Category Archives: Science

Santa and the International Space Station Fly By


Christmas is a wonderful time of year. It’s commercialisation has opened the festival to everyone as Sunny Hundal explains:

Christmas is perhaps the most widely celebrated festival in the world, even with non-Christians, because a bunch of commercialised non-religious rituals have sprung up around it.

Santa and his flying reindeer are part of the magic, as presents appear over night under the tree and in stockings.

Yet that tradition of Santa being the one delivering the presents is dying out according to a Pew poll.


From 72% to 31% telling children that Santa comes round with the presents Christmas Eve/Day. Massive change in how the celebration of Christmas is told.

Which is where the International Space Station, which will be visible in the UK at 5:22PM (weather permitting) comes in:

Festive flyover by the International Space Station could look a lot like Father Christmas and his sleigh, the Met Office suggests

It may be the perfect opportunity to show the little ones Santa on his way: a bright light zooming across the sky, just after nightfall on Christmas Eve. [Daily Telegraph]

It rather seems the perfect opportunity to fire little ones with the wonder of science. What they can see is a space port which over 200 people have visited. It’s weight is equivalent to 5,000 of me.

Not only that, but it is an orbital laboratory conducting a range of experiments and examining the universe. Even up there orbiting the earth an astronaut can tweet this photo.


In the night sky you see what humanity can do. Coming together we can reach for the stars.

That really is worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas!

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Culture, Religion, Science, secular, World

Dr Taylor’s Shirt – We Also Landed on A Comet


A defining moment in human history in the technological and space age. We landed a probe on a comet. For most though, what really is out of this world is human affection. Like for example, a friend making a shirt for another. Using their creativity to show how much someone means to them. It might not make the world go round, but it makes the journey worth it.

Doctor Matt Taylor, the Rosetta Project Scientist at the European Space Agency, is a person to celebrate. The son of a bricklayer, he is the embodiment that science is open to all those that want to reach for the stars. His appearance, with tattoos uncovered and a shirt that was homemade by a female friend of his, rocked the world as much as his team’s achievements.

ESA can land their robot on a comet. A comet! It’s amazing. But they still can’t see misogyny under their noses. It’s painfully ridiculous. Pointing this out is not a distraction to the science. It’s part of it. It’s time science finally realised that. [Alice Bell: Guardian]

Nothing like crassly using the man of the hour to make the serious point that we live under patriarchy, women are under represented in science, and misogyny exists in the workplace from the factory floor to the laboratory. Except the article really was more about the need for scientists and journalists to understand casual sexism. No mention that the shirt was made by a good female friend, but not in appalling labour conditions under low wage conditions like the feminist Fawcett t-shirts “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

He apologized for having caused offense. His friend, who made the shirt for him, was standing firm:

Alice Bell in The Guardian “Political Science” article mentioned the online interview with the Wall Street Journal that Matt did. Some other questions he was asked “Can a person with tats all over their arms really be trusted??” (reply “Yes”) but this was the one where she quoted him, but not the question:

Sandeep Mukare: It’s generally agreed that a tattooed man can’t achieve great thing but you are an exception & My Q is how did u do it?

Matt Taylor (via WSJ): The people i work with dont judge me by my looks but the work that i have done and can do. Simple.

There were a number of questions about his tattoos. Appearance which breaks expectations gets way too much attention compared to the achievements and contributions that person can make. It reminded me of the article by Francesca Stavrakopoulou:

 Jonathan Wolff’s column about the way academics dress caused uproar on my Twitter and Facebook feeds this week. And rightly so. Despite occasionally acknowledging that some academics might be women, his comments betrayed his assumption that academics are male, for apparently their default uniform comprises trousers, a jacket, a shirt and a tie.

As the online interview showed, by having tattoos his credibility and responsibility to lead a European Space Agency was called into question. The irony of how visuals (let alone gender) cause people to form subjective opinions on others was lost in the rush to stick it to the man with a garish taste in shirts. Who had just helped in one more leap for humankind, and instead of tears of joy was forced to shed tears of humiliation by the condemnation of a social media mob.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Science, technology

Video: Why Science Is NOT ‘Just A Theory’

We believe this film could also be a useful resource for science teachers wanting to convey the subject-specific meaning of “theory” to their students. Showing it to the class after a discussion around children’s understanding of the word might form part of a lesson on “how science works”, for example.

And who knows, if enough people watch and share the film [above], perhaps it’ll encourage people to think more deeply before they argue about well-established science and claim that it’s “just a theory”? [Royal Institution Blog]

Jim Al-Khalili narrates the video enthusiastically, and is quoted above discussing the purpose behind the video. The animation by Jack Kenny is reminiscent of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and works well. Alom Shaha’s words are well represented by them both – in three minutes the distinction between a scientific theory and a passionate opinion down the pub is articulately communicated without talking down to anyone.

Please do share and enjoy the video!


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Sam Harris Meme On Rape

With the magic wand remark, here is the full quote:

Saltman: Your analogy between organized religion and rape is pretty inflammatory. Is that intentional?

Harris: I can be even more inflammatory than that. If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology. I would not say that all human conflict is born of religion or religious differences, but for the human community to be fractured on the basis of religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible, in an age when nuclear weapons are proliferating, is a terrifying scenario. I think we do the world a disservice when we suggest that religions are generally benign and not fundamentally divisive.

Dawkins recent tweets on rape, and these old ones of Sam Harris quotes, are a reminder. It is not just what you mean but how it comes across that people judge you on.

Memes never provide the full context. Google.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Religion, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Science

The Rapprochement That Never Quite Comes


How do you forgive a mother who blames your childhood self for the religious fundamentalism she had taught to you as a kid? Reminiscing on my childhood, reading the leaked Peter Clarke report on Birmingham “Trojan Horse”Schools”

Recently my mother asked why I am interested in, and write, about religion. I pointed out that us studying with Christian fundamentalists like the Jehovah’s Witnesses for six years helped. False religion needed to be understood. It was also grounded into me the separation of church and state – and for us to be no part of this world.

Her response floored me. It was apparently all my fault. I had asked, at the age of eight, why it rained in the UK but not in Africa. A question she posed to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their answer led to us studying with them.

By the time I was thirteen, she said she was having doubts. I told her demons were trying to take her away from the Truth.

How my adult self wanted to reply. It was not me that invited my personal weekly study with them for two hours each week from age of eight to fourteen at the family home. Or the other three meetings we went to each week. Where I was taught how demons can tempt you, and influence other people. That almost everyone, save us, were going to die.

End of the World


A constant refrain: the end of this system of things would be soon. In late 1980s the people that had seen 1914 were nearly dead. Armageddon had to come in their lifetime. As the Governing Body proclaimed to the faithful. With a disabled brother, a paradise earth seemed the best chance for him. He was there automatically. I had to make sure I was with him. By following Jehovah to the letter, as dictated by the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society.

My mother pulled me out of school so I could study more. We watched the first Iraq War as a sign of the impending Second Coming. Elders saw prophecies of Daniel, and Revelation, in these unfolding news events. In the end, the aerial was pulled off the roof to protect us from satanic propaganda and evil broadcasts. We hankered down, calling on the name of Jehovah.


I know my mother regrets having studied with them. She romanticises the period. But I am blamed for believing everything I read and was told by the adults that had access to me. A product of my environment, I was the ultimate fundamentalist. The promise of a new world made me hide away from the outside world. My private study reinforced what I was being taught. Faith was absolute, dawn to night, by thought and deed.

Instead of being prepared for the real world, I was ready for the spiritual war that was sure to come. Absorbed in a monoculture doomsday cult, which I gave myself completely too. No one stopped me taking what these adults said seriously. Religious freedom seemed to allow my interactions to be almost solely confined to the Kingdom Hall congregation. As “bad associations spoil useful habits.”

I had the mind of a sponge, soaking up the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as proclaimed in their books and magazines. I broke myself free only by realising science and not the bible would have to prove a creator was necessary or not. Which led to reading old publications that showed the Jehovah’s Witnesses had regularly made up things which never happened. Or changed belief, while still quoting scripture to justify a position, now at odds with previous teaching.

Mercifully my mother was already of a mind to leave when I realised at 14 how duped we had been. So we left as a family. But I have to draw the line at a child being blamed for their own indoctrination. One that very nearly destroyed my life chances in a world that through it’s misery, conflict and strife, keeps turning.

Whatever our beliefs or none, we need to work together to make the world a better place to wake up to then it was when we went to bed. One aspect is the separation of church and state. I would add also, separation of church from classroom.


Trojan Horse Plot

Reading Peter Clarke’s report into attempts to impose religious orthodoxy in state schools in Birmingham, I hear parallels with my upbringing. How women are seen as temptresses. Students becoming religious prefects of their own accord, a limited education on other faiths and promotion of their own.

[Peter Clarke] also found evidence of a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.

The agenda would have confined “schoolchildren within an intolerant, inward-looking monoculture that would severely inhibit their participation in the life of modern Britain,” the leaked report says. [BBC]

No indoctrination should be happening to children. Nor can they be blamed as they reinforce what they are taught. They are a product of their upbringing. They are innocent. Needing an education, which includes academic religious studies to understand diversity, prepared to live as a well adjusted adult. Not religious instruction to reinforce a narrow understanding of the world to limit their interactions with society.

I have forgiven my mother – but I have not forgotten.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Politics, British Society, Jehovah's Witnesses, Religion, Science, secular