Friday, 4 January 2013

'Ban this sick, sexy filth!'

If the old saying is true and we're all meant to start the year as we mean to go on, it's a safe bet that the Daily Mail will be spending 2013 doing its level best to channel the sensitive soul of Mary Whitehouse. Paul Dacre and his editorial team have, for whatever reason, decided to launch not one, not two, but a three article crusade against the recent "vile" broadcast of 'Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2012' on the basis of a whole five complaints plus the usual dose of hyperbole from yet another 'think of the children' pressure group.

The three articles paint a terrible picture of course. See, apparently this programme wasn't just an extended edition of your usual post-watershed panel show, it was part of a nation's decline into the very depths of vice and depravity: people are no longer revering an unelected monarchy, fun is being poked at ill-judged twitter campaigns and (whisper it) two adults are possibly getting a bit merry on Friday night. Truly harrowing scenes entirely unreflective of a great many pub visits and piss-ups around the country, I'm sure you'll agree.

So, bearing in mind that you now have the tolerance levels of a toddler stuck in an arthouse cinema, what would be the best response to appease you, the initial five offended parties and a few overbearing parental bores across the land? Print a full run of the offending material on the website and in the paper, of course! That way we can all leave the offensive content lying around for anyone to see at any time of day, regardless of their age or where they rank on the Mail's rose-tinted scale of innocence. I'm sure it all sounded brilliantly edgy and brave in the article writers' heads but one of my cats let her guard down and laughed, outing herself as "choosing to live by the lowest standards":

BEAST: Anti-monarchist, doesn't care much for table manners either.
Interestingly that last quote was from the founder of the pressure group who was quoted by the Mail in their first article on this subject. It's a strange mindset which claims to preserve morality and promote ever-vague family values while also making sweeping, derogatory judgements about the lifestyles and actions of literally millions of people. Nothing much to worry about coming from a fringe pressure group, but the consistent presence of this hypocritical attitude in the newspaper itself is worrying, with articles ranging from recent leching over someone's "serious side-boob" to yesterday's publishing FHM photoshoots featuring more valleys than Wales. Yes, I know they were celebrating a fearmongering and laughably ineffectual block on online porn the other week, but that's what moral standards are these days apparently: ignoring obvious solutions and spouting all sorts of charged language to create a storm of outrage, but doing another thing entirely whenever it suits.

The Daily Mail is the second largest UK newspaper in circulation and yet it's so lacking in self-awareness that it starts the year leading a campaign which says 'I'm fine with judging people's oh so sexy, yet confidential medical details, saying fat people hurt my eyes and calling some famous woman a tramp, but I won't have you telling any crude jokes about talent show finalists' advertising campaigns.' What we're stuck with is a self-appointed moraliser taking a perverse delight in kicking people when they're down while savaging anyone who draws the line at making comments in jest rather than with genuine malice. It's not surprising that the paper encouraging this mindset is so blind when these are the illogical depths it's comfortable with sinking to, but it's worrying to see it taking root in our country to the point of affecting politics as seen in the hysterical 'block the pr0n monster' campaign.

Does anyone remember that Mike Judge film 'Idiocracy', where the most popular film by 2505 was just called "Ass"? That's eventually where we're headed if this contradictory bollocks of a crusade continues: laugh at the arse on the screen because it's crude and you're classed as a child-hating bastard and/or probable pornographer, but laugh at its collapsing marriage or snap a quick flash of shaft and you too could be accepted as entirely upstanding according to a prominent British tabloid.

...Goodness me, I hope you read all that after the watershed without a flicker of a grin on your face. If not, stand over there with all the other immoral deviants and have a good, parental-minded think about what you've done, you complete and utter monster.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Grayling and the Spoonie Crime Spree

Chronic illness and disabilities are famous for leading people to live glamorously lavish and exciting lives, right? Of course not - they're a pain in the arse to deal with on a daily basis and nobody in their right mind would choose them over perfect health, especially when you've got the fury of a hundred politicians and tabloids weighing on your shoulders.

Okay, maybe not a hundred. But they definitely shout loud enough to make up for low numbers.

The Daily Mail is by far one of the worst culprits for promoting the 'benefit scrounging scum' rhetoric when it comes to illness and it's interesting to note how the paper creates a massive contrast between people of different capabilities: people who make a miraculous advance or recovery in the face of undeniable odds are the best thing since sliced bread while anyone who stubbornly continues to remain unwell and requires a bit of financial assistance through benefits without any 'cute' or 'inspiration' factor is cast by the wayside as an evil-burden-on-the-hardworking-taxpayer type.

(Note: I've been ill for several months and haven't made any steps towards a miracle recovery but I'm not on benefits so I'm a bit of a grey area to the Mail. But I do have facial piercings and bright blue hair, so I guess they can accuse me of being shifty on the back of that somehow - swings and roundabouts.)

Today the Mail teamed up with Chris Grayling, the minster for work and pensions, in a heroic move to generate even more hatred and suspicion of people claiming sickness benefits, thundering the "truly alarming discovery" that a piece of research has found 23% of claimants have a criminal record. Their efforts would be a laughable use of statistics if it wasn't part of an already vicious campaign against chronically ill or disabled people, so let's lift the rock and see what scuttles out when we look more closely.

Obviously Grayling has already seized on this statistic as proof of how noble he is in taking on this challenge of reducing ESA' 0.5% fraud rate and Incapacity Benefit's menacing 0.3%, but do even a minute's worth of digging and the claim already looks hugely suspect - it's based on anything from a caution upwards within the past 10 years, so some unlucky guy who got caught smoking a badly-timed joint ages ago and fell ill with something completely unrelated years later would be portrayed on the same level by Grayling as someone who was involved with something far more serious.

There's no information about which types of crime were committed, which health condition people are claiming for or even whether they were on ESA/IB payments at the time, which leaves the door wide open to people projecting stereotypes onto the statistics. The author of the article seems to be relying on the tried and tested image of someone faking a bad back or mobility issues on this one as seen in this fine piece of asshattery: 

The findings from a Government research project show a high proportion of claimants who claim they are unfit for work appear to be fit enough to commit crime.

No mention of these records being from the past decade and not since people have been on incapacity benefit or ESA, just a crude idea thrown out there without any context. It's a very revealing assumption on the author's perspective on the matter, but it's also very helpful - it tells you not to expect anything thorough or balanced from this article when it's leading you to believe there's an epidemic of people jumping out of their wheelchairs to embark on a crime spree or two. It's simply a cheap device to shift papers and bolster the Coalition's confidence.

Another big red flag on these stats is the lack of any mention of how these statistics compare to the national average. I couldn't find anything specifically for the past 10 years but Nacro provide an interesting statistic from Home Office research which suggests that 25% of the working-age population have a criminal conviction - higher than the 21% for incapacity benefit and not too far off the 28% for ESA. From what I can tell this doesn't appear to include cautions like the Daily Mail's statistic, so going by Grayling's standards this could be even higher.

It's kind of funny this sort of accusation is being trumpeted by the same government who promised to bring criminal convictions and records "back to common-sense levels" in 2010 in response to Nacro's findings. Mind you, they're also wasting more money through administration error on these benefits than they are on fraudulent claims (four times as much for Incapacity Benefit - 1.2%). Getting your own house in order might be a better idea for Grayling to follow here when it would provide him with far more savings than hounding people who are already in a trying situation as it is, but what we're probably seeing here is a man who is more keen on securing his own career and scapegoating than someone who genuinely wants to improve things for people in the UK. I'd love to be proven wrong on this but I really don't see it happening any time soon.

What would be especially interesting is if we could see a comparative set of statistics for people involved in politics and finance. After all, I'm fairly sure certain ministers' table-flinging antics would count as criminal damage for regular people, it's not like they're shining beacons of morality themselves. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, regardless of how much money they have to pay for breakages.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Cambridge Chemistry Challenge: Encouraging Young Skeptics

Mention the words 'chemistry exam' to someone and you'll usually be met with a grimace or a look of pure horror, but there is one recent examination paper which brings very welcome news indeed: the June 2012 Cambridge Chemistry Challenge.

While most science examination papers tend to cover fairly routine topics included in a given syllabus, these questions are specifically designed to challenge students by presenting them with new scenarios and topics. The first question in the paper asks students to investigate the production and composition of a white arsenic homeopathic solution as well as the average number of bottles required to contain one atom of the substance (285 million, incidentally).

It's no surprise that the findings are not in homeopathy's favour, but what is important about this question is that it encourages students to logically investigate the claims put forward by people who claim to hold authority in this stubbornly persistent branch of alternative medicine. Scientific investigation should be as unbiased as possible but there are scientists out there who attempt to keep their subjects shrouded in secrecy, such as the Burzynski clinic treatments, and others still who use defensive tactics such as emotional blackmail and intellectual shaming.

I should admit at this point that I spent some time as an undercover quack scientist in my final year of sixth-form last year as part of an extended project qualification. And yes, I, too, have shamed far too many people into believing my ridiculous claims with overly complicated wording and a particularly shiny pair of perspex safety goggles. I returned to my previous skeptic self after the project deadline had passed, but the findings of my admittedly low-level studies were interesting.

My finest moment as a not-entirely-honest scientist would be the time I manipulated 89% of my survey group into wanting to regulate or ban the humble apple through scaremongering and hiding behind obscure terminology rather than using plain English to describe the situation. The sample size was relatively small at 64 people, but having 57 respondants submit to these tactics shows that people are prone to believing scare stories when they aren't supplied with the full facts of a situation.

More worrying still was the fact that 25% of the sample were willing to take the article at face value without asking any questions in the space provided, an attitude which can occasionally be seen being mirrored in the comments following certain news articles. This sort of apathy creates a fertile breeding ground for misinformation to spread and, depending on the current agenda of a particular publication, this can eventually create potential harm by encouraging people to go for 'natural' medications such as homeopathy and herbal preparations rather than treatments with a proven record of efficacy.

It should be made very clear that while there are relatively harmless obfuscations and misleading claims like my previous investigations, we should keep in mind that there are cases where a lack of skepticism can cause severe and lasting harm such as the since discredited studies of Andrew Wakefield and his proposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Even identifying possible sources of bias in these controvertial studies generated a considerable backlash, as seen in a 2009 Daily Mail article about an examination question on this topic. The lack of skepticism and unbalanced defence of these findings from certain publications caused a decline in the uptake of the MMR vaccine and a rise in measles cases which we are still recovering from in 2012. This event provides a clear illustration of why critical thinking and investigative skills hould be given more emphasis in examination criteria, as featured in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge.

One particular approach to teaching skepticism I would recommend is asking students to follow an implausible claim to its logical conclusion. As a self-confessed geek I'm fine with reading through a pages-long report on why a particular assertion is incorrect (and I'm sure at least a few readers of this blog will say the same) but I appreciate that this isn't everyone's cup of tea - carrying out simple experiments with the students does far more to consolidate their understanding than just giving them a dry lecture on why the claim is incorrect.

Better still, get the students to explain what would happen in the world if the ideas behind a particular claim were correct - yes, we know it's ridiculous that water would be able to remember things or that we live on a 6000 year-old planet, but the imagined consequences of these theories can provide some very amusing and outlandish results. True, telling students a Brain Gym exercise may electrocute them isn't an everyday occurence, but it definitely caught their attention and allowed them to explain why this particular claim was false. Who ever said science wasn't exciting?

Skepticism has an unfortunate tendency to be mistaken by many people for negativity rather than a neutral and evidence-led position. While there is a need to encourage more students to engage with the sciences it would be wise to first encourage them to question and explore the claims they are given. After all, humans have always been curious beings - it would be a shame to stifle that instinct, especially when we could well be preventing harm by investigating suspect assertions.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The NHS, the Charlatans and the Care of Cthulhu

What's the best way to defang a normally mouthy science and politics blogger? Short of permanently severing their internet connection, giving them sore hands and a hazy inability to collect ideas should do the trick. It also carries the additional benefit of frustrating the hell out of them when there are so many bizzare, terrifying and entertaining news stories out there, ranging from the pasty tax fiasco to the downright sinister internet surveillance proposals.
It's been nearly two months since I last created a blog post (and I apologise to anyone who was annoyed at the lack of new content) but I have an entire folder of attempted drafts about all sorts of subjects, all of which were lost in a thick cloud of brain fog after gathering various items of source material. Shortly after my blog post back in February I started feeling quite unwell: varying levels of muscle and joint pain, insomnia, facial rashes, impaired short-term memory and near constant tiredness have become common features of my day-to-day life since then, making even simple tasks such as cooking or writing feel like wading through burning treacle on bad days.

The muscle pain and rashes I'm learning to adapt to after several weeks but the main symptoms which have been annoying me are the needle-like pains I often feel in my fingers and wrists and the inability to assemble anything but the most basic of arguments when I attempt to write an article. On a regular day I could think freely about possible angles for approaching a news story, with ideas leaping around at will and being struck by the occasional creative bolt from the blue. These days it feels like an effort of epic proportions, like a massive serpent-like creature trying to summon up enough effort to slowly drag its bulk through the wild lands of speculation and questionable claims: exhausting and probably not worth the effort if you end up blending into the surroundings unnoticed.

Speaking of snakes in the grass, David Cameron recently went against that huge election poster he had people plaster all around the country in 2010 and allowed the hugely unpopular NHS bill to progress through Parliament, aided and abetted by several Liberal Democrats. The reforms are being carried out with the aim of saving £20 billion over the course of this parliament but there isn't any guarantee that this will happen - in fact, the risk register for the project suggests that the reforms may have a negative impact on patient care, namely the service's ability to cope with emergencies and control its finances.

The Department of Health's snippy reply was simply that it didn't comment on leaks. Mind you, they also said they "have always been open about risk and have published all relevant information in the impact assessments alongside the bill" when we're only able to read this report because it was leaked to a health writer. It's not surprising that Andrew Lansley didn't want us reading it but it's largely ineffectual now that the bill has been passed. Like being given a golden ticket the day after the event has been and gone.

NHS Scotland services are thankfully unlikely to be affected by the reforms but the risks this bill places other NHS services in still appalls me. It seems like madness to place such an important organisation in what is essentially a high-stakes gamble, especially when the bet involves people's health and wellbeing. Sure, the NHS isn't perfect but they still carry out sterling work which I'm extremely thankful for - I'm receiving treatment for various conditions and having a lot of blood tests carried out while the staff investigate my symptoms, something I wouldn't be able to afford if I had to pay for healthcare as many people in other countries have to consider. Illness and injury are not situations which we can anticipate, they are events which can happen regardless of how careful we are in our daily lives - if anything the right to free healthcare should keep costs at a minimum, given that early treatment can reduce the chance of complications and absences from work. The NHS is one of the things I'm proud of in this country and it still shocks me to see how politicians can throw it around so carelessly when there are a large number of us who are reliant on it simply to survive normal day-to-day living.

Not to worry though, those clever politicians have a cheap alternative for those of us who are ill and unhappy with the NHS reforms: we can grovel to God instead and hope he hears us over the 7 billion other people on this planet. Last month three politicians wrote a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority to challenge their ban on advertising for faith healing, providing the example of God taking the time and effort to heal one of the politicians of their sore hand as evidence (all very well and good but he did also miss out a lot of cancer and HIV patients along the way).

The letter itself and the Healing on the Streets of Bath website are both rife with fallacies which I'll address in more detail in another post but for now it'll suffice to say that I'm reluctant to trust anyone who uses the appeal to ignorance argument with a position of authority in government - 'you can't prove otherwise, so it must be true' is an argument I'd only expect to see presented seriously by young children, not by people who are supposed to be our elected representatives.

Various members of government have been telling us to get off our arses and get a job in recent months, especially us malingerers who have the temerity to be signed off ill from our places of study or employment. So I thought I'd make lemonade out of otherwise bitter lemons in the unlikely event that the very sensible ASA ban is overturned and cash in on the privatisation of the NHS by introducing my own faith healing procedures. I'll advertise the tradtions of the Asclepions from Ancient Greece, offering people who have self-limiting illnesses like colds with a bed in a room full of snakes who will provide them with a divine vision of their cure. These used to be dedicated to the god Asclepius but we'll need a more modern image, one which projects authority and strength while emphasising the classic reptilian imagery. And who better to do that than the Dark Lord himself, Cthulhu? Don't read too much into the fact that he tends to symbolise terror or evil or that the centres will not willingly inform the general public of their failures, all you need to remember is that we're always open about our risks and we'll publish any information which we deem relevant. We've been learning from the experts, you see.

It goes against every political idea I hold to mislead and provide potentially disasterous healthcare but that's pretty much what the government appears to be advocating lately. After all, the main priority isn't to help people these days but to pursue financial profit at the expense of people who encounter misfortune in any of its various guises. I don't know about any of you but I'm feeling extremely uneasy about the government we currently have in charge of this country - valuing nothing but profit and apparently blind to evidence.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Newsflash: Gays marry, life goes on as usual

Some of you may remember me talking about Peter Saunders a while ago when I was exploring Nadine Dorries' motivations behind promoting various sexual health and reproduction policies against all the evidence. Well, it turns out he was the one peddling the pseudoscience to people with vested interests in the subject, such as the Lawyers Christian Fellowship - he also tried pulling a fast one by commenting on Dorries' Guardian article on the subject by posting a comment in support of the movement without telling anyone about his background or connections which puts a different slant on things when there's so much evident bias.

Well, unfortunately it turns out he's making another effort to limit people's freedoms through the use of dodgy lines of reasoning. This time he's trying to limit the freedoms of LGB people like me because he seems to think his religious beliefs are so special that everyone should be forced to follow them, not simply applying them to his own life and concentrating on saving his own soul.

Saunders opposes same-sex marriage on the grounds of his faith, providing citations from the Bible to back up his viewpoint. He does provide an interesting line of thought here though:
Marriage is also in this way illustrative of Christ’s own self-giving abandonment to his bride the church (Ephesians 5:31, 32) and points to a greater richness of human relationships beyond the grave of which the very best on earth are but a pale shadow.(1 Corinthians 2:9, 10).
So there you have it: necrophilia is more acceptable than homosexual relationships. Very strange, but at least we know how much we're reviled, eh?

The blog post details ten reasons why gay marriage should not be legalised in the UK, all full to the brim with fallacies and misleading information. The first point is the age-old argument of 'marriage has always been between one man and one woman, therefore it's the best option'. This argument is a classic example of the appeal to tradition fallacy and very symptomatic of someone who isn't keen on change - that's fine, nobody is forcing anyone to marry someone of the same sex (or opposite sex, for that matter), but using such a weak tactic to try and reduce the freedoms of others is hardly a sign of intellectual stength or integrity.

Speaking of a lack of integrity, Saunders also tries to mislead readers of his blog when he writes the following:
The UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 16) recognises that the family, headed by one man and one woman, ‘is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.
At no point does the UN Declaration of Human Rights state that a family is headed by one man and one woman, that's something Peter made up to try and lend his personal prejudices an air of legitimacy. Article 16 has a clause which says "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State" - there's no mention of an objective definition of what a family is, that's something which is open to interpretation. I'm hardly the arbiter of what the national definition of a family should be, but to me a family is made up of people who share strong bonds with each other - I'm a child of a single-parent family, does that mean we're not actually a family at all according to Peter Saunders? More than a bit cheeky if so.

The second point says that we've already got same-sex partnerships we should be happy with what we've been given. Sure, we've been given concessions, but that's still not equality since civil partnerships aren't allowed to contain any religious references. Saunders' arguments centre around his particular Christian beliefs, but other religious denominations such as the Quakers and Unitarians want to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies in accordance with their religious beliefs. Far from protecting religion and society, banning same-sex marriage entirely also prevents freedom of religion when allowing it would cause no harm.

Point three: 'redefining marriage without consultation is undemocratic' also known as 'I know people who agree with me, so there'. Interestingly there is an indication that quite a lot of people support same-sex marriage, including 57% of Scottish Catholics and similar proportions have been found in other faiths. So, it seems like legalising same-sex marriage would actually be the democratic decision here - times have moved on, homophobia is no longer given a free pass in the UK.

The fourth argument is as follows: "equality does not mean uniformity". People should have equality of opportunity but that doesn't guarantee equality of outcome (and nor should it, with variety being the spice of life and all that jazz). Funnily enough the concept of 'separate but equal' was used in the US when racial segragation was in effect and is still being used to justify institutional sexism by certain religious officials - it was ridiculous back then and it's gained no respectability in the decades since. It's a famous refuge of the bigot, nobody with a strong and convincing argument would resort to this rubbish - give an eejit enough time to speak and they'll expose their own ignorance, really.

He also goes on to say that "same sex couples do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for marriage, which should be reserved for the voluntary union of one man and one woman for life." And who sets these criteria? That would be the officials involved in each religious denomination. Again, the Quakers and Unitarians say that same-sex couples do meet the criteria and yet this man wants to prevent them from doing so because of his own personal disgust - hardly a democratic decision, is it?

[Update: ...Right, I had to take a break from reading all this ill-informed rubbish and went out shopping for a bit a few hours after Saunders had submitted this particular blog post. Interestingly it has since been taken down from the main blog, Christian Medical Comment, but it is still partially available from two sources, a different music and Anglican Mainstream.

I'd love to direct you to the original blog post in full, but the author has taken it down and left nary a trace - it's not on the Wayback Machine archives either unfortunately. Why? I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking it might have been out of shame or a bad case of internet flaming (entirely possible, given that the first and only comment as of 2pm today simply said "asshole" and nothing more). Still, let's crack on with the other six points as best we can, thanks to the good folks at 'a different music' (keep up the great work, friend!).]

The fifth point is one often used to demonise LGB people: "protecting traditional marriage safeguards children and society". It's grim that I even have to spell this out but we're honestly not dangerous to children. The bisexual behind this keyboard has been teaching maths and physics to much-loved children in British society for a few years without incident or any mention of sexuality. Hell, I'd like to think I've contributed something valuable to others through that work. My sexuality is just one part of who I am among many - I won't morph into some massive horn-crested sex beast if I marry another woman in later years, I'll still be a hair dye-loving science geek who wants nothing more than equality and Half Life 2: Episode 3. Nothing sinister, Peter, but I'd love to know what damage you think it'd do to society - if you're reading please do fling me a message, I'm genuinely intrigued.

The sixth addition to our growing scrapbook of fallacies is "marriage is a unique biologically complimentary relationship". So is a quick knee-trembler behind the bins in an alleyway but I don't see any opponents of same-sex marriage mentioning that when it comes to this line of thought. As for 'biologically complimentary', that's basically code for 'vaginal sex' because the argument sounds less silly when you dress it up in fancy words. Fingers are also quite well shaped for penetration, they're a complimentary shape and everything - does that mean we're okay to marry as well then?
The next point our intrepid campaigner complains about is the expense involved in redefining marriage. That's funny, he didn't seem concerned about the costs concerned with his proposal to ban abortion in all cases including rape and incest. The financial of that policy would be very high indeed but that's not an issue to Peter because it's a plan he likes. Is anyone starting to see a pattern here?

Point eight returns to the 'think of the children' rhetoric, mentioning that schools will have to teach children the new definition of marriage and lamenting the idea that some children might not grow up to be homophobes like their parents. That would be a shame, having them see us as equals rather than subscribing to the idea that we're evil for no reason other than because a bitter and petty deity said so. If these parents are so set on raising their children to believe in their prejudices 'family values' then they could maybe, you know, actually teach them about it themselves rather than relying on other people to do it for them?

Number nine is a gem, plus it mentions bisexuals! Awesome. Let's take a look...
If the legal definition is changed to accommodate same sex couples other minority groups with a vested interest (eg. Muslims, Mormons, Bisexuals and Polyamorists) will have a much stronger case to argue for the legalisation of polygamy and group marriages.
Peter, dear, bisexuals don't want to marry two or more people, we're simply attracted to people of both sexes - getting such a basic term so very wrong is not doing your argument any favours whatsoever. Besides, how is this point even relevant when we're discussing the idea of two people getting married to each other rather than groups of people? The slippery slope argument at its finest, people, and sadly a very common distraction technique in this debate.

Finally, in point number ten Peter exposes his own hypocrisy: "redefining marriage will lead to faith-based discrimination". As mentioned before, the Quakers and Unitarians are already being discriminated against because they're not allowed to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in according with their faith. They're not causing anyone harm and they'd be creating a net gain in happiness for all involved, so where's the issue?

And there we have it - it's been a very long post but this sort of harmful prejudice needs investigating when it surfaces. Rest assured, if same-sex marriage is legalised then straight couples will still be perfectly capable of having full, loving relationships and the world will continue spinning on its axis as normal. Nothing will change and I'm perfectly willing to bet that opponents of gay marriage won't even know a ceremony is taking place.

Actually, Peter, do let me know if you detected a disturbance in the force or something when I went on a date with another girl a few years ago. The James Randi Educational Foundation has $1,000,000 to offer you if you can so it's not all bad news, eh?