In my few years as a skeptic I have started to make complaints about false advertising. It’s important that someone does this as advertising is a self regulated industry. Adverts aren’t checked before being shown, they are only investigated if someone complains about them. This is why Ryan Air have made outrageous claims and then been told to remove adverts, but by that point the adverts have done their job.

The Advertising Standards Authority “regulates” advertising but they only check something out if there’s a complaint about it. I’ve seen Virgin Media complain about BT Broadband adverts and vice versa.

Virgin Media rulings here.

BT Broadband rulings here.

You can see it’s like inter-ISP warfare with each company making outrageous claims and the other deciding to take them to the ASA.

In principle the ASA covers things like TV, print media, and internet advertising. Also they cover any claims made on websites and posters and leaflets. The cover the UK. There can be some issues where a website based in another country fails the basic standards of human decency but the ASA can’t do a great deal about it except inform their counterparts in the host country. Other countries sometimes don’t give a shit about the quality and factualness of advertising.

If there are specific claims in an advert then the company must have specific evidence to back those claims up. So, if I make ethically sourced soap then I must have the evidence to back up that claim or I risk censure by the ASA. I can still make those claims, I just need to worry about a complaint being made. You might argue it would be unethical for me to make false claims but you obviously don’t understand “marketing”.

Some words have no real meaning in term of advertising:

  • “wellness” isn’t defined in law and means nothing
  • “nutritionist” isn’t a protected term and anyone can call themselves one
  • “health balance” is bullshit terminology
  • “natural” doesn’t mean shit
  • “energy” doesn’t mean what you think it means
  • “traditional” isn’t
  • “good bacteria” it depends

And so on. When products or companies use certain words you might think they mean something specific but they don’t. The companies rely on the fact that you will think they mean a very specific thing but in law and advertising they don’t. How often do you hear the term “energy-balance” or similar? You might think it means something specific but it is a bullshit term and so advertisers can use that whenever they want.

Advertisements can’t make specific medical claims unless they have specific medical evidence and this is how the ASA became the arbiter of what is and what isn’t science in this messed up world. Let’s start with an hypothetical:

Suppose I had magical healing hands. I might use a radio advert to claim I can improve your energy-balance [means nothing] and that you will feel more relaxed and ready to take on the world [also means nothing].

Healing Hands Therapies

None of the claims in that advert mean anything specific in terms of advertising. It is perfectly ok to use that advert. I haven’t made any specific claims and I haven’t used any protected terms that mean real things. Now imagine if I made the following advert:

Healing Hands Therapy will improve your life-balance and also cure your arthritis. Our therapies are so powerful they can cure colic and even remove cancers.

Healing Hands Therapies

Those are some very specific claims and so I need to have evidence to prove that those things can be cured with the healing hands modality. If I can’t provide evidence to the ASA for the claims I have made then I will be expected to remove the advert from circulation. Meanwhile thousands of people may have heard the advert and be gullible enough to think it works.


I have made two complaints to the ASA. One was a product advertised in a magazine and it claimed to help with teething issues with babies. It was a necklace for the baby made from amber beads. Now, I’m pretty sure putting something around the neck of a baby is pretty bad but then claiming the vapours it releases as it is warmed by bodyheat calm teething pains is utter bullshit. Like this one on a page I just found:

Amusingly on this page, just before the reviews section, the company makes clear that they aren’t responsible for any claims made in the comments. This is a lovely get-out clause but I think they are wrong. The company is publishing the comments on that page and so they are responsible. The comments clearly imply that people buy this shit for teething issues with very young children. Don’t put things around a baby’s neck.

My complaint to the ASA about the original company was upheld and they were told not to advertise in that format again. But, as we know with Goop, there’s an awful lot of bullshit out there and plenty of people unaware of how sciencey sounding claims might be bullshit.

I also made a complaint about a leaflet I found in a children’s nursery. It was for the John Wernham College of Classical Osteopathy in Maidstone. They made specific medical claims about osteopathy and they are wrong. I complained to the ASA and the College had to provide the medical evidence for their claims. They could not because Osteopathy is bulshit. The ASA told them they had to remove the leaflet from circulation. However all those leaflets were already out there.

The “College” still runs. I’ve just browsed their website and I can’t find any dubious claims, only a rather large amount of bullshit non-specific language.

A few years ago the British Chiropractic Association [chiropractic is like osteopathy but even more bullshit] sued Simon Singh for a minor comment he made. Eventually the BCA lost the case and had to withdraw all the claims they make. At the time they sent an email out to their members saying that chiropractors shouldn’t make any medical claims on their websites and to remove those claims. A computer specialist created a program to scour the internet for chiropractic pages, search them and look for certain medical claims. There were plenty. That person then reported all those chiropractors to local trading standards. Here’s The Guardian article about that issue.

It is only by having astute members of the public that harm within adverts can be defeated. Please be aware of the problems with advertising and please take take anything you see advertised as legitimate.

The Truth

It’s wrong to lie.

It’s your honour.

These are both slightly different ways of saying the same thing I think. We expect people to be honourable and largely I think that means that actions should match the words that people say. We expect people to essentially tell the truth, to speak words which are not false.

I’d considered this a lot over my life. What is “honour”? What does it mean to be honourable? How can we measure this aspect of life? I spent quite a while thinking about it from a religious point of view. People have died for what they say they believe. People have been tortured and not rescinded their stated views about which god or set of beliefs is theirs.

I don’t entirely understand that. I think that is because I have a level of un-belief beyond most. I don’t believe that god is real and therefore it doesn’t matter what you say about it. It doesn’t matter what magic spell you whisper before you go to bed, none of it will do a thing. If I was required to, I would lie about my belief to continue living, but ultimately I know that doesn’t matter. St. Peter isn’t going to be waiting for me to tell me I fucked up by lying about my belief.

However, we expect people to be honourable. We expect people to tell the truth. If we are to accept what people are then we need that level of trust that we see them how they really are. Which means the truth.

If you want to be in a relationship, whether friendship or romantic, then it’s likely there needs to be truth for the relationship to be trustworthy. For partner A to rely on B a level of trust needs to be developed, this requires actions to match up with words that are said [I think I’ve just sold the religion issue I mentioned earlier, I have to relationship with religion or god and so don’t care].

How can you trust someone who constantly lies or rebuts you with little lies?

[An aside on little lies – we all make little lies. Lying is a very early trait of humans that is learnt. People are remarkably good a lying. It’s why it’s hard to tell if someone is lying or not. NEWS ALERT – LIE DETECTORS DON’T WORK.]

So, lying. Little lies are things that make life a little more comfortable and seem to have few side effects. We use these constantly as people to make our lives a little easier each day. It’s easy. It’s learnt behaviour.

Proper lies are a different matter. How can you trust a person who lies about things that matter?

[Another aside – “things that matter” is a continuum and and the level of consequence will be different for different people.]

You can’t develop trust if someone lies about what they said or what their actions were or what happened. Without trust you don’t have a relationship. These had been my thoughts until about three years ago. I’d been bemused by the idea of honour because I thought about it mostly framed within the religion question.

So let’s talk about politicians.

We now have world leaders who lie. Blatantly.

We have always expected politicians to be slimy bastards. We have always know that politicians or other people in power are expected to do things and then try to explain what they did in the slipperiest terms so that the “spin” is that they look good. We have always expected politicians to not lie. I don’t think we expected them to tell the truth all the time but we don’t expect them to lie. We expect them to squirm their way around the issues and leave the question unanswered while they sit in the knowledge that they “got away with that one”.

We have always a vague level of honour amongst politicians that at least they wouldn’t outright lie. They might skirt the issue but, when pressed, they would be “honourable”. That’s why in the past politicians would resign straight away from their government post if they were caught lying. They would understand that the measure of trust has been reduced to zero with those lies. They would resign as a politician though, of course not, they’d still be selected by their local party because people are stupid.

Then you get tow main things in the western world.



The vote for Brexit was based on lies and influence from foreign agents. Even when caught out politicians like Gove and Johnson just carry on. They haven’t resigned. They haven’t apologised for the lies they told. They are still in their jobs and still in power. The level of trust between the public and those politicians and politicians in general has been eroded because of the lies told and still being told by the pro-Brexit groups.

Trump lies. All the time. Demonstrably. He’s also a racist, white supremacist. However, he lies. Constantly. How can there be a level of trust with this man? It doesn’t matter what he says because he’s lying or doubling down and his actions don’t match his words. There is still a massive industry of news in the USA and the world that hangs on his every word because of his position of power in the world. Yet, he lies. There can be no trust.

The way to hurt Trump the most would be to remove the press corps from him. To remove him entirely from the news cycle, except for Fox news I guess, that would hurt the narcissistic orange man-baby.

What’s worse is that his approval ratings are STILL HOVERING AT ABOUT 40%. It’s clear that some of the public don’t care about what he says or that he’s lying. They just know he’s “their man”. Fuck This Shit.

Also, those local party selection committees, for Gove and Johnson and all the others who have blatantly lied, they keep electing those lying arses to represent their constituency in parliament. Those people are selfish fuckers but I think I shall leave my derision for them for another day.

It’s only when things mess up that you realise just how good things were for you I think. I don’t think the Blair/Obama governments were perfect but it is quite clear that they were better than the world leaders we have today. Man, this world is depressing at the moment.

Multi Tasking

There’s a common myth that humans can multi-task and work well at all the tasks upon which they are concentrating. First, let’s discuss the term multi-task. It’s derived from computer speak then best definition is:

apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time.

Now, I am going to mention what the science tells us about multi-tasking. When I say science in any of my communications I mean the broad consensus of the outcomes of scientific studies. I don’t mean just what a single scientist or person says, I aim to give you the CONSENSUS. Over time science has looked at things, asked questions and tried to answer them. The human endeavour has produced, over time, a consensus on how reality works. When we find errors we correct them. Science is a self correcting process. If things are wrong, science will correct them. The consensus changes with our latest understanding of what is correct. You will always be able to find a scientist who will disagree with the consensus, especially with politically charged ideas [anthropogenic global climate change], but the consensus is important as it gives us the best ideas of how things work.

OK, my research here is mostly from Wikipedia. I am perfectly aware that this can be a site that has reliability issues, but on matters of science I think it is a good start point. I would NOT look at Wikipedia to get a balanced view of politics or people, but on science issues it is very good.

There has been a reasonable amount of research into human multi-tasking and the results of these experiments indicate that although we can switch tasks quite quickly we can perform none at the best of our ability. If you multitask you are going to do all the jobs to a poorer standard than if you concentrate on a single thing at a time. Moreover, if you wish to complete all tasks to a good ability then you will get them done quicker if you concentrate on a single task at a time.

Our brain is NOT a computer and the analogy fails all the time if it is thought of as a computer. Our memory is remarkably plastic, our brain function is plastic and our concentration can only really be on one thing. If you start reading about how our brains work and the amount of information they ignore and just make up you will be very surprised.

There is no evidence that there is a gender difference in multi-tasking, so if people say women are good at it you should correct them. You should also correct people who say they can multitask. Point out the evidence says that you will perform the tasks less well than if you cover them individually. These people will try to argue from personal experience but they would be wrong to do so. We are very subject to confirmation bias and incorrect thoughts that personal experience is pretty much always subjective. The reality is often different – just remember that dancing bear in the basketball players video.

I was going to give you personal examples of failures to multitask, but my previous paragraph excludes me from doing so. In which case I will just give you some more general ideas to confirm in your heads that what I say is generally true [I’m using your preponderance to have confirmation bias as a route to accepting this communication].

Ever been driving and talking or doing something and then suddenly thought: I don’t remember the last mile of driving?

Ever phased out of a conversation because something is happening in the background?

If you talk to people who design cockpits for airplanes they will always talk about reducing the pilot work-load. This is so that the pilot can concentrate on flying the plane rather than have to worry about checking things all the time and flicking switches. If the pilot has a reduced work-load s/he will be better at doing his/her job properly and being aware of the important things.

When driving cars it is important to concentrate on the driving aspect of being on the road and not other stuff happening in the car. It is your job to make sure you are safe to you and the other road users around you. If things go wrong it is your concentration that could save you and others. The problem is that for most of the time when driving nothing goes wrong and so people concentrate minimally on driving and spend their time “multi-tasking”. This reduces their ability to pay attention to what is going on around them. Gladly it is quite rare for shit to happen but it does happen and you need your whole attention when it does. Pilots spend their entire careers practising over and over again the drills needed to save an aircraft and the lives on board so that if/when it does happen they can automatically make the right decisions. We don’t practise any of this in cars, apart from an emergency stop for our driving test, and so this causes problems when things do go wrong. People are not practised at what to do. I would argue that this is largely because it is not financially worth it to save a few lives on the roads compared to the investment that would be needed to make everyone practise car saving techniques regularly.

That last paragraph loses the plot a little. But here’s the summary and a little more exposition. People can only perform a single task to their total ability. If they attempt to multi-task then the overall effect is a significant drop in their output and understanding.

In terms of education this communication explains why children can’t do homework in front of the television. I would also argue that listening to music will hamper their understanding as they will concentrate on the music and not what they are studying, or they are doing both but to poor effect. I have some music on while writing this but I couldn’t tell you what words they are singing because I am mostly concentrating on this writing. I am using the music to block out other distractions and this may prove useful for learning if it is in an environment where there are auditory distractions. Finally, we take examinations in quiet rooms because the quiet allows us to concentrate on the task in hand.

Now, for some Gran Turismo.

Skeptical Pat

Just watched an episode of Postman Pat, or rather, just turned over and caught the last little bit. I was feeding son #2 rather than enjoying the stop-motion for myself. The episode was called Postman Pat and the Magic Lamp.
Now I’m going to have to guess what the story was about but I think the kids (all with ginger hair, Pat’s hair is ginger, you figure it out) found a lamp that they considered magic. I think they made wishes and then waited for them to come true. When Pat spoke to them he said:

Wishes only come true like that in books and stories. If you want something to come true then you have to work yourself to make it come true.

This is surely an excellent lesson, not only for children but also for every person on the planet. What a skeptical chap.

Negative Quesitons

This is another of those annoying language things that stems from my rather literal language processing unit. See my previous post about starting letters. I am not far enough into the spectrum to follow instructions or comprehension literally but I do struggle trying to answer negative questions in a true manner. Once again there common usage issues that I believe to be amazingly wrong but most people seem to accept them.

If something is amazing then the following:

Is that an amazing aircraft manoeuvre?

is easy to answer. Yes for agreeing with the statement and no for disagreeing. However the question:

Isn’t that an amazing aircraft manoeuvre?

is remarkably hard to answer. I believe the vernacular is to answer “yes” if I am saying that it is an amazing manoeuvre. But if I answer “yes” then I think I am agreeing with the statement which is

Is that not an amazing manoeuvre?

and that reverses the meaning of my answer. Arrrrggghhh! Similarly other questions can confuse me enough that I answer very differently. So, if I had just seen an amazing manoeuvre then the following would be the conversation:

“wasn’t that an amazing manoeuvre?”
“It was amazing”

This means I have not answered an impossible question and also managed to keep my head from exploding with diverse logic implications.
Other examples are:

“aren’t you going to the cinema?”
“isn’t that band great?”

So, please don’t ask me perfectly normal questions, it just hurts.

World suffering and Star Trek

I just thought it would be a good idea to mention two things I have heard recently on a podcast. I have to thank Mike Hall of Merseyside Skeptics for these particular rebuttals:

Ever wondered why there is so much suffering in the world?
It’s because some people are dicks and shit happens. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about supernatural beings with beards in the sky.

Quoting the bible to me?
If what you’re saying would make the same amount of sense and have the same meaning had Captain Kirk said it in Star Trek then I will be willing to listen to your point. The bible is not the word of god. It is the word of men who believe in god. That’s quite a different thing.

There, two nice little things I wanted to remember.

Mathematics – the path to understanding

Science is about observing our world, making predictions and then seeing if we are correct. What a wonderful and beautiful method for understanding our world. Much preferable than relying on an ancient book and a mystical bearded man in the sky.
Mathematics is the key to science. Understanding mathematics gives you the tools to probe scientific models and to make predictions. It’s also how we know what we know and allows us to decide what works. Bit by bit our models of the natural world change and improve and feed on the evidence presented by our research.
Be good at mathematics, or at least be hard working. It can be rote learnt but it’s much better to have the flair and natural ability. This system is rather hard on those who can’t follow the maths, but there are plenty of people willing to popularise science in TV shows and books. There’s just not an excuse for trying, or trying to find out.

I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors.
James Caballero

Religion, the mother of all conspiracies

This is going to be a big one, not necessarily long just hitting at the basis of belief. Think I need to explain bit by bit and just so you know I don’t think it’s a modern conspiracy like the New World Order or so called 911-Truthers.

So firstly let’s face the reality of existence and admit there is no god, none of any faith. It’s quite clear that after reading around the history of religion and the psychology of belief and add in a little evolutionary theory that Mankind needs to have a supernatural agent. A being that can be blamed for things we don’t understand or to explain random events. There is no god, because if it were to exist outside our physical realm and not affect us then we have no need to understand it, but if god were to exist within and affect our realm then it should be detectable. The effect is not detectable.

It is nice that everyone enjoys a good story and that as social creatures we tell and re-tell stories, often embellishing them messages to get our particular point of view across. I’m happy to have myths on the origins of the Earth and the universe, it’s fun to tell a riveting tale. In reality we have a creation story based on all the observable evidence and it varies quite a lot from camp fire tales of 2000 years ago. Keep your stories but I prefer to follow the evidence.

Religious Texts
For too long Chinese whispers, mistranslations and blatant forgery written in the holy books of the world have been used to suppress and force people into acting as “they should”. Most of the biblical stories have no evidence for their reality and so most are made up or forged using older texts as a basis for modern manipulation. The arcane rules set down by organised religion that have nothing to do with love and compassion astound me. The puppets of god’s so called power should stand forth and announce to the world the truth about the lies they expound and endorse. The leaders of the faithful should admit the problems and forgeries within the texts and develop a more caring, humanist view of the world.

Organised Religion
Any organisation can, at the roots, be about belief and faith in the greater good. Some companies like to do good, some churches like to do good but what is the bigger picture?Companies are there to make money. Churches are there to maintain a healthy flock and in some cases to make money and create a power base. The problem is that all organisations are about power. The churches are no different. Once you get into hierarchy you gain power and it becomes harder and harder to face reality based on evidence. There is plenty of cognitive dissonance in everyday life but probably more in the churches. There is little chance to influence the direction of a big organisation especially when it’s about keeping the flock oppressed.

The Good of the People
Religion seems to be little about doing things for the good of the people and more about keeping the guilt and fear in people so that they never leave the flock. Churches make people feel guilty about their  behaviour and where can they go to feel better and get absolution? Their church.

Are we really living in a time when people believe that the way an animal is slaughtered can please or displease a god? That having a foreskin is against god? That being gay and loving another human being is against god? That missing a prayer gets you sent to hell? That not wearing a condom and  then dying of AIDS is the great plan? That god is a certain nationality? That intercessory prayer works? That religious people deserve to be heard in moral debates just because they believe in god? That morals can only come from god? That the Earth is 6000 years old? That religion has its place in government? That Jesus existed? That the exodus happened?

The way to be good to people and accept the world for what it is, without god.
Look it up and treasure it.

The best tool we have for understanding our world. We make predications based on observations and then see if we are right. Then adjust our predictions and try again. What better way could there be for learning what is true?

So, religious leaders lie about god, they lie about morals and they lie about the historical evidence. Yet they still maintain they are correct. That is your conspiracy.

Material World 23/06/11

Quentin Cooper discussed health reporting in UK newspapers with Dr William Lee, King’s College London and Roger Highfield, Editor of New Scientist. Material World.
Roger Highfield made the argument that newspapers are for entertainment and that the fact that around 70% of the claims made in their health articles were not backed up with evidence was justifiable. His reasoning was that journalists often have short deadlines and that the readership was able to tell the difference between what was true and what was not. He is quite wrong.
Newspapers are expected to tell the truth and to have evidence to back up what they report. The fact that people fail to trust newspaper science reporting is mostly due to newspapers reporting either poor research or researching poorly. The general public have lost faith in the trust of reporters to report what they know.
If the tabloids are generally read by the not so educated then those newspapers have a lot of responsibility for their readers’ health. People aren’t clever enough to judge the science and evidence for claims made in papers. Half of the population has below average intelligence and probably doesn’t understand the sceptical process of critical thinking about scientific claims. I await the time that a tabloid is sued for causing the death of someone who took their broccoli health plan seriously. The readers of the Daily Mail deserve whatever they get given the excrement they read.
The responsibility for the understanding of health articles relies with those writing the articles, not those who read them.

How to eat an apple

Apart from using a knife (or not) and cutting up an apple I can think of predominantly two ways of eating an apple. This does matter because one way is correct and the other is not so correct.

Circumferential or the Segment method?

A circumferential eater will take a bite, rotate the sphere using the core as the axis and take another bite. This will result in a curve of apple exposed around the great circle of the apple. Then another line of bite is taken from each end (assuming that the eater has a big enough mouth to bite to the core)
A segmental eater takes bites out of the apple from stalk to opposite pole. This results in a segment being eaten and then the apple being rotated to start the process again.
The problem is exposure of the flesh of the apple to the air to turn brown and this needs to be minimised. In the segment method the area exposed for significant time is constant. For the circumferential method the area exposed increases with time.

Area comparison

Which leads to:

Radius comparison

The analysis shows that if your bite radius is greater than 0.140 of the radius of the apple then you should eat in segments. Apart from small mammals the bite radius is going to be more than 14% of the apple radius, unless there is a huge apple variety waiting to be discovered.

Apple Problem

Apple Problem

This post was necessary because every time I eat an apple my wife tells me I am eating it the wrong way.