Archives for category: tours and trips

In some ways, 2017 was a surprising year. I was expecting it to be all doom and gloom, and it certainly had its moments of awfulness, but lots of things happened and I’m surprised how much I managed to do over the year. Kids growing up: all teenagers now, some work trips to America and Singapore and a very enjoyable holiday in Wales. Day trips to Waterford and Kerry. Added to that were trips to see Brian Cox and Alt-J in Dublin, as well as hosting Professor Edzard Ernst here in Cork. I was busy at work though, and this resulted in me taking less photos and being less active online overall. I tend to get bored taking the same types of photo all the time.

Ballydowane, Co. Waterford

Ballydowane is a wonderful rocky cove near the coast road between Waterford and Tramore. It’s off the beaten track, but worth the spin. This tiny island is a regular subject of much local photography.  I took this photo in early January.

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Dromana Gate, Co. Waterford

Dromana Gate is located near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford. The gate is a Hindu-Gothic design originally built in wood and papier-mâché to celebrate the marriage in 1826 of Henry-Villiers Stuart and his wife Theresia Pauline Ott. It was later reconstructed in stone. It’s a fascinating structure – out of place for Ireland, yet a reminder of our varied cultural heritage.

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Pink Rock, near New Ross

I used to pass through this area of the country almost every week when I was a child. The River Barrow flows here, on its way to Waterford Harbour. It’s an area of steep ground and great views to New Ross and beyond to the Blackstairs mountains in Carlow. A large bridge is being built here at the moment, which will take traffic from Rosslare to Waterford, avoiding the narrow bridge in New Ross, which has been a bottleneck for decades.

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Fields of Barley, Co. Cork

During the summer, I took some photos in the fields close by the house. Some of them turned out well, I think.

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Lismore Castle

Lismore is a terrific place to go for a day out – the gardens are a real gem and the castle is such an imposing edifice over the Blackwater River. This photo was taken in May with the Rhododendrons in full bloom.

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Honeybee in flight

I took this photo with my iPhone in early June, patiently using burst photography to try to get the right shot. For a phone camera, the results worked out quite well.

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Coumshingaun Lake, Co. Waterford

In late June, I ventured with a group of friends into the Comeragh Mountains. We did the Coumshingaun Horseshoe. It’s one of my favourite walks in the country. A hard slog at the beginning, but it levels off quickly. The views are delightful.

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Waterford Greenway

This was the year we explored the Waterford Greenway properly – travelling over two different days the length of the route from Dungarvan to Waterford. It was fantastic. A relaxing journey, but not by any means trivial.  A great centrepiece of the Greenway is the viaduct in Kilmacthomas.

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Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

In July we travelled to Valentia Island in search of some of the largest tree-ferns in the country. We ended up in Glanleam house, walking through jungle paths, eventually breaking out to see some of the finest vistas Ireland has to offer. This picture was taken near the Tetrapod Trackway.

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Roche’s Point, Cork

On one of the summer days, we took a bike trip to Roche’s Point. This is the picturesque entry point to Cork Harbour, offering stunning views across to Crosshaven.

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Cardiff, Wales

I had a wonderful week with the kids in Wales. Cardiff Castle is one of my favourites – it dominates the city centre and it gives people an opportunity to walk through centuries of history. And what a history! Norman dungeons to gruesome medieval punishments.

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Stonehenge, England

I’ve wanted to go to Stonehenge for years. It’s one of the most iconic locations on Earth. And, right, it’s a busy place in summer – crowds of tourists everywhere. But I wasn’t prepared for the vast expanse around it, the barrows, the Cursus, the feeling that this area was a big deal millennia ago. A prehistoric Roman Forum, Mecca or Vatican City, of which no written clues have been left behind. If you are in England, I urge you to go.

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Bath, England

Bath is a city like no other. There is a deep sense of beauty in this Roman city, built of Jurassic stone. Modernity and great antiquity side by side with each other.

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Rhosilli Bay, Wales

I was here many years before, but I had forgotten how beautiful this place is. In the distance is Worm’s Head, a tidal island that’s connected to the mainland for a few hours each day.

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Silicon Valley, California

While Santa Clara valley is not the prettiest place, close by are areas of wonderful natural beauty. I was there in August, and one evening I took a trip up Sierra Road near Milpitas to watch the sun set over the valley. It was worth the drive.

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Shark Fin Cove, California

The Pacific Coast Highway is a favourite place of mine when I go to California. I always find something new on this route, and last August was no exception. This is Shark Fin Cove, not far from Santa Cruz.

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Comeragh Mountains, Waterford

The Gap is one of the most scenic walks in the Comeragh Mountains. Starting from the car park in the Nire Valley, it’s a relatively easy walk followed by a steep ascent to the plateau.

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Singapore

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Singapore again this year. It was so strange being in city so warm and humid when temperatures were in the single digits back home. After work, we would make a special effort to see different parts of the city. The area around the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore River are particularly picturesque.

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So, quite a year last year, all said. Some great memories and interesting places visited.

Here’s to 2018.

This is the fifth and last part of my overview of QED 2016. To see the previous entries, please check out Part 1Part 2,  Part 3 and Part 4.

This is my final write-up from QED 2016. I know I’ve left out a ton of stuff – inevitable given that there were so many simultaneous tracks. I also realise I haven’t written much about the awards or the Saturday evening activities, but as I wasn’t taking any notes, my writings would be purely from memory, which is highly dodgy at the best of times. I will note however that the QED Award to Crispian Jago was thoroughly well deserved. Crispian has been a force of nature over the past years, bringing satire to a whole new level and crystallising how so many of us felt about pseudoscience. This has not been an easy time, as he has been afflicted by cancer in the last year. He was inundated by well-wishers throughout the conference. I wish him the very best in the months ahead.

Of Mousetraps and Men

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The penultimate speaker on the main stage was broadcaster Michael Blastland, with a talk about how seemingly trivial things may form the most important part of life for all of us. We are brought up to believe in simple stories, that A causes B, and so if we implement seemingly simple solutions to complex problems, the outcome will be predictable. Of course this is not what happens. Life is more like a Heath Robinson machine with things constantly going wrong and taking different paths. Just because A happens, B might not.

We are lazy storytelling machines.

He talked about great artists and great achievers – Darwin and Lennon for example – who might not have achieved greatness were it not for serendipity. He looked at chain smokers and red meat eaters who lived to a hundred years old, despite the odds. He discussed studies where teenage delinquents from similar backgrounds had massively different life outcomes.

Science is all about the average, the aggregate, the loss of individuality. But what if it’s the particular that drive the cause?

He talked then about prescription drugs, such as statins and heartburn medications, where the lifetime benefit to people on the medications vs those not taking additional medications, while scientifically significant, is somewhat marginal. What we know at a global level may often tell us little at a local level.

Some big effects will almost certainly never affect you. But some little fuckers almost certainly will.

So what? Well, apart from some suggestions on getting into the details, adapting and experimenting, we are left with far more questions than answers. We all know that life is hugely complex and that chaos and complexity dominate our lives. We all know that we cannot predict our individual futures, but we can extrapolate some general trends, and these trends are important, no matter how chaotic the raw data. The fact that some people will beat the smoking lottery is not an argument for telling people to keep smoking. The fact that some unvaccinated kids will be mildly affected by measles if they get it, is not an argument for telling everyone not to get immunised. The fact that we can’t predict next week’s weather over Slough or Cleethorpes is not an argument against climate change. Is his argument that science is shit just because it cannot predict individual outcomes in every situation? But then again, when did science ever make such claims?

Here’s Michael Blastland talking to the RSA on a related topic.

The Deadly Dowsing Rod

If you were asked what the most dangerous pseudoscience is, the answer is unlikely to be water divining. It’s first cousin, however, is certainly way up there. When the art of water divining is extended to bomb detection the cost in human lives is enormous, as the people of Iraq unfortunately discovered.

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Meirion Jones is an investigative journalist who reported this incredible story to the world.  He handed us a small, cheaply made dowsing rod that looks eerily similar to a retractable antenna on old TV sets attached to a hand-grip. During the Iraq War, this device  – the ADE 651 – got approved by armies around the world without a shred of evidence that it actually worked. The mastermind behind the device was Jim McCormick, a small time crook who became fabulously wealthy as the devices, costing up to 40,000 dollars each, sold in staggeringly large quantities.

It does exactly what it’s designed to do. It makes money.

Jim McCormick

Meirion asked around, and eventually found a whistleblower who was able to provide parts for the device. The device was tested by scientists and was shown to be completely inert, unable to detect anything. It turned out that the British military had a role in facilitating its distribution, so they were disinclined to help the BBC investigation.

Speaking as a professional, I would say that’s an empty plastic case.

Sydney Alford, engineer who tested the device.

McCormick and his accomplices were arrested and tried. McCormick was convicted of fraud in 2013 and is currently serving a 10 year sentence. The device has been withdrawn from most militaries, but clones and similar devices that claim to detect HIV and other diseases continue to pop up on a regular basis.

 

And that was it!

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All that was left were the many thanks to everyone involved – the organisers, speakers, volunteers and panelists who did such a good job over the weekend. Hopefully see you all again next year.

Further Reading

David Gamble discusses Susan Blackmore’s talk on Out of Body Experiences. 

Dr Marieanne reviews QED

Clairewitchfiles review of QED

Britt Hermes recaps some of the best moments of the conference

Hayley shares her thoughts on the conference

Caroline Watt’s recap of the conference. 

Some further notes from David Gamble. 

 
 

 

 

 

This is the fourth part of my overview of QED 2016. To see the previous entries, please check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

The March of Unreason

Taking a break from the formal talks (and I am sorry I could not see Paul Zenon), I went to a panel discussion discussing the forthcoming British exit from the EU and the “post factual” age we are now apparently in.

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The discussion featured NHS Campaigner Emma Runswick,  journalist Hugo Dixon, Max Goldman from Sense About Science, broadcaster Michael Blastland and law professor Michael Dougan. The panel was chaired by Geoff Whelan of Manchester Skeptics.

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boot on.”

Emma observed that on complex political issues people tend to follow the advice of friends over experts.

People are more likely to trust their friends over experts, because they think that experts don’t have their interests at heart.

Michael Dougan broke the Brexit lies down into four parts –

  1. Telling lies about the here and now: According to the media now, the referendum was won by the working class of northern England. This is not true. The southern English middle class vote was by far the most important.
  2. Fantasies about the future: Boris Johnson is still being dishonest about “special deals” that Britain will get upon exit.
  3. Rubbishing anybody who disagrees. The message being put out at the moment is that anyone who disagrees is anti democratic.
  4. Debasement of parliamentary democracy. A referendum only used when you can’t get what you want in parliament.

Max observed that fact-checking was relatively new to UK politics.

Are we in a “post truth society”?

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Hugo Dixon made the point that demagoguery was a direct result of the financial crisis. When politicians don’t seem to be up to the job, voters start looking elsewhere.

In the land of the liars, the authentic liar is king.

Michael Dougan expressed a concern that once people find a way to get their views accepted in the mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before they seek a new target. What next? Global warming? Women’s rights?

Michael Blastland felt that a lot of the post factual talk was a direct result of scandals within the expert community.

There is nothing so damaging to the domain of evidence than the preacher who sins.

 

The conversation could easily have gone on for a few more hours. It was a packed room and at one stage, about thirty hands went up when the moderator asked for question from the floor. As was clearly evident from the panel discussion, Brexit is causing considerable anxiety to skeptics, scientists and rationalists in Britain and everywhere. This story has a long way to run yet.

Last piece coming up.

This is the third part of my overview of QED 2016. To see the previous entries, please check out Part 1 and Part 2.

This post covers some of the talks on Sunday. Matt Parker did a fantastic job as MC for the QED conference. Matt, who did a talk on maths some years ago, was uncannily witty and able to manage any situation effortlessly. Who knew that a maths training could lead to such important skills?

That video

Hot off the presses is the video of the event. It was shown for a second time on Sunday morning with a very subtle modification for the second day.

Mermaids and Crappy Science TV

The headline speaker on Sunday Morning was Cara Santa Maria. Cara is known to many in the skeptical movement as a new co-host on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. She talked about her upbringing into a Mormon family, and her mental health challenges during her early career in media.

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It’s clear from her presentation that she is passionate about science and science communication. She has huge experience negotiating the American media landscape and  has a few thoughts on it’s merits and downsides.

The Discovery Channel has really shit the bed recently.

The American science media landscape is very different to Europe. There is a strong culture of anti-intellectualism and there are few incentives from government to provide quality, honest programming. In the past, news programs and factual programs, though not profitable in themselves, were funded from game-shows. Nowadays everything has to show a profit. This has lead to a race to the bottom: and lowest common denominator programming is the result with ratings beating truth each time. Recent examples include speculations about the continued existence of mermaids and megalodons on popular science channels.

Would you be opposed to dinosaurs still being alive in the Amazon?

Unnamed Discovery Channel executive after pitching a science show.

There are no easy answers to the problem, but Cara believes that it can be tackled through strong science role models such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, fighting back against the worst excesses of bad programming, creating popular DIY content, financial supports for good content and demanding change in the industry. It will be a long war.

Stop trying to sound so goddamn smart.

Cara has some thoughts on good science communication:

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience, but always underestimate their vocabulary.
  3. A big effort in communicating science should be put into the process of thinking, not the spouting of facts. Teach people to think critically for themselves.
  4. Be yourself. If you are pretending to be someone you’re not, people will disengage.
  5. Meet people where they are. We need to understand the cultural background and unchallenged assumptions that people have before we can talk to them meaningfully.
  6. Stop trying to sound so goddamn smart. The best science communicators talk to people in their language.

Here’s Cara talking about GMOs on the Dave Rubin show.

Duck Vaginas? Yes. Duck Vaginas.

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You had to be there. Sally LePage’s presentation was mind-blowing. Sally is an evolutionary biologist doing a PhD in sexual selection in Oxford. In a marvellously entertaining talk, she talked about the history of study into animal sex organs, noting that Darwin was really the first person in two millennia to take an academic interest in the field.

When a male has lots of sex it’s called sex. When females have sex, it’s called promiscuity.

She contrasted the research done on male animal genitalia to female animal genitalia, noting that the former category had been studied much more than the latter. Which is a pity, because without understanding the female reproductive organs, it’s difficult to come to conclusions on the variety of male sex organs. The duck is a case in point. Everyone knows that the duck has a corkscrew penis, but far less people (at least until this weekend) would have been aware that the duck vagina is even more elaborately shaped, allowing the female to decide which of the prospective males will become the father.

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A beetle’s penis. Just in case you were asking.

Even eggs are much less passive than sperms. Where conventional wisdom has the active sperm penetrating the egg, recent research shows that chemicals in on the surface of the egg actively collude in accepting the male DNA inside.

Sally delivered a master-class presentation here. She is a clear, entertaining presenter with a marvellous sense of humour and timing. Great work.

Here’s Sally talking about the Tragedy of the Commons.

Not done yet…

This is the second part of my overview of QED 2016. The first part is here.

The Future, Jim, but not as we know it.

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Mark Stevenson is a futurologist, a term he himself is not particularly happy with.

The only qualification for futurologist is to write something with future in the title.

Mark runs a network of thinkers and gives talks and insights to different people and corporations around the world. While none of us can predict the future, it’s likely to be an interesting place. Mark’s presentation was furious, frenetic and content heavy, presenting about one new idea every 3 minutes. Every idea could have been a whole topic in itself. It was almost impossible to keep up with what was a massive stream of possibilities and directions, many of which may not come to pass, others of which might happen in an unexpected way, and others that might literally change the world.

He quoted Douglas Adams, who himself was massively future-orientated.

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Douglas Adams

We were shown a car, rushing around an obstacle course, with a screaming passenger inside. The passenger was screaming because the car had no driver. The technology  maturing rapidly.

Here’s the video, by the way

He talked about the 3 million truck drivers who’s livelihoods might be at stake and the insurance companies who might need to rethink their business models.

He talked about bionic limbs and Olympic games. He talked about genome sequencing advances outstripping Moore’s law. He talked about cells that never die, and how ageing might be reversed.

If people say to me “ban all GMOs”, then what do we say to diabetics?

He talked about genetically modified products that eat crude oil. He talked about extracting carbon directly from the air. He talked about the end of the oil age, the solar power revolution and a “complete solar” economy in twenty five years time. Even today, Saudi Arabia is turning its attention to solar power as the wealth generator of the future.

The Stone Age did not end for the lack of stones.

Sheikh Zaki Yamani

He talked about blockchain: an “unhackable currency”and questioned the purpose of banks.

He talked about 3-D printing at a macro and nano level and forecasted the first 3-D printed 3-D printers.

He talked about the changing definition of wealth and the extreme wastefulness of current methods of farming and food management.

The environment is starting to send back invoices.

He talked about an “Enernet”, like an internet for Energy. He talked about open-sourced drug discovery. He talked about trucks being driven on liquid air.

Then he ran out of time.

Whew!

Where do you even start? The only thing he left out was the Singularity. The future might well be a scary place because of the inadequacy of our institutions and governments to keep pace with technology. He is optimistic, but there are real dangers, particularly where new technologies drive more and more wealth into fewer hands, while potentially rendering millions of unskilled workers redundant. This has been a refrain for two hundred years, but I wonder if we are moving into new realms here.

Here’s a video in the same vein featuring Mark Stevenson.

Paleo-diet eating climate deniers with chickenpox!

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Next up was Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, or just Dr. Karl, one of Australia’s best known science personalities. Dr Karl gave a talk on some of science’s greatest achievements starting off with some videos and pictures of his trips to the Antarctic and the Australian Outback. (Ireland and the UK look teeny tiny compared to the Australian continent – don’t rub it in, please).

The talk was wide-ranging to say the least, covering everything from vaccines to global warming to science illiteracy to the paleo-diet.

On vaccines, he had a lot to say. Australia seems to have a comprehensive program against chickenpox, whereas we are still in the dark ages on this side of the globe. While adverse effects of chickenpox are rare, they can be very serious. Stroke is a side effect, as are congenital defects when it hits pregnant women. I also didn’t realise how many people contract shingles in their lifetime – a result of chickenpox in childhood. Our governments should be doing more.

Everything, no matter how boring, always looks better under an electron microscope.

He did a great job dismissing the claims of the paleo-diet people. Some people believe that all the ills of our world, the cancer, the diabetes, the heart problems, all stem from a change in our diets around 10,000 years ago, when our species started to move away from hunter-gatherer type diets to more wheat-based diets. He discussed how this is such a simplification – different hunter gatherer groups have wildly different diets even today, and when most hunter gatherers were dead before 40 anyway, diseases of ageing would have been something of a minor problem to them. Dietitians, he says, have voted the Paleo-diet the joint worst diet of them all.

He also spoke about global warming deniers – a crafty lot indeed. They’ll take a warming curve, then select a piece of data from a larger data set that seems to suggest that warming is going down, then clap themselves on their backs for their cleverness.

Dr Karl also spoke about how IQ is getting higher each year (and no-one knows why). He also briefly discussed Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, where civilised behaviour seems to be on an upward curve. Long may it continue.

For many in the audience, we would have come these topics before, but nevertheless these are really interesting areas of discussion and activism, very well recounted by Dr. Karl.

Here’s Dr. Karl’s YouTube video “Great Moments in Science”.

Now on to Part 3

QED is the UK’s largest conference on science and scepticism. It’s a get together for people who are passionate about science and evidence in contemporary culture and current affairs. It takes place yearly in Manchester and it’s now in its sixth year. This is my fifth year attending. As ever, it was a wonderful conference. We were really spoiled for choice this year with many tracks taking place simultaneously, so until I am able to master bilocation or out-of-body travelling, this is my account of just a small sliver of events happening over the weekend.

YouTube Debunkery!

The intro video this year was really superb, with production values in the stratosphere. It became clear how this was done when the speaker for the conference, Alan Melikdjanian aka Captain Disillusion, gave us an insight into how he makes debunking videos for YouTube. It was an incredible presentation, complete with audience polls, interpretive dance, hater comments, bad 90’s Powerpoint, arguing with himself on video, all done flawlessly with maximum comedic effect. The slides looked beautiful too.

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In terms of technical presentation skills and using the different types of media to communicate a message, this was one of the best I have ever seen. Really, truly excellent.

Here’s one of his videos.

Good Advice, Bad Advice!

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The next speaker was Petra Boynton, an advice columnist with the Telegraph. She showed how advice columns are a very old and venerable part of print media for over 300 years, and in many ways, they have not changed that much. It was interesting to hear how careful columnists needed to be, as context is everything. She very much sees this as a kind of public service, particularly when access to professional help has been cut back in recent years.

Naturoquackery

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The next speaker was Britt Hermes. Britt had a very unusual story to tell. She thought she was a doctor, then found out she wasn’t. Britt studied naturopathy in Bastyr University in California, where she was indoctrinated in alternative medicine. Even though there was a small amount of medicine taught, everything was solidly encased in new age woo.

I’m taking down these notes and I’m thinking “Wow. These doctors are so stupid.”

During her studies, Britt went to Ghana. She learned to give intravenous injections of ineffective medicines to people who were very sick. She then went to Nicaragua where she dispensed homeopathic products to treat cardiovascular disease.

When she graduated, she started teaching in Bastyr. She moved to Arizona under Michael Uzick, which was where the wool was pulled from her eyes. Uzick appeared to be involved in a dangerous, so-called cancer drug called ukrain. She reported him to the authorities, with predictable consequences. She ended up leaving naturopathy, a profession which, by this time, she had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

I realised I was a fraud.

Britt found help and support from within the global skeptic community. She has since set up a blog to expose the practices of naturopathy to the rest of the world. It’s hard not to see naturopathy as a kind of twenty-first century cult, despite it’s veneer of medicine.

Naturopaths can basically say and do what they want. There is no standard of care.

Britt is adamant that naturopaths should under no circumstances be given the title of doctor. They should not be treating children as they get only 10% the training of paediatricians.

There is no doubt that many naturopaths have good hearts. But without a medical degree, they are nothing more than good hearted charlatans.

Britt has stared a petition “Naturopaths are not doctors” to raise awareness of the inadequacy of naturopathic care, and to stop naturopaths being licensed as doctors in America.

You have to fool patients and you have to fool yourself. So I am glad to say, I am one of the most unsuccessful naturopaths on the planet.

Britt has shown incredible bravery in admitting her mistake and then challenging the fundamental basis of naturopathy to a world audience. Britt got a well deserved standing ovation from the audience for her talk.

We’re not done (not by a long shot)…

I’m just back from a wonderful week in Northern Ireland. I used to work there in the 1990s, but it’s over 20 years since I was last there.

I had my kids with me, so I wanted to share with them how remarkable a place it is, what life was like back then and to see how things have changed since.

Day 1: Belfast

Our first day involved a bus tour around Belfast. There are a ton of tour companies advertising trips around the city on a step-on, drop-off basis. There are a ton of things to see, from the new Titanic Quarter to Stormont, the West Belfast peace walls and the flashy new shopping area in the centre of the city.  Right beside the Titanic exhibition are the film studios where Game of Thrones is produced – that went down very well with my elder teens. Even though it’s such a long time since I lived there, I was surprised how familiar it all seemed. Once I got my bearings, I could relate so well to the place – that magnetic accent, the effortless humour, the dark mountains in the distance.

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Titanic Quarter

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Game of Thrones Studios

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Victoria Square

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Belfast City Hall

 

Day 2: Belfast and Donaghadee

After a trip to Stormont and a walk through Queen’s University, we drove out to Donaghadee, Co. Down. In the distance, you can see Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Given all the trouble in the world – in Nice, in Munich, in Turkey, and further afield in Syria and Afghanistan, this place seems one of the safest places to be. Years ago it was not like that, but I saw no appetite for a return to the bad old days.

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Carson Face Palm

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Queen’s University

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Statue in QUB

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Donaghadee

 

Day 3: North Antrim Coast

One of the most beautiful parts of the island, if not the whole world, is the north Antrim coast. In a small area you have Ballintoy Harbour, the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, the Dark Hedges, the Bushmills Distillery, Dunluce Castle and, of course, the Giant’s Causeway. This is Game of Thrones country for real: massive dark basalts covered the area 60 million years ago, creating a landscape utterly different to the rest of Ireland. I so much wanted to return back here again.

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Antrim Coast

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Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge

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Ballintoy

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Giant’s Causeway

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Dark Hedges

Day 4: Coney Island

On and on, over the hill and the craic is good
Heading towards Coney Island.

What a day Tuesday was! One of the hottest days of the year, hitting 30 degrees in some places in Ireland. We travelled south towards the Mourne district, stopping off briefly in Downpatrick then bathing in the cool waters around Coney Island, just by Ardglass. I can see what Van Morrison saw in this place.

And all the time going to Coney Island I’m thinking,
Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

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Mourne Mountains

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Downpatrick

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Coney Island

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Mourne Mountains

Day 5: Derry and Malin Head

Travelling the Glenshane Pass between Belfast and Derry, you get this strange feeling of deja-vu. There are uncanny similarities between it and the road between Cork and Killarney, just by the county bounds.

Derry has a very different character to Belfast – this walled city, looking over the Bogside and the Inishowen peninsula. It is a crucible for many of the key events in Irish history – dating from the early middle ages to living memory – the civil rights marches and Bloody Sunday, 1972. I really like this city. Friendly to a fault and dripping with character.

From there we headed out to the walled hill fort of Grianán Aileach, then travelling north to the very northern tip of the island, Malin Head. Driving rain cut our journey short, but it was a trip worth taking.

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Derry – looking down to the Bogside

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Grianan Aileach

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Inishowen Peninsula

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Malin Head

 

A few days ago, I shared this photo of a Zeppelin that passed us by when I was on Lake Constance.

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It was part of an iPhone burst, so I had the idea to create an animated gif file of the experience. This was a little trickier than expected however, because I was on a boat at the time, so the degree of shake was pretty serious!

I took 22 shots from the burst and, patiently working with Affinity Photo, I stabilised them as much as I could. Here’s the result.

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Just in case you are asking – the two small dots in front of the Zeppelin is a plane carrying an advertising banner.

Looking back over all my photos this year, I found it hard to pick out the top ten shots that I was most happy with. It was a great year for photography for me. I managed to travel to a number of far flung places, but, in the end, most of my favourite photos were taken locally.  So here they are. Click on any one of them to get a better view.

Electric Sunrise

This photo was taken in mid-January 2015, in the hills near Glanmire, Co. Cork. I don’t usually stop my car when driving to work, but this was an exceptional dawn event. We often forget how beautiful the sunrises can be here in Ireland.

Electric Sunrise, Glanmire, Co. Cork

Pacific Breaker

I took a work visit to California in March. As always, I drive towards the Pacific coast as soon as I get off the plane. The waves are often enormous. This day was no exception. It was taken by Bean Hollow State Beach, about halfway between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

Breakers, Cabrillo Highway, California

 

Rowing Boat, Killarney

Quite a story for this next one. Myself and my friend Ais had elected to do a charity night-time walk up Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, in April. It was a total washout. We just barely managed to reach the top of the Devil’s Ladder before we were forced back by strong winds and lashing rain. We arrived back at Cronin’s Yard soaked to the skin. The original intention was to photograph the sunrise from the top of the mountain, but in the end, we were lucky simply to get back uninjured. The afternoon before the walk, I took this photo of a boat near Ross Castle.

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Double Rainbow

This photo from June was taken just yards from my home. The weather was showery that day, with rainbows guiding me all the way from Cork. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a double rainbow so stark as this one.

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Beech Trees, Waterford

The following day, Claudia and I went on a drive through County Waterford, taking the northerly route across the county from Portlaw to Clonea. It’s wonderfully picturesque; a maze of tiny roads and high estate walls. I took this photo on the walled road out of Portlaw. In the background is the lone hill of Slievenamon, Co. Tipperary.

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Camphire Horse Trials

I’m not at all into horses, but in July I visited the Camphire International Horse trials, nestled in a beautiful part of Waterford on the banks of the River Blackwater. It was a thoroughly wet day, but this didn’t spoil the enjoyment in the slightest. This photo, taken during the cross-country event, was full of action; the horse has just landed into the water after a challenging jump.

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Running boys

I just love this. My two youngest boys full of action. Why walk anywhere when you can run? It was taken on Garryvoe Beach in early August.

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The Big Sur

A few days later I was back on a plane, again in California for a few days. This time I decided to drive as far south from San Francisco as I could, reaching the Big Sur before sunset. It was a 100 mile drive to get there (and another 100 miles back). But my, was it worth it.

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Jellyfish Clouds

This photo was taken near home in late August. As the sun was setting, the cloud formation took the appearance of a tentacled jellyfish. It’s quite a panorama.

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Night Trail

A few days later, I took this evening shot by Garryvoe beach – the contrail of a jet casting an upwards shadow on nearby clouds.

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A few more

These are the photos that didn’t make my top 10. A pity, because I love all of them for different reasons. There are photos here from Shanghai, the Burren, Bantry House, Mount Congreve, the Galtee Mountains, California, Fota Wildlife Park, Penarth and Singapore, among other places.

 

 

 

Here’s a photo I took on a day trip to the Big Sur in California.

After arriving in San Francisco, I made my way down south, past Monterey and into the most wonderful coastal scenery imaginable.

Click on the photo for the full view.

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