Sunday, October 17, 2010

Look for the Union Label, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and The Conspiracy Skeptic

It seems that we skeptics need to form bargaining units with our paymasters in the illuminati and big pharma, etc.  You read me correctly, we need to form a union.  Karl Mamer at TAM8 stayed in a luxury hotel room.  Trystan Swale was shafted and only paid enough to stay in a hostel that was so crummy, he took ill and had to leave TAM London early.  Dr. Steven Novella is paid so poorly, he does not even bother to defend at least the big pharmaceutical interests and was questioning their dedication to science during this week's Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.  (Or was this Dr. Novella's protest and his version of striking for great pay?)

In all seriousness, I would like to thank Mr. Swale for his coverage of TAM London.  Unfortunately, Trystan did take ill, and had to leave before the final day.  I am not sure if Trystan plans a wrap up post or not.  We do wish him the best of health, and I am certain that staying in a hostel in the middle of a major metropolitan area cannot be the best place to maintain one's health.  I will say based on Trystan's posts and following various tweets, the overall feeling was not as upbeat or engaging as the feed from TAM8 and if memory serves TAM7.  Perhaps it is my concern for Trystan that is clouding my judgment.  I hope to find a blog post from some "civilian" who attended each to get a more hands on report.

Karl posted this week, after a few weeks hiatus, a new Conspiracy Skeptic episode torn from the days' headlines, if the newspapers are from London in the early 1880's.  Karl's guest this week was Charles Smith, an Englishman who was on to discuss Jack the Ripper conspiracy.  Despite the lack of currency or a conspiracy from the recent history (say back to World War II and after) this was a fantastic episode of Conspiracy Skeptic.  Much like my last appearance on Mr. Mamer's podcast regarding the HMS Invincible which was as much a history lesson of the Falklands War as it was about a conspiracy, this episode was as much a social history of Victorian London as it was about a Conspiracy.  To be honest and as objective as possible, Mr. Smith was a far more interesting guest than I, and Karl had a nice easy and engaging interview.

Smith is just a skeptic who attends Skeptics in the Pub events, and does not blog or have a podcast.  I must admit, he would make a formidable podcaster.  There are numerous conspiracies surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders dealing with the identity of the killer, who to this day remains a mystery.  Naturally, a number of theories have been put forward but the most widely known today are that a member of the British Royal family is the killer.  The Queen Victoria and Empress of India engaged the services of the Masons and Royal Surgeons to track down the ladies of the evening who knew too much to have them silenced.  Why kill Victorian era hookers?  There are many reasons put forward but the juicy one is that Prince Albert had a child out of wedlock and that child had a claim to the throne, so to save the Crown embarrassment the Queen with her cool calculating methods of Ernest Blofeld had working girls put to death.  It is all rather far-fetched and backed by little to no evidence other than a book authored in the early 70's, which the author later recanted decades later.

I often wax poetic on the wonderfulness of Conspiracy Skeptic, and for good reason.  However, this is an excellent episode.  I commend it to the reader.

On the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, all the Rogues were present except for Evan.  Evan is nearly always on the show.  I missed his "this date in skeptic history."

The guest was Ben Goldacre to pitch his book "Bad Science" for the American market.  I'll get to that later.  As a lawyer, the Vaccine case argued in front of the United States Supreme Court I found quite interesting.  As is my limiting understanding as described by the Rogues, the case revolves around if plaintiffs bringing vaccine based case can bring the case in Federal Court.  Right now, the law provides for claimants to bring matters to a special administrative law court for compensation for alleged injuries sustained from a vaccine.  The case at hand is for the high court to consider if the Federal Court has jurisdiction on vaccine case specifically for product liability/ design defect.  This is an area that apparently is not clearly delineated in the law.  If I had to guess and engage in pure speculation, the court will not allow this loophole to open.  I find it difficult to believe that the conservative wing of generally pro-business Roberts court will allow a new avenue of litigation to be opened.  I would not be surprised if Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote on this issue.

Another interesting issue was handled by Rogue Watson and that was the alleged mummification abilities of McDonald's cuisine.   I have never heard of this but apparently in Britain some Briton left their value meal out for a few months and was shocked that the food just sort of dried out but did not rot. Rebecca explained why this is not shocking, and if you leave any food out in a clean dry climate controlled area food is likely to dehydrate rather than rot.  I am loathe to admit I have dropped a french fry or so in my car only to disappear between the seat and center console of my car only to be found months later.  The escaped potato product was not rotted, and looked sort of edible.  (I did not try to eat it.)

Mr. Goldacre was on to pimp his new book "Bad Science."  Most of the interview was an interesting discussion on the failures of big Pharmaceutical companies and their sometimes dodgy studies to support the efficacy of their medications.  In particular was the concern that while the test trials published by the companies may be legitimate, there does seems to be a history of companies keeping secret studies that fail to support the efficacy of a particular drug.  Sadly, Goldacre argues these actions do drive some people to come to the tortured conclusion that big pharma makes some questionable determinations. Therefore, instead of trusting flawed science-based medicine, people take useless sugar pills or made up magical thinking reiki therapy.   Dr. Novella and Goldacre seemed to agree the best way to fix this problem was better and smarter legislation and regulation.  While I am personally not a big government advocate nor a staunch libertarian, and I do think that people will find and exploit any loophole they can find, I basically agree.  The trick is in the regulations.  I have little faith that such enlightened rules are soon to beginning.

There you have it.  Dr. Novella biting the secret black hand that feeds him.  Trystan made sick by a lack of proper accommodations suitable to a skeptic of his stature and Karl who tows the line so well that not only does he live like a rockstar at TAM8 but garners such gifted conversation out of the blue guests. *

*To be clear, I do not think of of these fine folks are on the the take, dole, or under any other nefarious influence.  On the off chance there is ever a Central Pennsylvania skeptical gathering, or a Hersey Rationalist alliance jamboree with Mr. Swale winging his way to America to attend, I shall share our humble dwelling with him or find him a comfy Inn.    


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