The Skeptic Canary

The blog of Dr Tom Williamson, atheist, humanist, skeptic and Norwich City fan!

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Skeptic Canary Show Roundup

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Well, our new venture “The Skeptic Canary Show” has got off to a flying start (if I do say so myself!) with seven live episodes in the bag, over 4000 downloads and many more shows planned! The show features myself and my co-hosts David James and Paul Hopwood talking to a guest to discuss issues relating to skepticism. In this post, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the shows that have been broadcast since the QED episode.

For our fourth episode we were joined by Ben King from the Grime and Reason blog to discuss skepticism and politics. You can listen back to the show here. However, I will say that myself and David were experiencing technical difficulties during this episode, so we will definitely be inviting Ben back in future!

In episode 5, David took over hosting duties to interview Geoff Whelan from the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society to talk about the case of James McCormack, who was recently imprisoned for selling bomb detectors that had no chance whatsover of working. You can catch up with that show here.

Episode 6 went off the beaten track of skepticism a little, as we were joined by Paula Kirby to cast a skeptical eye over the history of the GDR (commonly known as East Germany), where Paula lived for a couple of years in the late 1980′s. I really recommend this episode for anyone who has any interest in modern history, as some of Paula’s revelations, especially those concerning the Stasi, were very intriguing! We could have talked for a lot longer too, so we will endeavor to invite Paula back for a future episode. You can listen what has been our most popular show so far here.

For our seventh episode we were joined by Gavin Schofield of the Greater Manchester Skeptics and Just Skeptics podcast. I’d recently been on my stag night, so in honour of my best man and 9-11 conspiracy theorist brother (Hi Ed!) we had a discussion on conspiracy theories, ranging from 9-11 truthers to the moon landing hoax, all the way to the theory that Hitler currently resides in a base in Antartica. Be warned though, we do talk about the very real conpiracy of the attempted police cover up after the Hillsborough disaster. However, we also talk about the personal conspiracy theories of the owners of Amy’s Baking Company! You can listen back to the conspiracy laden show here.

So, our next show will feature evolutionary psychology graduate Kat Ford, who will be joining us to talk about the modern face of physiognomy (a word as hard to pronounce as it is to spell!). Kat recently presented her findings to great acclaim of the audience at the latest Ignite Liverpool, and she will be speaking at skeptic groups throughout the UK. It promises to be a fascinating discussion, so join us on Wednesday ay 22nd at 7pm. Listen live here!

 

Written by Tom

May 19th, 2013 at 1:20 pm

QEDcon episode of The Skeptic Canary Show now available

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Well, what can I say about QED? As expected, it was absolutely superb. The talks were varied and fascinating, the panels were engaging and at times unintentionally hilarious, and it was wonderful to meet up with so many great members of the skeptic community (apologies if I didn’t get the chance to talk to you, there were just so many people there)! Huge thanks to the organisers and everyone involved.

In the latest episode of The Skeptic Canary Show, myself and fellow QEDcon attendee David James discussed the event with Paul Hopwood, who sadly for him didn’t get a ticket in time (hopefully next year Paul!). Keir Liddle from the Edinburgh Skeptics was kind enough to call in, as was Rob McDermott who made history by being the first person to swear on the show! Don’t worry though, the recorded version has some hasty censorship applied. Go and have a listen at the link below.

The Skeptic Canary Show Episode 3 – QEDcon

Incidentally, I couldn’t resist posting this pic of myself at Richard Dawkin’s table at dinner. Cheers to Richard Cooper for taking it!

Written by Tom

April 18th, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Episode 2 of The Skeptic Canary Show will feature Ed Clint

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ecEpisode 1 of The Skeptic Canary Show is now in the can, you can listen back to it through the link below. It’s also been submitted to iTunes, so hopefully you will be able to hear the show through that soon too!

Skeptic Canary Show Episode One

I am very happy to announce that Episode Two of The Skeptic Canary Show be be broadcast on BlogTalkRadio at 6:30pm UK time next Wednesday April 10th. Our guest will be Ed Clint, evolutionary psychology grad student at UCLA and co-founder of the Skeptic Ink Network. We are hoping for a lively and rewarding debate, so if you want to get involved with the show you can register for a free BlogTalkRadio account and call in via Skype! Be sure to bookmark the link below:

Skeptic Canary Show Episode Two

Written by Tom

April 4th, 2013 at 12:02 am

Introducing “The Skeptic Canary Show”!

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Having appeared on Justin Vacula’s Brave Hero Internet radio show, I thought I’d take the plunge and start my own! It’s imaginatively titled “The Skeptic Canary Show” and you will be able to listen to it live on Wednesday April 3rd at 7:00pm UK time.

I was attracted to the Blog Talk Radio platform because each episode has it’s own URL. You can bookmark the show, listen to it and listen back to it all from the same link! You get a dashboard during recording so you can accept callers, and it plugs in with Skype.

The first show is entitled “Skepticism 101″ and will be a discussion on skepticism, what it is and what it means to people. Joining me will be Paul Hopwood and David James. You can call in via Skype! Just wait until the show starts and you will see a Skype icon. Clicking that will start a Skype call so you can be on the air!

If you would like to be a guest on future episodes you can pitch me an idea at tom at skepticcanary dot com.

Listen to Episode One of the Skeptic Canary Show at the link below!

Skeptic Canary Show Episode 01 – Skepticism 101

 

Written by Tom

April 1st, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Posted in podcasts,skepticism

A superb investigation of the “rape t-shirts” controversy on Skeptics with a K

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A few days ago Internet retailer Amazon came under fire for selling t-shirts based on the World War 2 slogan “keep calm and carry on”. These shirts featured a variety of disturbingly offensive variations of the famous phrase, including “keep calm and grope them”, “keep calm and hit her” and “keep calm and rape a lot”. In their defence, the company behind the shirts, Solid Gold Bomb, claimed that the slogans were generated automatically by a computer program, and that they were probably not even seen by human eyes before going on sale. The guys at Skeptics With a K have investigated this, and it is an absolutely superb piece of skepticism. I would humbly suggest that you check out this great piece of work at the following locations:

Once you have heard the podcast, hopefully you will understand why I got this t-shirt made!

Written by Tom

March 10th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I’m on the latest episode of Just Skeptics

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Last week I had the privilege of being a guest host on the Greater Manchester Skeptic Society’s podast “Just Skeptics”. I had a blast recording it, and it’s a really intereting show covering Vitamin K injecions, Police and Crime Commissioners, Nadine Dorries’ appearance on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, and Donald Trump’s meltdown on Twitter following the US Presidential elections. My own contribution was a quick quiz from wisdomofchopra.com and a chance to enthuse about Brass Eye. Enjoy!

 

Written by Tom

November 18th, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Posted in podcasts,skepticism

QEDCon Retrospective Part 2

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Myself, Lee Christie, Tannice Pendegrass, Trish Hann, Alex Gabriel and Rhys Morgan discuss day two of QEDCon 2012, a weekend conference of science and skepticism. Highlights included talks by Edzard Ernst, Ian Ridpath, D.J. Grothe, Maryam Namazie and Joe Nickell. Looking forward to QEDCon 2013! The QEDCon theme is copyright Miltion Mermikides and is used with permission.

Written by Tom

March 31st, 2012 at 10:51 pm

QEDCon Retrospective Part 1

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Myself, Lee Christie, Tannice Pendegrass, Trish Hann, Alex Gabriel and Rhys Morgan discuss QEDCon 2012, a weekend conference of science and skepticism. Day one highlights included talks by Steve Jones, David Aaronovitch, Ophelia Benson, Sarah Angliss, Massimo Polidoro and Richard Saunders. The evenings entertainment featured the first ever Skeptic Magazine awards, as well as stand up sets from Alun Cochrane, Robin Ince and Paul Zenon. The evening concluded with an embarrassing incident involving trousers. Stay tuned for part two! The QEDCon theme is copyright Miltion Mermikides and is used with permission.

Written by Tom

March 29th, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Delia Smith

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For my latest piece for the award-winning Pod Delusion podcast, I recorded my thoughts on Delia Smith’s position on secularism. You can listen to the podcast here, and below is the transcript of my article. Enjoy!

As a fan of Norwich City Football Club, this report on Delia Smith’s anti-secular stance is rather troublesome for me. For those that don’t know, Delia Smith first found fame in the UK in the 1970′s as a TV cook, and she has gone on to sell over 21 million copies of her numerous recipe books. Her wealth allowed her, along with her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, to become majority shareholders of Norwich City FC back in 1996, a position they hold to this day. They saved the club from bankruptcy, and, in this Norwich fans eyes anyway, have secured themselves a place in the history of the club, and I still think all Norwich fans owe them a debt of gratitude. Since their takeover, the club have had it’s ups and downs (you may remember Delia’s infamous “Let’s be ‘avin you” speech back in 2005) but they are currently riding high in the Premier League, and right now it’s a great time to be a Norwich fan.

So, imagine my displeasure when I woke up on the Sunday morning of the recent QED conference to find my Twitter stream awash with messages from fellow skeptics keen to point out Delia Smith’s position on secularism. On her website deliaonline.com she’d launch an appeal for lent, aiming to raise money for the Catholic charity Cathod so that they can deliver clean water to the needy. No problem there you might think, but it’s the following paragraph that has got so many people’s backs up:

There is a running battle going on in the press, and militant neo-Atheists and devout secularists are busting a gut to drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist.

As a proud secular humanist, I do despair that someone I admire so much could hold such, well frankly, deluded views. Delia appears to be jumping on the same bandwagon as Tory MP Nadine Dorries, convinced that Christianity is in some way under attack from atheists and secularists.

Is there any meat to Delia’s claims? When she says atheists are trying to “convince us that we hardly exist”, she made it clear in a recent interview that she was talking about a survey carried out by Richard Dawkins. The survey in question was carried out in response to the recent census, which asked the rather poorly phrased question “What is your religion?”. The British Humanist Association’s Census Campaign highlighted the problems with this question, and Dawkin’s IPSOS-MORI poll attempted to straighten it out. The 2001 census came back with 72% of the UK population being Christian, whereas Dawkin’s poll put the number at 54%. More than this, Dawkin’s poll went into detail and looked at WHY people ticked Christian. I think the most interesting finding was that when people who ticked Christian were ask “Would you turn to your religion for moral guidance”, only 10% said yes! This is not, as Delia Smith would seemingly like to to think, an attempt to convince Christians that they aren’t Christian, but an attempt to show that Christianity is not as influential as some people believe, therefore there is less justification for the religious privileges that are enshrined in UK law (Bishops in the House of Lords being a good example). It’s not a fight with atheists pitching themselves against Christians, rather an attempt by secularists to fairly represent reality.

So, what of secularism? Judging by her comments, it seems that Delia thinks that secularist’s want to do away with the Christian festival of lent. What her evidence for this is I have no idea, but I think it’s worth examining what secularism is. According to the National Secular Society, “Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.”. In other words, it’s separation of church and state. It guarantees freedom of religion, ,which logically means that it allows freedom from religion. So, in a secular society you are free to be an atheist, or to follow any religion you choose. In fact, Delia Smith should be profoundly grateful that we live in a secular society, as she was baptised in the Church of England, and converted to catholicism at the age of 22. If the UK was a protestant theocracy she would not have been able to do that, however we are a secular society, so she could. In fact, you could say that any religious person who values their religious freedom should stand up and be proud to be a secularist.

In reporting on what I think of Delia Smith’s position on secularism, I hope people don’t think I’m being too harsh on her. I think her support of a charity to provide clean water to the needy is extremely commendable, and is only a continuation of her selflessness that we’ve seen in her other charitable work and what she’s done for Norwich City football club. I’d happily support her statement that “Secularists and believers have got to work alongside each other” if only it was made clear that you can be both a believer AND a secularist! I’d like people like Delia Smith to properly consider what secularism is, I think they would quite happily call themselves secularists if they did. Secularism is vital for our society, and I for one will continue to recognise that. By the way, Stephen Fry is a director at Norwich, I’d love to sit in on the next board meeting!

Before I go, I’d like to congratulate the Pod Delusion for winning the Occam award for best podcast at QED, and especially James and Liz who put so much work into this fine endeavor. Saying “On The Ball City!”, this is Tom Williamson for the Pod Delusion.

Written by Tom

March 16th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Posted in podcasts,skepticism

Talking about Ricky Gervais, Twitter and ‘mongs’ on the Pod Delusion

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Pod DelusionI’ve made another appearance on the Pod Delusion, this time talking about the return to Twitter of Ricky Gervais. I briefly go over what I consider to be the pros and cons about his reappearance on the Twitter scene. On one hand, he come be a great force for atheism, as he writes very well on the subject, but on the other his behaviour and repeated use of the word ‘mong’ gives many cause for concern.

Sadly, since the podcast went out last Friday, my hopes of reading more insightful articles about religion have been dashed as Ricky Gervais has continued to cause trouble by his incessant use of ‘mong’. I have to say that I for one don’t approve of his actions. The situation has escalated over the last few days, with Deborah Orr and Nicola Clark having their say in the Guardian, the Daily Mail attempting a sensible critique, and most notably fellow comedian Richard Herring having his say.

First off, I need to make this clear: the term ‘mong’ is still a contraction of ‘mongoloid’, and is still widely understood to be a derogatory term for someone with Down’s Syndrome. Ricky Gervais, and anyone else for that matter, does not have the authority to say otherwise. If it had truly fallen out of use, charities such as Mencap wouldn’t be complaining. On top of that, Gervais does use the term to mean ‘a twonk’, e.g. someone who is stupid, so he’s using it as a derogatory term anyway. Using a word that describes mental illness as a derogatory term is a practise that should have been confined to an 80′s school yard. It’s just as disheartening to hear people use the word ‘gay’ to mean anything they don’t like. It’s childish, crass and completely unnecessary. I for one am against it for these reasons, it’s got nothing to do with being jealous of the success of Gervais, as he would like to think.

So why would Ricky Gervais be so insistent on using the word ‘mong’? The cynic in me thinks that it’s just a cheap ploy to get some attention for his new sitcom, or that he just likes winding people up. Perhaps telling him he can’t do something is like a red rag to a bull, and he’s digging his heels in like a petulant child. Some might argue that he’s putting up a fight against censorship and the old right wing war cry of ‘political correctness gone mad’, but he is no martyr. There is no merit to what he is doing. How is the re-emergence of the word ‘mong’ going to help anyone?

gervais

Alright to use the term 'mong'?

I do not consider this to be an issue of censorship. Gervais is free to say ‘mong’ as much as he likes, but in doing so he makes himself less appealing to those who find the word offensive. I also need to spell out that I have no problem with discussing disability, I do not think it should be taboo. For example, Family Guy put out an episode which featured an actress with Down’s syndrome, and the issue was dealt with in a rather frank, albeit strange way. Gervais himself uses a child with Down’s syndrome in the plot of an episode of Extras to great effect.

The most worrying thing about this whole episode for myself is the cavalcade of idiots on Twitter who have decided to defend Gervais by tweeting along the lines of “mong isn’t offensive, you mong” to anyone who says otherwise. It’s a shame because it’s very difficult to perceive such tweets as anything other than a deliberate attempt to cause offense. If you know someone finds a term like ‘mong’ offensive, why would you then use it against them? To teach them a lesson? If Gervais is trying to return the word ‘mong’ to common parlance, he sadly appears to be succeeding.

There are some who think that people like myself are going out of our way to be offended, that we are looking for something to complain about. Not so. I don’t think I need to reiterate my views on why Gervais is wrong to use the word ‘mong’, but one thing I am quite annoyed about is the unfair use of a quote from the great Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say “I’m rather offended by that”, as if it gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more..it’s simply a whine.

I totally agree that “I find it offensive”, as applied to say, gay marriage or atheism is no argument. There has to something else. As I have said earlier in the case of Ricky Gervais using the term ‘mong’, there certainly is.

Beforehand, I’d always given Gervais a fair amount of leeway when it comes to disablist language. When Gervais said “Is that a mong?” in reference to Susan Boyle in his stand up show Science, I thought little of it. I thought it was to shock, as part and parcel of the arrogant stage persona that Gervais has cultivated over the years for comic effect. However, there is no persona to hide behind on Twitter, and his ugly intentions around the use of the word ‘mong’ are clear for all to see.

NB I won’t be swayed by people saying “I’m 26 and I went to university but I’ve never heard someone use the word ‘mong’ to mean Down’s syndrome”. Sorry, but as a skeptic arguments from ignorance mean nothing to me.

Written by Tom

October 19th, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Posted in podcasts,politics