Got DNA evidence of Bigfoot? Don’t peer review, write a book!

Science Editor Jonathan Leake skewered Bryan Sykes in The Sunday Times today [paywalled] over bigfoot claims. Sykes is publishing a new book in which he’ll present the DNA evidence he claims to have for the existence of yetis and bigfoot. This claim comes despite the lack of any good photographic evidence in the era of cameras in everyone’s pockets.

Sykes previously hosted The Bigfoot Files on the UK’s Channel 4. Leake has some sharp comments on Sykes’ credibility:

Bryan Sykes, who describes himself as a ‘professor of human genetics at Oxford’…

Sykes has not published any research on these creatures…

Sykes is a fellow of Wolfson but he admitted [his Institute of Human Genetics at Wolfson College, Oxford] was mythical. “The journal required some sort of additional address in the college and, hey presto, I became an institute!”

Sykes’s book says he has been professor of human genetics at Oxford since 1997, but university officials said he had not held that post for a decade or so.

My favourite piece is the final comment from another scientist:

Tom Gilbert, professor of geogenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said: “Bryan’s data highlights that a lot of people strongly believe they have evidence for them (yetis etc), but none of it holds up under scrutiny.”

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Edmonton Journal grants space to debunked anti-WiFi conspiracies

Some parents in Alberta are trying to get schools to ban wi-fi on baseless fears and scare-mongering. The kicker: these same parents are fine with wifi in their house. 

It’s not so much the parents who bother me in this story as the Canadian Teachers Federation, the local school councils, and particularlu the Edmonton Journal who all give far greater space to these conspiracy theories than to sound science and expertise.

Continue reading Edmonton Journal grants space to debunked anti-WiFi conspiracies

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It’s all been done

The current UK election cycle seems like much of the past 20 years of Canadian politics is just being played over again. In no particular order, here’s the similarities I can already see, please add your own in the comments.

The rise of regional separtist parties

The Bloc Quebecois swept most of the seats in Quebec for most of the 1990s and 2000s and now the Scottish National Party are set to do the same in Scotland. In both cases, the separatists block the easiest path to a majority government for at least one party (Liberals in Canada, Labour in the UK) and mean minorities are more likely.

National debates about how to structure a TV debate

In both countries, the TV debates are decided by a cabal of broadcasters who dictate based on arbitrary rules what format the national TV debates should be. In Canada, the rule is something like “every party who has an MP gets to be in the debates” except for the Bloc who only get to be in the French debate since they don’t run in English Canada. In the UK, it’s leaning towards a giant debate free-for-all with every regional party taking part in the nationwide debate, potentially followed by a one-one-one between the two largest parties. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron is still threatening to boycott all the debates unless he gets his way.

I’m fine with replacing Cameron with an empty seat but I would suggest limiting regional parties like the SNP and Plaid Cymru to their regional affiliates (BBC Scotland and Wales respectively).

Fear mongering over coalitions with separatists

In Canada after the 2008 election, the second-place Liberals agreed to replace the Conservative minority government with a coalition with the third-place NDP. They needed the votes from the Bloc to secure a majority though, which the media screamed bloody murder over. Now Labour is facing a potential minority government and is being called on to categorically reject any power-sharing deals with the SNP. Of course, the media is happy to ignore in both cases that the separatists would never become government ministers but would merely agree to vote in favour of confidence matters.

UKIP is the British Reform Party

Want smaller taxes, fewer immigrants and vague notions of greater democracy, but if elected would run from scandal to scandal? See what the Reform Party of the mid-1990s became in the Harper Conservatives to catch a glimpse at what could happen if Cameron’s Conservatives tank and spend a decade in the political wilderness until being forced to merge with UKIP.

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E-petitions come to Canada

Congrats to Burnaby MP Kennedy Stewart on getting enough support to make his dream of e-peitions in Parliament a reality. After the next election, Canadians will be able to submit petitions online, forcing a response to every petition over 500 signatures.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably a small change, but it’s one that makes democracy easier, not harder. In an age of restrictive voting ID laws and robocall fraud, it’s good to see a positive tool for democratic engagement win support.

Currently, petitions in Canada have to be signed on paper and the originals sent to an MP to sponsor it.

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Support an amended Bill C-264 in Canada

In February, Bill C-624 an Act to Amend the National Anthem Act (gender) received second reading in Canada’s House of Commons. This bill, put forward by Liberal MP for Ottawa—Vanier Mauril Bélanger, would replace the words “thy sons” with “of us” in Canada’s national anthem.

This would correct the gender imbalance in the anthem but is unlikely to pass. The idea was included in Prime Minister Harper’s 2010 throne speech but was abandoned before the speech was over. Even if Bélanger can muster the votes to get the bill through the House of Commons, it’s unlikely that it will be given further time for debate in the House before the election in October.

Even though the bill seems doomed, perhaps someone could propose an amendment to the bill to change a couple more words. Notably the penultimate line, “God keep our land” could be reverted to the religiously-neutral 1908 version of O Canada. Something I suggested in 2010. It would at least be a sign that politicians were willing to consider the importance of secularism and non-religious voters (who make up a quarter to a third of Canadians).

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SecularStudents.ca – Does anyone want to maintain Canadian Secular Students?

In 2007, I helped found the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics. That student group that is still running today. A rare accomplishment as many student groups, particularly those for the non-religious, struggle to survive for more than a few years as the students who established the group graduate, move aaway and lose touch.

In the hopes of making sure groups like UAAA are able to continue and be supported, and at a time when the US-based Secular Student Alliance began withdrawing their support to international groups (as they had limited resources), I registered SecularStudents.ca. I spoke with people at SSA and sought to establish a Canadian Secular Student Alliance.

Unfortunately, I’ve never really had the time or focus to build the website into anything and every 12 months I get a reminder to renew the domain. It’s now that time of year again and I need to decide what to do with the domain.

For now, I’m happy to cover the $10 or so it costs to renew the registration and can even host a simple website off the same server this site is on. But I want to see something happen with it.

So if you have the time, interest or even just some good ideas for the site, email me at ian@bushfield.ca.

It could be something as simple as maintaining a list of active non-reliigious student groups in Canada or a new blog or a full resource centre. The site currently has mediawiki but I’m happy to change that to anything else. I just really want to see something happen with it.

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Illegal botox seized in Vancouver

Last month, an undercover CBC investigation exposed that a number of spas and health clinicas around Metro Vancouver were offering botox injections illegally. Botox in Canada can only be administered by a physician and these clinics didn’t have any doctors on staff.

Today, Health Canada announced that it has seized unlabeled botox jars from Art Nails, a Vancouver spa.

The store owner claimed the product was Botox that had been administered to consumers. Potential risks associated with injecting an unauthorized version of a health product such as Botox, can range from mild local paralysis to death.

While the shop remains open, and none of the shops mentioned in the CBC exposé have been closed, it’s good to see Health Canada intervene.

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Republished: Religion poll is a waste of paper

My second (and last) editorial in The Gateway while at the University of Alberta, salvaged via the Web Archive. The paper had a policy where writers were forbidden from submitting letters or opinion pieces if they were the subject of the news due to perceived conflicts of interest. I called them out at the time for the absurdity of such a policy.

Continue reading Republished: Religion poll is a waste of paper

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Republished: There’s no ‘God’ in graduation

This was the first article I wrote for a student newspaper and in a way it’s somewhat historic. In 2008, the University of Alberta Atheists & Agnostics started campaigning for a secular convocation charge. When our initial request was ignored, I raised the issue with the student newspaper, The Gateway, and they recommend I write an editorial to push the story forward. This is that editorial.

Continue reading Republished: There’s no ‘God’ in graduation

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