The Science of the Sunday Assembly

[From the outset, it’s worth stating that I’m an atheist (in the soft sense), an agnostic (in a firmer sense), but probably best-described as a Humanist]

Humanists, skeptics, and atheists like to pride themselves on being rational and evidence-based. However, the Sunday Assembly (which I have been helping to organise a bit in Leeds) seems to have brought out the worst kind of ignorant twaddle that I have heard from the community in some time. Most of this seems to centre on “you’re doing something that looks a bit like what people do in church, and that makes it bad”. No attempt at understanding why churches do those things, nor why churches have (until recently) been very successful. With that in mind, here is some science behind the Sunday Assembly:Read More »


BREAKING NEWS: Correactology can no longer cure cancer!!

From as the result of in-depth clinical trials (how else would they know that their treatments can cure so many severe and varied diseases and conditions?) the experts at the Correactology Centres (which I have discussed before) have removed “cancer” from the list of “ailments” that Correactology can treat.  A quick scan from an archived version of their “Ailments Treated” page from 4th November 2007 shows 127 ailments, but that list on the current version of the page is only 126.  In case you are wondering whether I am serious, I want to be absolutely clear that a PubMed search for “Correactology” produces zero results.  The removal of cancer from the list was an edit to the website, rather than a contribution to scientific research.  There have been no trials.  There are no datasets.  There are anecdotes and testimonials that score very low on the evidence pyramid.  Nevertheless, Correactologists take money from patients, claiming to be able to treat all kinds of diseases.  I will leave you to browse their (wish) list at your leisure, but I wanted to highlight a couple that are particularly unpleasant:Read More »

Green space is good for your health (also, Pope is Catholic)

This may not come as a surprise to many, but living in an urban environment may not be great for your mental health…  Being constantly surrounded by hustle and bustle, and constantly plugged in to technologies that keep you connected to work and current events, can be a drain. Now a new study, published in the journal Psychological Science in April 2013 (although I can’t find the actual paper online, yet), has provided yet more evidence for an important role of green space in urban areas for the purposes of enhancing “life satisfaction” and general health.  The study used over 10,000 participants, with data recorded over an 18 year period.

It’s worth noting the limitations of this study – it was epidemiological, which means that a lot of variables were recorded and the authors attempted to tease apart correlations between those variables.  The result is that we cannot infer causation.  For example, a clearer result would have been generated by an empirical approach involving a trial with randomly selected people being placed in either high green space or low green space areas, with their mental health measured before and after.  However, it is worth noting that the authors took huge numbers of variables into account when analysing these data, and the datasets are very large.  All of this suggests that the results are reliable.  They also produced a nice, simple video to explain the results in more detail (a great example of outreach by the researchers involved!):

Photo of Roundhay Park, Leeds, by Green Lane (via Wikimedia Commons)

Why does breast cancer research receive more research funding than prostate cancer?

Carcinoma of the prostate

“Men’s Rights Activism” (MRA) is a dirty phrase in many circles.  The MRA movement is a fairly diverse beast ranging from claims of inequality in child custody cases to accusations of full-blown, societal-scale misandry typified by higher death rates in men and lower levels of social investment.  One claim in particular that the MRAs make is that breast cancer (a cancer that predominantly, though not entirely, affects women) receives substantially more money in terms of research funding than prostate cancer, despite similar numbers of people dying from each.  First I’ll review some of the specific claims made, I’ll look at the data on funding, then we can delve into a few stats on the impacts of these two cancer types (bear with me!).  I’ve also included some more detail on whether younger men are more at risk from prostate cancer as an appendix for those who are interested.Read More »

Does the contraceptive pill affect female mate choice in humans?

In the final Reality Check episode (#208) with which I was involved, I presented a segment on whether or not the contraceptive pill influences women’s perceptions of potential partners.  I’ve been interested in this question for a few years, ever since sharing an office with evolutionary psychologists at the University of Liverpool.  Craig Roberts, whose work I cited a couple of times, was a lecturer there when I was doing my doctoral research.  Anyway, on with the show!Read More »

Is Correactology just chiropractic in a funny hat?

Correactology: it’s all about feet, apparently…

I’ve blogged about Correactology before, and that post has been pretty popular (for one of my posts, anyway…) so I thought I would revisit the topic.  Supply and demand and all that jazz…  Also, I was moved by a comment on the earlier post (reproduced in full below the fold), where a woman described a terrible experience with a Correactologist because she (a) had not been familiar with the nonsense treatment before, and (b) had nowhere to go to complain (the particular practitioner she was treated by is actually a Director of the “Canadian Association of Correactology Practitioners”).  Helping people like this is one of the reasons that I set up this blog:Read More »

International variation in IQ – the role of parasites

I co-authored a paper with Tom Sherratt at Carleton University a few months ago and we have received a bit of attention in the press (Washington Post blog, Scientific American, the Ottawa Sun, the heady heights of the Carleton University newspaper…).  As pretty much everyone has offered their views on the paper based on the press coverage (which has been pretty good but not perfect…), I had better set the record straight!
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