Episode 154 – 21st September 2012

What happened at the Secular Europe Rally, is the EU silencing the BNP, what’s the deal with payday lenders and getting up close and personal with the binomial distribution. And more!

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Secular Europe Rally (2:41) by Sean Ellis (ft Peter Tatchell, Pavan Dhaliwal, Terry Sanderson & Robin Ince)
Peterson Toscano (13:13) by Adam Knowles
Ada Lovelace Day (23:25) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Suw Charman-Anderson)
Silencing the BNP (32:21) by Eon
Loansharks (43:48) by Carl Packman
Merseyside Video (53:13) by Drew Rae (Performed by Elizabeth Donnelly)
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy & Brian Two

Follow-Up Links:

4 thoughts on “Episode 154 – 21st September 2012

  1. I thought the piece on the Skeptics With A K study was rather unfair.

    The points about the actual study were fair enough, and if you listen to the latest episodes, they have already gone through the finer points of what conclusions they could draw with Simon Singh, and they have fully acknowledged all the shortcomings of their study.

    But the attitude made me feel uneasy. If skepticism is to be appealing it needs to feel like something we can all take part in. Yes, scientists do a lot of hard work to learn everything they need to know about studying their fields, but as soon as we start saying that their methods must not be used by someone who doesn’t have that training (as implied by the constant assertion that they should have ‘known better’ than to try to design a study) then skepticism becomes a spectator sport instead of something we actively engage with. The idea that you should trust the evidence but leave the evidence gathering to the experts is just the kind of talk that leads people to distrust scientists and scientific evidence.

    Of course, I’m not saying everyone should be able to do every experiment (I understand that operating a particle accelerator probably does require a high level of minumum training), but this trial was actually fairly good, within its limitations. The testimonials for the band suggest that the improvement should be immediate and dramatic, and they chose to interpret that as an effect size that would make a significant difference over 50 kicks. The piece was right in pointing out the limitations of this interpretation, but Skeptics with a K were very careful to point it out in their initial podcast about it. In their follow up podcast, they have further clarified what the limitations are, and admitted being slightly over-zealous with their conclusions. They’ll know this, next time they try to test something, which they absolutely should.

    This is how we learn. Not by deciding that we shouldn’t try in the first place. Not by treating experimentation like some arcane art that only the initiated have access to. But by trying, listening to criticisms, understanding and learning from them and moving forward, better informed about how to discover things about the world as a result.

  2. Really enjoyed Eon’s piece on the BNP, and found myself agreeing with every word. Free speech really means nothing if it doesn’t also apply to people whose views are reprehensible, such as the BNP. But on a more practical note, we really don’t want to give the BNP an excuse to say that they are somehow being martyred. The best way to counter their hateful policies, IMHO, are to have them out in the open so everyone can see what rubbish they are.

    I must say I hadn’t realised that the EU funds political parties. That’s actually pretty scandalous. Giving my taxes to politicians makes me incredibly angry.

  3. Just to follow up quickly on the criticism of the MSS Shuzi Band Test (and speaking as the guy who did most of the leg work in designing the protocol)… fair points, well made!

    The only thing I’d say in our defence is that this was not meant to be a proper scientific test. Like 10:23, this was a piece of public engagement, not a proper science experiment. When devising the protocol, our goal was to be about as rigorous as your average “Mythbusters” episode.

    As I mentioned briefly on “Skeptics with a K” it seems that (in our attempts to be intellectually honest) we have used so much of the language of science that people have mistaken the test for an attempt at a comprehensive study. It isn’t, and we know it isn’t.


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