Lunney unleashed

Citing media “intolerance and bigotry”, anti-science Canadian MP James Lunney has quit the government caucus to sit as an independent. Among Lunney’s claim to the crown as Canada’s least scientifically literate MP are:

  • He doesn’t believe in evolution
  • He’s a chiropractor
  • He’s claimed there’s a link between vaccines and autism
  • He doesn’t believe the climate is changing

In his surreal press release (dated March 31, not April 1), he states that he will address his religious beliefs in Parliament at his next opportunity, which sounds like it will be a hoot. Lunney claims that Christians are being persecuted in Canada, a claim that is thoroughly debunked by the excellent Ottawa Citizen editorial:

Add MP James Lunney to the list of people who somehow have come to believe they’re being persecuted — that indeed, their fundamental human rights are under threat — when people disagree with them on Twitter.

Lunney is standing down before the election in October so we’ll only have a few more of his public gems of wisdom.

Good riddance.

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.”

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

Woo and health charities

Charities and non-profits operate under tough conditions. There is never enough funding, staff, or expertise to achieve perfection and the demands from clients, donors, and funders often force the charity to be more flexible than it might otherwise.

Because of these limitations, you can wind up with articles like “Energy-based therapies and cancer” from Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK’s leading cancer charity.

Continue reading Woo and health charities

Brits and the Devil

Since moving to England, I haven’t been able to participate in Angus Reid surveys (their site only allows Canadian IPs to participate), so instead I’ve been getting my polling participation fix through YouGov.

The most recent one I completed was just released and is part of a UK-USA comparison of belief in the devil, demonic possession, and exorcisms. Yes, it’s a Halloween novelty poll.

Continue reading Brits and the Devil

Skeptic with an Eh?

Seeing a gap in the Leed’s Skeptics in the Pub event for September, I volunteer to give a talk on the skeptical movement in Canada.

Here are the details if you want to come stalk me in person:

Monday, 23 September 2013 19:00 at the Victoria Hotel (28 Great George Street, Leeds LS1 3DL)

While I haven’t written down the exact notes for what I want to cover (I have all weekend), I’m basically going to discuss the 6 years I spent organizing freethought groups in Edmonton and Vancouver, and what I learned about the broader skeptical/Humanist movement in Canada during that time. Hopefully I’ll also have time to get into some of the current issues in Canada and where people stand.

I’ll try to keep gossip and my personal opinions to a minimum during the talk but I may intersperse them during the discussion afterward.

Hopefully it will be filmed so I can post a video of it later for those who want to subject themselves to that. Hope to see you there!

A pox on (some of) your houses

Recently, numerous allegations have flown throughout the blogosphere (at least, the portion that I read), identifying numerous high-profile skeptics/atheists/scientists as varying degrees of creepy to rapist. Others have jumped to their defense, crying that we ought to be skeptical of anonymous accusations and that women ought to just drink less. (See the timeline for a recap.)

For those who believe the accusations (and I see little reason not to), it can be quite disheartening. From various comment threads on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook I have seen this frustration over and over as people worry about the ability of any major freethought organization to handle the larger issues of sexism and accountability.

Yet this strikes me not only as false but counterproductive.

The “institutional rot” that many see so far has been limited to 2 or 3 national US organizations (you can name them if you like). Every non-profit with a small staff, limited budget, and few active volunteers grapples with accountability and transparency in its decisions, yet the worst cases seem fairly isolated to me.

This is especially transparent if we look at the next generation of freethought leaders. The Secular Student Alliance and the Humanist Community at Harvard are arguably the two most progressive and forward thinking major organizations right now. Neither is remotely embroiled in scandal (that I’m aware of) and both are filled with bright, young activists.

Similarly, PZ Myers recently noted:

By the way, humanist organizations in general tend to discourage the kind of behavior that asshats take as a given privilege — if you’re looking for a group of people who won’t treat you as a piece of meat, look into the humanists.

As such we see the British Humanist Association and the American Humanist Association continuing in their good work without falling prey to the closed cultures of others. I like to think the BC Humanist Association follows on that path as well but I’m obviously biased.

By writing off the entire movement, these donors and volunteers forget how many people – and I suspect it’s a sizable majority – want to see things continually improve. By solely focusing on the negatives, they write off everyone who is actively working to make things better either within the troubled institutions (many of the local groups and volunteers are equally forward-thinking) or in independent organizations.

I guess my point is that we should not be so quick to dismiss the hard work of numerous organizations that are not involved in this mess. We can demand better and ought to work to see the movement we want to see.

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

A note on “Skepticism and Gypsy Stereotypes”

Hopefully you took the time to read the article I just posted entitled “Skepticism and Gypsy Stereotypes.” I want to give some backstory to this piece, separate from the article itself.

After attending Imagine No Religion 3 this past spring, I had wanted to challenge the trope of Gypsy Fortune-Tellers that was tangentially brought up on a couple occasions by conference speakers. I don’t suspect and malice or intentional racism on the part of the speakers but the myths should be debunked and consciousness should be raised.

Looking a bit into it, I discovered a 1999 article by famed skeptical investigator Joe Nickell that quotes James Randi describing Gypsies as:

an ethnic group who “essentially live outside the cultures of the countries in which they choose to reside” and who often treat non-gypsies as “fair game for their fortune-telling, curse-lifting and other superstitious ministrations” (Randi 1995).

While I couldn’t track down Randi’s ‘95 reference, it appears he makes a fairly extreme claim about an entire ethnic group without evidence.

This is called racism.

So I started looking wider into the issue, and given my extremely limited background in social sciences, I recruited Edwin Hodge, the skeptical political sociologist, to assist me. Together we drafted the article over the course of a couple months (we’re both really busy) and submitted it to a leading skeptical magazine.

We were advised that it was a good topic to cover, we should shift the tone from an editorial to a more research-based piece (a legitimate request and expected given all of my writing is editorial). However, given recent concerns about the leadership of the various organizations which publish the major skeptic magazines, we opted to publish the article electronically as-is instead.

I hope you’ll share the article as you can. The Roma face a ridiculous amount of discrimination, especially from the Canadian government who, Jason Kenney in particular, view them as dirty thieves.