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Archive for December, 2009

It might be old news, but I saw one of these in a shop for the first time today. A Boutique edition of Monopoly, coloured entirely in different shades of pink. The focus is shifted from ruthlessly trading in real estate, to having lots of girly fun going shopping. Chance and Community Chest are replaced with Instant Message and Text Message. And it’s very pink.

My gut reaction was to call it the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen, and maybe if I were in a grumpier mood I’d have stuck with that. But actually, I don’t think there’s anything objectionable here. There are dozens of Monopoly spin-offs, and I don’t really see a problem with tailoring the specifics of a game so that a particular demographic can more easily relate to it. I know I’d rather play a version with £’s on the money and bits of London I’ve been to, than with dollars and a bunch of American places I’ve never heard of. The uber-pink theme is just an extension of that.

I know it’s the obvious thing to say that anyone or anything attempting to update itself by mentioning text messaging is tragically unhip, like an embarrassing dad trying to be “down with the kids” and failing hopelessly to get any of it right. But here it just seems like good sense. If I’ve won second prize in a beauty contest, sure, text me about it. But what the hell is a community chest?

The old-fashioned form isn’t “better” just because you’re nostalgic for it, and if somebody else’s childhood didn’t heavily feature Old Kent Road and a little stainless steel model of a dog, you can’t blame them if their current tastes don’t match up with your own personal fond memories. Sure, I’d miss the battleship if it was replaced by a handbag, but this game really isn’t meant for me.

I gather some people are concerned about the unhealthy gender stereotypes it could be reinforcing. If it was called “Monopoly: Girls’ Edition”, I think you’d have a point, but I think it’s just a version for people who like this sort of thing. Which seems fine.

If you like this, Amazon recommends Pink Yahtzee. Now that’s just retarded.

Moving on.

Not that I necessarily needed to be reminded, but this is why Crispian Jago is one of the highlights of the skeptical movement. I never got around to actually finishing my own attempted Pythonesque parody, but I should probably just stand back and let the maestro show us all how it’s done. (“SUSCEPTIBILITY attracting MIASMS? What kind of talk is that?”)

The Perry in that sketch, incidentally, is Simon Perry off of the Leicester Skeptics in the Pub, who had an article about homeopathy in Boots published in the Leicester Mercury paper lately. Less funny, but more informative, and kinda important.

Also, I got to chat to Adam Baldwin earlier. Yes, that one. Okay, it wasn’t exactly a chat, if I’m honest. He posted a link on Twitter to a political cartoon, which depicts a pampered government representative sitting with his feet up on a barrel of money, while several (white) men representing taxpayers are literally picking cotton and singing Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen. The government guy is talking to them about healthcare, and the scene is said to describe “the big issue of freedom vs. socialism. Or, in other words, freedom vs. slavery.”

Yes, the political philosophy of public ownership of the means of production is being equated to the way black people used to be white people’s property.

I made a comment to the effect that this was pretty damn classy.

And whatever else you want to say about Adam Baldwin, you can’t say that he’s totally oblivious to overpowering sarcasm.

He sent me a message back, directing me to this video, in which some US politician I’ve barely heard of asserts that Republicans have historically not been especially progressive, and gets a few significant facts wrong according to the captions. This, I’m told, provides some much-needed “context”. Context to the cartoon in which, if you remember, white people whose tax dollars might have to cover a comprehensive healthcare plan for a few million people who can’t afford insurance, are having their hardships compared to the suffering of the black people who were owned as property by white people a few decades ago.

If this context somehow sheds new light on that, and is supposed to be making me see it in a whole new non-crazy perspective, it’s not working.

I guess there was no particular theme to any of this, but that’s enough for today.

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Yes, I’m still moaning about the lack of time I find to get anything done. Couple of quick links.

James Randi on Uri Geller, summing things up nicely. The guy’s made a decades-long career out of convincing people that he does real, genuine, no-foolin’ magic using psychic alien powers and no trickery whatever. If he’s now claiming to be an illusionist relying on natural means, he’s a disingenuous twat. Randi put it more eloquently.

And when I go home for Christmas, I’m going to have to remember to try out at least some of Richard Wiseman’s quirky science tricks.

And that’s everything that happened today.

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Oh no! She took too much homeopathy!

Wait, how does that infinitesimals thing work again? Oh, right.

Billy Joel’s daughter had a fight with her boyfriend, took some homeopathy, and was later hospitalised.

I’m sure those three things may have happened in that order, but I’m doubtful that there’s really a linear causal connection between them all. There’s no detail given in this article about her medical state beyond that she had “breathing problems”, and is now fine. So as far as I know she was as healthy as me after walking up the stairs to my front door.

Y’know, I think she might just pull through.

Or maybe she was properly ill with something, but even by the anti-logic of homeopathy, taking too much of the stuff isn’t supposed to increase its potency.

Eh. Gimpy twittered about it earlier, I thought it was funny enough to be worth a mention.

Oh, except now after all that I learn that it might actually have some medicine-like stuff in it, which isn’t what homeopathy’s about at all. Gah. Trust HolfordWatch to spoil a good story with awkward facts.

In other news, who’s this D.J. Grothe person, and what’s he done with Phil Plait? ‘Tis the end of an era. Best of luck to both you guys in your forthcoming projects.

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Nothing to see here

I know, it’s been quiet here. I’ve not even been excusably ill the last few days. I’m still eking out the odd hundred words or so here and there, but I’m not so fired up about it as I often have been.

But someone worth reading, as is often the case, is Amateur Scientist Brian Thompson. This is a really thoughtful post which addresses something I’ve never quite seen addressed entirely to my satisfaction, and always kinda wanted to get around to expressing my own thoughts on. Because I’m not sure he’s quite right. But it’s a good post anyway. And I’m totally with him on the robot genitals.

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Yep, the latest blog carnival is up over at Effort Sisyphus. At least, it starts there. But the journey that ensues may take you down many weird and wonderful paths, if you dare to follow the white rabbit. It’s a nifty set-up.

That’s all I’ve got today. Working on the promised Facilitated Communication rant for the Skeptictionary. It’s really long and rambling, even for me. Night night.

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So yesterday a debate was sparked off on Twitter by the whole Climategate thing. I’m not sufficiently informed on the subject to blog about that in detail, but it seems it’s being dramatically overplayed by people on the side of the debate unconvinced by the science of anthropogenic climate change.

And the fact that I don’t know much about this is sort of what it’s all about. I can tell you almost nothing about the scientific evidence behind the claims that our planet is undergoing significant global climate change, that human activities are partially responsible for this change, and that it will be important for us to actively combat this in the immediate future if we want the world to continue being as nice a place for us to live as it is now. I don’t know the details of why people are firmly convinced of any of those things.

What I do know is that the scientific consensus currently strongly supports these claims. People smarter than me, and who seem to know how to deal well with this kind of complicated subject, seem generally united on this front based on the current evidence. Personally, that’s enough for me, because the extent to which I take an active interest in the subject is limited.

But that’s not enough for everyone. And nor should it be. If I were so inclined, I have a right to ask just what’s going on, to try and pin down what the evidence is, to ask that it be explained to me. I understand there are a number of pop-sci books out there that’ll do just that. (As I say, limited interest.) It seems that it’s been increasingly widely recognised lately that communicating their work to the public is often an important part of a scientist’s job.

Which brings me to the question of how scientists should treat people who don’t agree with their science.

Nobody here is denying that the scientific method is driven by internal debate and constant rigorous questioning, and that all findings need to be subjected to impartial scrutiny and criticism before being taken seriously by the scientific community. But sometimes a theory passes all these tests, continues over time to be increasingly well supported by the data and accurate in its predictions, reaches such a level of empirical support that it seems ridiculous to doubt its basic premise… but some people still do. Some people won’t accept what has become established as fact.

Creationism is a fine example of this, and it seems that some of those who doubt anthropogenic climate change fall into that category also. That’s a slightly awkward phrasing of their position, but the big question is what else to call them. They tend to refer to themselves as climate change “skeptics”, but they often get labelled as “denialists”.

Jack of Kent doesn’t think this term is useful. He points out that it can be used over-zealously to stifle any reasonable debate or dissent, which is antithetical to truly skeptical inquiry, and declares:

I care not if someone is a “denialist”. It is enough for me that they are incorrect.

And he’s right, up to a point. Some people on the side of science may well get exasperated by the more inane end of the spectrum of opposition they have to deal with, and start throwing around terms like “denialist” carelessly at people who are actually no more ignorant of the evidence than I am and might have just set off on the wrong foot. And whether or not somebody is wrong may well be more interesting than the methods by which they’re wrong.

But I’d argue that “denialist” is a meaningful term, when applied to a particular form of fallacious argument, and worth holding on to if we can learn to apply it sparingly. Richard Wilson linked to the denialism blog, which lays out a definition of denialism and explains the techniques of argument generally employed by denialists. This seems valid and useful to me. “Denialist” is not simply a word synonymous with “anyone on the other side” (or shouldn’t be). It means someone arguing in this particular way.

Even if the body of evidence is so strong that there’s really no room left for reasonable doubt, throwing any epithet instinctively at anyone daring to step out of line seems like bad form. To quote myself on Twitter yesterday:

“Denialist” is an appropriate label for some kooks, and a useful way of describing some forms of pseudoscience, but if it’s not clear why you’re right and they’re wrong, to an outside observer you look like a fundamentalist trying to stifle debate.

Meaning that the way to combat wrongness in any form, such as denialism, is with data and rational argument to support your point. Once you’ve provided that and made your case, and responded to everything your opponents have, then you can point out that they seem to be clinging dogmatically to their ideas and exhibiting these crank-like behaviour patterns.

In short, it’s a useful word to have, it often accurately describes people, but it should be used sparingly in public discourse. If you’re going to level a term like “denialist” at an antagonist, you need to really make sure you know where they’re coming from first, and support it with explanations of the logic that they’re failing to appreciate. Don’t start shouting it at people before you’ve exhausted the possibility of persuading them civilly. That just reminds me of the idiots who clamoured to call Carrie Prejean a cunt and helped ensure she was never going to come around to their side, and drove her deeper into crazyville.

Wow, that was long and rambling.

It’s late, so I’ve not proofread or redrafted this as much as usual. I might revisit it tomorrow to make some more sense of it. Thoughts?

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