Wednesday, June 24, 2009

David Tredinnick

I'm sure everyone is thoroughly fed up with the MP expenses saga, but this story today tweaked my interest, not only does it illustrate dishonesty but is also has a great "bad science" angle too; two bangs for my buck!

The story concerns MP David Tredinnick (member for Bosworth) who spent £200 on astrology software and £300 pound on consulting services to learn how to use it, so not only is Mr Tredinnick dishonest he is ignorant, stupid and gullible to boot!

This is not the first time Mr Tredinnick has fallen foul of his obvious character flaws, he was once a parliamentary private secretary but was forced to resign and was suspended for 20 days for accepting a £1000 bribe to ask questions in the house, this was popularly known as the cash for questions affair.

Unbelievably (to me at least) he has been an MP for 20 years, so perhaps he should think about calling it a day, his star is clearly no longer rising.


Elizabeth said...

That is an amazing story! I haven't seen this anywhere but on your blog. What a dumbo!

Steve Borthwick said...

You'd have thought his horoscope would have warned him about his impending expenses embarrassments wouldn't you?

Oh yeah, that's right it's all a crock of shit.

Elizabeth said...

I was looking at his photo again today and think he looks pretty scary. He must be an Aries. :)

Steve Borthwick said...

LOL; lets hope the tall dark handsome stranger in his future is wearing a helmet and carrying a taser! elo, elo..

Lisa said...

BIG hehe, but has anyone ever scientifically dismantled astrology? I would love to see this sort of thing if it exists.

Lisa said...

Elizabeth, so true those aries are deadly but dumb. :-)

Steve Borthwick said...

Not scientific as such but a pretty thorough debunking, Derren Brown did an experiment on telly last year where he gets a group of 5 people to each draw an image on a piece of paper around their hand-print, write down their date of birth, and place a personal trinket of some sort along with the piece of paper into an envelope, one per person. The envelopes are mixed so he doesn't know which is which. He then goes into another room for about an hour to prepare a personality profile for each of the participants.

When they study their own reading they are all staggered at it's accuracy, nearly all of them rating it between 80-99% correct.

DB then gets them to swap over the readings when they discover that they are all in fact identical.

Steve Borthwick said...

Apparently this is called the Barnum and Forer effect, structuring information in a certain way so that it could appear about anyone.

Lisa said...

I didn't know about that, and it's definitely interesting. I will be reading a bit more about that effect. I presume some astrologers/fortune tellers of any ilk do this sort of thing intentionally, and others believe what they do as the interpretation of some cosmic force.

But I guess I was wondering whether someone has tried to show that people born at certain times did or did not actually possess particular personality traits (as attributed by astrology) that could be reasonably measured. So not so much about any hoax being perpetrated by any astrologer, but about whether the underlying stuff has been studied.

Steve Borthwick said...

Lisa, Nothing that I know of, but it sounds like the kind of thing that would have been studied(needs a solid Google session!)

A quick scan did reveal this interesting review BadAstronomy written by an astronomer and there is a book on Amazon called "Astrology true or false - a scientific evaluation" (ISBN: 0879754834)

I think the bottom line is that there is no force we know of that is capable of influencing us in the ways they claim; I would lend more credence to the principal of the time of year born affecting personality because of the amount and distribution of sunlight etc. but this is tenuous also because that is variable depending on where you are in the world.

I think I'd put it in the box labelled "fake man-made nonsense designed to extract money from the gullible"; same box as religion really.

Lisa said...

Maybe I'll have a look at this book, but when I looked years ago no one had studied any of this, presuming it to be too ridiculous to merit any expense of energy.

And I do object to that, I categorise it as a politicisation of science where perhaps people don't want to be affiliated with certain other people, or an idea that just seems ludicrous and so things are dismissed out of hand. I would think that scientific people would tread more carefully after being taught the lesson so many times that this type of thinking often doesn't serve science well.

No force that we know of that could effect people in this way isn't really a satisfactory argument unless we presume that the set of all our knowledge is complete, containing all the things that can be known, and I am pretty sure you're not going to stipulate to that! Prions affected us before we knew they existed.

Steve Borthwick said...

Lisa, Whilst I agree we shouldn't be closed minded about anything, I think "no force that we know of" is as honest an answer that we could have. IMO the onus is on the promoters of the effect to show evidence for it not science generally to spend time looking for "something" when there are far more important and tangible things to investigate.

You are quite right there are many things that were affecting us before we knew about them, i.e. prions, natural selection, EM fields, quantum uncertainty, radiation etc. and many more things to be discovered I'm sure. But I think it is reasonable to ask to start work with a hypothesis and a suggested mechanism, otherwise it's just looking for a needle in a haystack (no problem at all if someone wants to spend time on that of course)

I'd be more interested in it if any kind of causality (at all?) were shown to be measurable and reproducible, let alone any hypothesis on a potential mechanism; I think all their work is ahead of them.

Lisa said...


Yeah, I'm saying too that it would be good to know if there were any actual observations of the claims astrological people make! I don't know why science would shy away from looking at this, instead mocking it without any evidence. Just look at the claims and see whether the observations bear them out - why wait for the astrologists to fund a project like this (of course all the mocking of it by science for such a long time means no one reputable would ever fund something like this, which is kind of a shame to me).

If no observation of the effects they claim seems to exist, then there is no need to worry about possible mechanisms. If there is an effect (which, like you, I doubt) then speculation about mechanisms can carry on from there.

Kary Mullis wrote something critical about the scientific establishment about this ages ago. Until I saw it I thought I was the only scientifically minded person who thought that just presuming things were nonsense when no one really knew wasn't a practice the methodology of science should support.

Steve Borthwick said...

Lisa, yes I agree, no evidence no glory, but at least look if you can get the funding. Mind you that is another source of imperfection in the system, i.e. some of the organisations that provide funds and the politics and "agendas" going on around that.

This one should be pretty easy though (at least I would have thought so?) ; several studies have been done around prayer and have found nothing over and above what you would expect by chance.

I guess we have to accept that scientists are human too, as was pointed out in that little video that Elizabeth posted the other day by Shermer; I must admit to having dismissed things out of hand in the past only to be shown to be a prize idiot later (although hardly any at all you understand ;-)

Brad said...

Internal memo from an editor to the paper's astrologer, firing her: "As you no doubt have foreseen..."