Article Archive for March 2009

The vaccine debate has a real cost
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 31 March 2009
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Allergy UK Wants YorkTest IgG Food Intolerance Tests Available on NHS
By dvnutrix
Posted in syndicated on 31 March 2009
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I am constantly in awe of the resilience of people and companies: their nonsense can be exposed in the most public of fora and yet they bounce right back with their marketing message unchanged or tactfully edited but still ignoring the point that it is underpinned by nonsense. Former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford comes to [...]

Should religious organisations be granted charitable status?
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 31 March 2009
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Cross_and_leavesCCLaBar_Flickr.pngWhat is a charity? Ostensibly, it’s an organisation dedicated to the public benefit, one that does not seek to make profits, and that does not have political goals. So how the heck does something like the Catholic Church qualify as a charity?

In England and Wales, all charitable organisations with an income of more than £5,000 must be registered with the Charities Commission, which acts as a supervisory power. The core rule is that all charities must exist “for the public benefit”. There exists a list of 13 purposes that a charity can subscribe to, including advancements of animal welfare, amateur sport, and environmental protection, but all these can be summed up as falling into four broad classes:

1. the relief of poverty
2. the advancement of education
3. the advancement of religion
4. other purposes considered beneficial to the community

My question is: aren’t some of these classes mutually exclusive? Take for instance, the relief of poverty. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that provision of education is one of the most powerful forces for the eradication of poverty. As a society we agree that access to education should be free and universal, because we know there is no greater tool of social mobility. So it’s easy to see that 1 and 2 go hand in hand for the definition of public benefit. Where does that leave the advancement of religion, which to an undeniable degree is contrary to the advancement of education?

Look at those places and times where the advancement of religion is at its zenith. The destruction of the great library at Alexandria, by either Christian zealots in 391 or Muslim zealots in 642. The decline of Islamic science in the face of the orthodox Ash’ari theology around the 12th century. In 1633, Galileo tortured by the Inquisition and placed under house arrest for demonstrating that the Earth rotates the sun. In 1925, John Scopes prosecuted for teaching science in Tennessee. The creeping influence of pseudoscientific notions on evolution in the USA under a conservative Christian administration over the last eight years. In 2008, girls’ schools burned to the ground once more as the Taliban grows in power in Afghanistan.

I’m not claiming that all religion is inherently anti-science or anti-education (and of course schools of every major faith have made great contributions to science). But when those in power are able to make decisions based upon religious doctrine, society suffers. The United States’ founding fathers recognised this, which is why they were so insistent on the separation of church and state. I’m in favour of the advancement of religion as a private form of spiritual pursuit, but not as a political power. Which brings us to our next point.

The Charities Commission states:

Charities can carry out political or campaigning activities to help achieve a charitable purpose, but a charity cannot have political aims.

This seems to be an internally contradictory statement, and it’s hard for me to reconcile this with the political activities and intents of a great many religious groups. Christians are a diverse group, with representatives at every end of the scale, but it’s ridiculous to try and claim that some churches do not have political goals. Opposition to abortion, gay marriage, extra-marital sex, and so forth are views that each person is entitled to, but when one seeks to impose this morality on members of other faiths, or no faith at all, it’s indistinguishable from politics.

Take, for instance, the fundamentalist lobby group Christian Voice, headed by Stephen Green. It is registered with the Charities Commission as the National Council for Christian Standards in Society, with the stated aim of “re-establishing biblical Christian teaching throughout the nation”. Ever the font of militant Christian righteousness, the organisation has built up a comprehensive reputation for intolerance, drawing criticism from secular and religious groups alike. In 2006 Green narrowly escaped prosecution for distributing homophobic leaflets at a gay festival in Cardiff. Christian Voice has also criticised a programme aiming to promote tolerance amongst children, opposes abortion, homosexuality, and safer sex education, and supports a reintroduction of the death penalty.

A special form of hatred, however, seems to be reserved for women. According to its website, Christian Voice would like to see a change in the law to allow a man to rape his wife, reasoning:

the promises given by a man and woman to each other establish a binding consent to sexual intercourse

Christian Voice also opposed the HPV vaccine (a prophylactic against cervical cancer), claiming that the jab causes infertility. The organisation also blames central aspects of the women’s liberation - gainful employment and reproductive control - for rises in knife crime, drug use, ‘illicit sex’ and lawlessness. Even within the organisation, women seem to be allocated an auxiliary role:

So if you are a Christian man who wants to get stuck in to some exciting, energetic activity and see the Lord move in power, or a woman with the ‘get-up-and-go’ gene who wants men to be out on the battlefield - or maybe there is something of the Deborah or the Boadicea about you - join us today…

Christian Voice rails against politicians’ failure to legislate according to biblical law, and appears to want some Christian-flavour form of sharia law to be installed in the UK.

To me, it seems to be an organisation dedicated to hate speech with the stated aim of stripping back so many of the laws and customs that as a society we are proud to have achieved. For these reasons, it’s very difficult for me to see how Christian Voice possibly qualifies as providing ‘a public benefit’ or an absence of political goals.

So how do we filter faith-based initiatives which promise a public benefit from bible-literalists who’d take us back to the dark ages? And why is someone allowed to operate a public-detriment organisation tax-free simply by sticking God’s name on it?

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New Project - ‘Hello. Do you believe in God?’
By Magic Darts
Posted in syndicated on 31 March 2009
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OPEN YOUR EYES TO AUTISM - London Rally
By Mike
Posted in syndicated on 31 March 2009
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There was a protest march in London on Saturday. I am not talking about the tens of thousands who were protesting over the economic recession in advance of Wednesday’s G20 Summit in London. There was another march that day protesting about autism. I did not attend, but from the photos posted online it looks like [...]

The last BSc (Hons) Homeopathy closes! But look at what they still teach at Westminster University.
By David Colquhoun
Posted in syndicated on 30 March 2009
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In March 2007 I wrote a piece in Nature on Science degrees without the science.  At that time there were five “BSc” degrees in homeopathy. A couple of weeks ago I checked the UCAS site for start in 2009, and found there was only one full “BSc (hons)” left and that was at Westminster University.
Today [...]

Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 30 March 2009
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#3 Eloquence based medicine: Sartorial elegance and verbal eloquence are powerful substitutes for evidence.

Environmental Hell #1: The volcano mines of Kawah Ijen
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 30 March 2009
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I keep thinking I should write more worthy articles, but then, I keep finding fantastic things that don’t need 800 words of discussion getting in the way. This is one of the latter, and comes courtesy of George Kourounis, ballsy explorer and general badass.

Kourounis took a trip to Indonesia’s Kawah Ijen volcano, where miners earn $10 a day for journeying into the depths of a volcano to retrieve sulphur. Here is the site of the world’s largest lake of sulphuric acid:

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Here is an aluminium can dissolving in the extreme acid (pH ~0.5!):

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And here is Kourounis, going for a leisurely paddle around said lake:

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The miners will journey to the crater twice a day, hauling up to 100kg of sulphur at a time! To stave off the poisonous sulphur dioxide gas they stuff their mouths with wet rags. Eventually the gas will rot their teeth away. Yikes!

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More pics and info on George Kourounis’ website.

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Sorry for the Confusion with Miscellanea
By Grey
Posted in syndicated on 30 March 2009
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Yet More Dodgy Supplements
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 29 March 2009
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[BPSDB]
From time to time, a story will appear in the news about tainted food supplements or ayurvedic remedies. Here’s another. I’ve previously written about “natural fat-busters” that contained high doses of an anti-obesity drug, sibutramine, and the FDA has reported here concerns regarding red yeast rice supplements. ["The products, promoted and sold over the [...]

The Daily Mail links White on White violence to Scary Muslims.
By Magic Darts
Posted in syndicated on 29 March 2009
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Top Ten Tips For Creating Your Own New Alternative Medicine
By Le Canard Noir
Posted in syndicated on 29 March 2009
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Features of autism
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 29 March 2009
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6 Reasons Monotasking Will Help You Get More Done Than Multitasking
By Grey
Posted in syndicated on 28 March 2009
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Quicksilver For Beginners
By Grey
Posted in syndicated on 28 March 2009
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Patrick Holford, GL Diet and Satiety Plus the Misrepresentation of Some Research: Same Old, Same Old
By dvnutrix
Posted in syndicated on 28 March 2009
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Patrick Holford claims that recent research proposes a mechanism that explains the alleged appetite-curbing effects of a low glycaemic load diet. In a disturbing pattern, he seems to overlook that the paper in question evaluates the impact of a single meal and the researchers report on glycaemic index rather than load. All this and many other issues are overlooked in the promotion of books, seminars and diet clubs and supplements to support Holford’s Low GL Diet.

United Utilities Dowse For Water
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 27 March 2009
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[BPSDB]
The Liverpool Daily Post uncritically reports the claims of a United Utilities worker to be able to find water by dowsing. Sigh.
HE ADMITS he has no idea how it works – but the ancient art of water divining is being used by a utility company engineer to locate and fix burst water pipes.
Steve Robinson, a [...]

Growing up fast
By Kev
Posted in syndicated on 27 March 2009
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Miscellanea: London Google Street View
By Grey
Posted in syndicated on 27 March 2009
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The PCC?s First Response
By jaycueaitch
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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Purely for interest, here is the standard response I received rom the PCC regarding my complaint about the Daily Mail’s HPV scare story.
Dear Mr Hawcock
Thank you for your email
Your complaint will now be assessed as to whether it requires investigation under the Code. If this appears to be the case we will [...]

Alex Dolan Struck Off
By kelvinthroop
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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I read in today’s Metro that Alex Dolan has been struck off by the General Teaching Council (GTC) for a year for secretly filming pupils’ bad behaviour for a television documentary. This sounded so much like the Angela Mason case that I thought the Metro had simply got the name wrong but no - there [...]

Mail menopause myths
By apgaylard
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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It’s not surprising that the Mail provides unreliable advice on the menopause. It is a surprise that the medical professionals it quotes are no more reliable (with a few honourable exceptions) than the CAM fans: pimping magnets, maca and yam.

My $1 alternative to Lojack GPS car tracking technology
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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Over at Ask MetaFilter, user lizzicide wanted a system that would alert her if her car was towed. Apparently the moderators didn’t rate my answer, because it’s gone now. Good thing I saved it for posterity. Text reads:

There’s a good chance my car might get towed at any time. So, what are my options for tracking my car’s movement (possible via GPS) when it’s not turned on and I’m not in it?

This is probably not possible, but I’d like to be able to tell if my car is being towed. Since it’ll most likely be towed in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping a few blocks away from my dubiously legal parking spot, I live in fear of waking up in the morning to find that it’s gone. Is there any alarm that can remotely alert me if my car travels?

My preferred solution would be:

Park car, turn car off. Put device in car.
Leave car.
If car then moves, device alerts another device that I keep with me, causing some kind of an alarm. Yeah, my car will still have been towed, but at least I can intervene and pick it up at the towing lot and not be late for work.

Is there anything I can make work for this purpose?
posted by lizzicide to technology (3 comments total) [add to favorites] 1 user marked this as a favorite [!]

You could tie a long piece of string to the axle with a bell on it.

posted by SciencePunk at 3.29 PM on March 25 [+] [!]

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The PCC Is Ineffective
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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Having read the recent post by JQH - in which he reports on his complaint to the PCC regarding the Daily Fail’s misleading and inaccurate reporting of the HVP vaccine - and the associated comment from Andy Lewis pointing out that the PCC’s editors’ code committee is chaired by Paul Dacre (editor of the Daily [...]

Pardo letter on neuroinflamation
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 26 March 2009
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Is there an autism epidemic - the latest science
By Kev
Posted in syndicated on 25 March 2009
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Quick update on Simon Singh vs the back quacks
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 25 March 2009
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You may remember that the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) took legal offence to an article by Simon Singh that cast doubt on the efficacy of their therapies, well Jack of Kent has informed us that the preliminary High Court hearing will on Thursday 7th May.  You can read the legal background to this case on [...]