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So Nessa Childers doesn’t like Facebook. She’s mad as hell and she want’s someone to do something about it.

Let’s say we make a small change to what she said. Let’s get rid of the words “social networks” or “Facebook” and make some small alterations instead.

Labour MEP Nessa Childers has said the EU can and should bring in new laws to protect people from the dangers of addiction to popular social networking activities such as reading, emailing, club membership and talking.

Ms. Childers, who is a psychotherapist by profession said, “There has been an explosion in recent years in the use of social networking, in particular talking, a facility I frequently use to keep in touch with constituents. I believe the disturbing levels of addiction to talking, which has over 400,000 users in Ireland is sufficiently high as to warrant intervention and regulation by the EU.

“With the passing into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU now has increased powers to legislate when there is a threat to public health in Europe. I am today calling on the European Commission to submit proposals to the European Parliament to tackle this clear and present threat to the mental health of millions of European citizens.

“Using telephones from time to time in order to interact with friends and family is all very well. However no guidelines or codes of conduct have been produced by the telephone company to help prevent users becoming addicted. This is where transnational institutions must step in and subject such sites to the scrutiny of EU public health law.

“Using email frequently causes what psychologists refer to as ‘intermittent reinforcement’. Notifications, messages and invites reward you with an unpredictable high, much like gambling. That anticipation can get dangerously addictive.

“Joining a bridge club rewards you with virtual connections and friends. These connections then expand to fill an increasingly empty internal world creating a vicious circle.

“We can read novels that present an unreal and flawless version of ourselves. Many people read books once or twice a week however for others it has turned into a compulsion – and it is a compulsion to dissociate oneself from the real world in exchange for the apparently non-threatening parallel world of the romantic novel.

“Reading is especially seductive when real life isn’t going so well. In real life, people have bad breath and smelly feet and we argue about who’s going to change the baby’s nappy. But no such banalities exist in literature. Working as a professional psychotherapist, I saw an exponential increase in addiction to pornography, a disturbing phenomenon which has wrecked relationships and lives. Action is needed at international level from the EU to properly take on the disturbing trend of addiction to libraries and bookshops which are responsible for all sorts of problematic behaviour”, she concluded.


(via NASA HQ)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is unquestionably one of the best communicators that the scientific community has at the moment. He is an astronomy wonk and all of his talks on the subject are bursting with enthusiasm and passion for his chosen subject. When it comes to public outreach and inspiring new generations of scientists and science fans, I put him up there with Carl Sagan.

He was recently a guest on the Rationally Speaking podcast with Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galaf, and he did not disappoint. In the podcast, Neil talks about Obama’s recent NASA announcement, and how it will shape space exploration in the coming decades.

Tyson states that no humans will be going to Mars any time soon. Major expeditions need major, sustained funding and this can only happen if at least one of three fundamental drivers are in place: the glorification of a deity or king, the search for wealth and the need for self-preservation. In essence, power, money and war. None of these driving reasons can currently be used to justify the landing of humans on the Red Planet.

I would note two honorable exceptions to Tyson’s rule: the International Space Station and the Large Hadron Collider. Both projects were monumentally expensive, but nevertheless none of the reasons outlined above were in place. Tyson notes that the end of the Cold War caused the US superconducting collider project to be cancelled in 1989, but this doesn’t explain why the EU persisted with the LHC as the end of the Cold War affected Europe to just as great a degree.

At the end of the podcast, Tyson discusses the recent movie Avatar and some of the movie’s more badly executed concepts. It’s a delightful discussion. I had to laugh when he talked about the creatures with their own USB ports..

This is a top-class podcast from a top-class communicator so if you get a chance, have a listen.

Rationally Speaking : Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Need For a Space Program

A few oldies and goodies.

First up, Homeopathic A&E. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen this.

Next, Crispian Jago gives us an out-of-body experience.

Brian Brushwood gives a talk on Homeopathy and magnet therapies

.. and not forgetting Dara O’Briain’s famous video on Homeopathy

It turns out that I am here in Austin for another night. All was going swimmingly in the airport. We had arrived in plenty of time, we had our boarding cards printed, we had secured our onward connections and we had even boarded the plane when the announcement came. “The flight has been cancelled”.

Dallas, our first destination on the return journey, has been hit with a rare snowstorm. disrupting all flights in and out of the airport. Trust us to be there in the middle of it.

Lots of phone calls and long queues later, we are ensconced for the night in a hotel not far from the airport. It will be an early start: 4am. Fingers and toes are securely crossed.

My, how time flies. It’s my last day in Austin before I travel back to Europe. Mind you, I have an insanely short connection in Dallas later today, so I might yet live to eat my words.

It’s been a lot of fun. Good food, good company and friendly, down-to-earth people. Austin is a compact, sophisticated city; well worth a visit. And my, it has lots and lots and lots of bars. We took a dander down 6th Street last night – one of the highest concentrations of pubs and clubs on the continent. Wednesday night and things were humming.

Oh yes. My word for the week is geocaching – a kind of Internet treasure hunt activity that as captured the imagination of an American colleague of mine. A quick search of the Internet revealed a few geocaches in Cork, one very close by to my home, so you never know..

Next stop: Stuttgart, where I am reliably informed that it suffering record ice-age conditions.

The wonder of Twitter. I’m 7,000 km from Ireland at the moment and yet I probably heard the announcement about George Lee, leaving the Irish parliament faster than many of my compatriots. The excitement that this generated was tantamount to an explosion going off at the heart of the Irish political system. It causes no end of problems for Fine Gael, the largest opposition party in the state, and it calls into question the system’s ability to attract the brightest and best the country has to offer.

Successful politicians are grafters. They have an innate instinct for saying the right things to the right people. They have thick skins and they are comfortable in the heat of battle. Most of all, they will do everything possible to keep their constituents happy, helping them to sort out problems with leaking drains and noisy neighbours. They play an uneasy game, always attempting to balance their own needs for power and influence with the concerns of those who elected them. The longest lived politicians are not, perhaps, the best and the brightest, nor the most passionate about leadership and change, but those who know how to play the game the best. The result is a system where the best way to be become the leader is to be born into the right family, and to learn the craft at an early age.

So it is with most occupations in life, professional and amateur. There are rules, both overt and covert. You play them well, you win. You don’t need to be the best or the most able, just particularly well adapted to the rules of the system.

George was well adapted to the rules of journalism. He is an acute observer of politics and statehood, but it doesn’t seem as if the game of politics played to his strengths all that much. It’s a pity, because he clearly had a lot to say. He had passion and a desire for change. He was bright and articulate and he clearly has the abilities of a leader, as many listen keenly to what he has to say.

So we may complain about our politicians, but in reality they are normally only a product of the system that creates them. We can change the leadership or replace the government, but unless that system itself is changed, nothing of substance will happen.

My first ever podcast, “A series of spectacular events” has been posted on the 365 Days of Astronomy blog today. It recounts a number of memorable experiences that I had while looking upwards at the skies over the past few years: a meteor storm, an aurora and a space shuttle launch. Hopefully it will convey the power of astronomy to recreate that sense of wonder that we had in abundance as children.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this. It was a lot of fun to put together and I have a few other ideas in the pipe-works that I would love to turn into finished podcasts some time in the future.

Photo by Jol (Flickr)

Many periods of irrational exuberance are accompanied by great architectural works that appear, in hindsight, to define the unbridled optimism and arrogance of the era in which they were created. The Empire State Building was a product of the years preceeding the Great Depression, while the Petronas Towers opened its doors during the 1997 economic collapse in Malaysia.

The Burj Dubai, which officially opens tomorrow, is the greatest monument from our most recent period of economic madness. At approximately 820 metres, it overshadows its nearest rival, Taipei 101, by over 300 metres. It has 162 floors and is visible from a distance of almost 100 km away. It cost USD 4 billion to construct, took 5 years to build and had over 7,500 people working on it at one stage.

And now, it’s finished. How long will it take to become economically viable? The Empire State Building took 20 years to do so.

Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009:

“We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.


As the year’s embers grow cold

Let us remember the good times;

Allowing those darker sands

To fall through our hands;

Soil for the flowers of an approaching spring.

I wish you health and joy in 2010.

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