Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Episode 58 - Christmas Special 2011

This week we discuss abortion and mental health, executing sorceresses, right to die in the media, microwaved kitten, Welsh top-level domains, local community broadcasting, predictions for 2012, lads culture at News of The World, Rhys Morgan gets into the Guardian, Julian Baggini's reasonable religion,  and bad science (diabetes).

Go and download it now!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Episode 57 - One Bad Apple

Steven is off enjoying German culture (and beer), leaving John and Trevor in the lurch. We manage to fill the hour talking about bad Apple, nuns On pills, no carrots for muslim women, best Christmas films, poor cancer reporting, gay marriage ban, right to die and skeptic tone trolls.

Go ahead, download it, I dare you!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Episode 56 - Burzynski Fail 2

We talk a bit more about the Burzynski clinic and it's ridiculous libel threats, The Iron Lady, Jeremy Clarkson's idiotic comments, prostitute surprise, David Cameron's idiotic comments, tube train ranting woman, Julian Baggini's definition of "respectable" religion.

You can go and download it here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Episode 55 - Burzynski Fail

We're back after another week off to bring you possibly the best episode ever! We discuss the Burzynski Clinic and celebrity endorsement, the role of the media in misinforming the public, Chris Huhne's ridiculous green tax energy policy and squeeze in our usual features.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Episode 54 - Spot The Libelous Omission

Another week and another episode that sees us beating up on an idiotic Tory MP; this week Teresa May is under fire. We also discuss pox lollipops, White House denying existence of aliens, Peter Hitchens and Occupy LSX (St Pauls), Winterval not replacing Christmas, Daily Express gets maths wrong (shock!), Catholic compensation, and poppy burning of course.

Rejoice and go download it now!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Episode 53 - Pirate Monkeys!

This week's episode is another cracker! We discuss the Charlie Hebdo petrol bombing, Mars mission simulation, Richard Littlejohn's duck rant, the end of the English language, spiritual health on the NHS, religious and scientific explanations, our opinion of The Matrix, Greek bailout referendum, Liz Jones, churches and civil partnerships and Derren Brown's The Gameshow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Conflating Objectivity & Subjectivity (Rugby)

I thought I'd put together a post about one of the problems people have when engaging in rational discourse. It's a pretty big one, so I'll be using a very recent event in the world of rugby as an analogy to show where they're gong wrong.

Very often we come across an event or decision that has two components; one objective and one subjective. We are able to come to a consensus on the objective component by using evidence and reasoned argument. The subjective component is made up of taste, preference, interpretation etc and so to argue over a subjective judgement is to be the same as saying it is "right" to like strawberries or "wrong" to enjoy golf.

The example I'll be using is Sam Warbuton's red card and sending off in the Wales v France World Cup game. It would seem that the many rugby forums I frequent are still deep in debate over this, so nobody can comment saying it is in the past because for some people it is very much still going on.

If we break down the referee's decision into the components we can see where the problem lies. The objective part is the rules of the game and what is definied as a dangerous tackle. The subjective part is the part where the referee decides how severe the infringement was and therefore which card to use.

Nobody contests Alain Rolland's judgement that the tackle was dangerous. If the tackle was not dangerous according to the rules of the game (tackled player's feet in the air, dropped on his head) then we could objectively say that he was wrong in his decision i.e. according to the evidence he was wrong. If the tackle was dangerous according to the rules of the game and he had not acted then again we could say that he was wrong in his judgement. However, he was correct; the tackle was indeed dangerous.

All that remains is the subjective component. If we acknowledge that subjective value judgements are equal then to accuse Alain Rolland of being wrong or incorrect is incoherent (meaningless). But some people have tried to overcome this fact by invoking various failures at logic. Here they are:

  1. Lots of people disagree with Alain Rolland's decision - Doesn't matter. Let's say that I like eating polystyrene. Even if everybody else on the planet doesn't like eating the aromatic polymer it doesn't make sense to say that it is wrong for me to like eating it. You could make the case that it was dangerous for me to eat it, but that doesn't address whether there is a moral value in liking eating polystyrene.
  2. Other referees, pundits (or people of authority) disagree with his decision - Doesn't matter. Does the fact somebody of authority likes/dislikes something mean that we're wrong for disagreeing? Just because the pope, prime minister, Queen or some top scientist likes eating marmite it doesn't mean everybody should like it or is wrong for detesting the brown gunk.
  3. Alain Rolland makes subsequent decisions that differ from this one - Doesn't matter. Even if a tackle occurs that is identical in every way, the fact that he gives a different colour card in the future is meaningless and does not in any way validate other people's opinion. His original subjective opinion was based on more than just seeing a guy dropped on his head.

Arguing over subjective opinion is absurd, and we recognise this when we hear children arguing over silly things such as the "best" colour or "worst" flavour of ice-cream. However, for some reason, if you dress it up in shorts and throw a ball around then all of a sudden it gets complicated.

If you want less ambiguity then the rules need to be changed so that there is less interpretation for the referee. I'm sure they'd love to see that happen so they could spend less money on home security and painting over graffit. But I get the feeling that the game might suffer...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Episode 52 - Killer Monkeys!

This week we discuss killer monkeys, Gadaffi and we have the usual Catholic story and Spot The Fake.

Download it now!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Episode 51 - Cats!

The excited hosts of the think/rant podcast return after a week off to talk about the effects of the media on public opinion, Foxy Knoxy, Theresa May, Jesusween, homophobilc non-apology, dwarf tossing, 180 movie, Ray Comfort and lots of other random stories from the last two weeks.

I apologise in advance for any content that was spurred by excitement, alcohol or cat defecation. Download it now!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No Podcast (week of 6th October 2011)

Just a short note to let the die-hard fans know that there won't be a podcast this week. Trevor is off to a comedy gig (trying to persuade people that he's funny), Steven is ill in bed, and I'm going to the Cardiff Skeptics In The Pub meeting. Normally I'd make an effort to record something on another day, but I haven't had time to write anything and I don't like doing monologues.

See you next week!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Episode 50 - Golden Shower

Another nice, full-length episode is now available to download.

We discuss proposed speed limits increases in the UK, a vegan strip club, Hooters, Richard Littlejohn and EU scaremongering, Anne Widdecombe and Christian persecution, illiberal Lib Dem and Puppetry of The Penis, Satan, and Jehovah Witness infighting.

Also, this week's episode is special because we celebrate an arbitrary number of episodes. Well, it may not be completely arbitrary; it may have a founding in the evolution of the phalanges on our hands.

Additionally, I have been asked to name and shame the very odious Vicky Hartzler who deserves all of the publicity that's about to come her way!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Episode 49 - The Usual Suspects

We hit out an extra-long episode for you to make sure we hit of the big stories of the week: video games screwing with your mind, drunken Cardiff, fraudulent psychic, Sally Morgan, comic books make your dumb, rugby player twitter rant, Amish go to prison, more right to die stuff, presumed consent with organ donations, Pat Robertson's hypocrisy, Rick Santorum, Troy Davis and Frank Skinner talking rubbish.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Episode 48 - Dancing Dannii

This week we experienced all sorts of audio problems, but I managed to cobble together enough audio for it to work as a podcast. This week we discuss increased Christianity in China, Boob Job cream, Dancing Dannii, trolling dead teenagers, the Catholic church's anti-gay marriage stance, the Orange Order being barely human and some extra bonus features and a review!

Download it here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Episode 47 - Psychopath Babies

Holy crap, we discuss loads of weird stuff this week. Steven's off partying in Ireland, which leaves John and Trev to entertain you for over an hour. We start off with our usual type of news stories: Torchwood, Jesus phone ad ban, TV cameras in courts, media biasing of public opinion, evangelising in nightclubs, gay blood donation ban, BBC Horizon and we get all lovey over The Atheist Experience TV show.

You can now download it here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Episode 46 - Massive Spiders!

Another week of news has left us feeling bitter, angry and in need of release. Fortunately, our release takes the form of this humorous podcast rather than some unsavoury act. We discuss inconsiderate neighbours, a teacher who moonlights as a porn star, massive spiders, Torchwood's gay sex scenes, Doom unbanned, gaming, white superheroes, atheist register, a pope statue, grave overcrowding and Nadine Dorries & her abortion bill.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Episode 45 - Biblical Floods

Due to the wrath of a god, Trevor had to battle floods and an unstable Internet connection to join us for this week's episode, so be grateful. We discuss Wacky Jacqui having the painters in, David Mabus' arrest and psychological evaluation and social media's involvment in the riots. We also manage to cram in some of the usual features.

Download it here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Episode 44 - My Own Personal Jesus

Trevor is back from sunny Saundersfoot to help us entertain you. This week we showcase two new features, we get an insight into what John does with his free time (argues with people on the Internet), get Trev's belated opinion on the riots, talk about how lucky Trev was to find Jesus on holiday and we're fotunate enough to get the usual Catholic stories.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Stuff

Good news listeners: new features are being added to the podcast! We're always happy to receive constructive feedback and this is driving our experimentation with new ideas and features.

One of our new features is based on polling listeners and other random people on social media to get their opinion on specific stories and ethical/philosophical questions for us to discuss. This weeks (very) short survey is available for people to take part in. We'll then analyse the results and speculate wildly for comedic purposes

Also, John is confident he's solved the Skype problems that have dogged us from the beginning. The only way to know for sure is to use it to take listener calls. You can be on the show by adding think.rant to your contacts and then sending us a message. We'll then call you back and you'll be able to vent live! If you're shy then you can always just email us or tweet @thinkrant and send us whatever coherent thoughts you have.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Episode 43 - No Wild Speculation

In the latest episode, available to download here, we refrain from knee-jerk uninformed analysis and unfounded speculation about the riots, although we still have plenty to say about the events and the underlying racism and bigotry that has surfaced.

We also find time to briefly discuss some science stories and steal a feature from another podcast to make up for an absence of Guess The Year.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Knuckle Dragging Barbarians Want To Reinstate Capital Punishment

Just when my opinion of the UK population could not get any lower, it appears that there now exists a petition for the reinstatement of the death penalty which has attracted over 100,000 signatures. This tells me that at least 0.16% of the UK population are knuckle-dragging barbarians, but luckily for us they're in the minority. These are probably the same people that got their news from the News of The World.

I'm sure this will be another topic for discussion on tonight's podcast, but I suggest you also stay up to watch tonight's Newsnight (or set your recorder) so you can see who comes out of the woodwork to back the idea of a return to the bronze-age. If they manage to drag Peter Hitchens from under the bridge he trolls then it'll be worth watching, although the missus won't be happy with having to clean all the spit off the telly in the morning.

In the meantime you can go and sign the counter petition (thanks to Ian Scott for bringing that to my attention).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Something To Look Forward To!

This week we're going to be joined by Ashley Pryce of the Edinburgh Skeptics.

We'll be covering all the important news stories from the last week. In addition, Steven and I are hoping to present our critique of The Code, a BBC programme featuring the rockstar mathematician Marcus du Sautoy (@MarcusduSautoy). You may want to check it out on iPlayer. Also, apologies for abuse of the "rockstar" meme.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Episode 41 - Nevermind

This week we are without Steven again (he promises to be back next week) and our guest has better things to do. Trevor and John rip into the weeks news, including Facebook censorship of 20 year-old album art, regulating science, Daily Mail Fail, the prince of Wales is a loon and more catholic nonsense.

We also take a look at the first of our viewer mail. Download it now.

Episode 40 - Deja Vu 2

Steven was away enjoying other parts of Europe, so we had Rhys Morgan join us this week. We discuss the nonsense Pythagoras' Trousers Lecture that featured Gary Smith & Paul Jaep, Melanie Phillips, BBC science reporting and limbo/purgatory.

Apologies for taking so long to get this episode available. We had some sound issues that made for a mammoth editing task. You'll recognise this mostly when we plug a great comedy event that has now passed. The funny thing is, we record the next episode tomorrow, so in some respects I could have just binned this recording; however, we had so much fun doing it that I would have felt very guilty and it would have meant I would have wasted both Trevor and Rhys Morgan's time. Again, sorry, but I know you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Episode 39 - Deja vu

The three regular hosts return and are back on form. We discuss stories including "brown wrong", the Human Centipede 2 (deja vu?) and film censorship, a pastafarian's driving license and the usual catholic news.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

There's More To It Than Just Men Hitting On Women

The community seems to be cooling off on Elevatorgate now that TAM9 is here and those involved (Watson & Dawkins) will no doubt move towards reconciliation because they're sharing a common platform (and they're rational people). I've had some time to reflect on some of the points raised by the sorry affair and
wanted to express some thoughts I've had.

The whole point that Rebecca Watson made about men's behaviour and attitude towards women is bang on and I can't disagree; women who've expressed a wish that they don't want to be hit on should not be hit on and they have a right to be pissed off if ignorant twats ignore their wishes. The motivation behind making such a statement is that she has legitimate concerns about the underrepresentation of women in the skeptical movement.

However, I'd like to question the very reasoning behind this. Unless there is evidence that there exists a higher occurence of creepy, ignorant guys in the movement than in the population on average (which I have not seen presented) then perhaps things aren't as straightforward as some people believe and I would hate for us to be overlooking any other factors that may be putting women off.

If there are no more jerks in the skeptical movement than in any other sample of social groups then Watson's request for men to be more empathetic should be universalised and directed at all men everywhere. As a guy who considers himself a feminist this is something I can really agree with. But let us not forget that there are other situations where men are just as bad (if not worse) and yet there is no problem of women being underrepresented: bars and clubs, gyms, swimming pools, shopping centres, resteraunts, dance classes etc. This doesn't support the simple hypothesis that women don't go to places where men can be dicks. I'm not saying that any individual is advocating such a simplistic view of the problem, but the current arguments in the blogosphere suggest such simple mindedness when discussing the problem.

My view is that just like other communities, such as video gaming and sci-fi, the ultimate reason women are reluctant to join is because there aren't many women already in the community. It's a case of the chicken and the egg. A low number of a specific group in a community focuses all negative aspects on to that minority e.g. a few women get hit on my more men and ethnic minorities suffer increased prejudice; in both cases any perceived problems are magnified.

Therefore it is society as a whole that needs to sort itself out, not just the (usually) rational and intelligent community that has identified the problems. But we must also not be blinkered in our approach; we must identify all obstacles to new community members and discuss them in a rational and considerate manner.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Episode 38 - Not Another Elevatorgate Opinion

This week Trevor and John talk about the inferior toilet paper that is (was) known as The News of The World, they dare to voice their vaguely-informed opinions on Elevatorgate, discuss dead grandmothers and review an old episode. Download it now.

We had some sound problems while recording, but  managed to use editing magic to produce a show that is actually worth listnening to... unless you're a old, white, privileged feminazi.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Elevatorgate - A Short But Rational Rant

This is for all those out there who have been following Elevatorgate

I have no reason to suspect Rebecca Watson would fabricate a story just to make a point about men being inconsiderate towards women. Therefore we'll take her account of what happened prior to and during the elevator journey as fact. If you wish to read about the events then feel free to visit skepchick and read Rebecca's blog posts.

How Rebecca felt about the proposition is subjective, by definition. Based on the facts I believe I'd feel the same way and I agree with her that the proposition was inappropriate. I also believe that she is entitled to voice her dislike of such behaviour and if the community seriously wishes to address the gender imbalances that exist then her feelings, and those of many other women, need to be acknowledged and behaviour and attitudes changed. The fact that there is a subjective or preferential component to how people feel or how they make value judgements does not mean that they are worthless.

Some people have expressed opposing opinions on the inappropriateness of the proposition. Again, these are subjective and are based on feelings and preferences.

There has been no evidence presented to show that the elevator guy was sexist or misogynist. Inappropriate behaviour is common in those who are socially inept or ignorant and not confined to the realms of sexism or misogyny. To lump them in together is illogical. To label poor reasoning and social skills as sexual assault is asinine. People who highlight this lack of evidence are not rape-enablers or apologists for hate against women. Just because somebody is not a woman or has not had the same experience it does not disqualify them from rational argument.

Highlighting other women who are in situations of extreme mental and physical suffering doesn't invalidate and shouldn't be used to dismiss the complaints; although it does identify a potential candidate for demarcation: subjective discomfort due to certain speech and behaviour versus infringement of the person and pain.

Just because someone has a different opinion to you, it doesn't mean that their other opinions or works are worthless or incorrect and to steer people away from good sources of knowledge and illumination is reprehensible.

Although value judgements are subjective, the outcome from behavioural modification from them can be empirically measured. If men are more considerate and don't act like dicks then women will feel more welcome, there will be an increase in female participation and the gender imbalance will ease. If there is no behavioural modification then the status quo will remain.

I'm very disappointed that a community that has worked so hard to cultivate a reputation for reason and rational debate had descended in to such irrational arguments at all levels; from public figures to Internet commentators.

Now, will everybody please chill the fuck out and enjoy TAM. Send me some pictures because I can't go :(

Thursday, July 7, 2011

think/rant T-Shirts Now Available!

The official think/rant t-shirts are now available to buy! Now you can walk around like a billboard adorned with our fabulous logo. Spread word of our existence, start arguments in public and make people feel uncomfortable with your relentless, infallible logic. Did I also mention that they make you more attractive to the opposite sex?*

By purchasing one you'll be contributing to the costs of producing and distributing the podcast, as well as keeping us in beer.

If there's any other merchandise you'd like to see then please let us know and we'll get the malnourished third-world children on to it ASAP.

* Obviously this may be a problem for you if you're gay.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Episode 37 - think/rant Interviews PZ Myers

We're joined by PZ Myers; Professor of Biology at University of Minnesota Morris, (in)famous writer of the Pharyngula science blog, outspoken "new" atheist and fellow liberal. Instead of discussing old news such as Crackergate and Expelled, we thought we'd get his take on some of the more recent news stories and some other topics we're interested in.

We shoot the breeze on AC Grayling's university, the direction of UK higher education, the future of philosophy in science, science funding, neuroscience, free will, agnotology (the study of ignorance), apathy to religion, creationist logic fail, pope tweets, assisted dying and decriminalising incest.

Download and listen now!

[Edit: I'd really like to thank PZ for sparing us some of his time. Perhaps one day we'll talk him in to doing it again because we were a little disappointed at the lack of offensive material recorded ;)]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PZ Myers: A Special think/rant Podcast Guest

On Thursday 30th June at 8PM GMT we'll be speaking to PZ Myers on the podcast (as long as his schedule doesn't change).

This is great news because Trevor and I are big fans of his work/shenanigans and we're sure our listeners will be excited to hear what he has to say on a large number of topics we'll be discussing.

This does raise some concerns about the live stream; I'm expecting a large number of connections and I'm worried about server bandwidth. The P2P Radio application we use should, in theory, support unlimited connections with no impact on us. However if, at any point during the podcast, I suspect that it is impacting our conference call somehow then I will pull the plug on the stream and you'll just have to listen to it on iTunes like everybody else. Everything will probably work out fine, but I'm just apologising in advance. If you do listen live then you can actually help us out by increasing the bandwidth P2P Radio uses for sharing, thus letting more people listen without using up ours.

We've got a bunch of pressing questions for him, but feel free to suggest some more by commenting here or tweeting us @thinkrant and if they're any good we might use some of them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Myth of Competition - A Rant!

Today the government announces a “shake-up” in Higher Education, promising to give students more choice and “consumer powers”. That’s right folks they are going to bring competition into Higher Education. Again we are being told that competition will deliver a better standard of service and more choice for the consumer - in this case students. If they are planning on bringing competition into higher education, how long will it be before students are faced with prohibitive tuition fees and a two tier education system where the brightest students from poor backgrounds will be consigned to the least impressive universities…? Oh… hang on…
Is anyone able to give an example of where competition has actually succeeded? I work in the deregulated and “open” Energy sector. I use the term open in inverted commas as realistically there is such little difference in the cost of Energy per provider that you may as well stay where you are; that is why when one provider puts their price up, they all do. Not because of an inflated market and companies trying to screw you over, but because they all pay roughly the same for the energy they sell you, and it’s you the consumer who suffers.
What about the railways? Surely there is an example of the success of privatisation and deregulation…? No? That’s right folks we still have to put up with trains that aren’t exactly clean or a joy to travel on, that don’t run on time and due to the private company having to make a profit, are over-priced and I feel, don’t offer value for money. Despite the so called choice I have in a deregulated market I am still stuck with the same rail franchise that is consistently late, on daily basis. So, in what way have I benefited? The same applies with buses, where vital rural services are being stopped because they are not profitable.
How about the Royal Mail? I remember a time when I had two postal deliveries in one day! Now I get one, usually after I have gone to work. So, let me get this right I’m paying more for a service that gives me less? Winner.
For me “competition” usually means a private company offering the least possible service they can for the highest price they can to maintain an healthy profit margin for it’s shareholders and directors. And thereby giving the Government an opportunity to absolve itself of responsibility to its people, under the guise of “choice” being in our interests.

How could "red" Ed be so wrong?

A response to Ed Milliband’s blog
Wow. I’ve not felt such disappointment in a statement by the leader of Labour party since the removal of clause 4. Whilst I agree with a lot of what he has to say in the post regarding the mishandling of the process by the Conservative led Government, I cannot hide my disappointment and dismay at his criticism of striking teachers.
The Labour party which you lead Ed, may very well “be the party of the parent trying to get their children to school, the mother and father who know the value of a day’s education”; and that is very commendable and I share those sentiments. But when spouting rhetoric, don’t forget that those teachers you criticise are parents. Parents who want to be able to provide an education for their children that is consistent, engaging and world class. Who better than a teacher, who strives at the coal face day in, day out to understand the value of a day’s education?
Unfortunately, with the aggressive tone that has been used by this Government, Danny Alexander leading the way, telling us striking is “a colossal mistake” and that this is the best deal the Government will offer “for many years to come”. The teachers and indeed other members of the public sector have been left with very little choice. It is clear from his tone that actually, there will be no negotiation from the Government. Indeed given the fact that the Government has made so many u-turns on policy in recent months, I’m sure they feel they need to dig their heels in somewhere. This would appear to be that spot. We hear them vilifying public servants for wanting to stand up for their rights. This is fundamentally wrong.
The Labour party and it’s leadership should be rallying around our teachers and giving them the support they need, not criticising them for taking the only action they can to protect their rights. I believe the following replaced clause 4 in 1995:
‘The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’
Before we jump on the populist, poll improving bandwagon, criticising strikes, let us make the difficult decision and remember our roots and heritage and look at that statement above. Let us support our Teachers & civil servants, and make their common endeavour, OUR common endeavour. When we have bankers like Sir Fred Goodwin, who played fast and loose with our money, sitting back and enjoying not only an excellent pension but a golden goodbye payment as well, lets remember the Teachers, tirelessly striving to improve our children’s education.
And a final thought. One of the proposals teachers have before them is for their final salary pension to become an average earnings pension. MP’s currently have final salary provision. Will they loose their final salary pensions in these reforms also? Or is that a little too much like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Episode 36 - Faith Healing Is Bunk

Lots of apologies this week. I must express sincere regret for:

1. The podcast being late; usually it's available only a couple of hours after the show goes out. However, this week I was tired and busy so you've had to wait.
2. Some audio issues have resulted in a slightly lower quality recording and a couple of minutes are missing from the start. Don't worry, you've only missed my comedy introductions for Trevor Williams and, our special guest, Rhys Morgan, who was kind enough to fill in for Steven.
3. The unoriginal episode title; both Trevor and I are feeling a little uncreative this week.

Anyway, it's still a corker. This week we beat up on the faith healers who were taking money from gullible people in a Newsnight investigation, gay (but celibate) priests in the church, Peter Hitchens not understanding the arguments surrounding the right to die, and Rhys discusses some of the current woo before telling about his new skeptical help forums (more info to come).

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did making it. Download it now!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Episode 35 - Listen With A Tissue

This week we had the live show on Friday because Trevor and John were at an alternatively scheduled Skeptics In The Pub on Thursday.

We discuss Philip Davies' "great" idea to have disabled people work for less than the minimum wage, Trevor has another great Catholic story, Gay men getting kicked out of a swimming pool, lesbians being told off for breaking the 10 commandments, Nadine Dorries as a pin-up (holding down vomit), the cost defence of the faith-healing defence and lots of other crazy stuff. In fact, this week has been so crazy that if harold Camping hadn't had a stroke he'd be out claiming it was evidence for the rapture.

And, as the title suggests, there's a sad story in there which may upset some listeners.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Oh Good Grief...

Maybe you saw the recent “Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die” documentary on BBC2. Perhaps you’ve commented on it on some forum somewhere. If you have commented then the chances are you didn’t watch the documentary but have instead been told a comforting lie to bolster your way of thinking.

For those who care and for the far greater number who couldn’t really give a damn let me point out some of the factors missed or glossed over by other commentators.

Suicide is legal in this country.

Seriously. Hasn’t been a crime since the early sixties. You can’t be prosecuted for attempting it (although repeated unsuccessful attempt may push a medical professional to diagnose a case of mental instability).

This is suicide we’re talking about. Suicide by healthy people who are suffering a loss (bereavement, loss of income or position, just been dumped) is commonly attempted but is still not a crime. If life is sacred then why aren’t the religious or the ethically baffled attempting to redress this decision? Is it because you’ve been diverted onto this issue because the ill and infirm represent a trickier body of subjects into whom you can interject your weak arguments?

(Hang on, Trev.  You sound awfully cross about this. Steady on. Some people have perfectly valid views about assisted dying. You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them.)





Ok, let’s make this fair. Take out the word “valid” ...


“People might feel undue pressure to end their lives.”

Where is the evidence to support this claim? There are several countries in Europe and two states in America that allow assisted dying. There is plenty of data to scour for figures to support that claim. Those figures do not exist.*

People already feel pressure to end their lives and still attempt it in horrific ways, often unsuccessfully. The evidence suggests that this is actually alleviated by the option of suicide being available. The comfort of the possibility of a controlled end with dignity can allow people to choose hospice or palliative care. The existence of Dignitas correlates with an increase in spending in these areas. Switzerland is talking about the difficult subject and everybody wins (a qualified win – sure – but a win nonetheless).

“Life is sacred.”

That’s your opinion. Can you be sure you wouldn’t change your mind if tortured by a degenerative condition for years? Still, even if you are unshakeable that life is sacred – your life still is. Nobody is forcing you to drink the poison. If you are of the opinion that people who disagree with you don’t know any better and should be protected from their ignorance then that is totalitarian thinking and unacceptable.

“If we allow this then where will it end?”

Seriously? Disability activist Liz Carr kept returning to this one and only argument in the after show debate. I was stunned. Disabled people rarely get a voice in the youth-driven, beauty obsessed media. I was appalled to see one of the disabled voices on that show talking out of her arse.

If you have evidence for this “slipping into eugenics” of which you are so fearful then let’s see it. If you don’t then it’s just a slippery slope fallacy and beneath you.

“We should only talk about terminal illnesses and they’re dying soon anyway.”

“Soon” is a very subjective term. And people have been chuffed about the term “weary of life” used to describe 20% of the subjects who die at Dignitas. “Look, there are a few glum teenagers – Goths, probably – who end it all. They would have gone on to discover High School Musical and Jesus if they had lived.”

While that sounds to me more like an argument for suicide let me remind you that suicide is legal here. A ‘leave no mess for my parents/partner/children to clear up’ option is possibly the most debatable of the problems here but it would be allowed here. Enshrined in law. Case closed. Shut up and go home.

The Dignitas deaths described didn’t have a terminal illness. That’s all. In the debate Liz Carr tried to argue that Multiple Sclerosis isn’t terminal. I’m biting my lip not to cuss at Liz because she has usually put the time in to consider these matters but MS not being terminal is a case of semantic pissmouth. “It’s not the noose that’s going to kill you – it’s planet Earth and that pesky gravity that gets the job done.”

Please grow up. 

There are plenty of other conditions that perhaps they didn’t discuss on camera that diminish quality of life. Quality of life is a consideration in this country. It’s a measurable unit used in equations to work out NHS spending policy. Don’t imagine that it’s too ephemeral a notion to define. People are defining it but you know what? If somebody wants to stay alive ... they can. 

At the moment the best way to be allowed to die is to contract something too expensive to treat. Then consent and influence are ignored. That is a cruel reality but then people appear to have great skill in avoiding those.

   I can’t stand anecdotal arguments so I’m not going to enter into it here but I probably will on Friday when we talk about this. This is reposted from my personal blog at with the new title (which has a double meaning - improving the quality of grieving in the UK. See what I did there? See?) and a plea for anybody that disagrees to articulate why without resorting to any of the nonsense described above. Come on, you'd love to see us stumped, wouldn't you?

*The studies done in these countries and states have overwhelmingly shown a positive outcome for all involved. The meta-analyses (which root out poorly controlled studies whether they support or reject a certain outcome and collate the figures to show a larger pool of data) are even more convincing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Assisted Dying

Last night, the BBC broadcast a documentary on what I thought would be assisted suicide. One of the things this programme taught me is that, actually it’s assisted dying. Now this may seem like semantics to you, but I think it’s important to make the distinction, suicide has a lot of negative connotations which I believe we need to move away from in order to have a grown up debate on the subject. The documentary, presented by author Terry Pratchett, made it clear that the decision which those who wanted to die took, was a clear, cognizant and ultimately, personal choice. These people had chosen to die, with their families around them and with dignity.
Assisted dying is a very emotive subject. Maybe on the one hand it is through centuries of religious conditioning that we believe in the sanctity of life. Or as human beings we have an inbuilt will to survive, like any other animal and to take our own life seems to be an anathema. For those in favour of assisted dying it’s about an individuals right to determine the course of their own life.
Here’s my review of the programme. I missed the opening few minutes, but filling in the gaps, I guess that Terry Pratchett (TP) explained his situation, that he is pro assisted dying, and is himself suffering from a degenerative and incurable disorder in Alzheimers. It seems that the programme was a way for him to look at the choices available to him, should he chose to end his own life, before his condition causes him to deteriorate and leaves him unable to make his own choice.
I picked the programme up with TP meeting with the Smedleys. Peter was an ex hotelier living in Guernsey and suffered from Motor Neuron disease, which affects muscles, eventually leading to difficulties with breathing, speaking and swallowing. Peter seemed to be reasonably healthy, but was fully aware of what was awaiting him in the future. With this knowledge, he had discussed with his wife and had decided that the best option for him was to attend the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland and end his life, in the way he felt was appropriate. His wife, although not 100% comfortable with the decision supported her husband in his decision.
We also met Andrew Colgan, who suffered from M.S. a disease where the average life expectancy of suffers is 5-10 years. Andrew had already tried to commit suicide twice, and had survived. He felt that Dignitas was his best choice, and despite his familys wishes decided to travel to Zurich to die.
In between Peter and Andrew’s stories was that of a London Cabbie, who also suffered from M.N.D., but who had opted for hospice treatment. He was typical London boy and wanted to fight to the bitter end, his attitude was “lets have another throw of the dice”. Later in the Newsnight debate that followed, the Bishop of Exeter told of his support of the hospice movement and the right to “live with dignity”.
The programme followed both Peter & Andrew to Zurich and their last few days. It was highly emotional viewing, although both men showed extraordinary courage and fortitude, it was the attitudes of their families that struck me the most. Andrew’s mother tells TP, that whilst she wants to spend more time with her son, that it is her “selfish” desire and she has to let her son decide. And Peter’s wife holding his hand as he died, still not 100% comfortable with her husbands decision, but respecting his right to choose.
In all honesty, I have to admit that I was already in favour of assisted dying, and this programme reinforced my opinions that people must have the right to choose especially when faced with such difficult circumstances.
Detractors of assisted dying use some of the following arguments to dissuade us from having the choice to determine our own futures. The former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said in response to the programme it “was propaganda on one side.” And “life is a gift and has infinite value”. The bishop was not the only one to accuse the programme of propaganda, several other pro life charities voiced their concerns as well. In response to the accusations of propaganda, well to some extent they are correct, we are left in no doubt at the end of the programme what the mindset of TP is. However, throughout the programme it was shown, time and again that this was those peoples choice. And importantly, that there is another way. It was interesting to see in Dignitas’ offices the number of folders of people who have been there, but who have not taken up the option of assisted dying. Maybe they feel comfortable that they are provided for should their conditions become such that death is their only option, or actually deciding that like the cabbie, they want another roll of the dice.
In terms of life being a gift and having infinite value, well, I disagree on that first point. A gift is something that brings joy and happiness to the recipient. All life is precious, and should be treated as such, and who better to make that decision than the person living it. Life is not a gift when you are stuck in a bed, unable to feed yourself, wash yourself, and control your bodily functions. Life is not a gift when those whom you love so very dearly visit you, and you can’t remember who they are, when you can’t even recognise them.
I respect the rights of those people to die in a hospice, and agree with the Bishop of Exeter, that we must invest more in hospice and palliative care for those who are terminal or who can no longer look after themselves. The hospice movement is a vital part of the care system in the UK and it needs investment in order for it to continue to flourish. That should not detract though, from the right of someone who wishes to die to do that. If I can choose to end my life in a hospice, surely I should have the right choose to end my life, at a time and place of my choosing.
The documentary, as I have mentioned, was followed by a Newsnight debate. Well, frankly, this is where I found myself getting quite angry. Particularly at Liz Carr, a comedienne and campaigner for rights for those with disabilities. I found her arguments to be extremely flawed and actually felt that she had no real grasp of the situation being debated. She frequently espoused the view that if we had assisted dying in the UK that the disabled would be running scared from their own families who would put them down. That because of the financial crisis people wouldn’t want the burden of caring for someone. As a disabled campaigner, I of course expect her argue vociferously for rights for disabled people. However, it seemed to me that she completely disregarded the rights of those who are terminally or incurably ill. I found it truly awful that she has such a low opinion of humanity! That we live in a society desperate to do away with cripples to free up bed space and funds for those who need them. There will always be people who are nefarious and will try to “off” family members for an inheritance – history is littered with them.
There was a slightly disturbing element to the documentary though. Apparently, 21% of the people who chose to end their lives in Dignitas, do so because they are “weary of life”, not because they have an incurable or terminal illness. This was something that the film makers did not go into a great deal of detail about. I hope, and expect that the law has legislated for such persons so that all other avenues are explored and appropriate counselling has been given before they are allowed to terminate their own life.
In the UK, this is where Parliament really has to step up. We need good legislation that protects people from the greedy and malicious and that stops the abuse of the system. The current system of turning a blind eye will only suffice so far. How will current legislation react if I took one of my parents to Dignitas, because it was their choice, but my brother disagreed and forced the police to enact the law and prosecute me?
If Liz really paid attention to the programme she would have learnt 2 things. 1) The Swiss have legislation that requires doctors to assess the state, both physical and mental, of the person requesting assistance and 2) that you can only use the services of Dignitas if you are able to administer the drugs yourself. They cannot be administered for you by a medical professional, family member or anyone else. Right up to the point you take the lethal dose of Barbiturates, you can say no.
In summation, I am fully supportive of the campaign to bring assisted dying to the United Kingdom. It seems to me a basic human right that I have determination as far as my life is concerned, indeed, it is enshrined in the European convention of Human rights. It seems somewhat sick to me that in a society where it is wrong to leave an animal in a state of suffering, where it is acceptable to “put an animal to sleep” in order to end it’s suffering; that we cannot grant that right to our fellow humans, that we have to insist on prolonging their suffering because of the “Sanctity of life”. Dying is part of the cycle of life and we need to break this last taboo and start having open and honest debate in the UK about assisted dying, I see this programme as a good starting place.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Episode 34 - Bashing The (Arch)Bishop

The live stream failed us this week. Just as well we didn't promote it as much as we usualyy do on Facebook and Twitter.

This week we discuss the arch-bish's comments on the current government, reiki healers being put in hospitals, catholic clergy reviewing books, rear of the year, Dolly The Dog, A C Grayling's super-university and What We're Doing This Weekend.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Episode 33 - Dogmatic Dawkins

I knew the episode title would get your attention! But it's not simply a stunt because we do actually discuss Dawkins and dogmatism.

This episode is all about religion. Trevor wanted to give it the title "Shadowboxing: Two atheists take on God ...who they don't believe in ... so it's 2 against 0. Apart from when Trev's blood sugar has a wibble then it's 1 1/2 against 0. Who will win the piece of Dawkins toast?" I liked his title a lot, but its verboseness combined with the fact I let him win Guess The Year by default was too much for iTunes to bear.

Anyway, we discuss a range of topics: the harm of moderate religion, the after-life, sophisticated theology, denial of objective truth and solipsism, dogmatic and militant atheism, mocking religion, miracles, whether skeptics can also be believers and a lot of other stuff in between.

Download it now! It comes with an extra 15 minutes of bonus material, just so you get more value for money.

Trevor also mentions a very funny and true cartoon: If God Were A Car.

Thanks to Chris 'Mitch' Mitchell for the awesome Dawkins Toast image

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Episode 32 - Privacy & Pregnancy

The latest episode is now available to download.

This week we talk about the failed rapture, catholic priest rapist apologetics, super-injunctions, a pro-life lobby group on a government advisory board and other random stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Episode 31 - Falling Off The Moral High Ground

This week's podcast is now available to download.

We go out of our way to discuss lots of stories this week: sex crimes, Ken Clarke, Nadine Dorries, an eye for an eye, Steven Hawking (philosophy and heaven), more catholic stories from Trevor and some more!

Technology has also brought us a better quality audio, so we hope you enjoy the podcast more!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Episode 30 - Car Crash Radio

Just when we thought we were getting the hang of this live stream thing, and following an excellent episode featuring Rhys Morgan, we had an absolute 'mare recording this one. You can now download it.

This week we have Ashley Pryce, Founder and President of Edinburgh Skeptic Society, as guest co-host and discuss much nonsense with him. In particular we discussed the last episode of The Big Questions, which debated whether the bible is relevant to society anymore.

Hopefully we'll have Ashley on again soon, with a fully working microphone and a less scary sound file from him. Not that I'm blaming guests for technical difficulties or anything...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Uncaged Monkeys

Last night the think/rant podcast hosts were fortunate enough to see the Uncaged Monkeys show at St David's Hall in Cardiff. It was nice to see that the venue was packed out, even if (in reality) over half of the audience were only there to throw their knickers at Brian Cox.

The first half saw famed epidemiologist and author of Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, present a great talk about the importance of good controlled studies, particularly clinical trials. Anybody who follows his blog would be pleased to see him hitting out at Gillian McKeith, fish oil for school children and the MMR scare. I had seen previous reviews mention Ben having technical difficulties at a show, but I am pleased to say that they have been ironed out and it was all very polished.

Next up was guest comedian Chris Addison who treated us to a comedy roller coaster of popular science. He was never more than 2 sentences away from a laugh and it was good to see geek humour permeating the diverse audience in a way that, until now, Dara O'Briain has had a monopoly on.

Taking us in to the interval was the "headline" act, Professor Brian Cox. As usual his talk was both entertaining and absorbing and I was very happy that it had not be as dumbed down as I thought Wonders Of The Universe had been. His tone and manner were highly engaging and I thought he was brilliant. However, he had given himself a lot to talk about in a small amount of time and I could see that some people were struggling to keep up. The sheer breadth of his subject matter could easily have been expanded in to an entire 3 hour show and would probably benefit as such.

After the interval we had a Q&A session with Cox, Goldacre, Addison and Ince as moderator (more on him shortly). Many of the questions were obviously aimed at Cox, which was disappointing because I felt that Goldacre had plenty to give. However, that's more a criticism of the audience than the show itself as I'm sure Ince would have been keen to put more questions Goldacre's way if there had been some tweeted.

We were also treated to the musical talents of Helen Arney who's blend of geek comedy and ukulele strumming lifted the parts of the audience who could actually get over the fact that there was a woman on stage. Her act, although short, made a great break from the comedy/lecture format and I commend her inclusion in the line-up.

Also making an appearance was local boy, neuroscientist, comedian and skeptic, Dean Burnett. After a few words about science and the "think you're clever do you?" attitude of the public, Dean talked about his Most Depressing Day Of The Year debacle and we got to see pictures of him dancing like a muppet in a puddle. He was witty, as usual (don't tell him I said that), although if I had to give one piece of criticism it would be that he spoke a little fast in some places and this, combined with his brilliant Welsh accent, may cause problems for foreign audiences.

Last up, before Brian Cox's closing environmental message, was Simon Singh. The night had already been a blast and Singh's talk was like the unexpected layer of chocolate found in an already tasty cake. I'd previously seen his rather excellent libel talk in Cardiff and yet again he didn't fail in engaging the audience. His Led Zeppelin introduction to his topic of why we should believe in the big bang seemed as though it would have better segued in to a talk about the bible code, but apart from that it was riveting.

Robin Ince was a great compère and his working relationship with the other acts brought about a chemistry that is rarely seen in similar shows. His subsequent twitter comments blamed a long train journey on a perceived lackluster performance. However, although it's nice to see people active in self-criticism, I don't think he should be so hard on himself and I wish him luck with the rest of the tour.

For me the highlight of the show was Ben Goldacre. His book, Bad Science, is a must read and his message is of the utmost importance if we are to keep big pharmaceutical companies, science journalists and the media honest and responsible. He was able to make a serious subject, often seen as mundane, accessible to the lay-person and highlighted why we should not be falling into the traps of Daily Mail correlation scare stories, cherry picking studies or anecdotes replacing evidence.

In summary: go and see this show wherever you can. I don't know how many tickets are left, but if you're fortunate enough to have some, you're in for a treat.

Steven and Trevor seemed to have a great time. Brian Cox's dulcet tones worked their magic on Steven and he required a can of Red Bull to get over the theoretical physics. I'm sure Trevor was ecstatic because on a number of previous occasions he's told me that he loves Cox. It was nice to see the Cardiff Skeptics In The Pub crew there and hopefully their activism will result in some new faces joining the group in the future.

I'm sure we'll be discussing things in even more depth on this week's podcast. If you can't wait until then for your dose of witty banter you could always listen to last week's hilarious episode with guest host Rhys Morgan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Episode 29 - Purveyors Of Woo

This week's podcast, which features the usual crew as well as a special appearance of Rhys Morgan as co-host, is available to download now.

This week some of us are left befuddled by the presence of true "skeptical royalty" and yet we manage to cobble together a worthwhile podcast. We discuss conspiracy theories, Osama Bin Laden, the Alternative Vote and a bunch of other stuff that was really funny at the time but I forgot about. Now I'll have to listen back to it myself so i can get the iTunes tags right.....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Episode 28 - Diplomatic Immunity

The latest episode is great and you can download it now.

This week we have a lot of fun talking about some very serious stories: the impending royal wedding (sigh), cremation and having children via genetic testing using PGD and CVS.

Additional: You won't be hearing from us until Thursday May 5th, so we'll use this opportunity to tell you to make sure you go out and vote!

Further Additional: We apologise for any offence we may have caused to Girls Aloud and do not condone any violence towards Cheryl Cole. We know the girls tune in every week and don't want them to stop just because of some bad jokes...

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Free Will debate - the aftermath" the aftermath or The AfterAftermath.

Hello everybody that enjoyed/was infuriated by/accidentally stumbled upon our debate.  John responded to a few more points and expanded a bit (exactly which parts of him were expanded I think we know but let’s not go there). I’m more than happy to join in. Let’s go...

   “Trevor may argue that there may be a universe where knowledge is possible without causality, but I'll leave that burden with him.”

   Never did, never would. My house is filling up with beaten-up straw effigies. I invite John to come over and clean up the mess.
   “It appears that the map is being conflated with the place. ... I was arguing that the thing the concept was based on was determined and not free, not arguing that the concept of free will doesn't exist.”
   Again (I believe we did cover this in the debate but in little separate chunks rather than as a cohesive whole) the concept of “I think therefore I am” is about the entity or object doing the thinking. If it can assert its own individuality then it is an intellectual entity (they may be lying but you can know this about yourself). It doesn’t matter what concept the person is thinking about and how true it may or may not be. I may believe that a race of all-powerful giant alien kittens are hiding behind all the mirrors, awaiting the order to strike. However much of a twat that may make me I am still an entity (en-twat-y?) making that insane claim.

   The intellectual nature of the concept of self and/or free will was never my point. It – as an idea – may be true or false but if it’s being actively considered by a consciousness then that seals the deal until better evidence comes along.

   There were many more side roads down which we could have wandered, had a little fight, almost fall in a canal then clamber back to the main street (I’m making the debate sound like a Stag Night in Amsterdam with an aggressive drunk - sorry). One of them is an article in the last issue of The New Humanist in which Nicholas Humphrey defends his book “Soul Dust” by pointing out inadequacies of neuroscience and its assumptions about the brain.

   Another is something which occurred to me to use but I didn’t want to. If you’re reading this then you are one of the die-hard argumentative types and I salute you. Here is the argument, please don’t abuse it.

   The determinist idea that if you rewind time and replay it the universe cannot behave in any other way than it did seems like a tautology. It’s not really saying anything meaningful. In fact (and I don’t want to believe this but it occurred to me so I must) it may not be true.

   Particle physicists insist that the strange behaviour of sub-atomic particles can never translate to the macro world of our experience. We can view two things happening at once in this realm, or things appearing to go back in time or things being so uncertain it is impossible that it could ever be repeated. It actually may be conceivable that on a universal rerun a subatomic particle might behave differently for no other reason than its massive uncertainty. These things translate to no effect, apparently in our universe but we can now measure the sub-atomic. If we make some physical event contingent upon the measurement (like Schrodinger’s Cat living or dying) then the fixed events can be randomly changed even with none of the variables being altered.

   Of course this is only worthwhile as a thought experiment unless somebody actually invents a universal rewind machine but the more simplistic religious types may try and use God to fill in the blanks (don’t you hate it when they do that?). Whether you use God, Doc Brown or The Doctor to travel back in time it remains as theoretically plausible that our universe might hurtle along one of its many other possible courses.


   Didn’t we start all this by talking about free will? It’s amazing where such a simple argument may take us. The determinacy or otherwise of our universe still decides nothing about free will – it’s just an interesting diversion.

   The weight of John’s argument rests in denying something we all experience and in proving something counter-intuitive – that free will is outlawed from the universe. My job is only to suggest that physicality is not the entirety of existence. His argument that because we can neither prove nor disprove it, it must be false is arbitrary. It gains respectability from my side of the argument having been pointlessly and thoughtlessly appropriated by wishful dreamers trying to hope their religious texts into actuality.

   Who would have thought that John, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others have God (and the many piss-poor attempts to argue “him” into existence) to thank for bolstering their position? 

   I hope John doesn’t remain too down on our performances. In an hour long debate that was – let’s not forget – broadcast live, I think we did rather well. It could have gone so much worse. For those of you wanting some “car crash radio” I have yet to have had any kind of full absence seizure or hypoglycaemic nonsensical rant on air. And failing that, stay tuned, there’s a car crash coming (or at the very least a car park dent) and I can’t wait.