Sunday, 21 April 2013

This Week in Atheism, Religion and Scepticism – 21/04/2013

Been a while since I worked on a consistent weekly segment for this blog, so I thought it was high time I got something started up again.

My idea for the 'Sunday News Round-Up' is for it to pretty much do what it says on the tin: every Sunday I'll post links to some news articles relevant to topics this blog covers, along with a bit of analysis and discussion from me. I'll break them down by topic, articles relating to atheism and religion in one, articles relating to scepticism in the other.

Right then, let's get this show on the road.


Shirley Chaplin, Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele are back in the news this week, as they're appealing the decision made by the European Court earlier this year. You might recall these three as the guys who complained that their employers were discriminating against them on religious grounds; Mrs Chaplin is a nurse forbidden to wear a cross at work, whilst Mr McFarlane and Miss Ladele are a relationship and marriage counsellor respectively who refused to work with homosexual couples. The former lost his job over it, whilst the latter is claiming that her employers making her work with gay couples would be discrimination.

All the rulings against them were held up in the European Court of Appeals, but now they're back decrying unfair treatment, double-standards and further discrimination against Christians. I do feel a bit sorry for Mrs Chaplin, I must admit; she had been wearing her cross (not exactly a big deal) for thirty years when she was asked to remove it on health and safety grounds, and she did actually offer to modify it so it did not only for this to be refused. The other two I have no sympathy for, however. We're reaching the stage were gay couples are finally starting to gain the right straight couples have solely enjoyed for far too long, and these kind of people can scream that they're not homophobes until Hell freezes over: if you are refusing to work with such couples based solely on their being gay, that's actual discrimination based upon sexual orientation.


Yeah, me neither.

Carla Hale, who had worked at Bishop Watterson High School for nineteen years, had her post terminated because her homosexuality is “a violation of moral law”. No, seriously. That's apparently their reasoning for this bullshit move. I never cease to be astounded by the fact that these people still think they can get away with this sort of thing still. Either way, a shitstorm is brewing, the school is under heavy scrutiny and Hale, who very kindly says that all she wants is her job back, is nonetheless pursuing legal action against the school for it's blatant discrimination against her. She's going to win, there's no doubt about it; the school diocese has no justification for the stunt it's pulled.


And finally for this section some news closer to home for me: a poll in Scotland by the Sunday Times and Real Radio Scotland shows a sizeable decrease in the number of people saying they belong to the Christian faith. This stands in stark contrast to an earlier poll in 2001, which had 65% of respondents saying they were Christian; in this new poll it's dropped to 55%, and those stating that they have no belief in god has risen from just 28% to 39%. Good news all round, by my standards. The National Secular Society, whose analysis of these numbers I'm politely pinching, points out that many people tend to overstate their religious tendencies in these polls, so for all we know the changes might be even larger.

The poll results are available online; you can check them out here.


Anyone remember Andrew Wakefield? The former doctor who kicked off the whole MMR vaccine controversy with his fraudulent 1998 paper that linked the vaccine to autism? Who was using his paper to try and trick the government into using a medical test he had the patent for?

Yeah, well the asshole's back in the news again this week.

In the wake of the reports about Measles spreading in south Wales this month, Wakefield is using this outbreak as an excuse to remind us all that he sadly hasn't stopped breathing and to blame the British government for the whole thing. Yup, the man partly responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of infants because he scared their parents away from vaccines is once again trying to redirect the blame on everyone but himself. Professor Andrew Finn, a specialist in childhood vaccines and an actually credible source of information on these matters, has denounced Wakefield's statements as, and I do quote, “balderdash”:

“His proposal for single vaccines was not based on any observations in his published paper. It came straight out of his head. There has never been any evidence it would have made any difference.”

Wakefield has been struck from the medical record and has fled to the USA, where he continues to perpetrate his particularly noxious brand of bullshit.


If you follow vjack's blog Atheist Revolution, you might remember a post about how you should really reconsider using the Huffington Post as a reliable source of information. Well, please allow me to further stress this point by looking at another article in which HuffPo gives credence to pseudoscience and nonsense over critical thinking.

Specifically this one, in which it gives a soapbox to a group led by New Age woo-peddlar Deepak Chopra who are complaining about TEDx removing pseudoscientific videos from its blog.

Please note that TEDx is not the actual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference; parapsychologists like Rupert Sheldrake, the removal of whose talk Chopra and his friends are protesting, would never manage to get a platform there, due to them actually having standards. TEDx conferences are third-party conferences that license the TED brand in order to gain more attention, but they often don't have the standard of entry their parent group does. Nonetheless, the misuse of the brand can have negative effects on the parent company, and nothing damages ones credibility as a solid source for science than allowing a herd of quantum woo-types to use your name to add much-needed credibility to their ideas.

Thus TED, a private organisation that is free to add or remove whatever it wishes from its blogs, removed their links to several videos of such talks from their site. The videos are still available; they've not been wiped from the internet, so any claims of censorship or a cover-up is nonsense. Chopra and his ilk just seem to get upset when people try to hold their claims up to the same standards as everyone else in the scientific community, and Ariana Huffington is only too happy to offer him a highly visible spot to complain about it from.

That's this week in Atheism, Religion and Scepticism, folks. See you next time.