincancial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice “baffled”. What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures revealed by the General Chiropractic Council.

Continue reading at The Guardian!

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ElectionWatch - 1st March
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 1 March 2010
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Welcome to the first edition of Election Watch, an irregular evidence-based look at the coming General Election.

I’ll be working on a major new project relating to the election in the next few weeks, details of which to come soon. But in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to do a regular blog of evidence-based tidbits about the elections, looking at the latest data and reflecting on possible outcomes generally, and for science.

Polls are like snow-flakes
The papers have excitedly reported that a Yougov poll this weekend shows the Conservatives sitting just 2 points ahead of Labour, a result which if repeated would leave Labour still the largest party, though without a majority.

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British Chiropractic Association Give Statement on Singh Libel Hearing
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 24 February 2010
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I’ll be filing a piece for The Guardian tomorrow on the latest developments surrounding Simon Singh’s judge-baffling libel case. In the meantime, I’ve been approaching various people for comment, and I’ve managed to get a statement from the BCA. Here it is in it’s full, informative glory, followed by my own in-depth analysis.

“Thanks for your email and request for interview and comment. The BCA is currently not providing any comment but as matters progress this might change and if it does we’ll contact you. Sorry we can’t help at this time.”

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Homeopathy: Useless, Dishonest and Unethical
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 23 February 2010
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In the words of one blogger, “the Select Committee was biased - biased by the evidence.” Today the Science and Technology Select Committee delivered their verdict on homeopathy, and it was devastating. The committee have called for the complete withdrawal of NHS funding and MHRA licensing of homeopathy.

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The 130th Skeptics Circle
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 11 February 2010
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Welcome, stranger, to the 130th edition of the Skeptics Circle, the blog carnival that is to blog carnivals what the Morris Minor is to Japan.

As a bit of a change, and to make things nice and concise so that you can get straight to the lovely juicy meat of the articles without having to read lots of tedious waffle by me first, I’m going to do a special “quotes” edition. Each quote links to an article containing that quote. For extra fun, you can try guessing what the article is about from the quote!

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My Response to the British Homeopathic Association
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 9 February 2010
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Over the weekend I received a rare honour, a press release directed at me with the full intellectual might of the British Homeopathic Association behind it.

The statement came after I wrote a piece for the Guardian which was published under the title “Homeopathic association misrepresented evidence to MPs“. Since they’ve taken such a personal interest in my work, I feel obliged to respond.

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10:23: My Arsenic Overdose
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 1 February 2010
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Saturday was a surreal day. First thing in the morning, I was wired up by a fly-on-the-wall documentary team before greeting the press and swallowing an entire bottle of (homeopathic) arsenic. At lunch, still alive but barely awake, I was giving phone interviews to the Press Association and a Russian magazine, then I spent a frantic evening on the phone to a producer at BBC News 24 arranging to get a either Simon Singh or Evan Harris MP to the studio. This blogging nonsense really has changed my life.

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Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It! (The Guardian)
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 29 January 2010
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Tomorrow, I plan to travel to the centre of London where I will take a huge overdose – in public – consuming an entire bottle of pills.

I will not be alone. I’ll be joined by several hundred others in London and around the world who will also be overdosing. No harm will come to us because the pills will be homeopathic, and therefore contain no active ingredient – just sugar.

Continue reading at The Guardian!

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Homeopathy: Overdosing on Nothing (for New Scientist)
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 28 January 2010
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AT 10.23 am on 30 January, more than 300 activists in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US will take part in a mass homeopathic “overdose”. Sceptics will publicly swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic pills to demonstrate to the public that homeopathic remedies, the product of a scientifically unfounded 18th-century ritual, are simply sugar pills.

Read on at New Scientist!

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The iPad: A Review
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 27 January 2010
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This blog entry has nothing to do with science whatsoever, so if you don’t want to read somebody ranting incoherently about something that has nothing to do with science for seven hundred words or so, then please feel free to leave. Only, this is my blog, and sometimes I feel the need to vent.

So the great brain of Apple, Steve Jobs, has unveiled his greatest innovation yet - the iPad. It’s a portable device somewhere between a phone and a laptop, a netbook with its keyboard removed, named after a 21st century feminine hygiene product.

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Dave Gorman Supports 10:23 on Channel 5
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 22 January 2010
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Some of you may know that I’m the press officer for the 10:23 Campaign. It’s been a truly crazy week, but moments like this have been incredibly rewarding. 10:23 was featured on The Wright Stuff this morning, and Dave Gorman gave an excellent, clear, and razor-sharp explanation of why we’re doing this.

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New Evidence Reveals the MHRA’s Farcical Approach to Homeopathy
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 15 January 2010
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The Science and Technology Select Committee have published two new documents submitted by the MHRA as part of their homeopathy ‘evidence check’; a public consultation from 2005 which the MHRA used to argue that there was “widespread support for the introduction of national rules for the authorisation of homeopathic medicinal products”; and a document describing how labels for the homeopathic remedy ‘Arnica 30C’ was tested.

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Susan Greenfield and Science Communication at the RI
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 11 January 2010
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That the Royal Institution is experiencing financial difficulties will come as a surprise to anyone who has made the mistake of offering to buy a round in their bar, but Susan Greenfield’s departure comes with the 211 year-old charity more than three million pounds in the red after an expensive renovation of its premises.

Continue reading at The Guardian!

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Susan Greenfield vs the Royal Institution
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 9 January 2010
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Rumours have been circulating for at least a month, but last night Susan Greenfield was sacked by the Royal Institution from her position as Director and, in apparent retaliation, announced that she would sue her former employers for discrimination.

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Circumcision: A Response to Amy Tuteur
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 7 January 2010
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ResearchBlogging.org This is a response to a controversial piece in Science Based Medicine by Amy Tuteur, M.D. on circumcision: The case for neonatal circumcision,” which cites a recent journal paper of the same title [1]. Beyond calling for the American medical establishment to put pressure on parents to circumcise their infant children, the article implicitly compares those who don’t circumcise or who are opposed to circumcising infants to anti-vaccination activists.

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