This is a page from a Toys 'R Us catalog, illustrating some science toys, and note the odd distinctions being made. Both the telescope and the microscope come in special pink versions, just for the girl who is apparently more interested in getting an instrument that matches her nail polish than being functional, and note also (you may have to click through to see the larger image) that in every case the pink model is less powerful than the black and gray model
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Thursday, 24 December 2009
In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria. We have compiled the figures from the book into a deck of PowerPoint slides for use in the classroom.
I don't know when I'd be inclined to use these, but they are wonderful Powerpoint slides illustrating evolutionary evidence.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Monday, 21 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
The issue is a good example of the modern celebrity phenomenon. One would think that trusting medical professionals would be easier than trusting unqualified porn actresses on issues relating to public health. But such is the nature of media that celebrity has greater currency than science, and truth is in the eye of the beholder.
Via the excellent Crispian Jago
Monday, 2 November 2009
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Ah, you might think, here’s a bloke who works in advertising and knows all about misinformation because, hur hur, these marketing machines churn out fibs and deceit all day long. Well, no actually.
For a start, what this industry generates is constantly scrutinised and, unlike the press, takes criticisms from its watchdog very seriously. Any batterings delivered by the ASA reflect poorly on our clients. Not good for business.
Secondly, I believe that ad agencies with a strong strategic planning presence have a better understanding of what makes people tick than most other consumer-facing businesses.
This makes a cosy reason for monitoring all the nonsensical stuff that people believe in.
Here’s the fit.
Modern history (a good summary of which can be found in Andrew Marr’s sweet tome) informs us that over the last half-century, Britain’s traditional authority figures – parents, teachers, doctors, the police etc. – have seen that authority wane. It’s partly true that our fate is no longer determined by birth, but by choice. I say “partly” because it looks like social mobility has declined over the last decade for those unfortunates at the bottom of society’s pile.
The increase in media choice – firstly by more TV and radio channels and then by that internet thingy – combined with social change means that we have new authority figures: brands and celebrities. My book of the year – Professor Geoffrey Miller’s “Spent” – suggests to me that the mass of choices available to us provide a cornucopia of options for building our identities. We choose brands according to the image we are trying to project.
Why this can be a force for good is the subject of another post. It’s the bad stuff I’m interested in.
The counterknowledge problems arise when members of the great British public ignore the traditional authority figures and nail their colours to the masts of celebrities and charlatans. The public is exposed to powerful and seductive influences now more than ever. Attention spans are shorter (more stimulus from the media, most of it innaccurate if you read certain grey-top tabloids).
Remember the Millennium Bug? That was bullshit dreamt up by the media and “new experts” who over-reacted to a minor article published inside a Canadian newspaper in the early 1990s. More recently, the MMR vaccine, a scare over which was manufactured by a dodgy doctor who falsified (poorly executed) research based upon a tiny sample of children. Parents who refused to vaccinate their children are now faced with outbreaks of those once-banished illnesses that the injections were designed to counter.
Being a parent, I was naturally concerned about the MMR issue. Now my kids are no longer toddlers, I’m more concerned about bullshit being peddled in schools. Fortunately I have seen little evidence of misinformation in lessons, except where it belongs – in RE – but there is a need for vigilance if Britain is to avoid a rather pernicious influence that originated in the USA: the undermining of science.
The British Council instigated a survey that suggested over half of Britons want creationism taught in science lessons.
The polled statement was "Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism."
I’m having to hold back on releasing a sweary rant at this point. It’s difficult when faced with such ignorance.
“Intelligent design” is creationism. Same wine, different bottles. The idea is that the evidence-based theory of evolution is given equal parity to fairy stories about magical beings creating creatures and people. And you can’t restrict creationist teachings to Judaeo-Christian myths because then you’d have to explain why these are more valid than every single creation myth from the Stone Age onwards.
Science was once one of the old authorities. Because we are now used to the opinions of self-appointed whack-jobs being given equal weight to those of people trained for years in the scientific method, it’s becoming harder to tell the difference.
It’s not that people are more stupid. This issue is that they’re not taught to think.
Words cannot express the joyful geekgasm that this gleeful mashup of zombies + Scooby Doo inflicts. Some exquisite touches here, such as the heart-shaped tribute to the lost members of Mystery, Inc. and the chainsaw-compatible slot in the renamed Misery Machine.
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
All conversation stops at Houghton Hall when this otherwise unremarkable ad for T-Mobile appears.
Not the world’s most inspiring answer, but relevant, I suppose.
At least, it would be, but for one tiny factor.
The weird girlfriend.
Next time you see this ad, don’t watch the chap who looks like a Scandinavian lumberjack with the personality of a tree.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Monday, 5 October 2009
Friday, 2 October 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Monday, 28 September 2009
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Shuffle forward the horror creature that appeals to all ages: the zombie.
This chart cheekily suggested a correlation with the deservedly frightening undead and social unrest. Since George Romero introduced the flesh-eating walking dead four decades ago, zombies have become synonymous with unstoppable plagues.
It’s not hard to see how wide-ranging societal threats like plunging economies and flu pandemics can, in terms of entertainment, be represented by a world-threatening zombie outbreak, which is why I chuckle with delight at this marriage between the escapism of Star Wars and the nihilism of the undead: Death Troopers.
Even better, this is likely to be part of an MMO, or massively multiplayer online game, where there could potentially be a galaxy-wide outbreak. I want!
Monday, 21 September 2009
I wish I had enough warning to save my pet fish (who don't have souls anyway), but at least my American brothers and sisters won't have to worry because, as the Telegraph reports, atheists are offering a post-Rapture service guaranteeing the earthly care of Christian pets for $110.
One thing I'll miss on my holy cloud, spending eternity singing hosannahs to God, is a decent bit of entertainment, including the atheists' favourite Christmas movie, Coincidence On 34th Street.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
If you like your slutty recession indicators, here’s a small collection.
So you know you are in a recession when women spend more on makeup, cut their own hair and dye it blonde; not that they’re responding to the shallow world of advertising, oh no they wouldn’t do that would they? But women are ditching metrosexuals for the Donald Draper type.
Monday, 14 September 2009
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Here’s a simple chart based on a very quick search using Dow Jones Factiva. The number of articles where the headline contains “cancer”, including truncations, from the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday published in the last 12 months: 207. The same search applied to all 18 UK national newspapers (including the Sunday editions and the Mail): 2,148, which averages out at 119.
And it was a relatively simple thing to apply the same scrutiny at another butt of TV comics: the Daily Express and its concern with the waves of immigrants to Britain’s holy shores.
The number of articles where the headline contains “immigrant”, including variations and truncations (e.g. migration), from the Daily Express and the Express on Sunday published in the last 12 months: 236. The same search applied to all 18 UK national newspapers (including the Sunday editions and the Express): 1,289, which averages out at 72.
I’m still waiting for the killer headline in the grey-top tabloids: Immigrants spread cancer. That’ll be a laugh.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Whatever website you visit, you may or may not detect an odour according to the veracity of the site. The chances of success are higher on a Tuesday with one of your feet facing south.
High veracity = no smell.
For example, one tab of my Firefox browser is currently on the Pocket Pain Doctor site and boy, can I tell you that the bovine atmosphere is ripe.
The latest Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe podcast blasted an iPhone app that sounds like something you’d see advertised in the back pages of the Daily Mail alongside the Big Slipper and Sonic Meerkat Gnomes.
The Pocket Pain Doctor claims to have some minor health benefits. The podcast piece was based on an Engadget review with the revealing title “Pocket Pain Doctor is the worst iPhone app. Ever.” When you visit the app’s website there are a couple of bleating comments about Engadget being unfair for not really trying it properly and, almost convincingly, a space where you can view some supposed clinical data. The problem with this data is that nowhere does it relate to the feeble iPhone emanations that are associated with this app. Sure, NASA may have experimented with red rays, but how do the emanations from a big piece of fuck-off megabucks fly-me-to-Mars kit match those of your own £400 Apple gadget? And get this: one of the so-called supporting clinical studies cites work with lasers. If your iPhone emits laser beams, please tell me because I might finally be tempted to buy one.
Although there’s nothing obviously wrong with the third party data, I can see no connection with Pocket Pain Doctor’s own research, because there isn’t any. And, by the way, the company’s own research should not generate the same sort of PR-bullshit that we see in the tabloids, but be unbiased research where neither the examiners nor the subjects know who is using the real product that shows the app beats placebo.
The Pocket Pain Doctor might work, but their proof is unconvincing (an old sceptical canard says that the plural of anecdote is not data).
How about this: it would be easy for some company to build an app that makes your iPhone vibrate and come up with the same level of support claiming that your gadget will increase your brainwave frequency.
Or some other bollocks.
Christ, my head hurts. Pass me your iPhone.
Friday, 4 September 2009
It surprises me how few people find Yoda annoying. Maybe it’s because he was trumped by that monstrosity Jar Jar Binks. I couldn’t stand the little green gnome because he was such an obvious vehicle for nerd wisdom. I realise now that, if there were a measurable scale for such a thing, I was as annoyed at Yoda fans 20 years ago as I am about iPhone owners today. As comedian Marcus Brigstocke said "To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!".
Bloody hell, that was a tenuous link, but in a way, Yoda was a bit like the iPhone (this is turning into one of those Anglican sermons “and seeing those boys on their skateboards reminded me of Jesus”). Small. Annoying. Loaded with apps. Telekenisis app. Spiral-like-a-dervish app. Make funny noises app. And my favourite – disappear-before-your-eyes-and-die app. He even upgraded between films, but backwards.
They were just magic powers, that’s all. Without them, the Jedi would have been killed within a week and Hogwarts pupils would have achieved decent exam results rather than gain house points for fucking around with cauldrons.
Face it, what new technology would have thrived without apps? Apps are the annoying ginger stepchild who was being ignored or beaten up and yet grew up to save the village and become a great wizard king.
Teenagers took up texting and the mass market mobile was born. Twitter’s just an app. Facebook? Don’t talk to me about Facebook. Other people’s requests for me to connect with their dinosaur hunting app or which mongoose do you most resemble app is driving me mad (there’s an app for that too).
With half a million views, you’ve probably already seen this spoof ad for ex-girlfriend-stalking iPhone apps but it does touch on a simple truth: it’s the seemingly pointless things made for instant gratification that drives the app market, even if you buy into the technology for more meaningful reasons.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
"Pareidolia (pronounced /pærɪˈdoʊliə/) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- ("beside", "with", or "alongside"—meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech)) and eidolon ("image"; the diminutive of eidos ("image", "form", "shape"))." – Wikipedia
via Daily Mail
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Christopher Hitchens regularly compares Christianity to living in
As a commenter on The World’s Best Ever says, it’s creepy how the “incest” kids are the same as the ones guilty of “hating parents”.
The answer is simple: Green is, to some people, a religion that thrives on dogma. Criticism and reasonable argument are not in the province of these people.
Thanks to RachelC for the correction. WWF deny any involvement with this press release.