Thursday, 22 October 2009

Local skeptics meetups

One of the trends in modern skepticism groups that has been developing across the world is to get together and have a few drinks of choice. The Skeptics in the Pub concept has recently made it to New Zealand and groups have been meeting up in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and now Dunedin.

I for one think that these are a great idea, a great way to keep in touch with old friends and meet new ones, as well as learning something new (which we should all do every day)

My local Dunedin chapter is only a few days old and is light on people so if you are keen click the link and sign up. Of course if you are far away from New Zealand's premier centre of learning go to the main national page (or the links above) where you can find the groups in the bigger cities or even start your own in your town.

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Saturday, 10 October 2009


With spring coming to the southern hemisphere, the blossom and the daffodils are out and the weather is definitely warmer (OK some of the time). But there is a also something bad that also happens, as the sun rises over the polar horizon, and the polar vortex (winds that rotate about the pole) begins to shut down for the summer there is a large patch of stratosphere which has been enclosed in the polar vortex that has an appreciably lower Ozone content. This Ozone "hole" breaks up with the shut down of the polar vortex and regions of lower Ozone content spread out over parts of the southern hemisphere as the two regions diffuse into one an other.

What this means for us that live closer to the South Pole than the equator is that around the time of the southern vernal equinox we tend to get a period of very low ozone over head. So in honour of this and the dangers it can present, I have a series of posts on Ozone.

Firstly, some basics. The Ozone hole is not a region of no Ozone (which is the reason for the scare quotes in the above paragraph) but merely a region of lesser density of Ozone. The hole is defined as a region of Ozone less than 220 Dobson units (DU). This level was chosen as the reference since ozone levels had never been seen lower than this before 1979.

Ozone itself is a relatively unstable allotrope of oxygen (O3). It forms when UV radiation from the Sun breaks the bond between the atoms in the O2 molecule, some of the liberated oxygen atoms then bond with other O2 molecules making O3. This same interaction with UV radiation also breaks down the O3 and it is these two together that are responsible for the UV protection we get from the Ozone layer. Ozone is unstable and quite reactive, especially with molecules containing nitrogen, hydrogen, chlorine, or bromine.

That is enough for today, next in this series we will look at how the Ozone hole has formed and what we have done about it.

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Friday, 2 October 2009

The Advertorial

This has to be what I would call one of the worst in terms of despicable advertising practices. Literally it is designing your advert such that it resembles an article in the newspaper/magazine, and usually the only way to tell is there is the word advertisement in very small text at the top. This is making it seem like the newspaper condones and supports the issues the author is raising, giving his/her position more authority than an opinion piece would.

And strangely enough those that practice this deceptive form of advertising seem to be those that are already attempting to deceive people (or themselves) in other ways about the quality of their product or service, such as alternative medicine (alt med) providers.

Now this might seem a tad harsh on alt med people, but then if the alt med had been shown to work, then it would not be alternative medicine but rather simply medicine.

One recurring example of this practice is seen in a local free weekly (one of many my locale seems to have) I get in my mailbox The Star (digital online version can be found here). Almost every week without fail either on page 3 or 5 (usually at the bottom right) there is an advertorial by a local chiropractor - laying down how we should manipulate our spines to prevent swine flu or some such (perhaps I will scan some in point you to the online version find them on the chiropractor's website and deconstruct them at some point in the near future - it seems just to richer source of fodder to ignore).

Taking the example of this particular chiropractor, on his website under "health news", which is where he says to look for the archive of his ad, he clearly states (emphasis mine):

Here are some of the latest developments in the world of healthcare, with chiropractic commentary from Dr Tat Loo. Tat also contributes occasional feature articles and commentary for the weekly Dunedin based paper The Star which we will be included on this page.
This is exactly the sort of deception which is being practiced in these advertorials trying to pass off ads and opinion as "feature articles".

Any way enough for now... enjoy your weekend, I think I will spend some time looking at the relevant acts and laws regarding false advertising.

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