[SEB Guest Post] Schools deny girls cervical cancer jabs on religious grounds.

It’s been almost three years (!) since I’ve written a Guest Post for SEB, but a recent news story here in the UK prompted me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write something.

Over here in the UK, some religious schools have opted out of offering free HPV vaccines to their students. HPV – the Human Papillomavirus – is linked to as many as 70% of cases of cervical cancer and is therefore offered, free of charge, to girls aged 12 and 13. Around 1000 women die from cervical cancer each year, so this vaccine has the potential to save hundreds of lives. And normally, it is up to individual parents’ to opt their children out, but these schools have made the decision to opt out of the vaccine for all of their students.

The HPV vaccine is controversial – not because of any side effects, but because HPV is a sexually-transmitted infection. Consequently, some parents opt their children out as they do not want to encourage sexual promiscuity, or feel that because their religion forbids sexual intercourse before marriage that this is incompatible with their faith.

The key problem is that a number of these schools have not informed local doctors that they have chosen to opt out. Consequently, should a child’s parent actually want their child to have the vaccine, it is not subsequently being offered by their doctor and so some children may miss out.

What is laughable are some of the reasons given by the schools for opting out, such as:

“pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage”

Because we know how likely that is. Regular SEB readers will know that abstinence-only sex education is not effective and actually results in a higher rate of unprotected sex – and consequently puts both men and women at risk of contracting the virus. Although the vaccination programme only targets girls, men can carry the virus and it while it frequently results in no adverse symptoms, carriers are at a heightened risk of other cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some handy information if you want to read more.

Should schools be allowed to put the health of their students at risk in this way, in the course of religious observance? And if so, should such schools be forced to make the effort to provide parents with the information they need to seek alternative sources of the vaccine?

SEB PSA: The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained.

This YouTube video by C.G.P. Grey attempts to clear up all the confusion between what is the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England. Terms that many people, yours truly included, often use interchangeably much to the alternating consternation/amusement of the folks who actually live there.

Check it:

After watching that all I can say is it’s no fucking wonder I get it wrong all the damned time.

U.K. woman dials emergency services to report stolen snowman.

Pic of a snowman thief.Over in the U.K. when you want to report a fire or a robbery you pick up the phone and dial 999 and are immediately connected to helpful personnel who will assist you with whatever the emergency happens to be.

And, just like here in America, they have to deal with the occasional idiotic call:

During the conversation she said: “There’s been a theft from outside my house.

“I haven’t been out to check on him for five hours but I went outside for a fag and he’s gone.”

When she was asked who had gone, the woman replied: “My snowman. I thought that with it being icy and there not being anybody about, he’d be safe.”

She was then asked whether it was an ornament, and answered: “No, a snowman made of snow, I made him myself.

“It ain’t a nice road but at the end of the day, you don’t expect someone to nick your snowman, you know what I mean?”

The operator then told her she had rung an emergency line and she should not be calling it to report the theft of a snowman.

Apparently the woman figured it was a theft worth reporting because she had used a couple of pound coins for the eyes and some silverware for the arms, but that’s still not really enough to justify the call especially when the emergency services are busy dealing with the fallout from inclement weather, which it was at the time.

Still, there’s something comforting in knowing that America isn’t the sole repository of the world’s idiots.

Good news in the U.K. as doctors vote to drop homeopathy funding from the NHS.

The advocates of woo-woo in the U.K. have had a bit of a setback:

In all the furore over cuts to the NHS, doctors have voted to stop one service all by themselves – and unlike what is expected to follow, this is something we should all celebrate. The British Medical Association (BMA) has voted to stop offering homeopathic treatment on the NHS.

It’s better still. They also say that homeopathic products should no longer be labelled “medicines” and should instead be marked “placebo” when sold in pharmacies. In entertainingly robust language, Dr Tom Dolphin of the BMA’s junior doctors committee described homeopathic remedies as “nonsense on stilts”.

It’s worth reading the full “nonsense on stilts” quote from the news article:

Dr Tom Dolphin, from the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said that he had previously described homeopathy as witchcraft but now wanted to apologise to witches for making the link.

“Homeopathy is not witchcraft, it is nonsense on stilts,” he said.

“It is pernicious nonsense that feeds into a rising wave of irrationality which threatens to overwhelm the hard-won gains of the Enlightenment and the scientific method.

“We risk, as a society, slipping back into a state of magical thinking when made-up science passes for rational discourse and wishing for something to be true passes for proof.”

According to the Society of Homeopaths, homeopathy has been available through the NHS since its creation in 1948. You’d think that 62 years would be more than enough time to establish that it actually does something, but so far there’s not much in the way of evidence to suggest that it does.

It does my heart good to see doctors in the U.K. standing up for evidence based medicine. Perhaps there’s hope for all of us yet.

The Atheist Bus Campaign.

The British Humanist Association decided it was time that someone put out a pro-atheism message to counter some of the pro-religion ads that show up all over the U.K. so they put together a plan to raise some money to do just that:

The Atheist Bus Campaign launches today, Tuesday October 21 2008. With your support, we hope to raise £5,500 to run 30 buses across the capital for four weeks with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Professor Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The God Delusion, is officially supporting the Atheist Bus Campaign, and has generously agreed to match all donations up to a maximum of £5,500, giving us a total of £11,000 if we reach the full amount – enough for a much bigger campaign. The British Humanist Association have kindly agreed to administer all donations.

With your help, we can brighten people’s days on the way to work, help raise awareness of atheism in the UK, and hopefully encourage more people to come out as atheists. We can also counter the religious adverts which are currently running on London buses, and help people think for themselves.

As Richard Dawkins says: “This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.”


Which is pretty cool and my only complaint is that it’s happening in the U.K. and not all across America. Still it’s good to see the message getting out. It does my heart even more good to know that in the two days the campaign has been soliciting donations it’s not only met its original goal but has gone on to collect a total of £ 88,237.45 so far! That’s a huge success that will see the campaign expanded to cover the whole of the U.K. and include more than just buses. They’re still accepting donations as well so it may grow even more before it’s done.

Thanks to SEB regular djbrianuk for letting me know about this wonderful campaign. Now we just need to get it brought over here to the states.

And I have to admit that the slogan would make a wonderful tag line for SEB.

This is what a surveillance society looks like.

The U.K. has a shitload of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) almost everywhere you go. One local artist who realized that he was monitored almost constantly by the police decided to see how long it would take them to notice an 8 foot tall alien wandering on an empty street so he got some friends together and made it happen:

In short, it didn’t take very long for police to show up and they weren’t thrilled at the prank. Watching the video brings home just what living in such a society would be like for anyone who’s at all out of the ordinary. The idea of being constantly watched is chilling indeed and there are many who would love to replicate that sort of thing here in America. It’s already started in some places around the country. I suppose on the one hand it’s a good thing that the police are able to notice and respond to a potential threat so quickly, but it’s so easily abused and the hassle of dealing with countless false alarms is sure to cause many of them to discourage anything that would require them to waste time checking it out. Things like walking around in an 8 foot alien costume.

It also shows how unrealistic Doctor Who is. A police box suddenly appearing out of no where would be swarmed by the police within moments by the looks of it, let alone anything truly alien looking.

Found via Gizmodo.

New British political leader doesn’t believe in God.

The Liberal Democrats, who are a left-wing party in the United Kingdom and rank third after the Conservatives and incumbent Labour Party, have elected a new leader named Nick Clegg. And, in a radio interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, he said that he didn’t believe in God:

New Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has answered “no” when asked on BBC radio if he believed in God.

The rapid-fire question and answer format on 5 Live meant the 40-year-old did not have the chance to elaborate.

He later said he had “enormous respect for people who have religious faith”, that his wife is Catholic and that his children are being brought up Catholic.

“However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.”

Both the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the previous PM Tony Blair are Christian but they have said little about how their religion affects their roles as leader. Based on my personal knowledge it is rare for a politician to be an outspoken non-believer, especially a leader of a party, though some politicians are outspoken about their beliefs. There are a number of non-Christian members of parliament, including Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

Worst bombing in London since World War II.

By now you’ve all probably heard that terrorists have bombed London. So far the death toll stands at 37 with possibly 700 wounded and is likely to climb higher as time passes. I’ve been listening to the coverage of the event on NPR throughout the day and I just wanted to take a moment to say that the British people are in my thoughts. We have a number of regulars here at SEB that call the United Kingdom their home and I hope you all are still with us and I can see that at least one of you is still around.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it other than to ponder the not so distant claims of the Bush Administration that they had broken the back of al Qaeda. They seem to be pretty strong to me. Assuming, of course, that this was an al Qaeda operation. Whatever. I just hope the death toll stays pretty low for you folks.