Listen to Skeptics With A K!

Skeptic with a kI thought I’d give a plug to one of my favourite podcasts, Skeptics With a K (or SWAK for short). Hosts and Merseyside Skeptics Society members Mike Hall, Michael “Marsh” Marshall and Colin Harris examine the latest issues in the skeptical world, which can include anything from religion, science, alternative medicine and paranormal bullshit to lots of vicars in a car and the hilarity of Michael McIntyre, all delivered with an irreverent and upbeat Northern charm. The podcast comes out every other Thursday, with the exception of next weeks which will be available to listen to live on Monday night!

PS thanks guys for giving me a name check last week, it’s the first time anyone’s ever referred to me as ‘skeptic canary’ I was well chuffed! :’)

Why humans are more important than other animals

In my previous post, I commented on Morrissey’s disgraceful comparison of the victims of the recent terror attacks in Norway to animals killed for consumption in fast food restaurants. I thought that the egregiousness of this comparison, and the concept that humans are more important than other animals was self evident. Apparently not. My comments provoked a hive of debate on Facebook (mainly with Hayley Stevens) and I’ve been asked to justify my belief that humans are more important that other animals by Hayley and Matt Holland. I’m not one to turn down such a monumental challenge so here is a long explanation, and for the sake of brevity, a short explanation.


Which is more important?

The Long Explanation

Before I start, I should say that this is not going to be a critique of vegetarianism. There are many arguments for and against vegetarianism, I am simply going to concentrate on the importance of humans compared to other animals. When discussing ‘importance’, it’s essential to define the context. I know that in the context of the entire universe, pretty much all life is worthless. We are all organisms on a little planet that orbits a bog standard star set in one of many billions of galaxies. One day our sun will expand and that will be the end of us. But of course, you can’t judge worth in that context. Whatever criteria we imply to worth, we can’t get away from the fact the it is we human beings who are defining it.

And so I come to my first point: imagination. Humans have the power of imagination, and as far as I’m aware (please correct me if I’m wrong) animals do not. The power to visualize things that we do not directly experience is what caused humans to flourish in the first place. It is an incredible ability in the animal kingdom and it leads me to my second point, which is cognition. We humans, as well as possessing imaginations, are also self aware. We have the ability to question our own existence, and we have concepts such as ethics and compassion. Animals (certainly ‘lower’ animals such as insects) do not possess such concepts. The concept of free will is one that has taxed philosophers for millennia, but it is clear that we are not automatons like most animals are.

My third point is potential. When a human is born, it has the potential to go on and do so much more than any other animal can. It could grow up to make contributions to science, medicine, the arts etc, enriching not just it’s own life but the lives of all around them, human and non-human. Animals can make a difference, but not consciously and not on the same scale that humans can. In this respect, both humans and other animals have “worth”, but humans have much more worth than animals, making them more important.

So in summary, humans are more important than animals because of traits such as imagination, intelligence and technology. I’d love to hear any arguments to the contrary. Once again, I can’t stress enough that this is not a critique of vegetarianism.

The Short Explanation

We went to the fucking moon.

EDIT: Hayley Stevens has since written about this post on her blog by changing the contents of a previous post.

Morrissey is an idiot who is out of touch with reality


Insensitive idiot

Ex-Smiths front man Morrissey has been courting controversy once again. Following on from last week’s horrific events in Norway in which 76 people were killed, he decided to address the crowd at a gig in Warsaw on Sunday with these words:

“We all live in a murderous world, as the events in Norway have shown, with 97 dead. Though that is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Shit every day.”

I find this comment to be so insensitive, crude and disgusting that it almost beggars belief. What he is saying here is that the lives of the people who were murdered in the attacks in Norway are worth less than the lives of the chickens that KFC kill for food. How can anyone think so simplistically? I was thinking about writing why human life is intrinsically more valuable than that of any other animal, but do I really have to explain that?

This isn’t the first time Morrissey has been criticized for his views. His controversial lyrics and interviews have lead to multiple accusations of racism, and he has made remarks which appear to support violence against scientists who test on animals. All very unsavoury, with his views on animals once again stemming from the overtly simplistic belief that all animals are equal.


A trip to the brand new Museum of Liverpool

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to get an invite to an evening reception at the brand new Museum of Liverpool. Not being a native Liverpudlian, I found it very informative to learn about the history of the city, and overall I was very much impressed. Highlights include a scale model of what the original catholic cathedral was meant to be like, the views from either end, and numerous exhibits on the art, culture, history and sports of the city of Liverpool. I can highly recommend a visit! Here are a few pictures.

Model of Everton

4 models of West Everton through the ages. I've only taken this picture because you can see our flat in it! :)

Union Flag

Obviously I couldn't resist taking this picture! A Union Flag dating from the first World War.

View from the the north window

A splendid view from the north window4 models of Wet Everton through the ages. I've only taken this picture because you can see our flat in it! :)View from the south window

View of the north window

View of the north window

Boxing weight

The sports section has an area dedicated to local boxers. you can weight yourself, I just about creep into the heavyweight category!

Painting of Liverpool

A huge parnoramic painting of Liverpool, found on the top floor

QEDcon raised over £5k for charity, back next year!

I’ve just received news that I’ve been hoping to share since February: following on from the great success of this years event, it’s been confirmed that the Question Explore Discover conference (QEDcon) will be back in Manchester on the 10th and 11th of March next year! As if that wasn’t exciting enough, they’ve also revealed that because of QEDcon, £5,262 will be winging it’s way towards Sense About Science and the National Autistic Society. For a first conference, I think that’s outstanding! I for one will be keeping an eye on, and I’ve subscribed to their mailing list. I’m really looking forward to seeing who will be speaking there next year!

If it’s anywhere near as good as this year’s QEDcon, it will be an absolute blast! I loved the variety of the speakers, the entertainment, the focus on grassroots skepticism, the value, and most of all the general good atmosphere and bon ami. It was a great oppurtunity to have a chat with so many people who before only existed on Facebook and Twitter! It was where I cut my teeth on recording with iPadio, my biggest scoop being a chat with Jon Ronson.

In conclusion, I’m sure QEDcon2 (or whatever it decides to call itself) will be great. Just as an afterthought, does anyone know how much the last TAM London raised for charity?

A Homeopathy Survey and a Skeptic Version

Water dropPoor homeopaths, they aren’t feeling too well as of late. The ASA has given them an ultimatum to sort their websites out and the 10:23 campaign thwarted their “Let People Choose” campaign by pre-empting it with their own “Let People Choose” website, dispelling the fallacy of allowing homeopathy on the NHS as a matter of consumer choice.

So now, they have set up a public SurveyMonkey survey on homeopathy, most probably in an effort to get data to support their position. However, because it’s an open survey, various skeptics have filled it in, telling the homeopaths what they need to hear and even attempting to correct some of their fallacious questions. Given their track record of abandoning projects when it becomes clear they are not going their way (“Let People Choose” is an obvious example), I wouldn’t be surprised if the survey disappears and the homeopaths attempt to quietly sweep it under the rug. Therefore, I’ve decided to set up my own SurveyMonkey account, and I’ve pretty much duplicated their survey. I invite everyone (including skeptics and homeopaths) to fill in my version of the survey, and I will release the results in early August. Whereas all the clever skeptical comments entered into their survey will doubtless be thrown into the ether, I will preserve the comments in my version for posterity!

The News of the World are deplorable

I can’t express how angry I am with the News of the World right now. It seems like the whole country is furious with them, and with perfectly good reason. According to a Guardian report, their reporters hacked into Milly Dowler’s voicemail, presumably in order to hear messages from distraught friends and family. When the voicemail inbox filled up, they went so far as to DELETE SOME MESSAGES, so that they could hear more. The family assumed that the only person who had access to the voicemail was Milly herself, therefore they believed her to be alive. Unspeakable.

By the way, the number for the newsdesk for the News of the World is 0207 782 1001. I’m saying nothing.