Monday, June 29, 2009

Camp Quest - Update by Richard Dawkins

UPDATE: Response from Richard Dawkins:

The Editor
The Sunday Times


The duplicity of Lois Rogers' title, "Dawkins Sets up Kids' Camp to Groom Atheists" (Sunday Times, June 28th), is exceeded only by its Jesuitical opening line, "Give Richard Dawkins a child for a week's summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life." I had nothing to do with the setting up of Camp Quest, and it is not, in any sense whatever, inspired by me, or influenced by me. The British version, run by Samantha Stein with no help from me, follows the admirable American model founded some years ago by Edwin and Helen Kagin, of Kentucky.

Lois Rogers asked me for a quotation, and she thanked me warmly for the following: "Camp Quest encourages children to think for themselves, sceptically and rationally. There is no indoctrination, just encouragement to be open-minded, while having fun." Isn't that about as far from Jesuitical grooming as you could imagine? One of my dominant motivations, passionately expressed in The God Delusion, is an abhorrence of childhood indoctrination, of atheism just as much as of religion. It is in this spirit that the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has made very modest contributions to Camp Quest. Lois Rogers' traducing of both Camp Quest and me is, alas, par for the course for religiously motivated journalists. Fortunately, I am not the litigious type, but an apology would be nice.

Richard Dawkins
source: via highlights comments

There’ll be no tent for God at Camp Dawkins

Britain’s most prominent non-believer is backing its first atheist summer camp for children.

Camp Quest
Camp Quest, which was founded as an alternative to Christian camps, will teach children about evolution
WHEN schoolchildren break up for their summer holidays at the end of next month, India Jago, aged 12, and her brother Peter, 11, will be taking a vacation with a twist.
While their friends jet off to Spain or the Greek islands, the siblings will be hunting for imaginary unicorns in Somerset, while learning about moral philosophy. The Jagos, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, are among 24 children who will be taking part in Britain’s first summer camp for atheists.
The five-day retreat is being subsidised by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, and is intended to provide an alternative to faith-based summer camps normally run by the Scouts and Christian groups.
Crispian Jago, an IT consultant, is hoping the experience will enrich his two children.
“I’m very keen on not indoctrinating them with religion or creeds,” he said this weekend. “I would rather equip them with the tools to learn how to think, not what to think.”
While afternoons at the camp will involve familiar activities such as canoeing and swimming, the youngsters’ mornings will be spent debunking supernatural phenomena such as the formation of crop circles and telepathy. Even Uri Geller’s apparent ability to bend spoons with his mind will come under scrutiny.
The emphasis on critical thinking is epitomised by a test called the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. Children will be told by camp leaders that the area around their tents is inhabited by two unicorns. The activities of these creatures, of which there will be no physical evidence, will be regularly discussed by organisers, yet the children will be asked to prove that the unicorns do not exist. Anyone who manages to prove this will win a £10 note - which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory - signed by Dawkins, a former professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University.
“The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can’t prove a negative,” said Saman-tha Stein, who is leading next month’s camp at the Mill on the Brue outdoor activity centre close to Bruton, Somerset.
“We are not trying to bash religion, but it encourages people to believe in a lot of things for which there is no evidence.”
Stein, 23, a postgraduate psychology student from London, was inspired to work at an atheist summer camp in America after reading The God Delusion, the bestselling book that sealed Dawkins’s reputation as Britain’s most prominent non-believer. Stein is now helping to bring the US concept, called Camp Quest, to Britain as an alternative to faith-based children’s retreats.
The Scout Association, which has 500,000 members who collectively spend 2m nights camping out each year, is Britain’s biggest organiser of children’s camps. All new Scouts - whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or from another religious background - are required to pledge to do their “duty” to their god or faith. Atheism, however, is not accounted for in this induction oath.
Christian organisations that run summer camps include the Church Pastoral Aid Society, an evangelical group, which operates 100 schemes attended by about 9,000 children.
Camp Quest was founded in America, where Bible classes and Christian retreats are widespread, by Edwin Kagin, an atheist lawyer from Kentucky.
Since launching in 1996, Camp Quest operates at six different US sites, with a new camp due to open in Florida at Christmas.
Amanda Metskas is currently supervising 71 children at a Camp Quest project in Clarkesville, Ohio. Her classes include a session called Socrates Cafe, which debates issues such as definitions of knowledge, art and justice. “We teach them that even people like Sir David Attenborough are religious sceptics,” said Metskas.
Kagin, 68, the son of a church minister, will be visiting the camp in Somerset next month.“Richard Dawkins has made a contribution towards the setting up of the camp in England, but I think now the idea has a momentum of its own,” he said.
A week-long stay at the Mill on the Brue Activity Centre normally costs more than £500, but parents who have booked their children on the Camp Quest package are paying £275. Next year Stein hopes to run atheist camps at Easter and during school half-term breaks.
Additional reporting: Philip Connolly

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

What happened before the big bang? What is north of the North Pole? The questions are meaningless!

source: highlights comments

At yesterdays Dorset Humanists stand at Winton Carnival I was asked 'What came before the big bang?' God? I said that science did not know what came before the big bang - but science was working on it! If God created the Big Bang, what came before God? Who created God?

What I should have said is that that question 'What came before the big bang?' is probably meaningless. Stephen Welch describes it well in his book 'Stardust Our Cosmic Origins' (Big Bang, chapter 4). Stephen Hawking says that maybe the question of what happened before the big bang is meaningless because there was no 'before'. Maybe 'time' and 'space' were created in the Big Bang, so there could be no 'before' and no 'outside'.

On the Richard & Judy Show in 2005 whilst promoting his book 'A Briefer History of Time', Stephen Hawking gave an analogy of moving on the earth towards the North Pole. As you pass the North Pole you start going south again. So the question 'what is 'north' of the North Pole' is meaningless - it makes no sense. The answer is 'nothing' because you cannot get 'north' of the North Pole.

Now apply this question to the Big Bang? What is before the Big Bang? Answer 'nothing'. Because time itself was created in the Big Bang so the question is meaningless.

Maybe if you head back to the start of the Big Bang and kept going back you would start to go forward in time.

Similarly it makes no sense asking 'what is the universe expanding into' because maybe space itself (our familiar 3 dimensions) was created in the Big Bang.

Note: The North Pole has no boudary and is an anlogy for the Hawking-Hartle no boundary universe theory. In collaboration with Jim Hartle, Hawking developed a modeling which the Universe had no boundary in space-time, replacing the initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models with a region akin to the North pole: one cannot travel North of the North pole, there is no boundary there.

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Talks Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code

source: highlights comments

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it's OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we're predictably irrational -- and can be influenced in ways we can't grasp.

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Doctors want right to talk faith

source: highlights comments

By Nick Triggle 
Health reporter, BBC News

A cross and candle
Doctors are worried that religion is being seen as unhelpful
Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them.
Medics will tell the British Medical Association conference this week that staff should not be disciplined as long as they handle the issue sensitively.
The doctors said recent cases where health workers had got into trouble were making people fearful
But atheists said it was wrong to mix religion and health care.
The doctors, who are behind the motion being discussed at the Liverpool conference, are unhappy about the guidance that has been issued.
 If we say it is ok for doctors and nurses to provide spiritual care and pray for patients it can all too quickly get out of hand and we will have staff preaching on the wards 
Terry Sanderson, of the National Secular Society
The General Medical Council code suggests that discussing religion can be part of care provided to patients - as long as the individual's wishes are respected.
But at the start of this year the Department of Health issued guidance warning about proselytising.
It said that discussing religion could be interpreted as an attempt to convert which could be construed as a form of harassment.
It comes as NHS trusts have taken a hard-line in a number of recent cases.
Last year community nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended by North Somerset NHS Trust after offering to pray for a patient, although the 45-year-old was later allowed to return to work.
And only last week a Gloucestershire nurse said she had left her job at a local hospital after being told she could not wear a crucifix - although the hospital said it was because of health and safety rules, not religion.
Cancer specialist Dr Bernadette Birtwhistle, who works in hospitals across Yorkshire and is a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said: "I think it is getting to the point where many of us feel we cannot talk to patients about their spiritual or religious needs or ask them about praying.
"Christianity is being seen as something that is unhelpful."
And she added: "Freedom of speech is being curtailed too much and I don't think that is always in the benefit of patients."
Spiritual needs
However, the Department of Health said it was the responsibility of the NHS Chaplaincy Service to meet the spiritual needs of patients.
A spokeswoman said: "We are committed to the principle of ensuring that patients and staff in the NHS have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith or belief system they follow.
"Although all staff should be sensitive to religious needs and preferences of patients, the delivery of spiritual care should be provided by the hospital chaplaincy service."
And Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, agreed it was not the role of doctors and nurses to bring up religion.
"We have to be very careful about how we tread on this issue. If we say it is ok for doctors and nurses to provide spiritual care and pray for patients it can all too quickly get out of hand and we will have staff preaching on the wards.
"The risk is that it makes patients feel uncomfortable. They may feel compelled to say 'yes' thinking their care will suffer. Really, it is an infringement of their privacy.
"I think we should be very clear that patients should have to ask for this, not offered it."

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Caveman Logic: The Persistence of Primitive Thinking in a Modern World by Prof. Hank Davis

You here it all around you. Even from committed Atheists. On hearing about the death of Michael Jackson my wife repeated 'Oh my God!' several times in a couple of sentances. She was not even aware of doing so when  I questioned her about her language after.
University of Guelph evolutionary psychologist Hank Davis: "I would be more optimistic about our species' chances for survival if pseudoscience, organized religion, and a host of other delusions were ...

source: via,4003,n,n highlights comments

Not long ago, Hank Davis sat down for a chat with a friend. The conversation took an unexpected turn: Out spilled a story of her husband's infidelity, the breakdown of her marriage and the difficulties of raising a child alone. He nodded with sympathy as she told the tale. She concluded with a seemingly innocuous phrase. "But I guess everything happens for a reason. Don't you think so?"

Prof. Davis, an evolutionary psychologist, did not. While his friend was attempting to make sense of the events in her life by searching for a higher meaning, all the reasons Prof. Davis considered were much more concrete: The husband may have been unhappy, or simply attracted to someone else.

"She was ... none too pleased at the here-and-now approach I took to understanding her circumstances," Prof. Davis writes in his new book, Caveman Logic: The Persistence of Primitive Thinking in a Modern World. "It offered little comfort, too much responsibility, and almost no social support."

A professor at the University of Guelph, Prof. Davis has spent the past 20 years

paying attention to the use of such seemingly benign phrases: "It was a sign," "Thank God" and even "Good luck." To him, such phrases reflect a "caveman logic" that helped our ancestors survive the Pleistocene Age, but which is keeping our species from realizing its true potential. While we are well past the primitive age, he argues, we still happily shroud ourselves in superstition, magic and blind faith rather than burn the extra mental calories it takes to think critically and reach rational conclusions.

"We don't have to default to those kind of explanations. But we do. And that's what caveman logic is really about," Prof. Davis said during an interview at his home. "We continue to default to the same magic explanations that our caveman ancestors did. I can't put them down for doing it -- they didn't have any information to work with. But I certainly do wonder about my fellow humans when they do the same thing."

Wearing a loose, flowered shirt and loafers without socks, Prof. Davis confesses that he is not exempt from the same faulty primitive logic he easily spots in those around him.

Nor does he profess to have a cure to stop our brains from resorting to such comfortable shortcuts in logic. Our Pleistocene-era brains, he says, are hard-wired to behave this way.

Indeed, in the first few minutes of our conversation, Prof. Davis refers to himself as "lucky" to have found a publisher for Caveman Logic as quickly as he did, and happily acknowledges the slip. "No one is immune to this kind of thinking," he says. "The message of the book is that we have to try to recognize these patterns and act to avoid them. That's not always easy."

The book strives to present scientific concepts in an approachable way. In an imagined conversation with his grandmother, he debates the relative merits of heuristics and the shortcomings of the human mind. One passage about the merits of baseball statistics helps the reader understand the human mind's difficulty understanding probabilities, quantification, and our propensity to identify patterns or "streaks" that, in reality, do not exist.

"Patterns are everything to us," Prof. Davis writes. "We hunger for them. We revel in them. They are the basis for art, literature, music, and much more in our lives. But a perceptual system that is so geared to wrestling patterns out of complex arrays of stimuli is bound to produce some false positives.

"From time to time, we're going to see or hear what is not there, and those cases will seem no less compelling to us."

Indeed, our Pleistocene ancestors needed to err on the side of caution in order to keep themselves well fed and safe from predators.

For example, if a caveman walked along a path and sensed danger up ahead, he had nothing to lose by jumping behind a tree until he determined the path was safe.

Moreover, when cavemen were faced with catastrophes like earthquakes or hurricanes, they had no means by which to understand them, so they attributed them to the gods expressing displeasure. These days, however, we have enough information that we do not have to default to primitive, magic explanations, Prof. Davis said.

"Our problem is not with the adequacy of the cognitive mechanisms we have inherited; it is with the inability to turn them off," he writes. "They work all too well and too frequently."

Prof. Davis's caveman logic argument is the product of a long and diverse life that has straddled art and science. Born and raised in New York, he played rockabilly guitar as a teenager, attended Columbia University and wound up living in California. Earthquakes, smog and politics eventually chased him north to Ontario in 1971. He has produced re-issue albums of vintage American music--hillbilly, rhythm and blues and pop -- for a half-dozen record labels. He has written books about early science fiction movies and minor league baseball.

Much of his academic career has been devoted to understanding animal cognition and the bond between humans and animals. Among the 100 scientific papers he has published are studies about the ability of rats, scallops and hissing cockroaches from Madagascar to differentiate between humans. Prof. Davis and a colleague studied a dozen cockroaches to determine whether they would come to know individual people; they let the bugs walk on their hands and stroked them, and over time, the majority stopped hissing.

Part of the problem with our brains, he writes, is a "causal detection error" that leads us to wrongly believe that our behaviour has more of an effect on our environment than it actually does. Such "superstitious behaviour" has been observed in everything from pigeons to rats to people, Prof. Davis writes.

Think of a loyal sports fan who refuses to get up and make a sandwich during play, lest his actions influence the game. Even if he recognizes the actions as absurd, he may continue, fearing that if he changes anything, the outcome of the game might be affected.

"I would be more optimistic about our species' chances for survival if pseudoscience, organized religion, and a host of other delusions were voluntarily taken off the table," says Prof. Davis, an atheist.

"We need to see our defective Stone Age minds for what they are if we ever hope to drag ourselves, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century .... Our bodies seem to be standing up rather well; it's our minds that are slipping into obsolescence."

He hopes the ideas in his book, its spirit of skepticism and call for higher standards of critical thought, will spread in the same manner that religion so easily does. But while he says the appetite for such arguments is growing, he acknowledges his beliefs are still in the minority. Asking people to retrain their brains to question their most fundamental beliefs is a tall order. "We name our daughters Faith and Hope. We never name them Doubt or Skeptic," Prof. Davis says. "Those are not valued traits. I believe they should be."


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Saturday, June 27, 2009

'Witch hunt' forces chiropractors to remove websites by Prof. Chris French

source: highlights comments

A chiropractic association has strongly advised its members to remove websites and withdraw patient leaflets or risk prosecution
On 10 June a revealing letter from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association was published on Andy Lewis's excellent website, The Quackometer. The strongly worded letter from the MCA advises all its members to take down their websites immediately or risk prosecution. The letter refers to "a witch hunt against chiropractors" with campaigners targeting "any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research".
The use of the phrase "witch hunt" brings to mind visions of the Salem witch trials or the worst excesses of the McCarthy era, with innocent people being unjustly persecuted by those in power. Challenging unsubstantiated treatment claims does not seem to me to qualify as a witch hunt.
The letter goes on to advise members to "REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic" and, "If you use business cards or other stationery using the 'doctor' title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately."
They were also warned to "Be wary of 'mystery shopper' phone calls and 'drop ins' to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice."
The letter concludes: "Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients. Firstly it would not be ethical to burden patients with this, though if they ask we hope you now have information with which you can respond." It is reassuring to see that the MCA takes its ethical responsibilities so seriously.
Just in case any of its members had not got the message, the MCA letter states: "IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION."
What caused the MCA to react with such panic? As most readers will already know, the lack of good clinical evidence relating to the use of chiropractic for treating a range of disorders with no direct link to problems of the spine has come under the spotlight as never before following the decision of the British Chiropractic Association to sue science writer Simon Singh.
In an article in the Guardian last year he criticised the BCA for claiming that its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions, and prolonged crying. Singh described the treatments as "bogus" and based on insufficient evidence, and criticised the BCA for "happily promoting" them. At a preliminary hearing last month to decide the meaning of the article, a judge ruled that Singh had implied that the BCA was being consciously dishonest.
Could this explain the MCA's apocalyptic letter to its members? Apparently so. When the Guardian approached the association to check the authenticity of the leaked letter, it responded with a statement:
Following the High Court decision and in what one can only speculate was a spirit of retribution, a number of Dr Singh's supporters decided to launch, in their own words, a "blitzkrieg" against the chiropractic profession. This has centred on trawling the websites of chiropractors and one individual, Alan Henness, has made complaints against over 500 individual chiropractors to the Statutory Regulator for chiropractors, the General Chiropractic Council (GCC).
It continues:
For a chiropractor, having a complaint made against you to the GCC is a very serious matter. The process of having a complaint investigated by the GCC is a very stressful, protracted and ultimately expensive process for the chiropractor, however minor or serious the misdemeanour, regardless of the eventual outcome ... As soon as the MCA became aware of the actions of the 'skeptics', as they like to call themselves, we advised our members to withdraw their web sites as a precautionary measure in light of what was considered to be a vexatious campaign against the profession.
And in conclusion:
The MCA has nothing to hide – and it is our belief that our members have not intentionally breached any rules regarding the content of their websites. The MCA was not alone in advising such precautions; indeed at least two other chiropractic associations have given similar advice to their members.
The BCA's use of the perverse English libel laws in an attempt to silence Singh has caused outrage and concern in equal measure among scientists, journalists, and indeed anyone who values free speech and honest debate. Detailed coverage of the case can be found at Jack of Kent's superb blog.
An interesting development took place on 20 May when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published its adjudication on whether chiropractors Dr Carl Irwin and Associates "could substantiate the implied claim that their therapies could successfully treat some of the conditions mentioned, in particular IBS, colic and learning difficulties". The relevant part of the adjudication reads as follows:
We considered that, whilst some of the studies indicated that further research was worth pursuing, in particular in relation to the chiropractic relief of colic, we had not seen robust clinical evidence to support the claim that chiropractic could treat IBS, colic and learning difficulties.
On these points the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health and Beauty Products and Therapies).
The ASA instructed that the offending advertisement must not appear again and that the practice must not refer to the treatment of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), colic and learning difficulties in future. Furthermore, the chiropractors gave assurances that they would not refer to themselves as "doctors" in any future advertising to avoid giving the misleading impression to members of the public that they held general medical qualifications.
Some people were so angered by the BCA's legal assault on Singh that they decided to follow up the ASA ruling. Among them was Simon Perry, organiser of the Leicester branch of Skeptics in the Pub. Singh's own account can be found on Perry's Adventures in Nonsense blog.
Essentially, Perry downloaded from the BCA website the details and websites of 174 chiropractic practices that either claimed to treat colic or else implied that chiropractic was an effective treatment for this condition. Using their postcodes, he then found their local trading standards office using the Trading Standards Institute website. Having checked the content of each chiropractic website, he then mailed 84 letters of complaint to trading standards offices, referring to the ASA adjudication and saying he believed the practices in question to be in breach of the unfair commercial practice regulations and other consumer protection legislation.
He has posted the latest results on his Adventures in Nonsense blog. It appears that out of the 84 chiropractors he reported to trading standards with individual letters, 14 have now removed the word "colic" from all pages on their web sites. Out of 55 individual chiropractors that Perry reported to the General Chiropractic Council, 13 have removed the word from all of their web pages.
Perry kindly agreed to perform a similar mail-merge on my behalf. My letters, around 80 of them, simply pointed out that as far as I was aware there is no convincing scientific evidence that chiropractic is an effective treatment for colic.
At the time of writing, I have received some 46 replies. The vast majority of these are simply acknowledging receipt of my complaint and telling me that it will be investigated. The others display a wide range of decisions regarding my concerns.
Trading Standards Service of East Sussex County Council informed me that they had been in touch with Lushington Chiropractic to advise them of the ASA's adjudication and to ask them to remove any reference to the conditions mentioned. Interestingly, their letter to me also states that "The General Chiropractic Council have recently contacted them regarding this, and so they have already taken steps to have the statements removed from their website and literature as soon as possible."
A similar response was received from the Borough of Poole Environmental and Consumer Protection Services with regard to Amethyst Chiropractic Clinic. A few responses informed me that the practices in question appeared to have already removed any references to the treatment of colic (possibly as a result of the MCA letter?).
Other responses simply reported that the trading standards officer in question had decided not to take any action against the chiropractic practice. Some, such as the environmental protection department of Sefton Council, proclaimed that my complaint had been investigated and, in its opinion, the Back for Your Future Family Chiropractic Clinic was not contravening any of the legislation that it enforces. No justification was provided for this verdict.
Four letters were particularly worrying. The trading standards officers for Haringey Council, the City of Edinburgh Council, and the Highland Council all claimed that they could only take action against the practices if they could "prove beyond all reasonable doubt" that the claim that chiropractic can treat colic is false or misleading. There is no obligation on the part of the trader, I was informed, to establish anything.
Mark McGinty of the Highland Council informed me that "For your information, it would appear that the evidence available is inconclusive … " and Simon Keegan, the trading standards inspector employed by the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service, told me that "there is no conclusive scientific evidence stating that chiropractic does not offer effective treatment for infantile colic."
As it happens, to the best of my knowledge, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that chewing my toe-nail clippings is not an effective cure for Aids, but I would rather hope that trading standards services would take some action against me should I ever decide to set up a business based upon this claim.
The most commonly cited paper in support of the treatment of infantile colic by chiropractic is by Klougart, Nilsson, and Jacobsen (1989). They showed that 94% of a group of 316 infants suffering from colic improved when treated with chiropractic. The appropriate response to this statistic is "So what?" As no control group was included in the study, we simply cannot know if the results might have been even better if no spinal manipulation had been employed.
A subsequent study by Olafsdottir, Forshei, Fluge, and Markestad (2001) did include a placebo control group and concluded that "Chiropractic spinal manipulation is no more effective than placebo in the treatment of infantile colic." This raises the question of what exactly would constitute proof "beyond all reasonable doubt", to the satisfaction of certain trading standards officers, that chiropractic is ineffective as a treatment for colic?
Overall, though, the effect of this campaign appears to have been very positive from the perspective of those who value science, free speech and open debate. The BCA has shot itself in the foot by taking the heavy-handed approach it did with respect to Simon Singh's article. By doing so, it has brought the lack of good evidence for many of chiropractors' claims right out into the bright light of day.
If you care about science and free speech, join the 12,000 people who have already signed up to support Simon Singh and keep the libel laws out of science at the Sense About Science website.
Chris French is a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths in London where he heads the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He edits the [UK] Skeptic magazine © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Talks Seth Godin on the tribes we lead

source: highlights comments

Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.

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How the Moonies worldview is a memetic virus

Dedicated to my friend Steve Hale who became a Moonie over 30 years ago.

Diane Benscoter spent five years as a "Moonie." She shares an insider's perspective on the mind of a cult member, and proposes a new way to think about today's most troubling conflicts and extremist movements.

Monday, June 22, 2009

TAKE ACTION before 24 July 2009! Teach Evolution in Primary School!

source: British Humanist Association e-bulletin, 22 June 2009

What is the issue?

In January 2008 the Government commissioned a review looking at both the organisation and content of the National Curriculum taught in primary schools in England. The review was lead by Sir Jim Rose. His final report was published on 30 April 2009.
The changes that have been proposed by the Rose Review have now been put out to public consultation. The consultation is being conducted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The public consultation will run until 24 July 2009, after which point the Government will consider how to proceed.

BHA position

The BHA broadly welcomes the proposed new curriculum. However, we have particular concerns regarding the new ‘scientific and technological understanding’ area of learning, which is one of six new ‘areas of learning’ that have been put forward as the new structure of the curriculum.
Our main concern is that the ‘scientific and technological understanding’ area of learning makes no requirement for pupils to learn about and investigate the concepts of natural selection and evolution. We believe that the theory of evolution – arguably the single most important idea underlying the life sciences today – must be included in the primary curriculum.
The wealth of new educational resources on evolution available for children of primary school age demonstrates their ability to grasp the simpler concepts associated with it, and a basic understanding of evolution will help lay the foundation for a surer scientific understanding later on in children’s school life.
With 2009 being the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the omission of evolution from the curriculum of primary schools is scandalous.

What can be done?

Please write to your MP, urging them to support the inclusion of natural selection and evolution in the primary curriculum. You can use our online facility to email your MP directly at
Please also make a submission to the QCA’s public consultation, which you can do by downloading the consultation questionnaire online at
You can read the BHA's own response to the consultation at
Here the BHA not only make more detailed comments about other weakness in ‘scientific and technological understanding’, but also in some of the other areas of learning. If you agree with the BHA's comments in these other areas then please do consider responding to these sections of the consultation as well.
If you are a teacher, please explore the possibility of your school making a response to the consultation to urge for the changes we are looking for.
If you are a member of a political party, you can write to the education contact or spokesperson of your party to urge them to support the changes we are seeking. For Labour, this is Rt Hon. Ed Balls MP on, for Conservatives this is Michael Gove MP, for Liberal Democrats this is David Laws on
Please do all the above insofar as you are in a position to do so.
Please copy any submissions you make or correspondence you enter into on this subject to Paul Pettinger at the BHA ( or by post to British Humanist Association, 1 Gower Street, London WC1E 6HD).

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