Facial-exercising pink fright mask


Worried about sagging facial skin? The "Facewaver Exercise Mask/Beauty skin sag face stretcher" ($60) is an elasticated pink fright mask/balaclava within whose confines you bind your face and then "stretch and tighten" your phiz, thus "kneading out wrinkles, lines and sag," through repetitive facial movements The manufacturer also claims additional circulation, which is useful if your face doesn't have enough blood it in. (Thanks, Alice!)

UK bans teaching Creationism as science in schools


(Beginner's Bible Coloring Book!, The Searcher, used with permission)

(Beginner's Bible Coloring Book!, The Searcher, used with permission)

The UK Government has banned the practice of teaching Creationism as science in all UK schools, including the less-regulated, semi-privatised Free Schools and Academies. Previously, all state schools and most Academies and Free Schools were prohibited from teaching Creationism, but existing religious schools were exempted from the rule. Since the new year, the government has closed off these exemptions, and with the latest move, has closed all of them, meaning that no school may teach Creationism any longer. However, state-funded nurseries and lightly inspected private schools are expected to go on teaching Creationism until further changes are made.

The British Humanist Association -- which I joined as a lifetime member -- has led the campaign against the teaching of Creationism in schools, and also campaigns against the Religious Education requirement in English and Welsh curriculum. I believe that RE should be integrated into the social anthropology curriculum and not taught as a standalone subject.

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Most-misused scientific concepts


Annalee Newitz rounds up scientists' ten least-favorite misused scientific concepts, from "proof" and "theory" to "natural" and "learned versus innate." The thing that most of these misconceptions have in common is that they're very profitable: clouding the idea of "proof" and "theory" helps oil companies sell climate denial (and were the go-to tactic when tobacco giants were claiming that their products didn't cause cancer). "Natural" is a label that helps sell woo. "Learned versus innate" is a great way to justify crappy policies as being somehow "innate" to our species (see Love of Shopping is Not a Gene).

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Celebrate World Homeopathy Awareness Week with homeopathyawarenessweek.org

It's World Homeopathy Awareness Week, so the Good Thinking Society (a nonprofit devoted to promoting rational thought) has put up a new site at homeopathyawarenessweek.org in which you will be made aware of a bunch of facts that homeopathy advocates are often slow to mention -- like adults and children who've died because they were treated with homeopathic sugar-pills, the tragic foolishness of Homeopaths Without Borders, who are memorably described as "well-meaning folk [who fly] into places of crisis in the developing world carrying suitcases full of homeopathic tablets that contain nothing but sugar. It is not so much Médecins Sans Frontières as Médecins Sans Medicine."

The more aware you are of homeopathy -- that is, the more you learn about all the ways in which homeopathy has been examined by independent, neutral researchers who've tested its claims and found them baseless -- the less there is to like about it. From ineffective homeopathy "vaccine alternatives" that leave your children -- and the children around them -- vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses that have been brought back from the brink of extinction by vaccine denial to the tragic story of Penelope Dingle, who suffered a horrific and lingering death due to treatable bowel-cancer because she followed her husband's homeopathic advice, being aware of homeopathy is a very good thing.

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Jimmy Wales tells "energy workers" that Wikipedia won't publish woo, "the work of lunatic charlatans isn't the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse'"


The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) set up a Change.org petition asking Wikipedia to make it easier to post crazy pseudo-science to Wikipedia, specifically information about "Energy Medicine, Energy Psychology, and specific approaches such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, and the Tapas Acupressure Technique."

In response, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said "no," very emphatically. He told the petitioners that Wikipedia would continue to accept material published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, but would not "pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse.' It isn't."

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Oh No Ross and Carrie: podcasting investigative journalists join cults, try woo, and get prodded -- for science!

I've just finished listening to the entire, three-year run of Oh No Ross and Carrie, a podcast hosted by two former Evangelical Christians turned skeptics, who join cults and fringe religions, visit psychics and healers of varying degrees of woo-ness, and partake of quack remedies and other newage rituals. After dozens of hours of listening, enjoying, laughing and learning, I'm totally converted to their faith.

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Where did all that quack-cure radium end up?


Glenn Fleishman writes, "A responsible dealer of the radioactive element radium, a substance once pushed widely as a quack cure, tried to keep the genie in the bottle. Theresa Everline explains that in the first half of the 20th century, Frank Hartman, known as the Radium Hound, kept track of accidents and incompetence in handling radium. His diaries reveal that radium lingers in forgotten places."

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Chicago PD's Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling


The Chicago Police Department has ramped up the use of its "predictive analysis" system to identify people it believes are likely to commit crimes. These people, who are placed on a "heat list," are visited by police officers who tell them that they are considered pre-criminals by CPD, and are warned that if they do commit any crimes, they are likely to be caught.

The CPD defends the practice, and its technical champion, Miles Wernick from the Illinois Institute of Technology, characterizes it as a neutral, data-driven system for preventing crime in a city that has struggled with street violence and other forms of crime. Wernick's approach involves seeking through the data for "abnormal" patterns that correlate with crime. He compares it with epidemiological approaches, stating that people whose social networks have violence within them are also likely to commit violence.

The CPD refuses to share the names of the people on its secret watchlist, nor will it disclose the algorithm that put it there.

This is a terrible way of running a criminal justice system.

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GCHQ's dirty-tricking psyops groups: infiltrating, disrupting and discrediting political and protest groups


In a piece on the new Omidyar-funded news-site "The Intercept," Glenn Greenwald pulls together the recent Snowden leaks about the NSA's psyops programs, through which they sought to attack, undermine, and dirty-trick participants in Anonymous and Occupy. The new leaks describe the NSA' GCHQs use of "false flag" operations (undertaking malicious actions and making it look like the work of a group they wish to discredit), the application of "social science" to disrupting and steering online activist discussions, luring targets into compromising sexual situations, deploying malicious software, and posting lies about targets in order to discredit them.

As Greenwald points out, the unit that conducted these actions, "Jtrig" (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group), does not limit itself to attacking terrorists -- it explicitly targets protest groups, and political groups that have no connection with national security, including garden-variety criminals who are properly the purview of law enforcement agencies, not intelligence agencies.

The UK spy agency GCHQ operates a programme, called the "Human Science Operations Cell," whose remit is "strategic influence and disruption."

Some of the slides suggest pretty dubious "social science" (see below) -- they read like a mix between NLP hucksters and desperate Pick Up Artist losers.

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AIDS deniers use bogus copyright claims to censor critical Youtube videos

Myles Power, a debunker who goes after junk science and conspiracy theorists, has gone after AIDS denialists and a terrible, falsehood-ridden, dangerous documentary called "House of Numbers," which holds that HIV/AIDS isn't an actual viral illness, but rather a conspiracy to sell anti-viral medication. The AIDS denial movement encourages people who are HIV-positive to go off the medication that keeps them alive.

The producers of "House of Numbers" have used a series of bogus copyright takedown notices to get Youtube to remove Powers's videos, in which he uses clips from the documentary as part of his criticism, showing how they mislead viewers and misrepresent the facts and the evidence. It's pure censorship: using the law to force the removal of your opponents' views.

Google and Youtube have some blame to shoulder here. They should not be honoring these takedown notices, as they are not valid on their face. However, the buck doesn't stop there. The DMCA's takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What's more, the entertainment companies -- who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us -- are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.

Update: Google has reinstated the video, and published this statement: "When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove it promptly in accordance with the law. We reinstate content in cases where there is clear fair use and we are confident that the material is not infringing, removing any associated copyright strikes.”

However, the "accordance with the law" business isn't the whole story. The law says that if Google is sent a takedown notice and they don't remove it, they could be sued along with the person who posted it. But it's up to Google to determine whether it believes the complaint holds water, and whether to assume the risk of disregarding it. IOW: Google could have left the video up, but at some risk of being named in a nuisance suit by some genuinely evil people. It decided that this risk was more costly than the likely temporary removal of the video.

They're probably right inasmuch as they will generally be let off the hook for this. However, to the extent that we -- the people who generate Google's income -- give them a good kicking when they make decisions like this, we will raise the cost of acting on obviously spurious copyright complaints. The higher that cost rises, the less censorship we'll see on Youtube.

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Diesel Sweeties on "Internet Detox"


If you or someone you love is contemplating an "Internet Detox," Diesel Sweeties has some important perspective for you.

There's a wrong way to lounge


Maybe it's just the intractable back-pain talking, but I would buy anything advertised in that font.

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Ask for Evidence: demanding facts for sciencey claims

Victoria from the UK's Sense About Science writes in with news about its Ask For Evidence campaign, a structured system for demanding evidence of sciencey-sounding claims from governments and companies, such as claims that wheatgrass drinks accomplish something called "detox" (whatever that is). The campaign has been remarkably successful to date, and they're looking for people to carry the work on in their own lives.

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Woo with a body-count: measles epidemic follows anti-vax scare

Wales is in the grip of a measles epidemic, thanks to the anti-vaccine scare more than a decade ago. Once the critical mass of herd immunity dropped below a certain threshold, in came the old, deadly -- and utterly preventable -- disease.

Death toll from the American anti-vaccine movement

The Anti-Vaccine Body Count site reminds us that since celebrities like Jenny McCarthy took the cause of scaring parents into avoiding life-saving vaccines, thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths have struck. Since 2007 alone, more than 110,000 preventable illnesses and 1,170 deaths have occurred. In that same timeframe, the number of autism diagnoses linked through scientific evidence and review to vaccination is zero. (via Making Light) Cory 119