Step up scientists

It’s time scientists step up, step out, and put a stop to this catalogue of bullshit.

Scientists are a measured bunch, probably because their careers involve measuring. But those careers are themselves measured, not only in research output but also the impact of that research.

Scientists are also measured in the language they use. They’re generally cautious, sticking to supporting their statements with quantitive evidence - “In our research, 21% of respondents were shown to…” That type of thing. They prefer not to step out of their comfort zone of measured responses.

Right now we need scientists to stop doing that, and to start speaking with a commoner’s tongue. The media is awash with all manner of bizarre claims about Covid-19, and in the absence of firm, authoritative correction, those claims are taking root in the minds of people desperate for

What glass ceiling?

Abstract: Let's discuss why the glass ceiling isn't... Every time a social commentator or political activist bleats about the ever present 'glass ceiling' hanging in the way of the advancement of women in senior management positions, I want to grab them by the ear and drag them off to the closest magazine stand. It is there where they will find the real culprit - splashed all over those glossy covers. The term 'glass ceiling' dates back to the corporate America of the early 80s. It only really became a 'legitimised' buzzword when it appeared in a March 1986 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Since then it has earned its colours as a rallying flag for feminists and equal rights campaigners. It's just a pity that their passion is blinding them to the real problem - the women themselves. They have no real interest

How big a sucker are you?

Abstract: Think you can spot pseudoscience? Then take the test... Craniosacral therapy is at the very frontier of a branch of neurology that hopes to find cures for many of the debilitating neuromuscular diseases that still challenge medicine; including Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Except it's not. It's actually a non-scientific, so-called 'alternative' form of 'healing' that believes that gently massaging the skull and the sacrum - the large triangular bone at the base of the spine - will align harmony within the body. It'll make you feel good - as any good massage would - but it can't cure you of any neuromuscular disease. The proof is in its own claims: "[it] works with the whole person and changes may (my italics) occur in body, mind and spirit during and after sessions". And there's that key phrase: 'mind, body and spirit' -

Coning? Are you a barbarian?

Abstract: Ever thought of candling to remove 'negative energy'. Then you need a smack to the head. Or to read this... Few things catch my eye in store windows nowadays. Blame it on old age and my perfunctory disregard for all things fashionable. But not so long ago I did a double take when walking past a health shop near my apartment in London. In the window was a picture of a woman lying on her side with a candle sticking out of her ear. It was an advert for a procedure they offered called coning, and which it claimed could cure all manner of ills. I thought it looked rather medieval, even barbaric. That's because it is, and modern science can prove it. Coning, sometimes called 'ear candling' or 'auricular candling' (to try and sound like a proper medical procedure), involves sticking a candle

The state of science journalism in South Africa

Abstract: In a country racked by violent crime, political infighting and scientific ignorance, the quest of the science journalist mirrors that of a famous Greek mythical hero... According to Greek mythology, Prometheus, a titan, forged mankind from clay, and knowing that mankind needed fire to survive, he lit a torch from the sun and brought it to Earth. Zeus considered the fire stolen, and was so incensed he punished Prometheus - an immortal - by having him chained to a rock, and a giant eagle tear at his liver every day. It's a myth imbued with themes of discovery, bravery and loyalty; but the bringing of knowledge, represented by fire, to mankind, is why the analogy of Prometheus is used by the University of Stellenbosch's Professor George Claassen to describe the state of science journalism in his country. Prof Claassen is the popular archetype of

Why you don’t howl at the moon

Abstract: Why claims of lunar-induced lunacy are bollocks... One of the most fascinating people I ever met when I started in radio was the station's late night presenter. He was something of a wistful, so-called New Age character. When I first met him his head was buried in his hands as he bemoaned the fact that it was a full moon that night. "What difference does that make?" I asked him. He gave me a tired smile and shook his head, "'Cos it brings out the crazies." I remember thinking, "Hey, it's the 1980s! Do people still believe that rubbish?" [I may have used another word.] It seems they did - and still do. And not just in a silly, breathless Twilight-Saga-kiss-the-werewolf-and-he-turns-into-a-strapping-young-hunk kind of way. But rather in a furiously nodding, yes-there's-definitely-something-in-it kind of way. So I'd be failing in my duty as Sceptic

The stars and you and the uncomfortable truth

Abstract: The truth about astrology may be a little uncomfortable...but there is a twist... Those who know me are well aware of the special place in my toolbox for those who believe in astrology. It's a compartment that holds a set of jumper cables, which I use to jolt believers of astrology into the real world. However, and to this I must admit, there's a sliver of truth in what they believe; and what's more, there's a twist. Because there's always a twist. Astrology is one of those things that we've inherited from the dark pages of history, when ignorance of science was painted over with the murky hues of occultism. In a way it's like a nasty rash that people love to pick at to see what's underneath. Back in its formative years, supposed 'wise men', known as soothsayers, would conjure up all

Do not look into the light

Abstract: Neurology explains why near death experiences are not glimpses of heaven... Near-death experiences have a terrible habit of sneaking up on you when you least expect them, and for that reason they can be quite bothersome. However what we should never do is see them as opportunities to have a sneak peek at heaven. My such experience was, rather ignominiously, while I was perched upon the toilet. I was gathering my thoughts and thinking about the day ahead, when I was suddenly overcome by the sensation of a cold, wet cloak being thrown over my shoulders. At the same time everything seemed to go dark around me, and I found myself looking down a tunnel of light. I heard the voice of an angel calling my name. I came round to find my wife helping me off the floor and nursing a rather cruddy

He’s just not that into psychology

Abstract: Psychology, it seems, has been hijacked by TV writers of female angst... Maybe it says something about the male human condition that when I die I want to do so in a blaze of glory, saving a toddler from an oncoming train, wrestling a Great White shark, or attempting to defuse a bomb with nothing but a pair of tweezers and nerves of steel. I didn't think it would be clutching my chest whilst crouched next to the psychology section in Exclusive Books. But it seems I have the female human condition to thank for that. When I left school I chose to study clinical psychology because it sounded cool. It was also, I believed at the time, a great place to meet girls. Most of my schoolmates had chosen to study science or engineering, and I certainly didn't fancy my university career

So men only use 10% of their brains?

Abstract: I think we need to nip this one in the bud right away... If you nodded when you read this headline, then I'm afraid you must believe that a prince in Nigeria has left you a fortune and simply needs your banking details to make payment. You see this also an urban myth. However, it's one that masks an insidious undercurrent of dark forces, more attractive than your typical 419 scam, yet equally primed to rob you of your money. I overheard this gem one day while sipping a cappuccino and pondering upon the topic for my next column. Two women, flushed from a busy morning's shopping had collapsed into chairs at the table beside me. They were speaking loudly for no other reason other than to emphasise their frustration with the attention (or not) of a male shop assistant. It's at moments like