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

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Autism charity founder is anti-vaccination campaigner

The founder of a British autism charity is an anti-vaccine campaigner with strong links to the discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield. Polly Tommey, who believes that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, founded the US and UK branches of the Autism Trust and produced a highly controversial film (Vaxxed) directed by Mr Wakefield alleging a link between vaccines and the condition. Scientists and campaigners have expressed concern that Ms Tommey’s role in the charity was in conflict with her views about vaccines. Jon Spiers, chief executive of the charity Autistica, called the film highly irresponsible.  (From the Times, 1.2.17)

Prof. Hans Rosling dies at the age of 68

Swedish professor Hans Rosling has died on 7 February 2017, a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 68 years old.

Hans Rosling

Professor Rosling made a name for himself internationally as an outspoken promotor of a factual approach to looking at the state of the world. Celebrated by the Swedish and international public for his dedication to demonstrate how the public world view is often inaccurate, Prof. Rosling was highly regarded by the skeptical movement, among other things giving a superb talk at the European Skeptics Congress 2013 in Stockholm, as well as several TED talks.

Prof. Hans Rosling received the award “Enlightener of the Year” 2006 by the Swedish Skeptics Association (VoF).

Over the last couple of years he continued to work relentlessly to show the true facts about the immigration crises in Europe among other things, and during the Ebola epidemic 2015 he personally flew down to Liberia and spent several months there helping out as a volonteer, while constantly keeping the public at large informed of the extent of the disaster. Often controversial in his approach, he resented the focus on him as a person while insisting that the facts are what is important.

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Memorandum “About pseudoscientific status of the homeopathy” by Russian Academy of Sciences

The Committee Against Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research under the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences has prepared a memorandum “About pseudoscientific status of the homeopathy.” The document says: “The treatment of ultra-low doses of homeopathic remedies does not have scientific basis”. The Committee offered to withdraw all homeopathic medicines from public clinics, prevent misleading advertising for them and do not offer customers homeopathy alongside traditional medicines. The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS Russia) supported this memorandum. The Ministry of Health promised to respond to the arguments of the memorandum after it goes into the possession of the Office.

A manifesto for reproducible science

El País, one of Spain’s biggest national dailies, recently published this article discussing the crisis of reproducibility and quality of papers and research in medicine and science in general.

The article came as a response to the publication of a manifesto for reproducible science by a group of investigators from the USA, UK and the Netherlands led by John Loanndis from the University of Stanford.

British study to ‘immunise’ against fake news

Scientists from the University of Cambridge, led by Dutch social psychologist Dr Sander van der Linden, are developing a method to ‘vaccinate’ news readers against misinformation.

Their research, using climate change denial as an example, shows that it works well to briefly mention that there is criticism against the consensus on the subject, but provide an easy-to-refute example of this. When someone will later come across similar criticism in a fake news story, they will be prone to reject it. However, if conspiracy theories are given too much attention, and treated with a more detailed debunk, this has an adverse effect on the readers, who will more likely believe the next hoax article that they are presented with.

The key is finding the right dosage that helps people protect themselves against nonsense.

More information in English – Meer informatie in het Nederlands

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?