I tried coming up with a pun title, or at least something interestingly descriptive, but I appear to have failed, and ended up being boringly bland and perfunctory.
I shall now write the bit of my blog post that is about Derren Brown. (Sorry, snapping out of that now.)
Some of Derren’s shows in the past have been brilliant in highlighting just how easily we can be tricked, and how rational and intelligent people can fall for complete nonsense. (The séance one was a particular favourite.) But with the lottery prediction show he did recently, he encouraged the audience to “choose” between two hugely unlikely possibilities, and seemed to keep the most probable real explanation completely hidden. I’m okay with being lied to for the purposes of entertainment, but only when you’re being honest about it.
And the psychic lottery prediction was just one of a series he was doing recently called The Events. I only watched parts of the others, but the impression I got from people’s responses was that, from a critical thinking angle, they weren’t a whole lot better. I’ll try not to judge him unfairly on what I haven’t seen, but this particular chapter of his career doesn’t seem to have done his skeptical kudos any favours.
His latest project is titled Science of Scams. Over the last few months, a series of hoax videos have been posted online, purporting to be amateur footage of paranormal or otherwise inexplicable phenomena. The videos he’s now releasing on the site show the real stories behind these various illusions, which fooled many of the people who originally watched them on YouTube.
This is what we technically like to call a bit more fucking like it.
Seriously, this is one of my favourite things to do, and I love it when other people with more energy than me are proactive enough to follow it all the way through, and put together something which genuinely fools people, while carefully recording exactly how it was fabricated all along the way. It very nicely undermines most (if not all) of the reason to give any of the supposedly genuine occurrences any credence whatever.
Anyway, I’ve gone on longer than I’d planned to about that, and Simon Singh’s story is actually the one I’m more excited about.
Simon was in the Royal Courts of Justice today, where he was granted leave to appeal the preliminary ruling in his BCA libel case. That’s the ruling that was made back in May, which established the “meaning” of his article, and which really didn’t do him any favours. It wasn’t at all clear that he was going to be allowed to appeal against it, especially because when a lower court has made its decision like this, it’s uncommon for the Court of Appeal to overturn it. But he was granted full appeal on the meaning of the alleged libel, which is about as excellent a result as they could have hoped for today.
It’s not a major turning point, just one positive step in a long journey, but I like to think that this is further evidence of the general sway of things moving very much in Simon’s direction. For instance, Crispian Jago was there at the courts this morning, and paraphrases thusly the judge’s comments:
Lawyer Dude: “You’re most worthy eminence, sir, your majesty whatever etc etc. We have given you a shit load of documentation explaining why Simon should be given permission to appeal, do you want me to go through the 4 major points”
Justice Law: “Nah, I can’t be arsed to go through all that as you’ve written far too much, anyway I’ve already made up my mind to grant Simon permission for a full appeal and Simon will be allowed to re-argue it was fair comment. Now bugger off and try and write something a bit shorter for the full appeal.
And the Index on Censorship article quotes Lord Justice Laws as describing Mr Justice Eady’s original ruling as possibly being “legally erroneous”.
He went on, as reported by the Sense About Science campaign:
There is no dispute that [Simon’s original article] is in the public interest, with no suspicion of malice and there is no question of good faith
And that’s not a casual, half-remembered paraphrasing like Crispian’s was. He flat-out said that, which sounds to me like he’s kinda on our side.
Further information, and better analysis than I am able to offer, is provided by The Lay Scientist, Heresy Corner, and of course a characteristically comprehensive and accessible summary of events from Jack of Kent.
Basically, it’s good news, everyone! (I probably should’ve opened with that.)