Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carnival of the Africans -- call for submissions

Firstly... many apologies for blogging so little of late -- I've been hanging out in the meatspace...

Secondly, the next Carnival of the Africans is... erm... TODAY. (Hosted by the Lay Scientist). So, because I didn't put out a call for submissions earlier, I think it'll be best to delay the carnival for a day. There's thus more time to send in your submissions, to

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Intrepid Aardvark

I have long advocated skepticism for Africa and now there is a group blog that I hope will become the hub of a dynamic African skeptical movement: The Intrepid Aardvark. We have six authors so far: myself (here is my introduction on the blog), the amazing Angela from The Skeptic Detective, Ivan from subtle shift in emphasis, The Branch Manager from The Monkysphere, Dr. Spurt from Effortless Incitement and Owen from 01 and the universe.

Angela has written the first substantial post, on bad reporting on acupuncture. Go, read!

Skeptics' Circle #105

The 105th edition of the Skeptics' Circle is out over at It's the Thought That Counts. Highlights: Effort Sisyphus on challenges (like Randi's Million Dollar Challenge), The Skeptical Teacher on silly conspiracy theories about the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson river, Bob Carroll of Skeptimedia on teaching critical thinking, and Greta Christina on how sitting around and thinking about stuff doesn't lead to knowledge of God.

Oh, and my modest contribution to this edition was financial Feng Shui bollocks.

Louis Theroux

I never thought I'd have a favorite documentary film maker, but over the last couple of months I've fallen in love with Louis Theroux's magnificent oeuvre. Theroux, son of the famous travel writer Paul Theroux, makes sympathetic but penetrating documentaries about fascinating and often overlooked subcultures, like porn-stars, UFO-hunters, Boer separatists, American black nationalists and body builders. These documentaries are so interesting, it seems to me, because Theroux disarms his interviewees with a (in my view at least, affected) wide-eyed naivete, which, when combined with his genuine affection for people, allows him to to delve impressively deeply into his subject matter.

Anyway, watch and judge for yourself. I've embedded the documentary Theroux made about (the batshit crazy) Westboro Baptist Church below (or click here). You can find more of Theroux's work on Google Video and there are a couple of working Torrents here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Encephalon #63

The 63rd edition of Encephalon is out at Of Two Minds. Posts to check out: The Neurocritic on affluenza, Podblack Cat on moon lunacy, and Neuroanthropology on throwing like a girl.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Skeptics' Circle #104

The 104th edition of the venerable Skeptics' Circle is out at Space City Skeptics. Highlights: Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes on feng shui dieting bollocks; The Perky Skeptic on feeding trolls; Greta Christina on the argument from stupid design; and Homologous Legs on ID and academic freedom.

Blogging for Darwin

February 12th is the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and, to celebrate, there is going to be a blog swarm! I'll certainly be participating, and so can you...

Blogging in South Africa

The results of the survey of the South African blogosphere I alerted my readers to back in August has finally been released. (Well, okay, released in December already. I'm not sure how I missed that one...). The results are fairly interesting overall, and here are some of the highlights (taken from the data pdf):
  • There are about as many male as female bloggers (Female: 51.8%, Male: 48.2% -- which is probably not a statistically significant difference).
  • SA bloggers are pretty well educated (compared to the rest of the population) -- 76% have at least a high school diploma, and well over 20% have post-graduate degrees.
  • Cape Town is South Africa's blogging capitol: nearly 40% of SA bloggers come from there, compared to just over 5% for Durban.
  • IT, media, and marketing-types dominate the SA blogosphere (which conforms to my anecdotal experience).
  • Pretty amazingly, 66% of SA bloggers have been on the internet for at least 10 years and nearly 20% have been blogging for 3 years or more.
  • The majority of the blogs surveyed were personal ones and a plurality of bloggers -- 36% -- started because they wanted 'to express themselves online'.
  • Nearly 10% say they get 5000 or more hits a month but fewer than 5% make at least R1000 off their blogs, and
  • Encouragingly, 20% of the participating bloggers say "voice of reason" best describes them.
A couple of quick notes: this survey is not a representative sample and so self-selection is likely a pretty serious problem. Also, a comparison to, say, US data would be instructive, but I don't have the patience.

The Mouse Man

Guinea Pig in the GrassImage by Laura-Elizabeth via Flickr

One of the things I learned from Jim Endersby's fantastic A Guinea Pig's History of Biology (which I reviewed here) is that progress in biology often depended on the creation of suitable model organisms. That is, before certain scientific questions could be answered, wild-type animals had to be transformed, often laboriously, into model-organisms. New Scientist magazine has a very nice article on the American geneticist C. C. Little (aka "The Mouse Man"), who created an important strain of genetically identical mice.

It's an interesting little vignette in the history of science and biology -- have a look.