Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Need For Scrutiny

Acupuncture doll. Archie McPhee store, Ballard...Image via Wikipedia

The 30-Second Skinny There's little better evidence for an intervention than the double blind randomized placebo controlled trial, but these trials still need to be properly scrutinized. In one double blind trial on acupuncture as a treatment for smoking cessation, the drop-outs were distributed across the three groups in a way that suggested that the blinding simply hadn't worked, making the resulting evidence all but worthless.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Narconon London - Fun With Paperwork

Narconon boothImage via Wikipedia

The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology will often change its story to best suit its audience. By comparing publicly available reports these "economies of truth" can be placed under the spotlight. Narconon London for instance has suggested to regulators that they do not offer a residential rehab service but suggest to the public and to the Charity Commission that they do.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What's True For You

30 Dumb Inventions - L. Ron HubbardImage by mandiberg via Flickr

The Twitter account @scientology is currently posting through links to the site. Interestingly the website is being more open about some of their more fringey beliefs, such as an affirmative response to "Does Scientology believe in mind over matter." The site also places on each page the following quote from L Ron Hubbard:

"What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. And when you lose that, you have lost everything." 

It's a troubling quote because it ultimately puts personal truth above objective truth. This is not some accident of Hubbard's. The pursuit of personal truth at the expense of reality underlines many aspects of tech, from touch assists (which you're supposed to do until they work) to... well... mind over matter. Scientology takes this so seriously that they view anyone trying to "put in data" where it isn't wanted as an act of violence. This is somewhat ironic considering the amount of time they spend trying to put in their own data where it, too, isn't wanted.

But Scientology is supposed to be "the science of knowingness". What the above quote basically implies, is that Scientologists should avoid data that contradicts their own beliefs. In other words, if someone tries homeopathy and gets better, they should avoid trying to confirm their belief that the homeopathy cured them. This is not the science of knowningess, but the very opposite. It is a formalised turning away from reality. There is nothing to be lost by taking in more data, other than one's errors and delusions.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

There Is No Doctrine Of Exchange

Dianetics FlyerImage by seangraham via Flickr

The 30 Second Skinny Many people join Scientology on the promise that it will help them achieve their goals, but over time these personal goals fall away to be replaced by Scientology's own goals. The Church fails to fulfil its part of the deal and tends to behave as if it is the injured party whenever a parishioner or staff member calls them out on it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Unkempt Kitchen

In Clay Shirky's book Cognitive Surplus he draws an analogy between website designs and kitchens. Looking at sites that promote user interaction (and specifically Grobanites For Charity) he noted that they tended to be more amateurish than the professionally produced corporate websites interested in acting as billboards for products, services and brands ( say). Shirky makes the point that if you walk into a designer kitchen, with marble tops and meticulous design, where everything is layed out with surgical precision and everything has its place, you may admire it but you will not feel comfortable assisting anyone who happens to be working in it. Were you to walk into a kitchen small and cluttered, then you are more likely to feel confident in beating a few eggs if required.

If skepticism is about engagement then that is a lesson we need to take on board. Many of the homeopathic sites fall very much into the latter category; many (though admittedly not all) skeptic and science sites fall into the former. It's not hard to see why; there is likely a good deal of overlapping between those who are itnerested in rational discourse, science and activism and the kind of skills that will allow one to create an all singing all dancing website.

Swain made the point that you should be posing arguments in a way that would convince, or at least inform, your mother. This goes far beyond just the words we use, but how we present both ourselves and the skeptic movement as a whole. Websites and blogs should be places where people who are not dyed in the wool skeptics should feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas without fear of being browbeaten. The first step of that ought to be in web design; not necessarily to create deliberately poorly designed sites, but to at least look at the aesthetics of CAM sites, understand what they are achieving in their marketing by having their sites designed that way, and feed that into your own site design.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Prevention or Cure?

When Narconon school lectures came under the scrutiny of the Californian State Department, a point was made that is quite far reaching. They stated that, along with a lot of misinformation about drugs, the curriculum spoke of the incredible results Narconon alleges its controversial Purification Rundown gets. This, it was argued, was not a good message to impart to children to dissuade them from ever trying drugs. Put simply, if it is easy to become drug free, then there is less of a barrier to trying drugs. If someone gets hooked, they can always do the rundown, so why not do drugs?

The other dimension to that, of course, is that if you suggest that it's not possible to get off drugs, then people who are already on drugs will simply not try. The challenge of drugs control is to warn off non-users while at the same time offering hope to addicts.

Listening to a recording of Frank Swain's talk at Westminster Skeptic, I was struck that the same sort of problem exists with skepticism. Swain believes that the Skeptic movement, of which he counts himself a member, is beset by aggression and an unwillingness to properly engage; a situation that is making it largely impotent. Whereas Swain's view of the skeptic movement is somewhat contested as a reality, it is certainly the view many people have of the movement, and it is a view that is growing. Michael Marsh made the point on Twitter that, for instance, the 10:23 campaign alerted many people who otherwise would not have known that homeopathic remedies do not contain any physical ingredient. You can add to that Singh's spat with the BCA, which did much to publicise the fact that chiropractic was not, as many thought, conventional medicine.

Such publicity may do much to inoculate those uninvested, but it genuinely does little to those who have already mucked in with the ideas under scrutiny. Those in the movement are probably already aware of the arguments made against, for instance, the use of Randomised Double Blind Placebo Controlled Trials for homeopathy, say. These kind of arguments are borne out of a need to explain away negative results. If the science negates the outcome, then science must be at fault because "I know I'm right!". People who are of this mindset are hard enough to reach at the best of times, but the sight of a group of people en masse swigging down homeopathic remedies (incorrectly!), is certainly not going to convince them that they at least need to revisit their thinking.

I think that's the real problem with the Skeptic movement - that it is focused too much on prevention and not enough on cure. It is easy to think up stunts that show up ridiculous ideas; it is easy to use existing legislation to ensure that practitioners stick to the rules with regards trading and advertising. It's much harder to take a homeopathy user and make them change their mind. It's easier to dismiss a treatment for being no better than placebo, much harder to argue that placebo-only treatment is a bad thing when no other treatment is available. It is easy and maybe even fun to watch a Scientologist  run for cover when you call out "Xenu" but having them run into an org, when you really would prefer them to run out of one is clearly a result made of fail.

If these ideas are ridiculous, then the ridicule will speak for itself, and that should be enough to inoculate - the truth, just like in drug abuse prevention, is clearly the way forward. We can be honest about what the ideas are without sticking our tongues out, which ought to leave us with enough bridges left to engage with those who hold to them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stupid Scientology

None of what follows is big or clever.

Last year, Cardiff councillor John Dixon found himself in London shopping for a wedding ring for his future wife. While wandering down Tottenham Court Road he passed the Dianetics Centre. Embracing social networking, he made the following tweet:

One of the London offices of Scientology at 68...

I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.

Now, this is perhaps not the greatest move in the world, if we're fair, but John Dixon has a right to his opinion as much as anyone else does. However that hasn't stopped the Church of Scientology from lodging a complaint, as reported here on Wales Online. This too is not a good move. The current level of scrutiny under which the church finds itself has stemmed from a long-running campaign to quell free speech. They have been left with protocols authored by Hubbard, who died in 1986. His "tech" was not prepared for the online world, perhaps ironic for a science fiction author.

Freedom of speech, which itself has been threatened by its own real liberation through the internet (the difference between handing out crank leaflets on street corners to setting up a website), defends itself. If someone attempts to quash it, then it simply speaks more loudly. Students of the modern age might like to make a guess as to what happened next.

That's right. The transgression, if transgression it was, occured on Twitter. An overly litigious  religion/cult/business decides it has a problem with someone saying it is stupid and gets legal, so those who would defend freedom of speech repeat the tweet, create the #stupidscientology hashtag, and see it almost instantly go to the top ten trending topics for the UK. The tweet that sparked off the episode picks up far more readership than it would have otherwise.

I shall not bore you with an explanation of the Streisand effect. If you are outside Scientology you know what it is; if you are in Scientology you will ignore it exists. I will say, though, that for a Church that claims to be the go to place for improving communication skills, they're skills are getting increasingly dusty.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

That Individualisation Thing

The 30 Second Skinny Advocates of Homeopathy point to the way remedies are individualised to a client to explain why the blanket approach of clinical trials fail to show positive results. There have been some trials that take individualisation into account, and they don't show positive results either. Also, even with the blanket prescriptions in clinical trials you would expect remedies to outperform placeboes as some patients would get the correct remedy by chance alone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sea Org and Coerced Abortions

The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology runs a quasi-military group called Sea Org that it describes as like a monastic order. Accusations have been made that Sea Org members are coerced into having abortions. This is denied by the Church, but there is undoubtedly a great deal of pressure for Sea Org women to comply to get an abortion, because leaving Sea Org, and possibly their family or even the Church itself, would be too great a price to pay. This pressuring needn't be verbal (although it is claimed that it is), it is systemic of the organisation.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dear Grahame

That small handful of ex-members included people very high up in the church. Have you been reading "Ask the Scientologist"? He raises some very important questions about the Church of Scientology's response to the claims of violence; questions that have yet to be answered.

The way I see it we have a group of people talking about violence at the top of the church, and that violence being denied by people still in the church. Now it could be that this is just malice from appostates, as you say, or it could be that these are genuine and well-meaning whistle-blowers. Do we listen to the ex-wives who claim their husband beat them, or the current wife who claims her husband doesn't?

The only way to settle this dispute would be to abandon the game of "who has the most affidavits" and have the church provide independent evidence that these claims are not true - ex-members who were present at the meetings talked about, and are free of the influence of the church, yet nevertheless deny that violence took place.

You might ask why it should be down to the Church to prove its case. It is an unfortunate necessity. That Miscavige remains silent on the matter does him or his church no favours. If, as Tommy Davies suggests, Miscavige is simply too busy running the church, then he either underestimates the crisis the church is in right now, has miscalculated where his priorities are at present, or is so short of management that he really is rushing all over the planet trying to run his operation. It would explain why he looked so old and tired at the recent Hubbard birthday bash.

Lastly I have some trouble dealing logically with the idea of someone claiming they remember the meeting at which the violence didn't happen, yet this is the basis of the "it's not true" affidavit's the church are providing - I remember that meeting, nothing happened?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Church of Scientology and Joined-Up Thinking

Just a brief observation before the Easter break.

The revelations of the CNN AC360 reports on the culture of violence at the top of the Church of Scientology are, in the main, old news. These are, after all, the same allegations that have already been levelled at Miscavige in earlier reports. What is interesting, though, is that having told the press that listening to Rathbun et al is like trying to get an honest opinion about someone's character by talking to their ex-spouse, the Church of Scientology is using that exact strategy to dissuade CNN viewers of the whistle-blowers' stories. CoS chose the defectors' ex-wives to come in and claim that their former husbands were all liars. Would it be okay, then, if we use Scientology's wisdom and ignore such dubious stories from obviously disgruntled former lovers?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stephen Green is Not The Voice of Christianity


Classic FM runs an ad and promotional competition for Not The Messiah, a spoof of Handel's Messiah based on The Life of Brian.

This erks Stephen Green, whose "organisation" shall not be named.

Green posts a story to his website, and sends an email out to his contacts.

Some time later the ad disappears from Classic FM. Why we do not know.

However, Green posts another story to his site, claiming victory:

Faced with hundreds of distraught emails sent over the weekend, and bombarded with so many telephone calls they stopped taking them, managing director Darren Henley ditched 'Not the Messiah' quicker than you can say 'Whose bright idea was that?'

Which makes one wonder how Green knew they had stopped taking calls.

If Green is right, and Classic FM did a reverse ferret on their promotion of this screening, then Classic FM has bowed down to an organisation that actively promotes such wonderful items as:

The Sexual Dead-End (on homosexuality); The Pink Swastika (Exposes the deep roots of homosexuality in the Nazi party(seemingly missing the point that the Nazis gassed homosexuals)); The Poisoned Stream ("Gay" influence in human history); A Generation Betrayed - "The Reality of Safer Sex"; Understanding Islam: (... How do we win Muslims for Christ?); and Diwali - A Parents' Guide; October 2003 (The truth about Hinduism, its 'gods' and its social consequences).

Green is driven by homophobia and intolerance; a friend of mine cannot view his organisations website because it filters it out as "hate speech"; we must question the importance we attach to his views, and the opinions of those happy to ascribe to the values of his organisation.


I've received an email from someone at Arts Alliance Media who has this to say:
Thank you for your email, there isn't any truth to this I'm afraid, the campaign we ran with Classic FM was always scheduled to finish on Sunday night (to allow us to gather names for competition winners before the screenings on Thursday), so the fact it's no longer live has nothing to do with Christian Voice or anyone else.

The thick plottens. Pepper Harow over at the BHA replied to a query I made following their call for people to write to Classic FM asking them not to take notice from what is, after all, a self-appointed, marginal pressure group.

Thank you for your email. The BHA checked with Classic FM before we put the story up and asked people to take action. They confirmed over the phone that the reason they took the promotions down were because of the complaints.

Classic FM themselves have yet to respond to my email.

60% Again

Following some information the UK IPS released in response to a FOIA request, I can now revise the figures of my earlier post on the Greater Manchester National ID Scheme pilot. You can find the post here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Apple Test

Thanks to @iszi_lawrence and @SkepticBarista for pointing me towards this bit of nonsense. You cut an apple in half, bung one in a bottle marked "love" and the other in a bottle marked "hate". You then love the one half however you see fit, and hate the other. As the Daily Mail's photo dramatically shows, the hate half will rot faster than the love half. Let's see how we might put it to the test properly.

We need to run the experiment on more than one apple. If we only do this once, it's not going to tell us very much. We're expecting a binary result, that each apple will have a marked difference in quality by the end of the week. We'll only get meaningful data, then, through repeated experimentation.

Blinding - we're going to use bottles that are identical, but each has a collar, with "love" or "hate" attached. The tops of the bottles will feature a randomly assigned number. The randomly assigned numbers are in pairs that are already randomly assigned as either "love" or "hate". This will become very important later.

We fill the bottles with water. As long as it's the same kind of water in both bottles, whatever we use ought not make much impact on the test. We then cut the apple in half. It may be worthwhile examining ways in which we can ensure that an identical procedure is used for this, so that comparisons can be made across different apples. However, for the purposes of comparing the "love" and "hate" halves against each other, as long as the apple is cut more or less into two equal sections, it oughtn't affect the test due to the randomisation. We would expect any biases in cutting to be spread out.

The apple halves are placed into the bottles and sealed. It is at this stage that we discover which bottle is to be "love" and which "hate", by checking the number on the bottle cap. This process can be kept secure by giving this job over to a particular individual, rather than allowing each "apple host" to have access to the codes for their bottles. We only establish the love/hate bottles after the apples have been sealed into the bottles because we do not want to introduce a possible bias. We don't want experimenters to decide based on any kind of aesthetic reasons, or through the early browning of the apple half prior to it being introduced into the bottle, as this will skew the results - we will no longer be comparing like with like.

The collars are placed on the correct bottles. Next we need to isolate the thing that we are looking to examine, which is the application of "love" and "hate" to the apple halves. This means that the only thing different between the treatment of both halves will need to be the emotional attachment created by the experimenter. Therefore, the halves need to be kept together, or in separate containers that are kept at the same level of light, heat, humidity, noise, etc.

You may wish to formalise the way in which the love and hate bond is created. This could be through, perhaps, addressing the love jar with kind words and compliments for half an hour a day, before turning to the hate jar and insulting it for half an hour a day. Keep in mind the requirement for maintaining like atmospheres for both jars. There must not be handling of the jars, unless one can guarantee that the jars are handled in an identical manner.

Once the week is up, the collars are removed, and each pair is judged in turn. The judges, who will not be aware of the love/hate assignation, must decide based on examination of the apple halves, which half is in a better condition. It is vital at this point that any possibility of feedback is removed. Ideally the apple hosts should remove the collars before passing both bottles together to someone who in turn passes them on to the judges; this reduces the possibility of any cuing, subconscious or otherwise, that will give the judge a better idea of which is the love half, and which the hate.

Only after they have made their judgements can we compare their results with the actual love/hate halves.

By chance alone, when this experiment is run in sufficient number, we would expect a fairly even spread - we would expect roughly half of the "love" apples to be in the better condition. If we find that there is a bias in distribution of conditions, then we need to examine our protocols to ensure that "leakage" is not taking place anywhere; i.e. that the randomisation process and the blinding process are working as they should. If we are certain that our experiment is holding true and giving us reliable data, then we publish our findings, and invite our peers to decide if the results of the experiment are meaningful. It is not unusual that our peers may at this stage uncover flaws in our methodology that have led to the results. Where this is the case, we look at how we may eliminate those flaws in further experiments.

Given sufficient funding, I will be happy to undertake this experiment and shed some light on whether or not Nikki Owen is on to something.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Would've Could've

The 30 Second Skinny Mrs Xiao-Ping Zhai runs a fertility clinic based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. Some time ago The Beacon complained to the ASA that she was using the name Doctor in her advertising despite not being medically qualified, and that she was making outlandish claims for the success of her treatment. Mrs Zhai failed to be able to provide evidence for these claims and so agreed not to make them in advertising in future. In explaining away science's failure to find a positive result for TCM and fertility to the BBC, she betrays some clouded logic that even serves to undermine her own claims.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Homeopathy as Misdirection

This is just a brief observation about the activism, both for and against homeopathy, that surrounded the Evidence Check. As was ruled by the check itself there is no robust evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy. It has been shown in randomised placebo controlled trials that it is no better than a placebo. So certain are many that the implausible mechanic of water and sugar-pill memory can in no way lead to any clinical benefit that they feel it unethical to undertake further research into it. The pro-homeopathy lobby might believe otherwise, but when Robert Wilson, the Chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, bemoans the lack of large sample trials, and in almost the same breath volunteers what really ought to be his best piece of evidence for homeopathy and chooses a trial with a small sample size, he neatly sums up the state of play, and the relationship with evidence that most proponents of the magic water seem to have. Weak clinical evidence is waved about, strong clinical evidence against homeopathy is ignored, and if all else fails they decide that homeopathy is so special that it "defeats" science. This last argument has always puzzled me, as it consitutes an open admission that the effects of homeopathy are so fickle that you can't put any amount of faith in it.

But here's the rub. It's great fun to discuss tipping a thimble full of arsenic into the Atlantic and giving it a stir. Homeopathy is an irresistible lure to skeptics because: it turns out a lot of people don't realise what homeopathy actually is; the physics is simple to demonstrate and involves silly big numbers; it's an easy thing to compare its trials with those of mainstream medicines. I'd say this is much of the thinking behind the overdose stunt. It's purpose wasn't really to prove to people that homeopathy doesn't work, because an overdose doesn't make sense in homeopathy, irrespective of the confusing mixed messages its packaging and proponents give out. It's purpose was twofold: to demonstrate to people who don't yet know that homeopathy pills are empty, and also to have fun doing it. I'm not saying the first purpose is not important, it is. I'm not saying the second purpose is inappropriate, ridiculous beliefs are open to ridicule. However, something a little strange happened after the report was published, and is crystalised by a number of tweets and a blog post by Bruce Hood.

Hood suggests that one of the possible implications of the NHS withdrawing the supply of homeopathic remedies is that people will undergo long and fruitless investigations in order to determine what is wrong with them (homeopathy canard: we cure the whole person, what are your symptoms) and these investigations will end up costing the NHS more than providing sugar pills. I'm not sure I entirely agree with Hood, though it's worth noting that if reports are to be believed, I suspect the evidence check itself cost more than a year of NHS homeopathy. Hood is no supporter of the homeopathic hypothesis by any means, but is more interested than many are willing to be with the implications of restricting access to placebo-based treatment. And here's the observation. You can find plenty of skeptics willing to tell you that homeopathy is just a placebo, and you can find plenty of homeopathists willing to tell you otherwise. A debate that is much less popular, however, is: what are the ethics of providing people with placebo-based treatment?

Ugly isn't it. I've discussed in the past how alternative medicine has sometimes been used to fob off the underclass because the money or expertise simply wasn't there to provide conventional medicine to the masses. The trouble is, as the money and expertise isn't there, what else do you do?

From what I can gather, the NHS ideal is that medicines should stand on their evidence base (though how many common treatments have evidence is surprisingly low), and that patients should be allowed to make informed choices about the treatments they receive. We measure treatments against placebos, so no placebo-based treatment has evidence, and part of the mechanic of placebos is deception, which goes against the idea of informed choice. The path seems clear, then, were it not for the fact that the placebo effect is real; certainly real enough to require placebo control arms in the first place. If no other treatment is available, is it ethical to deprive someone of genuine placebo-based relief in order to maintain the honesty and sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship. Are some homeopathists standing their ground in the face of evidence not because they believe in the magic water, but because they are defending their placebo; keeping the lie in place so that the medicine remains effective.

I've often wondered if there would be ethical and practical grounding in signing off a placebo-waiver whenever you register with a surgery. This would form an explicit agreement between you and your GP that they are able, where no other treatment is viable, to prescribe a placebo. What I like about this idea is that it crosses a line that I think exists in quite a few people's heads. When they discuss how placebos should be available, they tend to couch it in terms relating to other people, and rarely in terms relating to themselves. Plenty of people say "give them placebos", I've heard very few say "give me placebos".

Beyond these arguments are "bigger picture" positions. Getting sugar pills from your GP to help you over the doldrums sadly uses the same lie that leads the genuinely deluded to go off to Africa to try and cure HIV AIDS. If your sugar pill is based on pseudoscience, to legitimise its use in one area legitimises its use everywhere. Ironically a way round this would be to manufacture your placebos as if they were pharmaceutical products, specific active ingredients operating on obscure aspects of human physiology. That way you couldn't possibly be propping upthe beliefs of dangerous fanatics. Except that they're also trying to cure HIV AIDS with vitamin C... 

I'm proudly undecided about the ethics of placebo treatment. I can see valid, if difficult to weigh, points on either side of the discussion, and know that personally I would rather the truth, however bitter a pill to swallow, even when it denies me relief. What pains me more, though, is that few people seem willing enough even to have the debate in the first place, despite it being the only alternative medicine discussion actually worth having.

Monday, February 22, 2010


The Government today responded to a petition requesting that the forthcoming National Identity Scheme be dismantled. It stated, along with a rather puzzling projected cost of £4.575 million for the next ten years (billion, surely?), that "Research over the past 18 months into public support for identity cards shows that 60% of people support the National Identity Service."

This figure puzzled me somewhat, because the NID scheme has been piloted in Manchester, and the response falls far short of the 60% calculated. The Manchester figures offer the first insights into the likely realworld takeup of ID cards and database registration. It goes without saying that the "cost of transaction" for actually submitting oneself to the database state is much greater than ticking a box saying you would, should such a scheme come to be.

The Register reported in January that 1,300 people had signed up for the scheme between November 30th and January 14th, a period of six weeks, covering a population area of 2.5 million. So how far can we take these figures?

The scheme has been connected to passport renewal (and more of that later). Passports are renewed once every ten years, so we would expect, over a year, for there to be a market for passports, and therefore ID cards, of one tenth of 2.5 million, or 250,000.

We know that over six weeks, 1,300 applied. If this figure were sustained across the year, we end up with an annual take-up of (1,300/6)*52 or 11,266. We would expect that if 60% of people were interested in the scheme, then the percentage of the 250,000 eligible would also be approximately 60%. But 11,266/250,000*100 gives us... 4.5%

Now, these figures are far from perfect. The scheme was launched in December, which I suspect is not the time most people renew their passports. You might like to think of this as Labour kicking the scheme into the long grass, but their decision to extend trials to Liverpool and/or London suggests otherwise. I suspect also, that the division of the total population of Manchester by ten is a rather crude way of going about establishing the market for the cards. The age range is 16+, for a start, so that will reduce the overall figure. However we are looking at a shortfall of 55.5%, which is quite a lot to account for.

There are other problems that tug our 4.5% in the other direction. Chief amongst them is this. The ID Card, although it can (companies allowing) be used as a travel document, is not first and foremost a travel document. It is what it is, which is an identity card. It has, admittedly, from its birth been attached to the passport. It's "just a little bit more" expenditure based on the biometric passports the Government begrudgingly voted in favour for has planted the legitimacy of its existence firmly in the realm of travelling. It's just that it has that pesky intrusive database stuck on the end; the one with a much greater scope than the NHS database, yet with a smaller projected budget and tighter timetable.

The ID card is further tied to the passport because that has been the main suggested route of acquiring a card; when registering or renewing your passport.

To be fair, although UKIPS has marketed the NIDS as a travel document, it's also pointed out that it is a cheaper and easier to lose proof of ID. In a classic bit of joined up thinking, the Government is choosing to tackle antisocial behaviour by suggesting that youths register with the ID scheme so they can go out and get wankered; neatly sidestepping the fact that ProveIt! cards are substantially cheaper, and more widely recognised. UKIPS go on to insist that the scheme will protect one against identity theft, by which they generally mean credit card and online fraud, as opposed to the other kind where bank accounts and credit cards are set up in someone's else's name. How it works is this; if you want to open a bank account, rather than being called on to provide a utility bill and some form of ID, you just need to sidle up with a National ID card and you're sorted. The criminal, however, cannot have such a National ID card, so instead he must either wing it with a cosmetic forgery (and how many banks have access to the NID registry yet?) or do it the old-fashioned way because the bank doesn't know whether or not the person is on the system anyway. Then there are all the other benefits that we can't go into here, mainly because it is for each Government department to come up with its own business model on how best to implement the technology. Or in other words, because no-one knows if they exist yet. I shall calm down.

My point is that the benefits the card are being sold on either are based on total take up of the card, or on fairly menial things such as having a smaller thing to carry around with you when you need to pick up a parcel, get pissed, or buy pornography. Let's take another look at the choice figures given by the Register. It states that total passport issuing for the same period as the ID trial accounts for .7% of the population. If we apply the same process as above to this figure we get just over 6% takeup of the population as a whole, or 60% of our expected 10% market. The reason it's not 10% is because of the passport's status as a travel document. One does not need a passport to live in the UK, merely to traverse its perimeter; therefore the number of people in the UK who own a passport is smaller than the number of people in the UK. I love maths. The market for ID cards, that offer supposed benefits beyond such border crossing, ought to be greater, and yet demand is much smaller.

It seems clear that Labour, having commited to reaching a threshold before enforcing the scheme on the rest of us, and creating a scheme that has insufficient benefits for initial take-up, have doomed a scheme they have championed through adversity for years. The truth of interest is not to be found in the carefully construed research that they have commissioned but in the lacklustre response Manchester has shown the undermarketed and ill-timed scheme. There is little more to be done now than to downscale the system to a control for foreign nationals and have done with it.

Following a FOIA request I've received the following data on total passport issues throughout 2009. From it I've calculated a rough monthly distribution of the total with, as predicted, a peak in the summer months.

Jan-09 390,136 ...7.64%
Feb-09 441,765 ...8.65%
Mar-09 552,964 ...10.83%
Apr-09 488,207 ...9.56%
May-09 472,107 ...9.25%
Jun-09 593,990 ...11.63%
Jul-09 569,396 ...11.15%
Aug-09 434,608 ...8.51%
Sep-09 402,346 ...7.88%
Oct-09 296,290 ...5.80%
Nov-09 253,346 ...4.96%
Dec-09 210,543 ...4.12%

If we assume this monthly distribution is normal, then we can estimate our January figure for ID card uptake as 867, making each percentile worth 867/7.64 or 113.48; and our total annual expected uptake of National ID Cards for the Greater Manchester area at 11,348. The initial estimate of 4.5% is pretty much on the button in light of this further information.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Faith Schools: They Can Do What The F___ They Like

More special treatment in the pipeline for faith schools. Oh to be a bigot with a book.


The Schools secretary Ed Balls recently tabled an amendment to the forthcoming bill addressing sex and relationship education in schools. This amendment will allow special exemption from the bill for faith schools and its introduction is being heralded as a success of the lobbying of the Catholic Education Service.

The bill originally was intended to standardise the teaching of sex and relationship education across schools, that "information presented ...should be accurate and balanced"; that the subject should be "taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds and reflects a range of religious, cultural and other perspectives"; that it should "be taught in a way that endeavours to promote equality, encourages acceptance of diversity and emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities."

Balls' amendment will allow Catholic faith schools to instead teach about sex and relationships in line with their "religious character"; i.e. that homosexuality is an aberration that should be discouraged; that contraception is wrong; that contraception leads to the spread of HIV AIDS; that sex outside of marriage is shameful.

I understand that the implications of the amendment are currently being denied by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It is their understanding that: "schools with a religious character will be free, as they are now, to express the views of their faith and reflect the ethos of their school, but what they cannot do is suggest that their views are the only ones." If that is the intention of the amendment then the amendment is unnecessary. As quoted above, the bill insists that the subject be"taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds and reflects a range of religious, cultural and other perspectives." If that is the case, then the amendment serves no purpose, and clouds the Bill, suggesting as it does a legal loophole with which faith schools can pursue their own agendas of intolerance.

I urge you to reject the amendment.

Yours sincerely,


Monday, February 01, 2010

The Trouble with OTIII

30 Second Skinny The scriptures for Operating Thetan 3 serve as a kind of shibboleth for the Church of Scientology. The Church flatly denies (often without lying outright) that the scriptures in the public domain are the genuine ones, so should someone reach and pay for the OT3 they are in a position where they are already deeply embedded in church life and must make the difficult choice of swallowing the story so often denied, or walking away from a sizeable part of their life. Should they stay in the church, it is likely that the church realise more and more courses and auditing can be pushed onto them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coercion and Extortion? In *My* Religion?

Tommy "Foot Bullet" Davis has been at it again. In case you've not heard, Larry Anderson, star of the Church of Scientology's Orientation video, has woken up and walked, claiming that he no longer believes Scientology can deliver what it promises (freedom from "the trap"). He also blames what he regards as corruption in the upper levels of management, citing the fact that the Church, for a period of about two years, was quite happily selling books it knew were no good, while those titles were being revised for re-release. This mis-selling is the sort of brazen nasty that we like to report on at The Beacon because it is irrefutable. The "wrong" books were sold right up to the day before the release of the "corrected" versions. It's so irrefutably wrong of the Church that they haven't even sought to apply any spin on it.

But anyhew. It's what happened next where it gets really interesting. Reports are widespread of the lengths that the Church will go to to retain parishioners it believes are valuable to the church or best kept silent. After making his intentions clear Anderson agreed to meet and discuss with Davis the return of money the actor had on account with the Church for services he had not yet received. Anderson had the foresight to record the "brief meeting" that became a ninety-minute conversation, with the full consent of Davis. Excerpts from the tape are now available online.

Knowing that the conversation is being taped, Davis nevertheless tries on various tactics to ensure Anderson, at the very least, remains quiet about the Church on his departure and does not receive any refunds. He waves the IRS at Anderson, discusses Anderson's impending disconnection (with some wonderful double speak; he says it does and doesn't happen in the same breath), tries to make Anderson feel guilty and/or pay(!) for the projected $2 million reshoot of Orientation and makes veiled threats concerning those Anderson will leave behind in the Church. One can only wonder how differently the conversation would have run had it not been taped!

Davis seems to be making a habit of saying things he oughtn't on tape. Last year saw him reveal that he was passing on former-Scientologists auditing files, collations of things admitted to while undergoing auditing, in the hopes that he could make some kind of ad hominem attack and damage testimonies regarding David Miscavige's violence and brutality. Naturally enough the provision of firm evidence that the Church does exactly what it says it doesn't do did not do much to dissuade the reporters from pressing ahead with their story. One wonders how long Davis can keep hold of his job; his continued ineptitude in handling these situations suggests that Miscavige has no-one with which to replace him. By sticking to CoS procedure, Davis only ever seems to galvanise departing parishioners into the new role of vocal criticism of the Church, its management and its policies. Scientology seems unique as a religion that makes enemies of its footstools.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Trouble with TRs

The 30 Second Skinny Scientology's Training Routines often involve pattern spotting. Psychology suggests that is possible that by training someone to be a more adept pattern spotter they may in turn become more superstitious, or in other words come to recognise patterns that aren't really there. This could well be a consequence, intended or otherwise, of the TRs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hubbard Motors

with apologies to Tory Christman

"Hubbard Motors! 100 million vehicles sold!"
"Hi, this is Mr Construct. I bought a car not so long ago from you."
"Of course, sir. Can I interest you in supplying us with a testimonial?"
"Not really. There's a problem with the car."
"A problem?"
"It doesn't work."
"Really. I was told it would be more powerful than run of the mill cars, but it doesn't seem to be. I keep getting left behind at traffic lights."
"Oh my. Are you sure you're driving it properly?"
"Sure I'm sure."
"Well this is a pickle."
"Also, it cuts out completely whenever I try and drive past accidents."
"No, no, that's by design. It's an undocumented feature."
"I'm not sure I know what you mean by that."
"Oh? Which word did you not understand."
"It's not the word, it's the... never mind."
"Okay. Well why don't you bring this car of yours in and we'll take a look at it..."

Later that Day

"If you'd just like to turn on the windscreen wipers, sir."
"The wipers? I think the problem is with the engine."
"Oh don't worry, sir, I'll find the problem; but please, the wipers?"
"Okay... There."
"Hmm... well they seem to be working fine."
"Like I say, it's not the wipers. I just can't get any power out of the engine."
"But the wipers are part of the car."
"And the wipers work fine. You've observed this to be true, yourself."
"Yes, but-"
"Therefore the car must work fine. I have proved it. Axiomatically."
"I don't follow your logic. Sorry."
"You don't? Odd. Someone must be clouding your judgement on this."
"Has anyone been critical of the car at all?"
"Well, my wife doesn't have very much good to say about it."
"Oh no?"
"She has a point, though. It's been nothing but trouble since I got it."
"I think we have found the problem, sir. I've proven that the car is fully operational, which can only mean that it is being suppressed by some outside force. This wife you speak of is the source of the problem."
"My wife? What has she got to-"
"It's technical, but the most important thing for you to do right now is to go back to your wife and tell her that if she doesn't stop criticising your car, then you'll have no option but to leave her."
"Leave her?!"
"Leave her."
"Over a car? Look, I'm not happy with the way I'm being treated here. Can I at least have a replacement vehicle?"
"There's nothing wrong with your vehicle, sir, it's your wife's suppressive behaviour that is the problem."
"Nonsense. That's it. I'm well within my rights. I'd like a full refund."
"But we can't possibly take the car back and refund you, sir. There's nothing wrong with it. We could take the car back, but it's a lengthy process. A lot of admin. And we charge for admin."
"But the car is faulty! Its engine's busted!"
"That's something that Hubbard Motors will contest sir, in court if we have to. And we can afford some very good lawyers. Also, I found these in your glove compartment. A lesser person would be shocked."
"What in the-?"
"I know. The secrets people hide."
"I've never seen those before in my life."
"I'm sure the police will take that into consideration, sir. Now, what is it to be?"

Later that Week

"Who is this?"
"Who is this? You phoned me?"
"What's that you say? A bomb? In the showroom?"
"What? Is that..."
"Wait! I know that voice. Mr Construct? Why would you perpetrate a bomb hoax?"
"You phoned me!"
"We view this as an act of terrorism, Mr Construct, and this call has been recorded. If you do not desist in this hate campaign then you leave us no alternative than to take this up with the FBI."

Later that Year

"Mr Construct?"
"This is Mr Savage, sir, from Hubbard Motors."
"Please, leave me alone."
"I have some excellent news Mr Construct! We've found what was wrong with your car! There was a problem with it after all."
"Then you can fix it?"
"Better than that, we can replace it!"
"You can?!"
"With our latest model! All for the competitive sum of $250,000!"
"What? You're going to charge me for the replacement."
"Also, please can you arrange to have your existing vehicle junked as soon as possible?"
"You want me to junk the car you sold me that didn't work and buy another car from you to replace it? For a quarter of a million dollars?"
"Come on, Mr Construct. It's more than just a car. Think of it as a way of life... Mr Construct..? Are you there Mr Construct?"

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fighting Nonsense with Nonsense

Dear Helios Ltd.

I read with some discomfort that Natrum Bromatum can stop someone being homosexual.

If this is the case, should NB carry a warning? This sounds like a massively disruptive side effect for those who are happy with their sexuality. I'd hate for Helios to be the subject of a lawsuit.

Kind regards,

Beacon Schuler.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Homeopathy and Malaria, Still...

The 30 Second Skinny A study into a homeopathic preparation of the neem tree has been promoted as evidence that homeopathy can be used against malaria. However, the study raises many concerns. Results of the two year trial were being published after only six months, but no later version of the paper seems to exists. It also didn't compare the treatment against a placebo, and recruited people who had had malarial attacks in the last twelve months, making its six month reporting of little value. It is worrying that advocates of homeopathy deny clinical trials are capable of proving homeopathy works, yet at the same time use flawed trials in order to claim homeopathy has some robust evidence supporting it.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Trouble with Engrams

The 30 Second Skinny Engrams are memories containing emotional charge. Thei removal of that charge is at the heart of both Dianetics and Scientology, but they were only ever a theoretical object in Hubbard's original hypothesis. Evidence has shown that they don't fit in with his original description for them, nor with our growing understanding of the way the human mind works.