Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download - John Cook & Stephan Lewandowsky -

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download - John Cook & Stephan Lewandowsky -

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The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there's no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.


The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples' minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

The Familiarity Backfire Effect

The Overkill Backfire Effect

The Worldview Backfire Effect

It also looks at a key element to successful debunking: providing an alternative explanation. The Handbook is designed to be useful to all communicators who have to deal with misinformation (eg - not just climate myths).

The Authors:

John Cook is the Climate Change Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He created and runs Skeptical Science and co-authored the book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand with environmental scientist Haydn Washington. In 2011, Skeptical Science won the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for the Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge.

Professor Lewandowsky is an Australian Professorial Fellow and a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia. He received a Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council in 2011. His research examines people's memory, decision making, and knowledge structures, with a particular emphasis on how people update information in memory. He has published over 120 scholarly articles, chapters, and books, including numerous papers on how people respond to misinformation. (See for a complete list of scientific publications.) Professor Lewandowsky is an award-winning teacher and was Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition from 2006-2008. His research has been funded continuously since 1990 by public agencies in 5 countries, but he has no commercial interests of any kind. He has also contributed numerous opinion pieces to the global media on issues related to climate change "skepticism" and the coverage of science in the media. A complete list of his public essays can be found at, which is a blog run by academics from W.A.'s three major universities.

Click here for original of this page.
Click here for the handbook.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Synology NFS stops working suddenly

I've just experienced an instance of the Synology NAS (DS411j) NFS file sharing stopping working overnight. I didn't make any changes and a reboot didn't fix it.  Trying to mount the shares would give "permission denied" messages on two different Linux clients.  Windows file sharing worked fine.

In the end, I turned off the NFS service in the Web interface and turned it back on again, and this seems to have fixed it.  Posted here for anyone else who experiences the same problem.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Speeding up browsing on my EeePC

My Asus Eeepc 901 has a small SSD (solid state disk) in it, which should be quicker than a 'normal' hard disk, but seems to be very slow loading web pages.

I'm running Chromium browser (the open source port of Google Chrome) on Crunchbang Linux, and I've just discovered the following tweak which seems to have given me a significant speed boost.

The Asus has 1GB of RAM, so I've created a 256MB ramdisk on /media/ramdisk (crunchbang doesn't seem to use much RAM), and told chromium to put its cache there.  Since doing so I'm not spending nearly as much time looking at the words "waiting for cache" in the bottom left corner before webpages load.

Here's how I did it:

Open a terminal and type (as root)

mkdir -p /media/ramdisk

mount -t tmpfs -o size=256M tmpfs /media/ramdisk

Which will give you a 256MB ram drive mounted on /media/ramdisk.  To make this permanent you can add the following line to /etc/fstab

none    /media/ramdisk  tmpfs   defaults,size=256m      1       2

Then all you need to do is tell chromium to use that location for its cache, by modifying the shortcut or menu item that launches your browser to:

chromium-browser --disk-cache-dir="/media/ramdisk"

On Crunchbang, I did this by editing:


Then you're all done.  Assuming your internet connection is quick enough, your netbook won't hold you up waiting for cache or writing to disk when you load webpages.  Let me know if it worked for you in the comments.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

How to make Firefox search Google UK

One thing that's often annoyed me is that when you use the Firefox address bar (or "awesome bar") to type a search query (as opposed to a URL), it takes you to, rather than your default search engine (which I have set at Google UK).

I found out today (after not much digging - it obviously hadn't annoyed me that much!) that you can change it in about:config (type about:config into the address bar, and accept the warning).  Just change the key "" to "Google UK" - or whatever you please.  I found what to change it to by copying the value of the "" key.

Now I don't have to replace ".com" with "" every time I do a search in this way, and it automatically returns me pages from the UK.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Windows 8 developer preview - first impressions

Now I know why I bought a quad core CPU and 8 GB of RAM - to play around with fun new things, using the fantastic VirtualBox.

So I started downloading the Windows 8 Developer Preview from Microsoft onto my NAS box, and several hours later (yes, my broadband is rubbish), it had finished.  I gave my VM a couple of CPU cores, 3.5 GB of RAM and a 30GB hard disk, but you could get away with much less than that.

My first attempt to start the VM gave me a "failed to start 0xc0000225" error, so after a bit of searching I found I needed the "Enable IO APIC" Virtualbox option turned on.  I also needed to change the default network card emulation to an Intel Pro/1000 card as Windows didn't detect the default one VirtualBox chooses.

First impressions are quite good, although some screens seem to give you no obvious way of getting back to where you came from (until you realise you can move your mouse to the bottom left corner to get a menu).  Apart from the new Metro UI it looks very much like Windows 7 underneath, and the new Visual Studio looks identical to 2010 except for a new project types.  I look forward to playing with .NET 4.5 at work though, as the change list looks interesting.

I like the new settings pane which pops out on the right hand side and gives you context aware settings, and overall it seems quite smooth in operation, although some things didn't work on my machines, like the news app, and the designer for a new Metro Visual Studio application wouldn't load - but overall not bad for a developer preview.

I can't see it tempting me away from my GNU/Linux system though, due to the breadth of choice that a Linux system gives you, my idealistic views on software freedoms and because Microsoft will expect you to pay for it :-)

Scientists go on trial next week for failure to predict earthquake

Scientists go on trial next week for failure to predict earthquake - Susan Watts - BBC News

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Prey anti-theft system

After many mentions on LifeHacker and at work (thanks Mike!) I've decided to set up all my systems with the Prey project

This website and open source application allows you to register up to three devices for free, which check in to the website at regular intervals to verify they're still where they should be.  The moment you notice them missing (or stolen) you can mark that device as missing, and then the next time prey checks in, it'll be activated.

Prey can be configured to send emails, take screenshots, lock your system, and best of all, use nearby WiFi and geolocation to work out its location.  Read How I got my stolen laptop back within 24 hours to see it in action.

The free version offers support for three devices, which is just right for me (desktop, netbook and android phone) and supports most common operating systems, including (crucially for me) Linux.  You can pay for more devices and more features if you need to.

Set up on Android was dead easy, just download it from the market and enter your Prey username and password.  My two Debian Linux machines were slightly more tricky.

I run Debian testing on my desktop machine, and prey was in the repositories (apt-get install prey), but it seems to install it in /usr/lib rather than /usr/share (as the website says).  It also doesn't automatically set up the cron job that checks in every 20 mins.  My Crunchbang (Debian based) EEEPC netbook didn't have it the repos, so I had to download it from the website and unzip it to /usr/share/prey.

The command to install the cron job is in the README file (which I didn't read first), however everywhere in the documentation and the website seems to talk about an "installer".  I'm guessing that the installer is in the windows version (and possibly MacOS and Ubuntu) but I certainly can't find it in the vanilla Linux installer.  You therefore have to figure out what to put in /usr/share/prey/config and then ignore the warnings and create the device manually in the control panel on the website.

The API Key is (fairly) easy to find under the "Account" section of the website, but it took me a while to figure out that the Device Key is the bit in the url (e.g. the abcd12 in and NOT the name that you give the device when you set it up.  I'm sure if I was able to find the GUI installer that'd all be set up for me, but it's a shame that the instructions on the site seem to depend on this being there and they seem to ignore the manual set up route.

I'm still not sure if I've got all the config right, but at least the devices are reporting OK on the website and there's no errors in the logs.  Some more testing is needed to make sure it'll all work if I pretend it's been stolen.

So, I've spent a few hours setting up something I hope never to have to use, but I think it's worth it for the peace of mind.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Understanding Evolution: 17 Misconceptions and Their Responses

I found this blog post on, it makes for an excellent set of rebuttals to common questions on evolution for the times when you haven't got time to recite the whole of The Greatest Show on Earth:
Evolution is one of the best supported, most elegant, and most powerful theories in all of science. As it stands, it is the best explanation that we have for the diversity of life on Earth. Understanding evolution, as a scientifically literate society, is then a primary goal for anyone who was ever at least curious about the various forms of life we encounter. However, because evolutionary facts are thought to step on the toes of modern religious interpretations of life’s diversity (that all humans came from the interbreeding of a family generated from a rib bone, for example), there are many misconceptions that have been thrown in the way to act as obstacles to true understanding.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Freddie Mercury Day

From the Google YouTube blog: In honor of Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday this week, the band is sharing the concert film Queen - Live At Wembley Stadium in its entirety on Queen’s official channel for 48 hours. Widely considered one of the great concert films of all time, Wembley Stadium captures the band at the height of their powers, even though their greatest albums were arguably behind them. Mercury’s charisma is stunning: when he leads the stadium in an a cappella sing-along, you can only marvel at hearing tens of thousands of people willingly following his lead.

Monday, 5 September 2011

First post!

Well, here we go.  Not sure how much qudos I get for having the first post on my own blog, but there you go.

So, why yet another blog?  Well, mostly just to rant and to think out loud, but also because it's yet another thing to sign up for on the web, and I'm a bit addicted to new stuff.  (The whole process is made a lot easier when you've got LastPass)

I would love to be starting this on my own domain, on my own fantastic paid hosting but I fear with a wife and two kids, my development time to write it (the code not the content) would be limited, and I would struggle to reproduce what the Google engineers give me for free.  Also, I've been through the phase of needing to write everything myself, and wasted a lot of time doing so (although I have learnt a lot).

So, until the next post, welcome.