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.

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