News headlines from Europe about skeptical activism, mythbusting, science related policy decisions, consumer protection, frauds, health scams, alternative medicine, bad scientific practices, pseudoscience etc.

The new media crisis – Part 1: Fake News

The ongoing process of digitization has changed both the media and also us as media consumers profoundly. On the internet, you can not only inform yourself about almost anything, but you get bombarded with information from all sides. This has certainly positive effects. But, unfortunately, there is one major downside: How should you know which content you can trust?

Marko and Tobias explore the different types of fake news in the latest episode of the podcast skeptisCH.

Electromagnetic Radiation, Antennae and Health

Want to learn more about electromagnetic radiation in general? Mobile telephone towers? Human health and electric fields? Is there a connection between high tension electricity cables and cancer? Tired of the hype and outlandish claims?

Spanish skeptics have an extensive archive with loads of information about this and other subjects. Like this one, they haven’t all been posted in the last fortnight but they’re still have plenty to offer.

Check out this deep dive into all these questions and more.

 

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Mystery of ghostly noises in Swansea solved

An amusing story about a monthly wailing noise that has been troubling the people of Swansea in Wales for the last two years (Google ‘Swansea siren’). Until recently the source of the sound was a mystery but much importance was attached to the fact that the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Maybe the noise was the ghost of the warning sirens that sounded 75 years ago (http://tinyurl.com/jv7b26r)? Officials spent more than a year investigating the sounds, which start before dawn and go on into the early morning. Now the source has been traced to Vale Europe nickel refinery in nearby Clydach which is required to test its emergency evacuation procedure once a month. But will this explanation satisfy everybody?

Swedish Skeptics announce the awards for 2016

The Swedish Skeptics Association (aka Vetenskap och Folkbildning, or VoF) has awarded science editor Maria Gunther and medical journalist Amina Manzoor of the science editorial at DN (Dagens Nyheter) with the prize Enlightener of the Year 2016 (DN is the largest morning paper in Sweden). The Swedish Skeptics Association hereby wants to emphasize the importance of leading media understanding the value of maintaining a permanent and accurate reporting of current scientific research.

Says Dan Katz, Press Officer at VoF: “It is imperative that the established media helps the public to navigate the arbitrary flow of information which bombards us all on-line. In this turmoil the science editorial of DN are shining like beacon of facts in the dark.”

The award for Obscurantist of the Year 2016 goes to former head of Karolinska Institutet (KI), Anders Hamsten, together with others in the management of KI who helped to cover up the fraudulent research performed by surgeon Paolo Macchiarini.

Says Peter Olausson, acting president of VoF: “It is particularly severe that the management totally disregarded the investigation that pointed out what had happened. It is a mockery of the patients concerned and of all serious science researchers who cannot, and will not, compromise ethics and good science.”

New Wikipedia biography about Dutch skeptic

Pepijn van Erp at the 2014 Skepsis Congres. (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

In recent years, mathematician Pepijn van Erp has risen to prominence within the skeptical movement in the Netherlands. He started blogging about flawed application of statistics in both scientific and pseudoscientific articles, and got involved with Stichting Skepsis as a board member in 2012.

Nowadays he regularly writes articles on various dubious claims in an investigative journalistic style on skeptical blog KloptDatWel.nl (mostly in Dutch) and his own website (mostly in English). Van Erp is occasionally invited to give his expert opinion on radio shows about conspiracy theories, fake news and other topics that skeptics are concerned about. To him, skepticism is ‘interesting and funny’, but also a ‘civic duty’ to protect people from harm.

The team of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia has written two new biographies about Van Erp, one in English and one in Dutch, to explain to the general public what his activism is about.

Knowledge, rationality and secularism

This was the first talk in a series of the same name that will have monthly editions till June 2017. Experts from the fields of Philosophy, physics, anthropology, medicine, chemistry, biology and sociology will all contribute to these reflections on secularism and freedom of conscience.

If you are going to be visiting Granada in the upcoming months why not check out a session, all of which will take place at 19in the University’s scientific documentation centre.

The video for the first session is now available.

https://laicismo.org/2016/video-conferencia-conocimiento-racionalidad-y-laicismo-por-andres-carmona-en-granada/156232

Netherlands: 50% officially not religious

Author Franca Treur (atheist) and presenter Tijs van den Brink (Protestant) discuss religion in TV series “Adieu God?” (2013)

For the first time in Dutch history, the official number of religious and irreligious people is equal, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports.  The percentage of religiously affiliated citizens above age 18 dropped from 55% in 2010 to 50% last year, a turning point in the ongoing process of secularisation. The current figures are:

  • Roman Catholicism: 24%
  • Protestantism (various denominations): 15%
  • Islam: 5%
  • Other (incl. Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism): 5%
  • Unaffiliated: 50%

There are large geographical differences, with the more urbanised West (North and South Holland) being the most secular, the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg being the most (nominally) Catholic.

Church service in Doornspijk, the Bible Belt. (Rubenf CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Only 1 in 6 people still regularly attend religious services though. In the conservative Protestant Bible Belt, running across the country from the southwest to the northeast, this figure is higher, sometimes over half, and in the case of Urk 94%.

The actual percentage of believers is much lower than 50%, however. A lot of people still registered as members of a church are actually not religious (anymore), but for various reasons have not officially renounced their membership (yet) – a phenomenon known as ‘belonging without believing’. An earlier 2016 survey by Bernts & Berghuijs showed that people’s actual religious convictions were as follows:

  • Roman Catholicism: 11.7%
  • Protestant Church in the Netherlands: 8.6%
  • Other Christian denominations: 4.2%
  • Islam: 5.8%
  • Hinduism and Buddhism: 2.0%
  • Unaffiliated: 67.8%

This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence. Especially the Catholic Church often claims that a quarter of the Dutch population is Catholic, pointing to the official stats, but when questioned, fewer than half that number associate themselves with the Roman faith.

2009 Dutch atheist billboard: ‘There’s probably no god. Dare to think for yourself and enjoy this life!’

According to Bernts & Berghuijs, their attitudes regarding the existence of (a) god(s) were:

  • Atheism: 24% (I don’t believe in gods)
  • Agnosticism: 34% (I don’t know if there are gods or not)
  • Ietsism: 28% (I don’t believe in gods, but there must be something higher/supernatural/more than we can observe)
  • Theism: 14% (I believe there is a God / are gods)

A December 2014 survey showed a similar reversal in public opinion, when for the first time in the Netherlands’ history, more than half of people (63%) thought that religion does more harm than good.

‘Integrative Care’ beds to disappear from Glasgow hospital

A National Health Service board in Glasgow has decided to remove seven inpatient beds at the Centre for Integrative Care at Gartnavel Hospital.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde voted to end funding the beds at a meeting on 20.12.16 in order to save money; services will continue to be provided on an outpatient basis.  The NHS Centre for Integrative Care is the only such service in Scotland and offers a range of alternative therapies for people with long-term conditions such as chronic pain, low energy, low mood and anxiety. It previously operated as the Homeopathic Hospital.