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Passing through my third-life crisis peacefully in South London, finding out new stuff, and then getting cross and excited about it.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A new arrival!

A short post to formally announce the birth of my adorable son Alexander Owen Douglas Treadway on 5 July 2010 at 18:08 weighing an eye-watering 9lbs 9oz. After a short stay in hospital, he and mum are back home and doing very well.

I don't plan to blog much if at all about being a parent, but I did at least want to mark the occasion, if only because a number of people have asked whether we have named him after the Buffy the Vampire character (as we intend to call him Xander) or Douglas Adams.

The first is a nice coincidence, the latter entirely deliberate. My wife liked my original suggestion of 'Douglas Adams Treadway' until she realised why it sounded so eerily familiar. However, she likes 'Douglas' as a name and we have a fantastic friend with the name, so from there on in it was plain sailing. (As far as the others go, Owen is a common name in Stef's family, and we just both really liked 'Alexander').

And that's all, except to say a further thanks to Mr Adams because it turns out that an affinity to his writing is extremely useful for the new father, as the following points should highlight:
  • Don't panic
  • Share & enjoy the experience
  • Time is an illusion (nighttime doubly so)
  • Babies think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. However, they also think that everything else is a pretty neat idea - so much so that they will listen in rapt attention to my dad's golf stories for hours on end. 
  • A towel IS the most massively useful thing you can have. Partly it has great practical value, more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value as it can be of use in any emergency you will face. Any man who can rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with
  • Being at the birth of your child is, for the father, the closest equivalent to being plugged into the Total Perspective Vortex I can imagine. You are given just a momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says both "You are here". You also realise that you have absolutely no concept of what pain actually feels like"
  • I have observed that, as with Bistromathics, where "numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants", so numbers surrounding the birth of a child are also relative, or non-absolute. The basic non-absolute numbers are the given time of the baby's arrival and it's expected weight. The more complex non-absolute numbers of visitors who say they are coming to see the baby and the time they actually arrive (which will bear no relation to the number of people who actually turn up and when they turn up). And the final non-absolute (and entirely imaginary) number is the total of cost of the baby, which can however be reliably estimated by multiplying by itself your initial expectation of what that cost would be.

Oh, and I just have to post the best, most lovely photo ever taken anywhere.


Monday, 14 June 2010

"Big Pharma is all around you" - Celebrating WHAW

[To celebrate World Homeopathy Awareness Week, here is a world first - the full transcript of a secret meeting at the Society of Homoepaths at which a new recruit, Neo, is being inducted. He is taken to meet the organisation's most prestigious supporter.]

STRANGE MAN: At last. Welcome. 

He waits for Neo to cross the room and then greets him.

STRANGE MAN: As you no doubt have guessed, I am Dr Nancy Malik.

NEO: It's an honor.

NANCY: Please. Come. Spend money.

They sit across from one another in cracked, burgundy leather chairs.

NANCY: I imagine, right now, you must be feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole?

NEO: You could say that.

NANCY: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he is told because he has no regard for science and evidence.

A smile, razor-thin, curls the corner of his lips.

NANCY: Ironically, this is far from the truth. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Can you tell me, Neo, why are you here?

NEO: You're Nancy Malik, you're a legend. Most quacks would die to meet you.

NANCY: Yes. Thank you. But I think we both know there's more to it than that. Do you believe in evidence, Neo?

NEO: No.

NANCY: Why not?

NEO: Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.

NANCY: I know exactly what you mean.

Again, that smile that could cut glass.

NANCY: There is another reason, though. Let me tell you why you are here. You are here because you are sick.

NEO: I’m sick?

NANCY: I can help you, Neo, using water, but not as a drink. We use it like it was part of you. What you can do inside water is not normal. I know. I've seen it. What we do is quantum entanglement. Maybe.

Neo shrugs.

NEO: It's magic?

NANCY: Yes it is, Neo. Yes it is. There is no other way to describe what will happen to you.

He leans forward.

NANCY: Homeopaths are trained to reject everything that is rational and logical.

Neo shakes his head.

NANCY: As children, we do not separate the possible from the impossible which is why the younger a mind is the easier it is to free while a mind like yours can be very difficult.

NEO: Free from what?

NANCY: From Big Pharma.

Neo looks at his eyes but only sees a reflection of himself.

NANCY: Do you want to know what it is, Neo?

Neo swallows and nods his head.

NANCY: It's that feeling you have had all your life. Big Pharma is everything that’s wrong with the world. I can’t prove that it does, but, like a splinter in your mind, paying off everyone and driving you to me. But what is it?

The leather creaks as he leans back.

NANCY: Big Pharma is everywhere, it's all around us, here even in this room. You can see its work in the 10:23 campaign and Sense About Science. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

NEO: What truth?

NANCY: That you are a slave, Neo. That you, like everyone else, was born into bondage... ...that evidence based medicine is a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.

Outside, the wind batters a loose pane of glass.

NANCY: Unfortunately, we cannot prove how bad Big Pharma is, so you have to choose our remedies yourself.

NEO: How?

NANCY: Hold out your hands.

In Neo's right hand, Nancy drops a red pill.

NANCY: This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back.

In his left hand, a blue pill.

NANCY: You take the blue pill and you will see a gradual improvement in your condition in accordance with the well established progress of pathogens as demonstrated by evidence from randomly controlled clinical trials.

The pills in his open hands are reflected in the glasses.

NANCY: You take the red pill and absolutely nothing will happen whatsoever, although if you feel better I will be able to claim it worked.

Neo feels the smooth skin of the capsules, with the moisture growing in his palms.

NANCY: Remember that all I am offering is to make you completely ignorant of the truth. Nothing more.

Neo opens his mouth and swallows the red pill. The Cheshire smile returns.

NANCY: Follow me.

They exit. The sound of ringing cash registers can be heard in the distance.


Written with the highly estimable Martyn Norris, with more than a little tip-o'-the-hat to Crispian Jago.

If anyone knows where I can link to the video, please let me know!

Friday, 9 April 2010

TAM London 2010 - Who I'd like to see

A small bird is twittering that this year's TAM London may take place on the third weekend in October.

I didn't make it last year, and I really, really want to go so I'm waiting expectantly for more details. So much so, that I've found myself fantasising about who might speak.

This is partly because it's only just over 6 months away, partly because I've been enjoying Crispian Jago's Skeptic Top Trumps, and also partly because I went to see the monstrously good Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Last year's speakers suggest four broad categories of speakers, although there was a strong weighting to the Brits:

  1. JREF Reps - Phil Plait (Randi was sadly too ill to fly)
  2. UK based skeptics - Richard Wiseman, Ben Goldacre, Jon Ronson, Ariane Sherine, Tim Minchin, Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Robin Ince (Richard Dawkins was also scheduled to speak but couldn't make it)
  3. US based skeptics - Adam Savage, George Hrab
  4. Speakers from left field - Glenn Hill
Entirely selfishly, I'd like to see the balance shift this year.

I've seen or heard all of the British skeptics speak at some point over the last 12 months, and they already get a decent and increasing amount of exposure in mainstream media. Given TAM's profile, I'd like to see some slightly less familiar names given a bigger platform than they might otherwise get. 

I'd also like the chance to see more big names from the US, since there aren't many opportunities to do so.

And, most of all, I'd love to see some people who might not yet call themselves skeptics. The only name on last year's list who wasn't a well-known, card-carrying member of the movement was Glenn Hill, son of Elsie Wright who produced the 'Cottingley Fairies' photographs. 

To my mind, that made him the most intriguing speaker.

TAM is a great opportunity to bring in those whose expertise lies slightly outside traditional skeptical fields, but who are natural bedfellows for the movement. The last 18 months have, I would argue, seen skepticism in the UK emerge blinking into the light, having an impact in wider areas than before, and I'd like to see speakers at TAM who reflect that.

In what I think was my best post to date, I wrote in January about 'The Skeptics Who Never Were' because the movement came to late for them. And so here, using the same categories as above, is my fantasy list of speakers for TAM London 2010.

1) JREF Reps
  • James Randi - Every skeptics' favorite uncle, Randi has just come out at the incredible age of 81 and was too ill to make it last year. He has to be first on the list.
  • DJ Grothe -  As the new President, DJ is pretty much now the leader of the free-thinking world. He has had some very interesting stuff to say recently about 'kneejerk skepticism' and the importance of the grass roots. And, when I spoke to him a while back for the Pod Delusion, he said he'd break bread with me.
2) UK based skeptics
  • Andy Lewis from Quackometer. I was fortunate enough to see him at CFI's Alt Med on Trial, and he was sensationally good. Very insightful and very funny, I suspect he would completely own the event.
  • Bruce Hood - Author of Supersense and baiter of ADE651 proponents, he has atypical views on homeopathy on the NHS and how & when skeptics should engage. Would challenge more preconceptions than other speakers.
  • Richard Wilson - Not the aging actor who can't believe it, but the trouble-making journalist and author of Don't Get Fooled Again. It would be great to hear Wilson's take on the Climategate emails and tactics of the deniers, since he's an expert on the methods the tobacco industry used in the 60s and 70s.
  • Josie Long - Co-presenter of Robin Ince's much-missed Utter Shambles, Long is a stand up comedienne full of wit, eccentricity and sense of wonder at the world. Kind of like a female, funnier-but-less-well-qualified, whimsical English version of Carl Sagan.
3) US based skeptics
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht - Another one to challenge and stretch the standard skeptical outlook, she argues that there is truth to be found in the arts. A poet & historian, she wrote The Happiness Myth and Doubt: A History as well as the gorgeous Dear Fonzie blogShe is the most erudite speaker on my list, and I can't imagine we'll see her in the UK unless it's at TAM. My absolute first choice
  • Michael Shermer - Presumably everyone knows who he is? Runs The Skeptic magazine among other things, if you aren't sure, and (again) someone who we don't get to see in the UK so often.
  • PZ Myers - Just because he'll make me laugh harder than anyone else and, if we ask him nicely, he might come over a month early and help to irritate the Pope.
  • Eugenie ScottFrom her position as executive director of the National Centre for Science Education, Scott is the doyenne and heroine of the movement to preserve the teaching of evolution in the US education. The faith schools agenda suggests we may need her expertise in the UK sooner rather than later.
4) Speakers from left field
  • Nancy Cartwright - Important to note that I'm talking about this lady, the LSE-based philosopher of science and economics, not the voice of Bart Simpson. Cartwright would really help widen the boundaries and scope of UK skepticism. She would go a long way to ensuring philosophy wasn't a dirty word for skeptics, and would also have important things to say about the role of critical thinking in policy making. 
  • Becky Hogge - Hogge is best known as writer a on technology, editor of openDemocracy and was previously executive director of the Open Rights GroupSeeing as Web 2.0 played such a crucial role in the explosion of skepticism, who better to talk at TAM in a year when the traumatically awful Digital Economy bill has been passed? She has also worked for Little Atoms and Index On Censorship, perennial friends of skepticism.
  • Andy Nyman - There are nowhere near as many magicians associated with skepticism in the UK as there are in the States, and while Derren Brown might be the obvious choice, Nyman is the man behind the curtain, as co-creator and co-writer of all of Brown's shows. He is also responsible for the incredible Ghost Stories, and I'd love to hear his thoughts on things that go bump in the night.  
  • Jasper Fforde - We missed Douglas Adams by a good few years, and for some reason I don't think Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman would fit in. But Fforde is a author who understands science, and he is a worthy heir to Adams' manthle. The Thursday Next books are full of science-based humour and illogical flourishes, and The Fourth Bear features a degree in pseudoscience alongside all sorts of technological nonsense. If you haven't given Fforde a go, do so as quickly as you can.
  • Armando Iannucci - Quite simply, no one has made a more persuasive argument for evidence-based policy in the last year than Iannucci and co did with In The Loop.
  • Alan Rusbridger - Finally the current editor of the Guardian. While the temptation must be to ask Simon Singh to speak again, or his fellow libel sufferers like Peter Wilmshurst, I'd be intrigued to hear Rusbrider's take on libel-reform, as well as the role of science in politics, and where blogs, newspapers and other media go next.
So there you go. 

I realise it's an improbable, lenghty and entirely selfish line-up, but to hell with that. 

I know TAM will be a fascinating event whoever is speaking, and I'll be intruiged to see if any of my names overlap with the real list.

Hope to see you all there.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

On Douglas Adams

Have I mentioned that there is a Douglas Adams memorial lecture this week in aid of Save the Rhino?

I did a Pod Delusion interview last week with this year's speaker, Marcus du Sautoy, to publicise it - if you are interested, here is a slightly longer version.

Given it is now nine years since his incredibly sad and early death, and that I wasn't a close personal friend, it would be odd for me to write a  keening lament of the kind Richard Dawkins wrote the day after he died.

However, now that I have a blog, it would feel odd not to write something on what would have been his 58th birthday.

I've said before that I think Adams would have found much in common with the burgeoning skeptical movement, something borne out by Bob Novella from the SGU when I spoke to him (again, this is a longer version of last week's Pod Delusion interview).

However, his legacy means far more to me than just its link to skepticism, and Adams' death was one of only two occasions where I was deeply affected by the loss of a public figure (the other being John Peel). 

His writing has been an ever present feature in my life. I devoured all of it during my geeky teenage years, revealuted it during my geeky twenties and, now, in my thirties (which are contuingly and disappointingly geeky), I return to the books like familiar old friends.

So, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be that there is far more to Adams than simply a few jokes about robots.

Most people I know have read at least the first couple of Hitchhiker books, and the reasons for Adams' popularity are obvious - the endless cascade of ideas, the warm absurdity so unique to Adams' writing, and the dual understanding of science and literature on display throughout

But few people have heard the original the radio series. I listened to until my cassettes literally broke. It still sounds unique to day - at the time it was revolutionary. It will give you an insight into what a good writer Adams was, and provides new insights into why the books are so easy to read - they were written with the spoken word in mind.

Then, there are the later Hitchhiker books, which to my mind are better novels. They retain all the good points of the early books, but Adams had run out of radio scripts to adapt, and so turned his hand to constructing a novel from scratch.

Mostly Harmless may be less popular among fans because it is so dark in tone, but its a masterclass in structure and pace.

The two Dirk Gently novels continue this trend, and Adams never bettered their central character or intricacy of plot. Try Chapter 6 of Holistic Detective Agency or Chapter 9 of The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul to see what I mean.

And finally, if you think there is a reason you won't enjoy his novels, such as you don't like science fiction or laughing out loud, there are the non-fiction books Last Chance To See and Salmon of Doubt, which was published posthumously. These reveal the passion and humanity of Adams, something reflected by everyone who knew him. He was an extraordinarily nice man and you begin to realise how much of himself he put into his novels.

The nearest I ever came to meeting Adams in person was a fleeting glance of his gargantuan frame at was a book signing during the mid-90s

My father and I turned up in glorious naivety expecting to buy tickets on the night, only to find it had sold out weeks before. We watched forlornly as Adams arrived in a car and disappeared inside, although I later received a signed copy of Mostly Harmless for a guilty father.

The awesome memorial lectures have provided some consolation over the years. I remember Robert Swan and Mark Carwardine with particular fondness, and in 2005, at the charity auction, I bought two tickets to the premiere of the long-delayed Hitchhikers film (which was disappointing but is hugely underrated - Mos Def is a wonderful Ford Prefect).

I understand you will be able to listen to the Marcus du Sautoy lecture after the event, and I will link to it as and when I can. If any of you are there, let me know, as some fellow PodDelights and I are going for a drink afterwards.

Until then it only remains to say Happy Birthday and thank you to Douglas Adams, a hoopy frood if ever there was one. You are fondly remembered, and sorely missed.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The anti-10:23 protest

There are two main benefits of working in Westminster

One is the newly founded and quite brilliant Westminster Skeptics in the Pub, of which more another time.

The other is that I’m very close to the Houses of Parliament, which is a lovely place to go and eat lunch.

Occasionally, there are protests in Parliament Square to entertain you while you eat.

Brian Haw is always there, and recently there were the huge Tamil rallies, although my personal favourite was when a few hundred beekeepers popped up in full regalia.

Today, though, was the turn of the homeopaths, who had arranged to protest in advance of Monday's Select Committee report

I was alerted to the planned protest by Gimpy, and as an ardent 10:23 supporter, I thought I’d pop down and see what happened.*

It’s fair to say that the protest wasn’t well attended (there were far more beekeepers last November). I’m no good at estimating the size of crowds, but there were probably only around 50 people. There were certainly less than at the London 10:23 event, and definitely less than 10^23 homeopaths to the one of me.

It’s also fair to point out that the messages on banners were not about evidence. It’s obviously unfair to expect homemade signs to outline detailed criticism of RCTs, but the points made on them were familiar, tired arguments – you can see ‘My healthcare, My choice’ and ‘Homeopathy worked for me!’ in my photos.

I took a couple of photographs and then engaged a couple of protesters in discussion, hoping to speak to a press spokesman or one of the leaders for the Pod Delusion.

It quickly became clear that there was no organisation to speak of. The parliamentary authorities had agreed to allow up to 100 people into the building, but there were nowhere near that number of people.

I introduced myself as someone involved in 10:23 demonstration and who was interested in seeing what the protestors were saying.

We had quite a jolly chat about what my beef was, why I didn’t support choice in healthcare and their assertion that there was good evidence for homeopathy and other complementary treatments.

There was then a lovely moment when another woman came over and said she that as I was obviously a very articulate young man, would I like to speak on their behalf when they met some MPs? 

Her two co-protestors quickly explained I was from the ‘other side’ and we continued talking.

The exchange became a bit more detailed, although no less good-natured, when we were joined by Tim Lloyd from the College of Practical Homeopathy (as opposed to the Theoretical kind?). He was able to quote studies and more sophisticated arguments, and so our discussion quickly ranged wider.

I’ll try to summarise the discussion here. 

Bear in mind that while most points were made by Tim Lloyd, not all were. And although I did think their points were quite weak and easy to rebut, I’m also documenting the whole thing from memory, so there may be some confirmation bias involved…

They said that money was wasted on all sorts of things in the NHS, and £4m in the scale of the total budget was tiny, so why was this a big concern? Why did I want homeopathy banned?

I explained that I didn’t want homeopathy banned, but simply not funded on the NHS because there was no evidence it worked.

They made a number of points in response to this.

Apparently, 80% of people who used homeopathy paid for it privately anyway, but wasn’t discriminating against people who could not afford to pay for it? Here I reiterated the evidence point.

They also claimed there is good evidence for homeopathy. I questioned whether that was in the form of double blind trials, to which they said variously:
  • Yes it is
  • You can only establish whether healthcare measures work over a long period of time, once you can see the full side effects. Homeopathy has been tested over a period of time and the data is there, while modern medicine hasn’t been
  • They said that all good high quality, double blinded, randomly controlled trials on Arnica show that it works on bruises. I’m not an expert on the literature, but I disputed that there were any such trials.
  • The 1918 wartime trial on Spanish flu showed homeopathy worked. (I know Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst had dismissed in Alternative Medicine on Trial, but couldn’t remember why.)
  • There are massive trials going on at the moment in Swaziland (not double blinded) and Cuba (double blinded) which showed homeopathy worked. I agreed that, if they trials were as described, the Cuban one would be very interesting.
They suggested that meta-analyses showing homeopathy doesn’t work are not a reasonable measure of efficacy because they exclude the trials where homeopathy has fared well, and include the trials where it has fared badly.

I suggested that those conducting the analyses would characterise things differently, as they included high and excluded low quality trials, and that this is what led to poor results for homeopathy. Their response was ‘They would say that!’

They agreed that it would be wrong to just include trials where homeopathy was successful, but that one should look at all of the trials, and that showed positive results.

We discussed the argument that homeopathy is hard to test because of the vast number of remedies and because people don’t react in the same way to remedies. This was, they explained, why the individualised consultation is important. 50% of homeopathy is apparently the consultation.

I asked whether that meant Boots remedies didn’t work, since they weren’t individualised but purchased from a shop. They said no, in general, mass produced remedies didn’t work as well as individualised ones, but that for ‘simpler’ remedies they worked just as well.

I asked whether they would support Big Pharma selling drugs that had not been shown to work via double-blind trials, or shown not to work via double blind trials.

They responded that Big Pharma drugs didn’t work but they hid the results. I said I agreed this was a problem, and that all research should be funded, but that it was irrelevant to the question of whether they would support the sale of those drugs.

They agreed that there should not be one rule for all and that they would not be happy for Big Pharma to sell drugs under those conditions.

I also asked whether all homeopaths succuss remedies the same number of times. They assured me they did, and that they knew it was the right amount because there have hundreds of years of experience to go on, although no tests they could tell me about.

And there I had to leave it because my lunch break was over, and the protestors were being called into the Commons.

I’m not sure what happened inside, but if I can find any details or anyone knows, I’ll update the post.

Overall, it wasn’t a very impressive show of force. If this is the ‘not inconsiderable influence within the homeopathic community’ Lionel Milgrom has been boasting of, Evan Harris will be fine.

Tim Lloyd said he was happy to continue the debate if I wanted. 

I have no great desire to, although I enjoyed the back and forth and he and his colleagues were very pleasant.

It’s just a shame they are so horribly, horribly wrong.

NB Thanks to those who suggested helpful questions for me to ask, which included:

-         There's not many people here today, do you think that you're stronger in more diluted numbers?
-         Isn't this a placebo protest? You're probably not going to have any actual effect, but it'll make you feel a lot better?
-         If a spoon-full of sugar helps the medicine go down, what does a sugar pill on its own help go down?
-         As like cures like, shouldn't you be advocating a ban on homeopathy?

A shorter version of this report will appear on the Pod Delusion on Friday. I may use some of this superb material there.

*At one stage I thought about doing a one-man overdose, but was undone by my inherent dislike of confrontation and my inability to sort out the forms required to stage a protest in Parliament Square.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Birthday, Pod Delusion - The 21st Edition

Yesterday saw the release of the 21st proper episode of what is now firmly established as everyone's favorite newsy, political, skeptical, liberal weekly podcast with ska theme tune and numerous contributors.

So, it is time for a warm and heartfelt happy birthday to the Pod Delusion

If you missed it, here's an embed for the new edition.

I know the dangers of confirmation bias, but I think The Pod Delusion is developing into something quite special. In 6 months, it's regular listenership is at levels other podcasts have taken 2 or 3 years to reach. 

I'm not quite sure what James had in mind when he started out, but a neat balance is evolving between very focused and broader reports, ranging from straight out polemic to more sober analysis. Sometimes the focus is the views and expertise of the contributor, sometimes the contributor does an interview with someone else (although a few pieces probably fall somewhere in the middle). 

The range of interviewees (Ariane Sherine, DJ Grothe, Robin Ince, David Nutt, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris, Richard fricking Dawkins, etc) in it's first 21 shows is stunning and not a bad measure of the early impact.

Everyone will have favorite reports. Mine include Liz Lutgendorf on Darwin's Detractors (Ep13), Salim Fadhley's original report on the dodgy bomb detector (Ep15), Martin Norris's Quote of the Year (Ep15) and Misty's rant about education policy (Ep 5), as well as her love affair with Douglas Adams (Ep 17), a subject close to my own heart. 

My favorite contribution, though, remains the one that persuaded me to get involved in the first place - Crispian Jago's spoof of the opening of the Natural History Museum's new Darwin Centre. 

Here's an embed of Episode 1 in which it featured - you can hear it around the 21:40 mark. Have a listen before going any further.

Generally, I think the quality of the episodes has improved with time, as people get more practice and better equipment. I know, personally, I'm much happier with my later contributions than my early ones. Compare my interview with Evan Harris (10:23 special) with my now painful review of The Men Who Stare at Goats (Ep 9).

Finally, before writing this, I went and read the reviews people have left on iTunes. 

Most reviews are very good, but I actually found the less favorable ones more interesting.  They highlighted things I had thought myself when recording and listening, and that I want to bear in mind when doing future contributions. 

Briefly, I think these are as follows. If any of the other contributors are reading, I'd be fascinated to hear whether you feel the same. 

- Topicality - Part of the success to date is the format - it's weekly and the work of multiple people. This means the Pod Delusion can produce detailed commentary on up-to-the-minute issues more easily than other podcasts. This doesn't mean there's no room for me to something on my personal interests or bugbears, but that these come across better when I can link them to current affairs.

It's not just a skeptical podcast - The Pod Delusion has broader ambitions than me. I would be content to cover skeptical topics until the cows come home, but the remit is wider than that. Correspondingly, I have to be careful not to make my reports too niche.

- People aren't interested in me - This will come as a surprise to those of you that know me, but I quite like the sound of my own voice. As such, when I stumble on a nice turn of phrase or have something I really want to say, it can feel like I'm losing a limb if it obviously doesn't fit in the final edit.

- Length - I have trouble writing short sentences and paragraphs, let alone blog entries. As such, it isn't a surprise that I have to work hard to get my contributions down. I'm now working on the principle that anything over 7 minutes doesn't cut it, simply because that's about the length of my own attention span when listening.

- The quality of the show is only as good as the worst contribution - Here, I'm talking both about sound quality and how good the report is. James is getting contribution offers from ever more people, and the level of expertise, delivery and sound quality can be almost professional - witness Dr*T in Ep 19 on Homeopathic Labelling. I know I have to improve my game to keep up, which both scary and exciting.

- It's James's bag, baby - Finally, it's vital to remember that at it's heart, the Pod Delusion is about James O'Malley. It was his idea, he puts the work in every single week, and he is (I think) the biggest factor in the success so far. The acerbic wit of his links is the glue that holds the whole thing together. A couple of times, I've had ambitious ideas that were either wildly unfeasible or just didn't fit the show. James, in his very kind way, has always heard me out before pointing out the flaws in my plans and rejecting them. This has to be right. What he says goes, and further success will depend on the coherence that his ownership and editorship provide.

That's about it, except to say once again: Congratulations & happy 21st, Pod Delusion. It has been a joy to be part of the ride so far, and I can't wait to see what will happen next.*

*I do actually know some of what will happen next, and I hope it will leave your appetites whetted. Look out for an official link-up with Westminster Skeptics in the Pub & an interview with Professor Marcus du Sautoy about his Douglas Adams memorial lecture.