Episode 144: Twenty Questions

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem talks about Google’s search autocomplete feature, then Lauren, Ashlyn, Laura, and Gem answer twenty of the most popular questions suggested by Google.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that delves into issues of science, critical thinking, and secular humanism.

Correction: When answering the question, “Where is your liver?” Ashlyn misspoke: the liver is of course located below the diaphragm, not above it. Whoops!

Google and Autocomplete: How Google autocomplete works in Search (Google Blog) | Censorship by Google (Wikipedia) | Leaked Google research shows company grappling with censorship and free speech (The Verge) | Google to End Pentagon AI Contract, Will Remain a Defense Contractor (Tom’s Hardware)

How: Avoirdupois system (Wikipedia) | Troy weight (Wikipedia) | How to Make Slime: Our 4 Most Popular Slime Recipes (Home Science Tools) | How to Tie a Windsor Knot (Ties.com) | How to write a cover letter (Youth Central) | Hard Boiled Eggs Recipe (Food Network)

Where: Stages of transcription: initiation, elongation & termination (Khan Academy) | Archibald (Wikipedia) | Where is Xur? | History of pizza (Wikipedia)

Can: Can You Start a Sentence with "Because"? (Writer’s Digest) | Can I give my pet…? (Park Road Veterinary Clinic) | Ibuprofen Poisoning in Dogs (VCA Animal Hospital) | What Shall You Not Wear to an Indian Wedding Reception as a Guest? (Discover India) | Is it Legal to Marry Yourself? (Parry & Pfau)

Why: Rayleigh scattering (Wikipedia) | Diffuse sky radiation (Wikipedia) | Photosynthesis (Wikipedia) | Polar bear (Wikipedia) | Effects of Earlier Sea Ice Breakup on Survival and Population Size of Polar Bears in Western Hudson Bay (Journal of Wildlife Management) | Why Asparagus Makes Your Urine Smell (Smithsonian) | Benjamin Franklin’s Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels (Early Americas Digital Archive) | Moore’s law (Wikipedia) | Why is Caillou bald? (Chouette Publishing)

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Episode 99: Forensic Science

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn discusses the scientific (and sometimes pseudoscientific) underpinnings of several forensic investigation techniques with Laura, Gem, Ian, and Lauren.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics.

Links: The CSI effect (National Post) | FBI Testimony on Microscopic Hair Analysis Contained Errors in at Least 90 Percent of Cases in Ongoing Review (FBI.gov) | Thirty years in jail for a single hair: the FBI’s ‘mass disaster’ of false conviction (The Guardian) | FBI admits it fudged forensic hair matches in nearly all criminal trials for decades (National Post) | Hair analysis (Wikipedia) | Comparative bullet-lead analysis (Wikipedia) | Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis: A Case Study in Flawed Forensics | Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis: A Retrospective by Paul C. Giannelli (SSRN) | Ballistic fingerprinting (Wikipedia) | Forensic entomology (Wikipedia) | Forensic science is biased and inaccurate, but juries believe it and convict the innocent (Slate) | Flawed Journalism on Flawed Forensics in Slate Magazine (Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law) | More on the Mistakes in “Forensic Science Isn’t Science” (Forensic Science, Statistics & the Law) | Fix the Flaws in Forensic Science (The New York Times) | Pseudoscience in the Witness Box (Slate) | John Schneeberger (Wikipedia)

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Episode 98: Crime & Punishment

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem, Ashlyn, Laura, Brendan, and Lauren discuss the criminal justice system, focusing on profiling, deception detection, changes in crime rates over time, and the prison abolition movement.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics.

Note: If you’re in Winnipeg for the Fringe Festival and are interested in coming out to see Of Blood and Ashes, written by Ian James and Adam Johnstone and featuring Gem Newman, we’re at Venue #3 (The Playhouse Studio) at 180 Market Avenue. Here are the showtimes:

Thursday, 16 July 2015, 9:00 pm
Saturday, 18 July 2015, 5:15 pm
Sunday, 19 July 2015, 7:00 pm
Tuesday, 21 July 2015, 12:00 pm
Wednesday, 22 July 2015, 5:15 pm
Thursday, 23 July 2015, 10:30 pm
Saturday, 25 July 2015, 3:30 pm

Links: The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats (iTunes) | The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats (Amazon) | Correctional Service of Canada CSC Research | Legalized abortion and crime effect (Wikipedia) | Tetraethyllead (Wikipedia) | Lead-crime hypothesis (RationalWiki) | High gun ownership makes countries less safe, US study finds (The Guardian) | Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study | Report Says Long Sentences Don’t Deter Crime (Business Insider) | Longer prison sentences are not the way to cut crime (The Guardian) | Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Rate (International Centre for Prison Studies) | Polygraph (Wikipedia) | Lie detection (Wikipedia) | Paul Ekman (Wikipedia) | Criminal Podcast Episode Two: Pants on Fire | Offender profiling (Wikipedia) | The Effectiveness of Profiling from a National Security Perspective | Essays: To Profile or Not to Profile? (Part 1) (Schneier on Security) | Essays: To Profile or Not to Profile? (Part 2) (Schneier on Security) | Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (Amazon) | Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex by Eric Stanley (Amazon) | Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex (Amazon) | The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Amazon) | Black Prisoners and Their World by Mary Ellen Curtin (Amazon) | Worse Than Slavery by David M. Oshinsky (Amazon) | Cain Sentencing Transcript (The Marshall Project) | Justice is served, but more so after lunch: how food-breaks sway the decisions of judges (Not Exactly Rocket Science) | Extraneous factors in judicial decisions | Need a good reason to oppose the death penalty? How about 4 of them? | The Economic Costs of Seeking the Death Penalty (Seattle University) | Smiley face murder theory (Wikipedia) | FBI Statement Regarding Midwest River Deaths | Noble & Whimsical on Etsy

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Episode 94: Free Will

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem is joined by Donna, Ashlyn, and Ian to talk about free will, determinism, and what it means to make a choice. Also on this episode, Donna sits down with August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists to discuss the moral implications of a world without free will. We went a little long, but don’t blame us: determinism exempts us from all ethical responsibility!

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Note: Barium. Radioactive caesium decays into barium.

Links: Free Will: What is it? and Do we have it? (The Winnipeg Skeptics) | Free will (Wikipedia) | Phineas Gage (Wikipedia) | Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action (Behavioral and Brain Sciences) | Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain (Nature Neuroscience) | A Brief Defense of Free Will | Discovery of quantum vibrations in ‘microtubules’ corroborates theory of consciousness (Phys.org) | Quantum indeterminacy (Wikipedia) | Uncertainty principle (Wikipedia) | Minnesota Atheists | Freedom Evolves (Wikipedia) | Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennett (Amazon.ca) | Free Will by Sam Harris | Breaking the Free Will Illusion by ‘Trick Slattery | Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner (Amazon.ca) | Killing of Tim McLean (Wikipedia) | Li case exposes ugly truth about Tories (Winnipeg Free Press) | The Fallaway Slam Podcast (The only podcast that matters!)

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Episode 85: AllTrials and Vanessa’s Law

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman and Richelle McCullough discuss Bill C-17 (“Vanessa’s Law”) and are joined by Ian Bushfield of Sense About Science’s AllTrials project to discuss the problem of publication bias.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

For those curious what we were talking about near the end of the episode when we joked about white college students being the “perfect generalizable group”, we were referencing the fact that much of the research purporting to show great insight into human psychology is done on young people from western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic societies. Psychologists are increasingly skeptical of the generalizability of these results, as these traits are hardly representative of humanity as a whole. See the links to Salon and Behavioral and Brain Sciences below for more information.

Links: The AllTrials Project | Sense About Science on Twitter | Bad Science Watch on Twitter | “Vanessa’s Law” Bill C-17 (Bad Science Watch) | Cochrane Collaboration (Wikipedia) | LUEE Episode 81: Book Reviews (with Greta Christina!) | Discrepancies between Meta-Analyses and Subsequent Large Randomized, Controlled Trials (NEJM) | I Never Meta Analysis I Really Like (Science-Based Medicine) | Cochrane Reviews: The Food Babe of Medicine? (Science-Based Medicine) | Daryl Bem’s “Feeling the Future” Controversy (Wikipedia) | Psychology Is WEIRD (Slate) | The weirdest people in the world? (Behavioral and Brain Sciences)

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Write Canadian MPs to bring Clinical Trial Transparency to Canada

The fine folks at AllTrials have an important reminder for you. Act now! (Stay tuned to the next episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, when we discuss some of these issues in a bit more depth.)

We have just heard that we have a chance to improve clinical trial transparency in Canada. Bill C-17 or “Vanessa’s Law” is being considered this Tuesday and there’s a chance to get clinical trial transparency measures added to it.

We urgently need you to write to the MPs on the Standing Committee on Health to tell them how important clinical trial transparency is. A template letter is below, followed by the emails for the MPs on the committee. We’ll keep you posted about the Bill’s progress, but please send your emails today.

They have a sample letter that you can send on their website. Because I’m also concerned about Vanessa’s Law ignoring potentially-dangerous natural health products, I sent a slightly modified version, below:

Ben Lobb, Chair ben.lobb@parl.gc.ca
Libby Davies, Vice-Chair libby.davies@parl.gc.ca
Hedy Fry, Vice-Chair hedy.fry@parl.gc.ca
Eve Adams eve.adams@parl.gc.ca
Claude Gravelle <laude.gravelle@parl.gc.ca
Wladyslaw Lizon wladyslaw.lizon@parl.gc.ca
James Lunney james.lunney@parl.gc.ca
Dany Morin dany.morin@parl.gc.ca
David Wilks david.wilks@parl.gc.ca
Terence Young terence.young@parl.gc.ca

Dear members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health:

I'm writing to you regarding Bill C-17, known as "Vanessa's Law". I am pleased that Parliament is considering a number of new measures such as the power to recall drugs that will significantly improve patient safety; however, I strongly believe the Bill needs key amendments to fully protect patient safety.

Specifically, it is clear that the bill needs to be amended (1) to require that all clinical trials and observational studies are publicly registered before they begin; (2) to mandate that all trials have their full methods and results reported after completion (preferably within one year); and (3) to include provisions for natural health products (NHPs) to be recalled in the same fashion as pharmaceuticals.

Results from around half of clinical trials have never been published and many have never been registered. New laws in the United States and Europe require the registration and reporting of future clinical trials but in Canada there is no legal requirement to register or disclose the results. Information on what was done and what was found in these trials could be lost forever to doctors and researchers, leading to bad treatment decisions, missed opportunities for good medicine, and trials being repeated (at great cost). Further, the regulator's interpretation of the evidence must be publicly available when it approves, refuses or recalls a drug from the market.

Further, it's very important to ensure that information about clinical trials and observational studies is not considered confidential. This information is generated because people participate in trials in the hope of advancing knowledge. If we treat this information as private property, it ignores the contribution that clinical trial participants make.

Finally, it is my understanding that the law currently exempts natural health products (NHPs) from the same level of scrutiny that it applies to pharmaceuticals. To be clear, NHPs are drugs. They are pharmacologically active, they can be dangerous in certain circumstances, and they can have negative drug-drug interactions with pharmaceuticals. For this reason, it is vital that we not exclude NHPs from close scrutiny and potential recall simply because they are "natural".

I understand that Bill C-17, in its current form, lacks these important measures. For this reason, I'm writing to you, in your capacity as a member of the Standing Committee, to urge you to consider amending Bill C-17 to make sure Canada's drug regulatory system is transparent and to ensure that Canadians are protected from all drugs, whether they're "natural" or not. These critical amendments would ensure that the evidence base behind all drugs are open to scrutiny, physicians and other health care providers are adequately informed about the risks and benefits, and patients are better protected from harm.

Gem Newman

Hat tip to Ian Bushfield from Sense About Science.

Episode 69: Québec’s Charter of Values

Episode 69: Québec’s Charter of Values

In the second anniversary episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, we fulfil our CanCon requirement! Gem Newman discusses the proposed “Charter of Values” in the Canadian province of Québec with Scott Carnegie, Greg Christensen, and special guest Shayne Gryn.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: HAAM Meetup | Drinking Skeptically | Québec’s Proposed Charter of Values | Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms | Reasonable Accommodation | The “Notwithstanding Clause” | National Post: Quebec Releases Controversial ‘Values Charter’ | Montreal Gazette: The Public Favours Charter of Values | Globe and Mail: Quebec’s Secular Charter Is Clearly Unconstitutional, But Could Still Become Law | Quebec’s White, Privileged Feminists Don’t Speak For Me | Canadian Atheist: A Practical Guide for Discussion of the Charter of Quebec Values | Canadian Atheist: A Practical Guide for Avoiding Discussion of the Charter of Québec Values | Shayne Gryn: The Racialized and Gendered Impact of Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Secularism | National Post: Woman Says She Was Accosted in Mall Over Her Islamic Veil | CBC: Sikh Mounties Permitted to Wear Turbans

What Are You Listening To? The Nerdist Podcast | This American Life | Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! | Penn’s Sunday School | Quirks and Quarks | The Brain Science Podcast | Reasonable Doubts | The Reality Check | The Flop House

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