Thursday, November 27, 2008

Carnival of the Africans #4

Here's Carnival of the Africans number 4. There weren't very many true submissions, and so this roundup is partly based on my foraging for entries. The next issue of this carnival will be hosted by 01 and the Universe on 28 December.

First up, an article on the mythical Tokoloshe (a sort of Southern African leprechaun) at 01 and the Universe, making a few telling observations on the low empirical content of Tokoloshe claims, and offering the plausible hypothesis that good old normal monkeys could explain some of the putative 'data'.

Second, a useful bit of news about an early attempt at a regular sceptics get together in Johannesburg. Better still, the get together takes place in a pub. You can read about it, and if you're anywhere near Jo'burg figure out how to join in, at Acinonyx Scepticus.

Third, is a short but important notice over at Irreverence, regarding an attempt published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, estimating the preventable deaths caused by HIV denialism and other dreadful triumphs of politics over science in South Africa under Thabo Mbeki, and his chosen health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The main bottom lines: 330,000 deaths, and about 35,000 preventable infections of infants.

Fourth, a robustly written article over at Prometheus Unbound, regarding an incident where the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) pulled the plug on one of its own scientists, a Dr. Anthony Turton, who was scheduled to give a keynote address at a conference in Pretoria recently. Turton is an environment specialist, and the talk (which I've read) was about water supply, water quality, and water security in SA. This is only one of a number of worrying encroachments on academic freedom in SA right now.

Fifth, also from Prometheus Unbound, is a spirited notice of some post-modern anti-science smoke blowing from South African philosophy professor Pieter Duvenage. Claassen, who writes Prometheus, seems to think that he's onto an affliction that affects all philosophers, though. Surely shome mishtake? There are plenty of robustly naturalist philosophers (Dennett is perhaps the most obvious example) and there are even a few in SA. My mate Dave gave an impassioned defence of naturalism in his inaugural lecture back in April, and he's a professor of philosophy.

Sixth, and finally for this carnival, is a piece over at The Skeptic Detective, working through a story doing the rounds by email reporting therapeutic benefits -- for treating a cough -- of rubbing Vicks Vaporub on the feet. Sure looks like bollocks to me, and the detective shows why the claims amount to nothing in the form they're stated.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


PraxisI'm hosting the next issue (number 5) of the Praxis carnival here. The issue comes out on 15 December.

Here are the guidelines for the carnival.
Here is the hosting schedule.

Carnival of the Africans #4

So, as I mentioned a little while ago, I'll be hosting the next Carnival of the Africans here at Effortless Incitement. Send submissions, within a day or so, since the carnival takes place on Friday, to

As the guidelines for the Carnival say:c
The aim is to showcase the best blog posts on science, academia, and scientific skepticism by Africans or on Africa.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh crap...

... there I was striving for accessibility:

blog readability test

TV Reviews

InPHO Taxonomy

The Indiana Philosophy Ontology project (InPhO) recently luanched a beta version of its 'Taxonomy Browser' which is a useful portal for browsing and accessing philosophical resources on line. It includes links to articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as Google, Google Scholar, and other searches. It's pretty cool - and mostly automatically compiled, although they admit a little 'human feedback'. There's a more detailed explanation of how it works here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor...

I could survive for 1 minute, 28 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk

Jacob Zuma fears God, and thinks you should too

I have a pet theory that some influential groupings in the ANC in South Africa have opted to give Jacob Zuma (hereafter simply JZ) a longer leash since the 'resignation' of Mbeki, to let him do some damage to himself. I have no evidence for this theory, it's simply an interpretation of what seems to me the difference between his public style before and after.

My local newspaper ('The Mercury' in Durban, South Africa) today includes a front page story with some rather choice quotations. JZ was apparently addressing about 500 religious leaders outside Polokwane in the Limpopo province. He's quoted as saying that "We need to teach people to fear God". In case there's any doubt that he means all people, he goes on to say that "even those who are not religious ... must learn to fear others. We must also learn to fear our ancestors".

JZ apparently claimed people would behave better if they had an imaginary friend who they thought was watching and scary. He suggested that the way to make people have scary imaginary friends was to enforce compulsory morning prayer in schools, and urged the religious leaders to "speak out" when the government enacted laws that were "not in line with the teachings of God".

This is all very bizarre and ridiculous. Religious folk hardly agree on any substantive moral questions. Round up ten or twenty senior religious figures ask ask whether women should be able to act as priests, attend university, dress as they please. Ask whether the death penalty is OK, whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt, whether eating crayfish is OK, etc. We're supposed to improve morality at large by ordering children to listen to the blatherings of a constituency -- the clergy -- that's farther from univocal than a sack of parrots on acid. Go Cope, go. (That's Cope the 'Congress of the People' - which as I write doesn't seem to have a web page. I'll add a link if I find one.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Carnival of the Africans #4

So, I'll be hosting the next Carnival of the Africans here at Effortless Incitement. The guidelines don't indicate that there's a dedicated email address for submissions to the Carnival, but I'll apply the sharp pointy end of my foot to the soft fleshy end of Meadon and see if I can find out more. Bottom line about the Carnival is:
The aim is to showcase the best blog posts on science, academia, and scientific skepticism by Africans or on Africa.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The will to blog...

So, I lost the will to blog for a while. Various reasons, but I think I feel it coming back again. I'm hosting two carnivals over the next few weeks, for a start, and I've read a couple of papers that I feel like writing up.

I'm sort of amazed to see that there are still 25 subscribers. Stick around, though - things should liven up again.