Archive for category Meta stuff

Quick note

Just FYI, I’m out of the country for a while, and won’t have a whole lot of internet access for a while. Comments may get stuck in moderation for a while, and obviously there’ll be no new posts. There are plenty of great blogs in the sidebar to the right – go and read them instead!


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The Istyosty proxy, which I use for linking the more terrible examples of journalism (for instance, Delingpole columns), has been taken down by legal threats. As a result, some links will be broken. Sorry, I’ll try to update the links when I have the time.

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A punny reply from the TaxPayers’ Alliance

A couple of days ago, Primly Stable commented on the post from last month about the false claims that the NHS was buying loaves of bread for £32 a piece, pointing out that The Express had issued a retraction of the story (though it remains available online), and Tabloid Watch followed this up with an excellent post pointing out that The Sun had quietly deleted the story too.

At Tabloid Watch’s suggestion, I emailed Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who was quoted by a number of papers (including The Mail and The Telegraph) as saying

“It smacks of incompetence that the Welsh NHS is paying so much more for these goods than they are available for in the shops.

“The cost per unit prices are way above supermarket prices for gluten-free products in some cases which is really worrying.”

“This doesn’t look like taxpayers are getting value for money.”

to ask if she or the TPA would be retracting the comments, and whether the TPA would remove the claim from their website. Here, in full, is her reply:

Thank you for your e-mail. £2.82 is still an awful lot of dough for a loaf. A cursory glance around my local supermarket or online reveals gluten free loaves are sold for much less.

Whichever way you slice it I stand by every word of my comment.



The reply may not have addressed any of my concerns (for one thing, the claim that the NHS spends £32 on bread is still up on the TPA website), but those are some excellent puns, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d say Boon should consider writing for a tabloid in her spare time, but judging by how often she and the rest of the TaxPayers’ Alliance are quoted in the papers, it seems a little redundant.

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First Ladies by Kay Burley

A while back, The Guardian‘s Media Monkey blog published a couple of sex scenes from an upcoming novel from Sky newsreader Kay “The entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack” Burley, and they were as hilariously awful as you’d imagine – not to mention uncannily similar to a Garth Marenghi novel. Everyone had a good laugh and then moved on… until a copy turned up on my birthday, plastered with “BUY ONE GET ONE FREE” stickers and offers of free designer shoes. Naturally, I had to read it, otherwise all those trees would have died in vain.

It’s not exactly a difficult book – it’s 400 pages, but written in a fairly big font, with most chapters only a handful pages long and few words longer than “minister”. It’s also not exactly a good book, for reasons we’ll come onto shortly. This post is heavily inspired by Five Chinese Crackers’s brilliant takedown of Richard Littlejohn’s “To Hell in a Handcart”, but where Littlejohn’s effort was almost outrageously awful, Kay “Do you think if you’d had a better sex life, your husband wouldn’t have become a serial killer?” Burley’s book is a more insidious, low-level kind of rubbish, flecked with streaks of mediocrity cribbed from a thousand other books.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here’s a quick rundown of what makes First Ladies rubbish. (In case you really care, SPOILER WARNING)

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Election chicken recipe

Not a proper blog post at all, this, just a recipe for something I’ve decided to call election chicken. It’s basically coronation chicken crossed with chicken tikka masala (supposedly the most popular dish in the country and therefore the one with democratic mandate) crossed with various bits and bobs around the kitchen. Oh, and it tastes AMAZING.

Ingredients (fills about 4 to 6 sandwiches):

  • about 400 g of diced chicken (you can use the precooked stuff from the supermarket, or just chop up some chicken breasts and fry them with some curry spices)
  • one small pot (250 ml) of creme fraiche
  • about the same amount of mayonnaise
  • 3 heaped teaspoons tandoori masala
  • 1 heaped teaspoon paprika
  • splash of red wine
  • splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • a decent handful of grated cheese (I used double Gloucester for a quite creamy taste, but you could use mature cheddar for a stronger kick)
  • 2 teaspoons of tomato puree

Basically just mix it all together in a big bowl (if you’re cooking the chicken yourself, let it cool a little first), stand for a few minutes, and serve with salad in a sandwich!



Book recommendation – “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine

I know this isn’t exactly my normal sort of post, but to be fair, if every science journalist in the country read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine,* the number of posts on this blog could probably be halved.

Delusions of Gender is a response to every “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” article and book, looking into the actual science behind them. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the time it turns out the evidence behind the claims weak or poorly thought out; relationship and parenting advice books routinely claim the existence of titanic gulfs between the sexes based on barely significant differences, while journalists will happily claim that women empathise more or that men are more logical based solely on the fact that more men than women answered “yes” to the question “Are you logical?”.

More interestingly, Fine brings out countless findings about how the mind is affected by the outside world. For example, there’s a process called “priming“, where simply telling someone that men or women are expected to do better on a puzzle affects their ability accordingly – even if the priming is entirely subconscious. Other targets of Fine’s include improperly interpreted brain scans, studies that assume children have no understanding of society, publication bias, and some frankly bizarre “science” (one study claimed that women had evolved to be homemakers because female chimps in captivity enjoyed playing with saucepans – of course, how a chimp with no knowledge of cooking would know what a saucepan was for was never answered).

A fair bit of the book feels quite specifically targeted at a few authors – Simon Baron-Cohen, Leonard Sax and Louann Brizendine (the latter two in particular are both called out for making claims not supported by the actual studies they cite) – which can make the book a bit alienating to read at times if you’re not familiar with them. Delusions of Gender is also a little more heavy going than some popular science books, as Fine sometimes sacrifices simplicity for rigour – though her dry, often wonderfully sarcastic wit will at least get you through these parts with a smile on your face. Nevertheless, it’s well worth reading when you want to read newspapers, pop-psychology books or parenting advice with a more critical mind.

* I should probably point out that despite the title, the book doesn’t actually claim gender is a delusion. In fact, Fine quotes a number of interesting studies, particularly involving transgender people, which demonstrate that gender is an actual property of the mind – but that the actual ties between sex and gender are often weak.

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Shameless Nepotism

Sorry for the quietness lately. I’ve been away at Uke-Nagashi’s for the week, and, co-incidentally, she has an amazing blog post that you have to read on the French veil ban. Seriously. Go read it. Right now. What are you doing still reading this? Read that instead!

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No Data

Sorry for the lack of activity. Awful science articles have been thin on the ground lately – not sure whether that’s because column inches are dedicated to more important topics, or because universities have closed for summer. Either way, silly season will be here soon, and I’m sure we’ll be rolling in them, so I guess the message is be patient.


First post, or; how I learned to stop worrying and write a useless blog instead

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle predicted I'd write this blog

I’ve been a newspaper reader for donkey’s years. And it seems every day, some piece of science coverage finds a new and interesting way to annoy me. Rather than fume inwardly about it (can inward fuming cause cancer? Better check The Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project) any longer, I’m going to write about it! Now let’s see how long I can keep this going for before I go mad/get bored/die.

So let’s kick things off with a little history of science reporting.

The private notes of Robert Boyle – he of Boyle’s law and The Sceptical Chymist – have recently gone on display at the Royal Society, as part of their 350th anniversary celebrations. These particular notes detail Boyle’s visions for the future of science and they do in fact make for quite interesting reading. You can see the full list on The Telegraph‘s site.

This, you might say, is not a story. I could write a list of things I want science to look into, and as long as I make it vague enough, progress will probably have been made in most of those fields in 350 years time. This is Nostradamus stuff – when Boyle writes “a perpetuall light“, perhaps he’s predicting electric lighting. Or perhaps he’s predicting a light that doesn’t require energy (bear in mind this was all written pre-thermodynamics). Whether or not he predicted the future becomes a matter of interpretation; and if you say he did, do the countless others down the ages who predicted flight or long life count as visionaries?

But enough philosophy, let’s have something harder – media studies.*

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