Over the Rainbow – live from the studio

Inside the Over The Rainbow studio
Stealthily taken shot from where we sat.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of watching Over the Rainbow not from my sofa, but live from the studio at Wembley. As luck would have it, it was a particularly good week to pick, being ‘musical theatre’ week and a double eviction. We also got to see Charlotte Church perform, but to be honest, it was a little bit ‘meh’ in my opinion.

I’m not going to commentate on the show, as there are plenty of other blogs that do that perfectly (such as Over the Rainbitch, who I only found today, and whose comments seem spot-on), but instead address a few things that you’d have to have been in the studio to notice.

Applause

As when I have been to a TV recording before, the audience don’t decide when to applaud – we are told when the applaud and when to keep quiet by a couple of people standing between the audience and the stage. This means when everyone claps whenever the girls reach a high/loud point, it isn’t because they are all idiots, but because they are told to. In fairness, it does look quite good on the telly like that, it is just really annoying.

The same went for being forced to clap all the way through Tamsin Outhwaite’s number. And she wasn’t even there: it was a pre-record, as evident by the fact that the audience in her segment aren’t clapping and yet applause is heard.

Pick-ups/do-overs

Obviously the live show is live, so any pick-ups wouldn’t be possible anyway, not that it really needed them, but even the second show Graham Norton only made a single mistake that had to be re-shot – that cannot be an easy task, being faultless for a good few hours. I was impressed. We did have a few pauses for costume changes, but I think that is fair enough – why rush around live like mad things if you don’t have to.

Charlotte Church

Her song warrants its own section because she had to do it 3 times to get it right, and do the interview with Graham twice as she forgot to plug the single the first time round (duh!). Not particularly forgiveable given she is supposedly the experienced singer to mentor the Dorothys, who manage to (more or less) get 3 or 4 songs right each week in a single take. It was especially torturous as the song is pretty crappy anyway.

The Dorothys

Our first taste of the girls was when we realised we were sitting close to where they sit the guests/VIPs, so we congratulated/commiserated Stephanie on last week’s departure. The live show was relatively uneventful – I think it came across on telly the same way as it was in the studio. I definitely

think that Jenny and Sophie’s songs were chosen to try and unseat them; unpopular songs were never going to get as many votes as the well known numbers the other 4 produced. Combined with Jenny’s dog fiasco (again, I call fix…), it was predictable to see her go I think.

Sitting where we were, she then came up to join Stephanie which meant we got to have a chat (and a photo) with both of them. They were both lovely and relatively unfazed by the number of people wanting a chat/hug/photo. This confirmed my suspicions that I think I’d like to marry Jenny… ūüėČ

In the results show, the only point of note was Sophie in the mash-up, as she managed to get the dance wrong (twice, I think). Having watched it back last night, I think she escaped having it broadcast though, but we saw! I also thought that Jessica did a good job of keeping composed after her elimination, and seemed to be in good spirits as she left, thanking well-wishers including us. It was also notable that the first person to talk to her after she came down from the moon was the Lord himself, who greeted her with a big hug, so it looks like she is gong to be in his good books for a while to come.

I’m glad that I didn’t manage to make it on TV, as I think I would have felt very self-concious,and despite the 2 and 1/2 hour wait to get into the studios, I’d definitely do it again and I hope I get tickets for either (both?) of the next two shows. It also made me remember how much I love live musical theatre, so I think a few more West End trips are in the offing!

Over the Rainbow – the halfway point

As background, this is about the BBC TV show Over the Rainbow, where they search for a girl to play the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’m not all about sciency/politics things you know!

Firstly, I know we’ve had more than half of the shows (no idea where the time has gone…), but with 6/11 girls still in and a double eviction next week, I think it counts! The questions for me are: how were my predictions from the audition stages and have I changed my mind!

My picks from the top 10 were listed in 3 groups like so. I’ve struck through those which have already been eliminated.

Jessica
Stephanie
Dani

Amy
Danielle
Jenny
Lauren

Sophie
Bronte
Steph

And then Emilie was the wild-card who has been and gone.

So apparently I can’t pick them! Although I still think Jessica stands a great chance.

Contrary to my original rankings, I’m quite glad that Stephanie went tonight as while I still think she would have been great technically, she just isn’t as interesting to watch as some of the other Dorothys. In some ways, now we’ve seen¬†more of the girls on screen, in my mind I have mentally moved the goalposts so now they can’t just look and act like my mind’s eye thinks Dorothy should be but also have to win me over generally. I’ve fallen into a horrible trap of not judging them objectively at all, rather falling for the different personalities we are shown. Given I’m sure that is how most people vote, I’m actually surprised the programme-makers don’t have get the girls to engage more with the public and garner up more votes. Why don’t they publish diaries/twitter accounts/web-only video and the like? Certainly seems to be a demand for it if the way people lap up the official facebook page.

Embracing my change of heart, I’d like Jenny, Sophie or Lauren (I realise I’ve just named half the field…) to win as they are just very watchable, both in their performances and in flirting with the camera in the prerecorded segments. Otherwise, I stick by my shout of Jessica from way back!

I’ve also warmed a lot to Steph and her addresses to the camera, but I can’t see her as Dorothy: she just doesn’t seem vulnerable enough for me. I’d like to see her in something where she could use that confidence, Chicago maybe?

On a separate note, I’m going to see it LIVE next week at Fountain Studios in Wembley! I’m ridiculously excited, both by seeing it all live, but also in a geeky way by seeing how they work that mix of live theatre and live broadcasting. I’m sure it will be amazing, and I’ll try to write it up here. (Obviously without any spoilers, given the backlash in the Twitterverse last night over the leaking of potential spoilers!)

Science and Politics at a local level

After blogging about the manifestos of the three main parties, I thought I’d email the three main party candidates standing in my constituency (Frank Dobson (Labour), George Lee (Conservative) and Jo Shaw (Lib Dem)) to find out what their personal views on these kind of issues are, so I sent them the following email:

Dear …,

I am writing to you and the candidates from the other major parties to find out your views on science and education issues in the General Election and I will be posting all responses to my blog at http://www.blog.jstreetley.co.uk and updating the Skeptical Voter wikipage (http://skeptical-voter.org/wiki/) so that all can see where you stand. I think these issues are particularly pertinent to this constituency given the large number of HE institutions within it, so I hope you will find time to answer these questions.

Do you support the use of public funds to provide unproven health products such as homeopathy? Including funding of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital within the constituency?
Do you agree that testing on animals (within strict criteria) is a necessary part of the development of medicines?
Do you believe the science budget represents a sound investment? Will you act to protect science funding?
Do you support the concept of tuition fees/top-up fees, along with any cap?
Is a good Science education as important as one in English or Maths? Why?

I realise your party’s stance on some of these issues is clear in their manifesto, but I would really value your personal opinions on these and I know others in the skeptic and science community will too.

Regards,
James Streetley

Some questions are taken from the Skeptical Voter Survey and others I have invented. Feel free to use them to quiz your own PPCs if you wish. I will post back as soon as each replies to me.

Simon Singh Celebration and Westminster Skeptics gets political

Last night was a special edition of Westminster Skeptics, celebrating Simon Singh’s recent victory at the Court of Appeal over the meaning of the words he is being sued over (or as Dave Gorman put it “the 2nd Annual Simon Singh free-speech event”) and it was also a chance for us to hear what each of the three main parties had to say on the matter, which is of particular interest given the general election coming up and the manifestos being released this week. The Lib Dems were being represented by the veteran of Westminster Skeptics, Dr Evan Harris; the Conservatives by Joanne Cash, their PPC for Westminster North and Labour were Lord Bach, one of their Justice Ministers. This was followed by a panel discussion between Nick Cohen, Padraig Reidy, Sile Lane and Allen Green. As with every Skeptics in the Pub event, I was again pleasantly surprised at how engaging and educational standing in a pub and listening to what these renowned speakers had to say.

Dave Gorman

Dave Gorman opened proceedings with his fantastic line from above about this being the “2nd annual” event, to much applause from the crowd, before giving a both comedic and serious version of the story so far. To someone that doesn’t hang off of every word from Simon’s case (or in my case, have it distilled for me by Jack of Kent),¬† we must be a strange bunch with a lot of skeptic/libel reform in-jokes, and it was nice to see that Dave Gorman is someone who is fully in that crowd as it could be so easy for someone famous to put their name to a campaign without having the intimate knowledge at his fingertips that Dave Gorman appears to have.

He observes that the BCA have more-or-less failed in their mission to promote chiropractic by inviting more criticism than they previously had, and by trying to measure up to science. (I might be slightly paraphrasing here, as my notes aren’t as good as I thought)

both practitioners and customers know that the evidence isn’t up the standards set by science…that is the reason for their custom…they like to be “outside of science”

Indeed, why try and square up to science if you are purporting to be alternative?

He continues this train of thought throughout the whole case, talking about the right of reply and apology in the Guardian:

to not take the right of reply was to spectacularly miss an open goal

They were basically given the opportunity to put their side across that they don’t need evidence and operate beyond science, and they missed it. He then discusses the oddity asking for an apology and trying to understand just what sort of apology would have sufficed. After all, the BCA are apparently most upset about the idea that they were dishonestly promoting treatments (something the article is now deemed not to imply by the Courts). He puts forward a short potential apology:

They honestly believe this stuff works, but it doesn’t and they are stupid.

Well, it seems to cover their bases…

The final quote of the evening from Dave Gorman was a serious one about libel chill, and really the one that we are all worried about:

[some articles] are retracted before they’ve even been published, and that is what really scares me.

Quite.

(He sums this all up very neatly on his own blog too)

Simon Singh

Simon only took to the stage briefly as some of the politicians were on a tight schedule, but he (as many of the speakers did), thanked the blogosphere, the twitterers and all the supporters for helping this campaign to reach critical mass in the time it has, and putting libel reform into the limelight:

every major political party is backing libel reform

and updating us on his outlook following the judgement earlier in the month:

the case has changed position…looking a lot rosier

The Politicians

Lord Bach – Labour

Lord Bach (and Labour party) was much more committed to libel reform than I had initially expected and had some very powerful quotes to give to the room on where labour stood on the matter.

[we have] the full backing of the Government party

“new legislation on libel” in the manifesto

Labour are fully behind the movement, no matter what the election outcome

this is a firm commitment

Very strong words indeed, although as Evan Harris later pointed out, their manifesto still refers to “defendants” in libel cases; somewhat presumptuous.

Joanne Cash – Conservative

I was eager to see Joanne Cash for myself for two reason: as a Tory voter myself I really wanted to hear the party’s commitment to reform and she has been talked about at length in the media/blogosphere so I wanted to see for myself. I have to say that after the hype I was somewhat disappointed, but I suppose if someone has been built up in your mind, that is almost inevitable. As a libel barrister, I thought she would have more to say on the issue, but instead she kept it quite short and sweet and outlined their position as follows:

  • a commitment to change the cost regime
  • Dominic Greive plans to widen the comment defence
  • Commitment to new legislation if required

Dr Evan Harris – Liberal Democrats

As Allen Green said:

no meeting of Westminster Skeptics would be complete without a talk from Dr Evan Harris

and so it happened. Evan is really on home turf here and as a result he came across the best, especially when talking about the wider issues of libel chill and its existence throughout writing. He knows that the devil is in the details too, saying all the parties (even his own) might shy away from legislation if they haven’t promised us details. Consequently, here are his details:

The Lib Dems are committed to a statutory public interest defence

automatically qualified privilege for peer-reviewed journals

no reason that companies should be able to sue for libel…and a number of other things

I’m particularly interested in qualified privilege for peer-reviewed journals: seems to me like a brilliant idea, as long as there is adequate peer-review to stop nonsense becoming “qualified nonsense”!

Panel Discussion and Questions

The panel discussion was a somewhat rushed affair, and I think everyone (including me) was dying for a break at this point, but still a few good points were made by each speaker. Nick Cohen spoke at length about Conditional Fee Agreements and the recent defeat of a move to abolish them, lead by Tom Watson, but probably his most rousing quote was that we need libel refrom to

protect the freedom the internet has given

Allen Green then re-iterated that while Simon’s case and the recent judgement is important, it is not the end of the campaign and is relatively insignificant for most.

some writers will be more protected now, in some disciplines, but still no public interest defence and no end to libel tourism

And finally Padraig Reidy told the story of how Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, who sued Cambridge University Press regarding a book he claimed accused him of funding terrorism. CUP promptly apologised, pulped the books and donated a sum of money to Unicef on his behalf, despite the authors maintaining they had done nothing wrong.

Cambridge University Press folded at the first hurdle

I think this very neatly sums up the libel chill in this country.

So now, more than ever, we need to be watching our PPCs and their pledges as we go into this general election and make sure we have all signed the petition: lets get to 100,000 before Parliament starts again. The election gives us a chance to make a difference and change the law.

Sign the Petition

I’m Burlington Bertie…

UCL Mens 1st XV celebrating the Varsity win over the "Poly"

Yesterday was that highlight of the sporting year, the London varsity (well, the only one that counts), between King’s (Strand Poly) and the mighty UC. The rivalry between King’s and UCL is pretty well¬†known and well established (it even has its own Wikipedia entry!) and supposedly stems from their differing establishing aims and objectives. The animosity has been strong ever since, especially during the first half of last century according to the Wikipedia article. It is even mentioned in UCL’s chant of Burlington Bertie:

I’m Burlington Bertie,
I’m short, fat and dirty,
My college portrays my high class. (high class!)
I walk down the Strand,
With my cock in my hand,
And I wave it at King’s as I pass.
Oh Bert, Bert,
I come in my shirt,
At least I go to UC . (UC!)
There’s one thing I’m sure of,
Strand Poly are wankers,
I’m Burlington Bert from UC.
That’s me! And him! And him! And her!

I’m glad to report (as if there was any doubt), that UCL won both matches; Women’s 22-0 and Men’s 15-0, so WELL DONE!

Aside from being a vocal supporter complete with facepaint and yelling Burlington

Wearing some war paint for UC!

Bertie at the top of my voice, I took the opportunity to do a little more sports photography. The results are in the following Facebook album.

Turns out the sports photography in the dark with very bright floodlights everywhere is quite challenging… Who knew!?..</sarcasm> But I did have a lot of fun, am quite happy with the results despite the lens flare and the winning didn’t hurt either!

Strike action at UCL

I wasn’t going to blog about the fact the UCU have balloted members for strike action at UCL, but then I saw this Facebook group and couldn’t restrain the urge to comment and publicise the issue.

Normally I am staunchly against strike action, taking the capitalist viewpoint that companies exist to make money and should do whatever is permissible by law to make that happen with regards to staffing. This is definitely my thoughts on the current British Airways strike, especially as I am due to be inconvenienced by them. However, in an academic context, things are slightly different; the goal is not to make money but to educate. To me this significantly blurs the distinction between condemning and condoning strike action, for to me it seems only right for people to stand up and fight for a high quality of education; something that is not (and should not) be part of the free market.

The issue gets complicated further by the timing of the potential strikes. Calling action in the 3rd term at a university is grossly disruptive of exams and students. This is immensely worrying for those involved who may have future job offers, course offers and careers resting on the exam and more importantly the timely resolution of their grade.

I sincerely hope that UCU didn’t have a huge amount of choice¬†of when to call the strike, given the obvious effects it would have for their students, but I am worried by one sentence on the UCL UCU website which says:

it could also include refusal to mark and submit examinations results

Now I know the point of the strike is to be as disruptive as possible, but there must be other ways that don’t effects students so strongly. Going out there with such a controversial statement sure undermines their message of “fighting for education”, especially when UCU really needs student support to continue the fight against cuts.

In short, I’m not really sure what I think of this potential strike action, which is massive departure from my normal politics. One thing is for sure, it will be a very interesting term ahead. Leave a comment and tell me your views, or even try and persuade me to one side or the other.

UCLU Dodgeball 2010

Dodgeball in the UCL QuadToday was the annual inter-society dodgeball tournament at UCL. This is one of my favourite events of the UCLU calendar (others being the MODO Fashion Show and the Summer Ball) because the atmosphere is great, the weather is always great for it and I love what it says about UCL and UCLU. It is so much fun to watch and play such a fast-paced and rebellious game in such fantastic surroundings and the fact that UCL tolerate is to their credit. This juxtaposition of fun and frivolity with ostentatiousness and occasional pretensiousness is captured neatly in the tournament and sums up what I like about UCL; it is both progressive and world-leading, but with the right amount of tradition and ceremony as well.

Aside from my waxing lyrical about my alma mater (and soon to be my current institution as I begin a new course in September), the real reason for this post is that I went down there to photograph the event. I haven’t had a proper outing with the camera for ages, so it was good to get out and take some photos, which you can find on my Facebook, as well as my obligatory establishing shot at the beginning.

For those wishing to find out more about the tournament; I gather around 50 teams entered and the almighty winners were the UCLU Snowsports Society. More photos, information and results are on the UCLU website. From what I could see, it was definitely the most successful Dodgeball to date.

Supporting Simon Singh

Simon Singh making speech outside Royal Courts of Justice this morning

Last night I attended my second ever Skeptics in the Pub, this time at the Westminster branch which was entitled “Science Libel Survivors – Rally of the Skeptics”, and held the night before Simon Singh’s hearing at the Court of Appeal regarding his case with the British Chiropractic Association.¬†(For those not familiar with Simon’s case, as Simon put it: the Jack of Kent blog is a good place to start… and end!).

As per my previous visit to a Skeptics in the Pub event, this was an entertaining, chilling and educational event and I’d recommend anyone to give it a go. I’ve heard a lot about Simon’s case thanks to the slightly geeky science, news, politics circle that I seem to move in (students), but hearing the tales of those being sued, particularly Peter Wilmshurst, really brought home to me the need for libel reform in this country. I know it is cliche, but it really is throttling the criticism of scientific ideas and their practice, which is no way to do science: a method which thrives on peer-review and having your ideas scrutinised.

Libel Reform supporters with placards outside the court

With that in mind, I decided to get up extra early this morning and trudge down to the Royal Courts of Justice to show my support for Simon Singh and libel reform in general before his hearing today. I also took the opportunity to sign the petition for libel reform, and encourage everyone to do the same, if not for Simon then the next journalist, blogger, scientist or medic who falls foul of someone with a lot more financial backing and has to retract their statement.

In terms of today, it sounds like a success from what I can see from those avidly tweeting the event with the hashtag #SinghBCA, with the judge’s posing some awkward questions for the BCA. The first news article from the hearing is at the Index on Censorship and Jack of Kent is due to blog about today’s hearing any minute, so I will leave it to those who were actually there and are of a legal persuasion to comment on what actually happened.

However, regardless of today’s hearing and the ruling further down the line, that doesn’t stop the ongoing reform campaign being massively significant, so I urge anyone that reads this to make sure they have signed up.

**UPDATE**
Jack of Kent has just completed his blog post on the day in court.

Homeopathy closer to home

In the last post, I mentioned that the evidence and perception of homeopathy is becoming a “great interest of mine”. I thought I’d better explain why, rather than just leaving it as some ambiguous waffle.

The main reason my interest has suddenly just shot up is that homeopathy has just merged two of my hobbies: grumbling about science and student politics. This has happened in the form of the Birkbeck University Homeopathic Society which formed earlier this year at Birkbeck, where I study, and has been advertised in the lifts for a while now.

Now, I’m aware that the NHS spends around ¬£4million every year on homeopathy, and that is alarming, but somewhat abstracted from me: I wouldn’t choose to do it and by virtue of not having a job, I don’t pay taxes to help support it. However, when it starts to occur in the same building as me, associated with the name of my university and in a place where many of us are practising a real science, with the scientific method, it becomes a lot harder to swallow. Made even worse (or maybe better), by the fact that their website proclaims them to be Middlesex Uni students – so what opportunity the society creates for Birkbeck students in beyond me.

So that is the reason behind my new found interest and I’m definitely going to be doing a bit of digging and maybe even start a little campaign of my own.

For more information on homeopathy, I can’t recommend enough the 10:23 site, particularly here for a quick overview of what the fuss is.

Skeptics in the Pub – London

Ok, so this was nearly a week ago now, but I’ve been busy!

On Monday I had the pleasure of attending my first meeting of the London branch of Skeptics in the Pub. Both me and my friend (female) were pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t just a room full of boring looking middle-aged men as the name (and some of their photos…) might proclaim. Although it is mostly male.

Any how, Monday’s speaker was Martin Robbins (@mjrobbins) of The Lay Scientist. He gave a humorous (if not foul-mouthed) account of his work as press officer for the excellent 10:23 campaign (Homeopathy: There’s nothing in it). Homeopathy, its evidence and how widely understood it is are becoming great interests of mine, on the back of reading Ben Goldacre’s book: Bad Science and my previous disdain for how poorly science is generally understood by and communicated to the public.

This meeting was the opposite to all that dumbing down and proved that you can present graphs and real data to the (self-selecting) masses who might not be experts and people are receptive to that. I will certainly be attending the next one.