Guru Magazine - Issue Two

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ISSN 2048-2590




Guru is intended to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult a qualified medical professional if you have any personal health concerns.

The opinions expressed herein are of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Guru Magazine Ltd. © 2011 Guru Magazine Ltd. This work is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this licence, visit by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105, USA.

Guru Team Edited by Stuart Farrimond Marketing & PR by Ben Veal Graphic design by Random Panda Contributors: Natasha Agabalyan Michele Banks Margot Goldberg Ben Good Charles Harvey Daryl Ilbury Kim Lacey James Lloyd Camila Ruz Deborah Wright Advertising & letters: Press & marketing enquiries: Text and picture material is sent at the owner’s risk. Cover image: Flickr • Photo Extremist This image: Flickr • Pink Sherbert Photography / D Sharon Pruitt 2011/10 bis

If you see a link or web address anywhere in Guru, it’s probably clickable! Where you see the

at the end of an article,


use it to click back to this contents page.

ARRIVALS LOUNGE follow guru on twitter


follow guru on facebook /GuruMag






Let our newest Guru trick your tastebuds with some unusual desserts

Stuff for the eyes and ears, reviewed for your delight



News from the world of Guru

Guest writer Charles Harvey investigates the science of attraction. Well, hello...!




YOU ARE GOING TO WIN A MILLION DOLLARS! The Sceptic Guru interviews fraudbuster James Randi and wonders if anyone will ever win the grand cash prize... #ASIDES


THE NIGHT THE EARTH ROARED Camila Ruz tells her story of the 2010 Chile earthquake

EL NIÑO: THE WILD CHILD OF CLIMATE SCIENCE The Physics Guru gets to grips with The Boy himself


“ALRIGHT, I DID IT” Guest contributor Deborah Wright delves into the murky world of false confessions #ART

NOT YOUR NORMAL KNITTING! A cute, cuddly... virus?! Let the Art Guru spin you a yarn... #ASIDES


STOP COPYING ME! The Mind Guru explores empathy and the powerful art of persuasion #ASIDES

POLES APART The gloves are off! The hot topic this issue – horror movies... #STUFF


The Media Guru counts down the ten most pant-wetting experiences of his life his top ten horror films.

The Technology Guru doesn’t control your search engine results. But who does?



THE RANDOM IMAGE DEPARTURE LOUNGE Go on, try clicking on something!

ARRIVALS LOUNGE What’s the best way to meet the love of your life? Going on a blind date might seem a surefire recipe for disaster, but guest writer Charles Harvey uncovers the scientific secrets behind wooing the person of your dreams. If you want a delicious recipe then why not tuck into new Food Guru Natasha Agabalyan’s taste-bud tingling treats, as she continues her course on DIY Molecular Gastronomy? There’s plenty more to sink your teeth into in this issue of Guru: Google conspiracies, public speaking mysteries, mind-bending knitting creations (yes, seriously) and some frightening truths about false confessions. Our ever fearless Sceptic Guru, Daryl Ilbury, interviews the enigmatic, worldfamous pseudo-science buster, James Randi. And all that’s before the Gurus get into a showdown over Scary Movies.


Image: Flickr • M Glasgow / Michael Glasgow

Hold on to your hats, Issue Two is Go!

A gadget store run by gadget lovers. We’ve a selection of great gifts, toys, gadgets and gizmos: some useful, some just fun, and some both! Write to us at, marking your subject line with GURUMAIL. The Star Letter every issue gets a sweet prize – this time, a Music Pillow from!


This issue’s STAR LETTER Dear Guru, I’m writing from the States, where school’s just begun again. I have to ask, is the lack of enthusiasm for scientific education as abysmal in other parts of the world as it is here? I know I was supremely lucky to get classes with the premier science teachers in each subject in my school district, and it definitely influenced me towards becoming a scientist today. But what about the students who are stuck learning from people who are poorly qualified to teach, or worse, aren’t at all enthused about it? My physics teacher made it so fun, kicking off each new subject by letting us analyse a clip from a movie (isn’t it shocking to find out that cars are highly unlikely to make it across ravines!? I thought so, too).

Dear Guru, Can you shed some light on the theory of Attachment Disorder (AD)? As a foster carer, Social workers repeatedly tell me that to minimise the effects of AD, it is important for fostered children to keep in regular contact with their birth families, and I hear things like ‘all the studies show frequent contact is the best’. Our foster children are regularly transported around the country to spend unsupervised time with the very families that were deemed unsuitable for them to live with in the first place. This seems to fly in the face of common sense. Our children come back from contact confused, upset, and often having had inappropriate care and experiences. If one is trying to give someone a fresh start, why would one keep ‘dipping’ them back into their old life? Of course, a child misses their natural mother, but some children thrive away from home (for example at boarding school) and in my experience it doesn’t help a child to settle by uprooting them every week or so. So my question is this: How many studies and how scientifically rigorous are they that

Is it a lack of happy teachers creating a deficit of intrigued children? As I scientist I ask how can we go about keeping science alive in schools? I know for me, every child I get to spend time with will definitely be experiencing a vinegar volcano and electric grapes (did you know that grapes shoot sparks if you put them in the microwave?)! Jacqueline Ratner No, we didn’t know about electric grapes! If we do it, will it wreck the Guru microwave? Guru’s Dr Stu also lectures in his spare time and was recently discussing what makes science cool on in this BBC radio interview.

show such contact is beneficial to the long term well-being of the child? Name withheld at author’s request Thanks or being so honest. At Guru we quite like getting our teeth into tricky subjects – we do our best to regularly explore a selection of both interesting and controversial topics. Stay tuned to our website and one of the Gurus will do their best to shed some light on your question...

September’s Guru winners!

Is it really “Angry Santa on the phone with the President”? (Thanks, Kyle Pastor!)

Congratulations to Claire Ennis (United Kingdom), who wins the newly-released DVD boxset of Bang Goes The Theory (reviewed in this issue). She answered the question “what kind of Guru are you?” with this... “I’m a Guru of smell. I’ve always had a strong sense of smell – if a scent is put under my nose, I could identify what it is blindfolded!”

Congratulations also to Katherine Koba (South Korea), who wins another copy of the Bang Goes The Theory boxset. She correctly identified the mystery face above: it is, in fact, ex-illusionistturned-psuedoscience-buster James Randi (interviewed by the Sceptic Guru in this issue!). Well done to our winners! Keep your eyes peeled for future competitions and giveaways on Guru’s e-mail newsletter, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Guru reserves the right to edit letters



Bang Goes the Theory 5-DVD Boxset (seasons 1 & 2)


Certificate: Exempt Distributor: GO ENTERTAIN Compatability: Region 2 only RRP: £19.99 (GBP) You’ve never had a science lesson like this before... At Guru, we’ve been lucky enough to get sent a sneaky pre-release version of a new DVD boxset for the hit BBC TV Show, Bang Goes the Theory. First aired in 2009, the programme was a TV experiment to try and make science reporting engaging for the masses. Did it work? We find out whether this is the future of TV science or a cringe-worthy failure... Enter stage left four trendy twentysomethings:

“Now, I’m going to make a Fire Extinguisher Go-Kart!” one of them yells excitedly. What’s this? Explosions, insect eating and rollercoaster riding all in the name of science? This certainly isn’t like the lessons you had at school. When the BBC decided that their science broadcasting needed a facelift in 2009, they came up with Bang Goes the Theory. We’re going to “roll up our sleeves, stick our hands in the dirty gubbins of the [science] engine”, boasted series editor Dermot Caulfield. Right then, let’s burn those lab coats and start breaking stuff!

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The fruit of Caulfield and Co’s labours is a TV show based in a grungy-looking basement, hosted by a quartet of everso-beautiful presenters. Dallas, Liz, Jem and Dr Yan Wong are squeaky clean and each has an academic background and nice haircut - which goes to show that scientists can be just as hip and fashionable as you. Borrowing heavily from the likes of the much-celebrated Mythbusters, the BBC team entertain us with a variety of over-the-top stunts (sorry, ‘experiments’) sure to please the crowds. A stream of booms, pops and bangs is interspersed with interviews and science-y exposition. It’s all very inoffensive and light-hearted and makes for an enjoyable, family-friendly thirtyminute aversion. Whether this ‘fun science lesson’ was the desired effect is unclear: but this is what Bang Goes the Theory does with aplomb. At times it’s a show with an identity crisis – co-produced by the Open University, it looks like MTV but feels like being in school. This uncomfortable mix of secondary science (albeit well done) and cheeky quips for the over twenties makes it confusing who the show’s target audience is. I am probably being unfair. Because, let’s face it – when you’re going to make a ‘genre-breaking’ educational show for prime time viewing, you’re not going to please everyone. Online reviews show that Bang Goes the Theory is indeed adored by many. However, it also gets an equal share of bad ratings. Interestingly, if the BBC were aiming for the young adult demographic, they may be disappointed as the harshest critics seem to be 16-25 year olds.

GUREVIEWS Overall: Bang Goes the Theory is a noble effort. It does what it does better than most. Now on DVD for the first time, it will fit the bill if you’re after a bit of science that doesn’t make your brain ache. And if that’s not you, then don’t complain: you can just skip the talky bits and head for the exploding buildings... Rating: ● ● ●


Dr Stu

Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence Douglas A. Vakoch (editor)

Publisher: SUNY Press, April 2011 Hardcover: $120 (USD) Paperback and E-book: $39.95 (USD) Want an update on the state of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)? If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck: the world’s top SETI scientists have come together to discuss the past, present, and future of humanity’s efforts in combing the skies for signs of intelligent life. Full disclosure: this is not a book for those who are casually interested in conversing with little green men. This anthology of essays was borne from the 2010 Astrobiology Science Conference where a diverse group of scholars (ranging from astronomers



& mathematicians to anthropologists and historians) gathered to discuss all things alien. The book is organized into three parts dealing with, respectively, (i) current SETI endeavors, (ii) the question of whether we should be transmitting our own signal for our extraterrestrial friends to find, and (III) what such a message might be like. Subject matter ranges from the highly technical nitty gritty of radio astronomy to more big-picture issues like why an alien civilization might choose to contact us earthlings (and whether we should answer back). As a result of this broad scope, the relevance to the uninitiated as well as the quality of the writing vary greatly from chapter to chapter. Some are almost painfully dweeby and hypothetical - for example, a discussion on the effects of ‘extraterrestrial economics’ on the types of interstellar messages we might find struck me as a little too ‘out there’ – even for a book about aliens! Others present thoughtprovoking analyses of how we should proceed with an extra terrestrial search given what we know about the dynamics of human civilizations; and given the radio silence we’ve encountered over the first 50 years of SETI’s existence. Overall: A mixed bag. Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence offers a comprehensive snapshot of news and views from the SETI community. However, those who aren’t seasoned extraterrestrial experts may find in its pages a bit like alien gibberish. Rating: ● ● ◐ MG


Margot Goldberg is a Pennsylvanian pipette-slinger: she has researched topics ranging from HIV vaccines to strawberry sex chromosomes and she is currently working to develop new cancer drugs. When Margot isn’t in the lab, she’s singing Brazilian bossa nova or blogging about weird science at Hypatian Axis.

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CHARLES HARVEY • GUEST CONTRIBUTOR Image: Flickr • Pink Sherbert Photography / D Sharon Pruitt

HEY THERE, SEXY! Blind dates are stressful affairs. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being set up on one, you’ll know the feeling: dozens of different emotions coursing through your body – anxiety, anticipation, hope, excitement – and all because you’re about to meet someone who could, potentially, be the person of your dreams. Alternatively, they could be a complete nightmare and you’ll need an excuse to leave as quickly as possible... The date may start out blind, but as we all know, within seconds of meeting a new person we have judged their attractiveness – whether consciously or subconsciously. Why do we do this? Well, it all comes down to sex – good sex, to be more specific.

The secrets of a successful blind date

Illustration: Random Panda (based on a Flickr photograph by dreamglowpumpkincat210)

All of us humans carry around a precious cargo of genetic material – sperm or eggs - that is to be spent creating the next generation. Since we aren’t jellyfish, we clearly can’t reproduce on our own so all need the ‘help’ of someone else. It makes

Eyes Traditionally thought of as the window to the soul, the eyes reveal a lot more about your inner-being, including your susceptibility to disease. The whites of the eyes (the sclera) are particularly vulnerable to being stained. Jaundice, for example, causes them to go yellow. Infections and allergies can make them go red and bloodshot. Big, clear, healthy white eyes are much more attractive. It’s not just the whites either. As the dominant feature of our faces, the eye is subject to a lot of scrutiny.

sense, therefore, to choose the best partner available – the one whose genes will help our new child survive and flourish. The question is: how do we find these ‘best-in-show’ specimens? Luckily, we have a quick and easy subconscious shortcut to separate the studs from the duds – our faces. The genes that occupy your sex cells (your sperm or eggs) also have a significant impact on how you look. So, when we’re checking out our prospective partners – what are we looking for? Here’s a handy guide for some of the things you might want to check before committing to anything too serious...

“I love the colour of your limbal rings...”

One feature of the eyes you might not consciously notice is the limbal ring. This is a line of dark colour that runs around the edge of the iris. Recent research has shown that thicker, darker lines were seen as sexier, especially in women. This is because limbal rings are much more defined when we’re young, and fade with age. Youthful features are really attractive to males because it symbolises the health and fertility that goes with youth.

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HEY THERE, SEXY! Another youthful feature that men seem to love in the ladies is a small chin and jaw. If you look at the nearest baby, you’ll see a similarly petite jawline. Scientists believe that over the course of human evolution we have gradually evolved to look more and more like infants – a process called neoteny. Again, there’s a simple reason – younger people have a longer amount of time ahead of them to produce babies. This makes them good targets for one’s affection.

measles gives you red rashes and you can even turn blue with silver poisoning. None of these colours are particularly attractive. In women, clear skin is associated with high levels of oestrogen – the main female sex hormone. If you’re preparing to go out on a date, then, investing in some spot removal cream will certainly help your chances.


In men, this behaviour is somewhat reversed. Blokes with strong, square jaws and larger chins are the hunky ones. There’s a reason why George Clooney and Brad Pitt are viewed as the most attractive men on the planet: the strong jawlines are a response to increased levels of testosterone in their bodies as they grew up. Many features associated with the male hormone testosterone – including big muscles, deep voice and larger brow ridges – are sexy. But why? Bizarrely, it may be because testosterone has a damaging effect on the immune system. So perversely, If you’re a male with lots of testosterone (and so an impaired immune system), then it follows that you must have some pretty darned good genes to enable you to survive to an age where you can go on blind dates. Your genes would be worth more than their weight in gold.

Whispering sweet nothings into your sweetheart’s ears has always been a good way to win their affections. But before that can happen, we are already judging each other on the size and shape of our ears. It may seem strange, but scientists have found close similarities in the earlobe length of sexual partners. No one is suggesting that people are purposefully seeking out aurally matched mates; it’s more likely this is happening because people are (generally speaking) more attracted to people who look like them! There’s a good genetic reason for this: people who look like you are more likely to share the same genes. If you can mate with someone with similar genes you know your baby will be blessed with the best possible genes – ones just like yours!



Beauty is only skin deep they say. Well, they’re correct. The skin is a remarkable canvas and, like the whites of the eyes, can show the indelible signs of weak genetic character. Clear, unblemished skin is the default position; if you are free of disease then your skin will reward you. If you are unlucky enough to catch a disease, many times it will show itself in the skin: Smallpox produces yellow pimples;

If you haven’t repulsed your date with your appearance by now, then the next thing that is likely to happen is they will get a sniff of you. We all have a characteristic body odour, which is actually largely controlled by a series of genes called major histocompatibility

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Image: Flickr • Pink Sherbert Photography / D Sharon Pruitt


HEY THERE, SEXY! complex, or MHC (rather than your cologne). The MHC genes have another important role in the body – controlling the immune system. In order to fight as many different types of infections as possible, your body needs a big arsenal of weapons. Having a broad range of MHC genes is, therefore, much better than a narrow one. So, it turns out, those people who have a very different MHC profile to you smell much nicer than people with a similar one. The disgust you feel when someone with a horrible odour gets to close is due, in part, to an evolved behaviour to help your unborn children.

What Next? Even if you’ve overcome all these obstacles, you’re still not home and clear. All the time, scientists are discovering more of these subtle cues that we all perceive to judge each other’s dating and mating potential. Your posture, your hip size, your height, the way you dance – the list goes on... It’s really too much to think about. As if first dates weren’t stressful enough. Have your say at

Read More Anyone wanting an academic fix can check out this research on limbal rings (PDF), white eyes and the ‘MHC effect’ on choosing a partner... (Not all articles are free, though).

Charles Harvey is a writer and blogger with an unhealthy appetite for science. He was once described as “one of the most talented science writers of the last decade” by his mother. You can follow him on Twitter at @charlesharvey.

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You are going to win


Have we entered an age of intellectual ignorance? Rather than feeling empowered, all too often an excess of news and information from the internet leaves us overwhelmed. This creates a fertile ground for fraudsters to manipulate the weak and vulnerable, warns our Sceptic Guru, Daryl Ilbury. This issue, Daryl welcomes to the stage world-famous magician and ‘pseudoscience’-buster James Randi – the man every fortune-teller fears... DARYL ILBURY • SCEPTIC GURU Image: Flickr • AMagill / Andrew Magill


Image © 2011 The James Randi Educational Foundation (reproduced with kind permission)

A psychic and a faith healer walk into a bar. They bump into a magician. Two minutes later they walk out again and decide to become accountants... I agree, it’s not the funniest of jokes, but that’s because it’s more than likely true. The man who intimidated the psychic and faith healer, showed them the error of their ways and encouraged them to follow nobler pursuits really does exist. His name is James Randi and he can be quite frightening. At first glance James Randi doesn’t look scary. First of all, he’s 83 years old. Secondly, he’s certainly no towering bulk of a man. In fact his bushy white beard, round face and engaging smile make you want to hug him.

Randi was once described as “Father Christmas meets your favourite physics professor”. But he’s most certainly not to be toyed with. He has a razorsharp intellect, a savage wit and an untamed passion to unmask supernatural pretenders. Randi is a man with a mission: to prevent the intellectual and emotional carnage that trails behind the purveyors of pseudo-science. If James has any physical characteristic that is intimidating, it’s what Spanish men would describe as the size of his cajones; he is offering a staggering $1 million to anyone who can recreate the paranormal under mutually agreeable, properly observed conditions. So, is James Randi brave, or just foolish? Neither. Quite simply, he’s well aware of the laws of science, and intimately skilled in the sleight of hand.

You see, James Randi knows his magic. He practiced as a top magician and escapologist for over 60 years, travelling the world as The Amazing Randi and astounding people with unbelievable acts of illusion and deception. However, he is quick to point out that his ‘unbelievable’ acts were just entertaining performances of illusion and deception. If he pulled any rabbit out of a hat, he simply created the illusion that he was doing so (or the rabbit was in the hat all the time). At no stage was any rabbit beamed up into any hat! Nor did God put it there; it was just showbusiness. As such, he developed a growing antipathy towards anyone who used similar tools to defraud the unsuspecting. These included the immaculately groomed faith healers sucking millions of tax-free dollars from the


A claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific but actually characterized by vague, exaggerated or unprovable claims. (Source: Wikipedia) Image: sxc • shannahsin / Shannah Pace

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Peter Popoff

sick and dying by claiming to hear the word of God; those who dressed up ‘snake oil’ as real medicine; and those who cloaked themselves in mystery to fool people into thinking they had paranormal powers. In his own words,

“To any experienced conjurer, the methods by which these seeming miracles are produced are very obvious”. And so, in 1996, James formed the James Randi Educational Foundation with the aim of promoting critical thinking and educating the public and the media of the real dangers of accepting unproven claims by individuals and organisations. This was to be done by publicly investigating claims of the paranormal and exposing false pseudo-scientific practices. That same year, the rapidly growing prize money that he had been offering to anyone who could provide objective proof of the paranormal went nuclear. Following a donation to the Foundation of $1 million, people really began to sit up, take notice and come out of the woodwork. I met James Randi at the 1997 SciFest in Grahamstown, South Africa. A company I had helped to found –

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Scienceworks – presented training workshops for science teachers and science ‘magic’ shows for children. So Randi and I were, in a way, kindred spirits. With the $1 million challenge only one year old at that stage, I was intrigued to find out whether he had a nagging worry that he might lose the money: “Absolutely, categorically not”, he smiled. Fifteen years down the line, James Randi is still smiling, and the $1 million is still waiting to be collected. Not that many haven’t tried. Over a thousand people have applied, including numerous ‘psychics’, ‘dowsers’ and ‘miracle workers’. Understandably some more colourful characters have also tried their luck, including an ‘Internet sex dowser’ (wow! – Ed), someone who claims to be able to make another person’s hand grow, and someone who gets horse-racing tips from his dead father. Critics of James Randi (and there are many) often claim the money doesn’t exist (it does!) and that the challenge is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Others complain that the qualification process is too arduous and time-consuming (even though it’s recently been greatly simplified). Arguably, given the sheer

Image: Flickr • AMagill / Andrew Magill

Peter Popoff ran one of the world’s most successful Christian healing ministries in the 1980s. Claiming to accurately state specific illnesses and personal details from an audience through a “God given ability”, his healings netted him $4.3 million a month from donations alone. In 1987, James Randi exposed Popoff and his wife as fraudsters – they had been using hidden microphones and inner-ear receivers to create the illusion of ‘divine revelation’. Following a high-profile television exposé on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the Popoff ministry declared bankruptcy under the weight of compensation claims against the duo. Watch James Randi’s exposé of faith healer Peter Popoff and psychic Uri Geller on YouTube.

OUR SCEPTIC GURU MEETS JAMES RANDI volume of people who believe in the paranormal, the Foundation needs a rigorous and scientific sifting process. Anyone claiming that filling out an application form and getting it notarised is too ’arduous’ a process to collect a million dollars is a bit outlandish, don’t you think? What’s interesting to note is that, while many unknown hopefuls have rushed forward, those who have become rich and famous through their claims of miracle-working have

remained remarkably reluctant to prove their powers. Perhaps they know something we do too. So, after over 60 years of magic, investigating and disproving claims of miracles and the paranormal; is there anything that’s still a mystery to James Randi?

“Yes,” and again Randi smiles, “why people are still drawn to the irrational.”

Also in this issue of Guru...


★ TICK THE BOXES TO WIN THE BUCKS! ★ Can you predict the weather by looking at the foam on your cappuccino? Can you read the thoughts of garden gnomes? Take this test to see if you’re suitable for James Randi’s $1 Million Challenge... ▢

Do you have a unique ‘gift’ that hasn’t been tested and disproved before?

Can your claim be tested at all? If so, can you recreate your amazing feats under proper scientific observation conditions?

If you do apply for the Challenge but don’t succeed because you can’t fulfil the points above – will you do the world a favour and become an accountant instead?

Image: Flickr • AMagill / Andrew Magill

Ticked all the boxes? Good. Then apply here!

Daryl Ilbury is a multi-award winning broadcaster and op-ed columnist based in South Africa. He has a passion for science that has burned since he was a child. You can see an archive of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter at @darylilbury.

Have your say on Daryl’s article at

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James Randi chats to our Sceptic Guru Sceptic Guru: What should Guru readers use as a tool against the wielders of pseudoscience? James Randi: Part of our mission at the JREF is giving people the tools they need to defend themselves and others from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. I would invite your readers to get involved with the JREF, check out our online resources at, and attend one of our Amaz!ng Meetings. Joining a community of other sceptics is great way to make a difference, because we can work together to take on bigger issues. SG: What do you consider the greatest threat from the dark halls of pseudoscience? JR: I think the greatest threat from pseudoscience today is by the purveyors of quack medicine. Not only are they taking people’s money, they’re

often endangering people’s health. Loopholes in the law allow manufacturers of homeopathic remedies to sell pills made of plain sugar that contain no active ingredients, yet are labelled as if they’re medically helpful. Worst of all, these practices have led to the rise of a whole alternative medicine industry that encourages seriously ill people to fear and mistrust the science-based treatments that are most likely to help them. SG: Any chance that you will be in the UK? If so, when? JR: As you know, our Amaz!ng Meeting conferences bring together sceptics from all over the world. We’ve held two such events in London already, and although we don’t yet have dates lined up, we hope to be back soon for another. You can find out about all our upcoming events at

Image: Flickr • Idhren / Maria Morri

#ASIDES Illustration by Dave Gray •


The night the Earth



THE NIGHT THE EARTH ROARED It was 3.34am when the earthquake hit. I was meant to fly home the next day but, in the end, I didn’t leave for another week. The airport had been broken into pieces. In February last year, I was working at Buin Zoo in Chile, staying with the branch of my family that own the zoo. I had been in their house for a month. Nothing in the day itself gave a hint of what was to happen that night; I had spent most of the day saying my goodbyes. But that evening was different – odd in subtle ways. Having left my packing to the last minute, I was still throwing clothes into my suitcase at 2am. As I crammed and shoved items in, the night grew noticeably cooler. At 2:30am, I finally gave up. Looking out of the window, I realised for the first time how quiet everything was. Living by a zoo meant strange noises were common and the house even had nine Alsatians living in the garden. But tonight there was nothing – not even a lonely bark. The night felt oppressive; the air was heavy, as if trying to wrap itself around me. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard birds – hundreds

of voices calling frantically. Ignoring them, I covered my ears with my hands and fell asleep. Forty-five minutes later, I awoke to a different noise. It was a sound unlike anything I had heard before: the Earth was roaring. As it got louder, the world began moving and the bed started shaking from side to

In the morning of 27 February 2010, the world’s sixth largest ever recorded earthquake struck off the coast of Chile. Lasting three minutes, 370,000 homes were damaged and over 700 people were killed. side. “Just a tremor,” I thought, “it’s just a tremor...” But this ‘tremor’ became so violent I was almost thrown out of bed. I heard a girl’s voice shouting “earthquake!” and I leapt to my feet. It’s hard to remember the next few seconds – the house was shaking so hard, it was impossible

to stay upright. As we ran, we were thrown around the corridor like rag dolls. Paintings smashed to the ground and the sound of broken glass merged with the horrible groan of twisting rock. I think I shouted something. Reaching the stairs, I didn’t stop. Running down them I can only remember feeling the wooden stairs undulating like a snake beneath my feet. I must have jumped the last flight because the next moment I was on the cold terracotta tiles of the entrance hall. Within another second I was under the main door frame - the strongest part of the house. I closed my eyes and waited for two more endless minutes. The aftermath was somehow even more chaotic than the earthquake. Everyone was running to their vehicles. There was a great deal of worry as to whether any of the big mammals were loose or whether the reptile and bug houses had survived. With hundreds of poisonous animals inside, the outcome could have been catastrophic. As I stayed behind to look after the three children, a large water bottle was thrust into my hands by one of the family

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THECONTINUED NIGHT THE EARTH PAGE TITLE ROARED members. There were five clownfish and finally back to England. floating around in the bottom – The airport in Santiago had been someone had thought to save them turned into a giant white tent from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake. where you had to load your luggage We sat in the dark, sitting through yourself. Every tremor would topple the aftershocks. I the piles of have never longed suitcases placed for the sunrise on trolleys. Buin Zoo so much. It was a It was a culture was damaged, primeval-like urge: shock coming all of us willing the home. Everything but the only dawn to break. in London seemed escapee was Sunrise eventually alien: too normal found us a few – as if nothing a zebra hours later. Sat in had happened. (later recovered). the kitchen, we There were took stock of the moments when I damage: shelves felt angry that no fallen, walls cracked, jars smashed. one here seemed to understand the There were also small miracles, like enormity of what had just happened a shelf of St Francis of Assisi figures – over 500 people were dead and my which remained unbroken. Any aunt’s house had been swept away by household items found intact felt the tsunami. Back in London, people strangely like a victory – perhaps kept complementing me on my tan! even a small triumph over nature. It took several weeks to stop myself Getting into the practical business of flinching whenever a lorry rumbled clearing things up, it didn’t matter by. My memory of the event has that everything could get knocked become increasingly fuzzy but to pieces again in the 600 tremors somehow the disaster has forged that followed. We wanted our house a link to Chile that wasn’t there back and our human things in order; before and, for that (as crazy as it it was only after this that I felt sounds), I’m grateful. prepared to get a flight out to Brazil

Reverse Culture Shock A surprisingly common and distressing condition is experienced when returning to your own culture after a lengthy period of time away. Reverse Culture Shock happens because of a mismatch between your expectations of ‘home’ and the reality you are faced with. Most people just take time to re-adjust and tend to progress through the following stages:

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➊ ➋ ➌ ➍

Disengagement Initial euphoria Irritability and hostility Readjustment and adaptation

Advice for getting through reverse culture shock can be found in this Word document.


What’s the best thing to do to survive an earthquake? There’s some trustworthy tips available here at FEMA Find out more about the 2010 Chilean earthquake on Wikipedia What is an earthquake and why do they happen? Get a nice simple explanation courtesy of the British Geological Society Want some advice for working overseas? AidWorkers Network has plenty! Have your say at Camila Ruz trained as a zoologist and describes herself as a travel jinx – everywhere she goes, earthquakes and hurricanes seem to follow! When she isn’t off working at Buin Zoo in Chile, she is a keen blogger and studies Science Communication at Imperial College London. You can follow her adventures on Twitter at @CamilaRuzR.

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• OCTOBER 2011 • ISSUE 2 • GUR U

El Niño

The wild child of climate science JAMES LLOYD • PHYSICS GURU

Climate topics are hitting the headlines more than ever. Last issue, one letter-writer got hot under the collar about the lukewarm standards of climate change teaching in schools. Our Physics Guru, Dr James Lloyd, is a bit of a climate science expert. Proving it needn’t be all doom and gloom, James faces up to the mysterious and much feared El Niño… Ask any fan of Chelsea football club and they’ll tell you that El Niño, Spanish for ‘the boy’, is the nickname of their baby-faced striker Fernando Torres. However, a discussion about the talents of this erratic player will have to wait for another time, because Torres shares his moniker with Mother Nature’s most immense and unpredictable climate phenomenon. To meet the real El Niño, come on a journey with me to the Pacific Ocean – to the vast expanse of water that covers more of the Earth’s surface than all of the continents combined. El Niño lives close to the Equator, where the ocean extends from South

America to the islands of Indonesia. If you were to sail across this stretch of water, you would travel more than one-third of the way around the globe – a distance of nearly 17,000 km (or 9 million Torres’s laid headto-toe)! Anyway, that’s the last mention of Fernando (I promise); here are five reasons why you should care about the true El Niño, star of the seas…


El Niño affects the lives of millions of people.

The strongest El Niño on record happened towards the end of 1997. Changes in ocean temperature led to flooding in South America, droughts

Image: Flickr • ComputerHotline / Thomas Bresson


EL NIÑO: THE WILD CHILD OF CLIMATE SCIENCE in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, as well as extreme weather events in North America, China and Africa. One report estimated that 111 million people were affected, roughly equivalent to the entire population of Mexico. We’ve since had four more El Niños, but none have matched this one for its sheer intensity.


the story. Hiding in the wings is his less-famous twin sister: La Niña. Whereas El Niño is associated with warmer-than-average temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, La Niña involves a cooling in ocean temperature. And just like her brother, La Niña is more than capable of kicking up a fuss (the Queensland floods being one recent example).

El Niño is chuffing immense, as is his twin sister...

So, unbeknownst to most, the equatorial Pacific is a bit like a seesaw: it flips between El Niño and La Niña states. However, the movements of this particular seesaw are unpredictable, making it impossible to know the exact timing, or strength, of the next event.

During an El Niño ‘event’, huge volumes of warm water move eastwards across the equatorial Pacific, leading to ocean temperature increases of up to 4°C near Peru and Ecuador. This may not sound like much, but it would take over 50 Hiroshima bombs’ worth of energy to raise the temperature of a 1 km cube of seawater by just 1°C!


An El Niño usually lasts around one year and occurs on average once every 2-7 years. So, in other words, we could have two El Niños in quick succession, or we could go five years without seeing one.

El Niño may help to decide whether your Christmas is a white one.

Although El Niño and La Niña take place near the Equator, their effects can be felt much further afield. European readers might remember the freezing weather at the end of last year – the UK experienced its coldest December since British

El Niño is, however, only half of

The Queensland floods: not all doom and gloom… Earlier this year, the Australian state of Queensland experienced catastrophic flooding, with home videos of the floodwaters resembling low-budget disaster movies. The torrential rains that caused these floods were a result of Tasha, a tropical cyclone related to the El Niño climate cycle. In total, at least 70 towns were affected and 35 people killed. Amidst the deluge, however, a few heartwarming stories bubbled to the surface, involving kangaroos, frogs and snorkel-wearing statues…

What’s that, Skippy? You’re stranded in rising floodwaters? Strewth! One enduring image from the Queensland disaster was that of a man carrying a kangaroo through waist-deep floodwaters. Ray Cole noticed the ‘roo struggling against a piece of debris and promptly waded in to rescue it. “I’m not a very strong person, but I managed to get it in a grip like a wrestler,” Ray told a local radio station. Once on dry land, the kangaroo was wrapped in a blanket and was soon back to its bouncy old self. Image: • MSIDarbs

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EL NIÑO: THE WILD CHILD OF CLIMATE SCIENCE EL NINO – WHY? Bad microphones and El Niño have more in common than you think… So how do the ocean and atmosphere work together to produce an El Niño? ‘Feedbacks’ are the answer – complex loops of connected events. No one knows the exact trigger that sets off an El Niño, but when ocean temperatures increase, the winds over the ocean start to slow. This results in the ocean getting even warmer, causing a further weakening in the winds. This ever-escalating situation is called a ‘positive feedback’ – a bit like the earpiercing and ever-loudening feedback from a microphone situated too close to a speaker. The runaway period of escalating temperatures eventually stops when a ‘negative feedback’ kicks in. Cooling waves ­that travel underneath the ocean surface act to lower the water temperature and bring an El Niño to its close. You could call it Nature’s way of getting back to square one…

Met Office records began 100 years ago. Airports were closed, pupils had countless snow days, and gritting trucks roamed the streets like yellow, metallic wildebeest. Many climate scientists now believe that last year’s severe winter was in large part due to the La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. During a La Niña, the high-altitude ‘jet stream’ of air over the North Atlantic Ocean is stronger than usual, directing more wet and windy weather towards Europe.

That being said, you shouldn’t rely solely on El Niño and La Niña for your winter weather forecast. Many other factors also play a role, such as the prevailing winds and the state of the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean – oh, to be a weather forecaster!


El Niño is a love story between the atmosphere and ocean.

Traditionally, scientists who study the ocean (oceanographers) and those who study the atmosphere (meteorologists) have steered clear of one another, like two star-crossed lovers who avoid each other’s gaze across a crowded dance floor. Solving the problem of El Niño, however, required the oceanic and atmospheric scientists to unite; it provided the exotic ingredient needed for them to cast away their inhibitions and slow dance to Nat King Cole like there was no tomorrow.


El Niño is a missing piece in the global warming puzzle.

Despite these advances in understanding El Niño, one big question remains: what will happen to El Niño in a future warmer climate? Some scientists fear that we will see stronger and more frequent El Niño events. Others suspect a gloomier outcome

Snorkel-wearing statue goes viral on Twitter In January 2011, with floodwaters rapidly approaching, someone had the foresight to dress up a statue of Australia’s favourite rugby league player in a snorkel and water wing outfit. An image of the adorned Wally Lewis statue, situated outside Brisbane’s Sucorp Stadium, was uploaded to Twitter with the caption “KING WALLY. Ready to go under!”. Before long, ‘King Wally’ was a trending topic on the social networking site and flood-stricken Brisbanites had found their morale-boosting mascot.

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EL NIÑO: THE WILD CHILD OF CLIMATE SCIENCE Ribbit! Any chance of a backie? In an endearing tale of animals uniting to beat the floodwaters, a green frog was spotted hitching a lift on the back of a brown snake in Dalby, Queensland. This unlikely duo was photographed by Armin Gerlach. “I felt amazement, I just couldn’t believe it,” said the sharp-eyed computer technician.

– that the Pacific Ocean will enter a ‘permanent El Niño’ state.

Image: Flickr • Kevin Dooley

Image: Armin Gerlach via

Let’s just hope that the snake didn’t gobble up his froggy friend on reaching dry land…

In climate science, the crystal balls for peering into the future take the form of ‘climate models’ – virtual simulations run on supercomputers so powerful that they make your laptop look like a wristwatch. However, even these state-of-the-art climate models can’t agree on how El Niño will behave on a warmer planet. Some models predict stronger events; others predict weaker ones. Whilst scientists ponder what all this could mean for our future, another El Niño may well be lurking in the Pacific Ocean. Just remember to say hello if you see him: he’s not bad-mannered, just a little misunderstood.

Suggested science links • •

The homepage for all things El Niño Excellent series of videos on El Niño, created by Taichiro Sakagami Did you know? El Niño was named by 19th century Peruvian fisherman, who noticed the appearance of a warmer current around Christmas (‘The Boy’ refers to the Christ Child).

Have your say at

James Lloyd has spent the last three-and-a-half years getting his head around climate models, studying for a PhD in meteorology at Reading University. When not being sciencey, James enjoys bashing the drums, memorising French verbs, and marvelling at the genius of Portal 2. He has his own blog at

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Are You Living

Image: Flickr • seanmcgrath / Sean McGrath

in a Bubble?


ARE YOU LIVING IN A BUBBLE? Isn’t the internet great? It puts you in the driving seat of what you can read, watch and listen to, right? Wrong. Our Technology Guru, Ben Good, exposes the shadowy way the web is becoming increasingly ‘personalised’. Whether you like it or not, your world is becoming ever smaller...

Illustration: Dave Gray •-

To say someone is living in a bubble has many different meanings and connotations. It might prompt thoughts of someone ignoring reality or images of someone with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency syndrome forcing them to live in a germ free ‘bubble’ (as in the particularly bad Jake Gyllenhaal film Bubble Boy). Take heed, because the concept of living in a bubble now has a new meaning. It has come to refer to the way in which websites

are automatically ‘personalising’ our view of the internet and are secretly isolating us... As the internet has evolved, we users have uploaded everincreasing numbers of photos, videos and personal details. Many of us are worried about what all this information might be used for, e.g. large corporations targeting us with advertising, governments intent on spying on us or scam artists wanting to steal our identity. These concerns are – to varying degrees – valid, but one way our information is being used right now is to alter our individual experience whilst surfing the web.

Goodbye Web 2.0 – enter Web Personalisation! There is a simple way to test how much your internet experience is being personalised. All you need is a friend. Both of you need to google the exact same word or phrase (on your own computers) – you could try searching

Technology Guru! Try this and there is a very good chance you will both get different search results. Google gathers all of its information about you to try and help personalise your searches. Your results are filtered depending on the internet browser you are using, the type of computer you are on and where you live. In total, there are apparently 57 different criteria that Google uses based on the data it has accumulated about you. It might not be initially obvious how this personalisation could be a problem. Here’s one reason: you – the user – have no control and no knowledge of what filtering is actually taking place. You have no idea what information is being kept from you. Google is trying to make browsing more friendly and comfortable but, to butcher a Rolling Stones lyric, sometimes it’s important to see what you need, not what you want!

Three of the 57 criteria used by Google to customise your search results.

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ARE YOU LIVING IN A BUBBLE? A good example of this automated filtering process was described by Eli Pariser, internet campaigner and author, in his latest book The Filter Bubble. Pariser asked two of his friends to do the Google search test as described above. He asked them both to search with the word Egypt. Here’s what happened: Scot









New York

New York

Credit: Matt Maiorana (Creative Commons) See the original experiment here.


Both searched ‘Egypt’ on Google on the same day Top results • Crisis in Egypt • Protests of 2011 • Lara Logan

• Travel, vacations • Egypt Daily News • CIA World Factbook

One of his friends received a page containing lots of information about the democracy protests which were occurring at the time, whilst the other was served up with no information about the Arab Spring uprisings. It is hard for anyone – regardless of political beliefs – to deny that Google was withholding important information from Daniel. However, Google aren’t the only ones engaging in such personalisation tactics. Facebook is another major culprit – specifically in its news feed. If you are a Facebook user, count how many ‘friends’ you have on Facebook.

Now consider how many actually appear on your news feed. It quickly becomes very apparent that you are not being shown what all of your friends are doing – your news is being filtered. Like Google, Facebook monitors your behaviour: who you interact with most with; the links you click on – and it then filters your screen so that you only see news from these people. Facebook has been lauded as a fantastic tool to stay in contact with new, old and distant friends (and rightly so). But it therefore seems somewhat unfair that ‘censorship’ of our friends is occurring. Although under the control of computer algorithms, no one likes to be told with whom they can and can’t be friends. Thankfully, if you fiddle with your Facebook settings, there is an option for it to turn filtering off. When I selected this option, I immediately noticed how my newsfeed changed: It instantly became a richer source of social news. I even saw updates from friends who were now living in other countries who I hadn’t realised had left! Don’t get me wrong, I am not an anti-internet technophobe; I have always believed that one of the main strengths of the internet is its ability to make life simpler. However, now is the time for a more important driving force – openness. The internet’s creators could have patented the HTML code that governs it and they would have profited billions. However, they didn’t, they chose to share it. Since

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ARE YOU LIVING IN A BUBBLE? then, the internet has allowed huge crowd-sourced projects like Wikipedia; made open-access science publishing possible; and given publications like Guru a platform which would never have been possible in a pre-internet age. With such great results from this ethos of openness, I find it worrying that these unseen filters are potentially closing the internet and isolating us. Take a moment to take a look around at what you read and view on the internet right now: is the whole picture being hidden from you? Is your internet experience being redacted? If so, then maybe it’s time to open yourself up to the whole of the information superhighway again. No one likes to live in a bubble, whether it’s one of ignorance, medical isolation or the screening of a bad film. So why not take a pin to the settings of your favourite websites and burst that bubble! You might just be surprised by what you find... Have your say at

Links •

Want a depersonalisation detox? The Filter Bubble website offers you ten steps on how to unfilter your internet experience.

Ben Good is interested in understanding the way in which we as individuals interact with the latest technological developments. Studying for an MSc in Science Communication, Ben regularly blogs about topics ranging from GM crops to the science of getting drunk at the B Good Science Blog, and tweets at @bengood.

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Molecular Gastronomy

Image: sxc • sykicktb / Fran Gambín



MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY: PART TWO Our new Food Guru Natasha Agabalyan once more sets off some serious tummy rumbling as she continues on her culinary endeavours. Returning to the kitchen again, she shows us how to woo and wow our friends with some fun Michelin Star-style tricks. This time, Natasha gets our taste buds in a tangle with a rather unusual dessert duo... Let’s play a game. One of the great features of cooking is that you can trick the mind. With some sly tricks of the trade, chefs are able to excite and surprise diners (and even sometimes shame them)! An interesting experiment fooled many a proud wine-buff into believing a white wine tasted like a red simply because it had red dye added to it – oh, the horror!



Even avid fish and sea-food lovers would agree that raw fish is not the best smelling of delights! However smell is vital to the flavour of any food – just try holding your nose and trying to tell the difference between an apple and a pear (blindfolded, of course)!

It is said that eating starts with the eyes. How true! Often deceived with simple trickery, food colouring can be very important and fool even the professional. If I dye your mash purple, will you still eat it?

Touch The texture of your food is often an indicator of our like or dislike – take steak for example, a soft chewy rare steak is vastly different to a well cooked one and many people will judge the quality of flavour based on the toughness alone.

Hearing OK, so perhaps the least important of the senses in this context! Although, personally, my mouth does water listening to a good pork chop sizzle….

A Quick Touch-Taste Test You don’t think that touch is important? Here’s a quick test to try at home that tricks your senses: •

Eat ice cream whilst touching velvet and it will seem creamier than normal!

Eat ice cream whilst touching sandpaper and it will taste gritty – honestly!

Turn the page for this issue’s Guru recipe, straight from the Fat Duck!

Image: Flickr • Javiercit0 / Javier Prazak

Although the principle sense used when eating is taste, many if not all of your other senses are involved:

The taste-trick dessert Straight from the Michelin-starred Fat Duck, here are two recipes to test whether your dinner guests really have a good palate. Orange and Beetroot Jelly/Jello – perfect for a pre-dinner taster. Seems simple, no? That is, if you can tell which is which….

Ingredients Blood Orange Jelly (Jello) 1 gelatine leaf 100ml blood orange juice

Yellow Beetroot Jelly 2kg yellow or golden beetroot (juices to 100 ml yellow beetroot juice) 1 gelatine leaf 1-4g Vitamin C powder



Natasha Agabalyan is on her way to becoming a Doctor of Cell Biology in Brighton, UK. In between drinking far too much coffee and blogging at The Science Informant, she has a love of finding out interesting titbits from all aspects of life.

Read more •

Check out The Big Fat Undertaking blog where a student takes on Heston’s cookbook Molecular Gastronomy network for tricks of the trade Herve This’ cookbook Exploring the Science of Flavor

First, make the blood orange jelly: • Line a 29x19x3.5cm jelly mould with two layers of cling-film and set aside. • Soften the gelatine leaf in cold water. • Gently warm 25ml of the blood orange juice. • When the gelatine is soft, remove from the water, squeeze gently, then stir into the warmed juice until dissolved. • Add the remaining juice, stir well, then pour into the mould and refrigerate until set. Now the yellow beetroot jelly: • Juice the beets. • As soon as the beets have been juiced, gradually incorporate the vitamin C powder. Use only as much as the juice will take. • Place the gelatine leaf in cold water to soften. • Warm 25ml of the yellow beetroot juice. • Once the gelatine is soft, remove from the water and stir into the juice until dissolved. Stir in the remaining juice. • Pour on top of the set orange jelly and return the mould to the fridge to set. To serve, lift out the terrine and turn over on to a board. Peel off the cling-film and, using a hot knife, slice the terrine into centimetrethick slices.

Have fun!

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Have your say at

Above image by kind permission of The Big Fat Undertaking blog





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Guru is proud to announce that bo our Physics Guru th Lloyd) and Scienc(James (Stuart Farrimonde Guru listed as finalists ) have been Trust / Guardian Sin the Wellcome Prize! For their eff cience Writing will be treated to orts, they writing workshop a science journalists and a with Guardian ceremony’ hosted‘prestigious and top sceptical by comedian O’Briain. The overathinker Dara announced on Oc ll winner is tober 12, 2011.

AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHY from GURU #01 Flickr Gallery #1 Flickr Gallery #2

Images:; Guru Team photo by Random Panda; Evil Mad Scientist photographs courtesy of Windell H. Oskay and Lenore M. Edman,

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Image: Flickr • decade_null / Aapo Haapanen

I did it”

“ALRIGHT, I DID IT” Justice, integrity and morality – things most of us think are important. So what would it take for you to ‘fess up to something you didn’t do? Perhaps you would to protect a loved one, or to get outrageously rich? Our guest writers and psychology researchers Deborah Wright and Dr Kimberley Wade demonstrate that when the rubber hits the road, we are far more compromising than we would be like to admit... Would you ever confess to a crime you didn’t commit? If you’re like most people, your immediate answer would have been “No, why on earth would I do that?” Ironically, although you doubt you’d ever falsely confess to a crime yourself, most of us have a tendency to think that other people might! So, what is it that makes us think we’re so different?

A workplace dilemma – what would you honestly do? Picture the scene: you’re working at your desk when your boss makes a special request to see you. You’re left alone outside his office waiting. Before he arrives, you sit there, you start to panic... did he get wind of that joke email you circulated? Did he catch you bidding on eBay? You get more and more anxious as time passes and by the time he comes in you are a quivering wreck – convinced that you’re about to be fired. You wish you hadn’t gone out the night before – some more sleep could have helped you think better. Out of the blue, he accuses you of stealing from the stationery cupboard. He claims to have CCTV footage and someone who says they saw you. You ask yourself, “how could that be?” You calmly answer

his questions and waive the offer of having a HR representative present – it’s all a big misunderstanding! You tell yourself you can just explain the truth and everything will be alright. But your boss doesn’t give up – he keeps insisting you are the thief. He tells you that if you just admit to it, everything could be sorted out amicably and you can go home. Home. You could go home, back to the comfort of your TV and a big glass of wine. Maybe you should just say you did it? It would get you out of this suffocating office and give you time to think. After all, you know you’re innocent, and the boss will figure it out soon enough...

False confessions: a ‘logical’ solution with serious consequences The problem is that sometimes the accuser doesn’t ‘figure it out’. Moreover, sometimes the false accusation is rather more serious than stealing stationery. You might be arrested for burglary, assault, or even murder, for instance. Confessing to something you didn’t do isn’t just a temporary thing. Once you’ve confessed, it’s hard to take it back and things can spiral out of control. When confession evidence gets to court it is so persuasive that jurors are more likely to convict you — even if they have been told to discount your confession. And that can mean a life sentence in prison, or even the death penalty in many countries.

False Confessions in the USA Confession evidence has played a part in almost a quarter of cases in the USA in which people have been wrongly convicted of a crime, and later cleared because of DNA evidence (see The Innocence Project for more info). Some false confessors even come to believe that they actually committed the crime! People can convince themselves they were drunk or had ‘blocked’ it out. This type of false confession is the most dangerous kind and leads people to distrust their own memory.

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“ALRIGHT, I DID IT” The scandal of fake evidence

Psychology experiments have shown that presenting fake evidence not only leads people to falsely confess to a crime – but it also makes people falsely accuse someone else! Worryingly, some experiments have shown that even the threat of false evidence is enough to make people falsely confess!

An experiment to lift the lid on interrogation techniques We are currently conducting research at Warwick University, trying to find out when during an interrogation false evidence is most powerful. Our experiments are starting to discover that if police delay showing false evidence, it is more likely to lead to a (false) confession. At the moment we are doing a rather devious experiment to find out more. Participants are welcomed and invited to try a driving “hazard perception” test on a computer (similar to the computerised driving tests in the United Kingdom and Australia). Subjects watch video clips from a driver’s perspective and are told to push a button whenever they spot a hazard. But participants are also told one extra rule – they must not push the button when there is a red traffic light icon in the top corner of the screen: this is

‘cheating’. The deceitful part of the experiment is that our computers are automatically programmed to tell participants they ‘cheated’ – even if they got a perfect result. A fake video replay then ‘shows’ them pushing the button when the light was red! Some of the subjects are shown this fake video ‘evidence’ straight away. Others are shown it at a later time. Our experiment looks at when is the optimum time to use this fake video clip to try to get a false confession. After all the testing, we quiz the subjects to find out whether they believe they have in fact ‘cheated’. All of our results aren’t in yet, but so far it seems you need a delay of only nine minutes to foster false beliefs in ‘innocent’ people about committing a mock crime.

When to forget TV and a glass of wine When thinking about an actual crime, the delay between the event and the possible presentation of false evidence is likely to be much longer than nine minutes – and so suspects are potentially much more likely to be tricked into giving a false confession. If you’re ever unfortunate enough to get holed up in a police cell being questioned about something you didn’t actually do, think very carefully about your next move. Whilst the thought of going home to your TV and a nice big glass of wine might seem irresistibly appealing... is it really worth it?

Image based on an exampl by D Wright & Dr K Wade. Background photograph: Flickr • cavanaugh.girl

One of the most powerful techniques police can use to make people distrust their memory is false evidence. In some parts of the United States it’s legal to – and some interrogation manuals actively encourage police officers to – present suspects with some kind of fake evidence during questioning. Fake evidence can include doctored lie detector results, a false eyewitness statement or an incriminating object that was supposedly found in your home. Whatever the evidence, it may seem so credible that it leads you to question your memory or it may make resistance seem futile.

Don’t push the button – it’s ‘cheating’!

“ALRIGHT, I DID IT” References • •

• •

Garrett, B. L. (2008). Judging innocence. Columbia Law Review, 108, 55-142. Henkel, L. A., Coffman, K. A. J., & Dailey, E. M. (2008). A survey of people’s attitudes and beliefs about false confessions. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 26, 555-584. doi: 10.1002/bsl.826 The Innocence Project Kassin, S. M., & Kiechel, K. L. (1996). The social psychology of false confessions: Compliance, internalization, and confabulation. Psychological Science, 7, 125128. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00344.x Kassin, S. M., & Sukel, H. (1997). Coerced confessions and the jury: An experimental test of the “harmless error” rule. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 27-46. doi: .1023/A:1024814009769 Nash, R. A., & Wade, K. A. (2009). Innocent but proven guilty: Eliciting internalized false confessions using doctored video evidence. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 624-637. doi: 10.1002/acp.1500 Perillo, J., & Kassin, S. M. (2011). Inside Interrogation: The lie, the bluff, and false confessions. Law and Human Behavior, 35, 327-337. doi: 10.1007/ s10979-010-9244-2 Wade, K. A., Green, S. L., & Nash, R. A. (2010). Can fabricated evidence induce false eyewitness testimony? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 899–908. doi: 10.1002/acp.1607 Have your say at Deborah Wright (left) is a Psychology PhD student at the University of Warwick. Working alongside Associate Professor of Psychology, Dr Kimberley Wade (right), their research focuses on police interrogation techniques and how people falsely confess to crimes they did not commit. When not probing the secrets of the inner-psyche, Deborah enjoys, amongst other things, risking life and limb doing adventure sports.

Image: Flickr • theakshay / Akshay Panday

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Bacteriophage Virus Crochet by Susan Burkhart. Image used with kind permission



Not your



The word ‘science’ conjures up images of high-tech equipment and gleaming, sterile laboratories. The word ‘knitting’… well… doesn’t. Our Art Guru, Michele Banks, thinks that it’s about time we did away with stitchwork stereotypes. Science and needlework may make for unlikely partners, but Michele unwinds art’s newest craze and discovers woollen wonders such as you never thought possible... When thinking about knitting, it is normal to picture a grandmotherly woman in a comfy chair, needles clicking softly. The worlds of needlecraft and science may seem far apart, but recent years have seen them intersecting more and more. Two major museum shows of science-themed knitting and a host of smaller projects prove that these disparate disciplines are increasingly being woven together. In summer 2010, The Science Museum in London teamed up with Stitch London, an active community of knitters, to create Stitched Science – an exhibit featuring over 60 science-related needlecraft pieces ranging from molecules to planets. A few months later in the US, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History played host to the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef: a gigantic installation creating an underwater world, crafted by more than 800 volunteers from Washington DC and around the world. Both exhibits were hugely popular with the public and featured well-attended workshops where The Lorenz Manifold is a hands-on model illustrating complex equations that describe the nature of chaotic systems within physics. This one is made up of a staggering 25,511 crochet stitches! Crocheted Lorenz manifold by Hinke Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf © University of Bristol.

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people could learn to knit or crochet their very own scientific specimens. So what is it that makes science and knitting such a happy pair? Well, theories abound. Alice Bell, a senior teaching fellow in Science Communication at Imperial College in London (and noted science knitter!) believes that part of the answer lies in the mathematical nature of knitting: “creating objects out of coded formulae – that’s what a knitting pattern is”. Emily Stoneking, who sells her knitted versions of iconic science images – including dissected frogs and rats online – agrees: “Knitting is basically a binary language,” she says. “Think ones and zeroes in place of knits and purls”. Stoneking also notes that crochet, in particular, “lends itself to amazing forms, like the Lorenz Manifold” (see below). Most people who knit or crochet science are attracted by more than just mathematics. Many have studied or worked in the areas of science that their needlework portrays. Javelin Chi, a research technologist at a cancer center who uses a Japanese crochet style called amigurumi to create crocheted molecules, says that “combining my two passions for

Knitting in Biology 101 by Emily Stoneking. Image by kind permission.


Pink Cyclohexane, LE by Javelin Chi Image by kind permission

science, mainly organic chemistry and crochet, was just a natural thing for me to do. I had just started trying out the craft of amigurumi and immediately wanted to start making molecules”. Javelin is far from alone. The Scientific Knitters online group has over 3,000 members, with separate sections for geologists, oceanographers and cognitive scientists! In contrast, the leader of Stitch London, Lauren O’Farrell (known as Chief Woolly Godzilla Wrangler to her friends), says that “hardly any” of the contributors of the Stitched Science exhibit had a scientific background. She insists that many took the scientific theme as an opportunity as a way to stretch themselves creatively. “I want to show knitters that they are artists… they don’t have to just make jumpers and socks”. And they most certainly don’t – the exhibit showcased knitted and crocheted cells, skulls, nebulae, planets, computers and a giant orange squid. That simple desire to “make something different” is a major pull for many crafters. Susan Burkhart, who sells her work through, says “I had always thought bacteriophages were really cool, so I decided to recreate them in crochet!” (bacteriophages are microscopic virus-like particles). Sarah Louisa Burns, who crochets body parts, says that their quirkiness, combined with the inherent familiarity of wool, makes her items popular. She quips “It never gets old to answer the question, ‘what are

you making?’ with ‘a uterus’”! She told me that her heart had been her best selling work until she introduced a crochet version of the female reproductive system: “People give them as baby gifts, use them as education aids and just think they’re really, really funny!” Not surprisingly, scientists and doctors love knitted and crocheted versions of their areas of expertise. Javelin Chi says that many of her amigurumi molecules are bought by teachers to make their lessons more fun. Emily Stoneking recently knitted a spinal column as a gift for a chiropractor and reports that “the first bisected human head that I made is living happily in the office of a brain surgeon”. So what’s around the corner in the burgeoning field of science needlework? Stitch London has a book coming out shortly, hoping to inspire a new generation of needle workers. Lauren O’Farrell’s team is looking to put together another science-knitting exhibit at the Science Museum, London. The Smithsonian’s Crochet Coral Reef will soon be moving on to a new home at the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa, USA. But the biggest and most impressive of all projects will be The Dream Rocket Project – which aims to wrap the entirety of the 365-foot-tall Saturn V Moon Rocket (at the U.S. Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama) in 8,000 separate fibre-based artworks! Now that’s going to take a lot of yarn… Have your say at

Michele Banks is a painter and collage artist based in Washington DC. Her science-themed work is in the permanent collection of Children’s National Medical Center and DC City Hall.She sells her work online at and tweets at @artologica.

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Image © Lauren O’Farrell •


Plarchie the giant squid, made by Lauren O’Farrell, was constructed from 180 recycled plastic bags for an exhibit at London’s Natural History Museum. He’s become such a celebrity that he has his own Facebook page and Twitter feed (@Plarchie!)


Michele Banks is a painter and collage artist based in Washington DC. Her science-themed work is in the permanent collection of Children’s National Medical Center and DC City Hall.She sells her work online at and tweets at @artologica.


James Lloyd has spent the last three-and-a-half years getting his head around climate models, studying for a PhD in meteorology at Reading University. When not being sciencey, James enjoys bashing the drums, memorising French verbs, and marvelling at the genius of Portal 2. He has his own blog at


Ben Good is interested in understanding the way in which we as individuals interact with the latest technological developments. Studying for an MSc in Science Communication, Ben regularly blogs about topics ranging from GM crops to the science of getting drunk at the B Good Science Blog, and tweets at @bengood.

Daryl Ilbury is a multi-award winning broadcaster and op-ed columnist based in South Africa. He has a passion for science that has burned since he was a child. You can see an archive of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter at @darylilbury.



Natasha Agabalyan is on her way to becoming a Doctor of Cell Biology in Brighton, UK. In between drinking far too much coffee and blogging at The Science Informant, she has a love of finding out interesting tit-bits from all aspects of life.


Ben Veal works in PR and lives in Wiltshire, UK. You can read Ben’s blog at, and, of course, follow his tweets at @BenVealPR.


Sarah Joy is Guru’s resident graphic designer. She still hasn’t completed Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, despite playing it since 2003. Check out Sarah’s blog at and follow her on Twitter at @RanPanda.


With a PhD from Detroit’s Wayne State University, Kim Lacey from Detroit, USA knows a thing or two about memory studies, digital media and digital humanities. She also has a serious addiction to combo plates at restaurants. You can read about Kim at or follow her on Twitter at @kimlacey.


Dr Stu originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing. He drinks too much coffee, eats ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit. You can check out his blog at and on Twitter at @realdoctorstu.



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STOP copying me!


STOP COPYING ME! Ever wonder how speech writers and politicians can make their messages so convincing? Mind Guru Dr Kim Lacey shows us that our inbuilt ability to care for others also makes us vulnerable to the charm of a good speaker or sales pitch. Don’t fret, it’s not your fault – you were built that way... I want you to try an experiment. Go stand near a baby and show it a great big grin. Watch what the baby does when you flash your pearly whites. It smiled back, didn’t it? So why does the baby smile back? Are they happy? Well, maybe. It is more likely that the baby is acting as a ‘mirror’ for us – they are simply mimicking the action on someone else’s

face. Researchers have discovered that the cause of this reaction is due to specific brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’. It’s part of the way humans empathise – by copying each other. Before I get into the nitty-gritty details of these ‘mirror cells’, I want you to keep in mind how often – and involuntarily – this process occurs. They jump into action any time you empathise with anyone: we have compassion because we understand other humans through our emotions. For instance, think back to a time when you became stressed out from working too much (that never happens! – Ed). Sure, it is great to have someone pat you on the back and counsel you that you’ll get through a rough patch; but sometimes it is more helpful for a friend to simply say “Oh, that’s terrible!”. So what is it that makes the more simple response so darn appealing?

Image: Flickr • crimfants

We’re Programmed to Copy Each Other The answer seems to lie in mirror cells. These mirror cells are found most often in mammals, and we humans use them involuntarily as a child to

learn language: when we are young, we start learning how to speak by copying the noises our parents are making. As we mature, these same skills are used for spoken words and for empathy. It’s this human ability to understand others that allows us to see someone else’s perspective by sharing feelings. Advertisers bank on mirror cells all the time. Think of the last time you started to feel a bit weepy (go on, admit it!) when you saw a commercial showing an emotional connection between a parent and a child. I’ll be the first to say that when there’s an advertisement that draws on the relationship between a father and daughter, a tear comes to my eye because I remember the sentimental moments of childhood. That’s empathy – having an understanding from a similar experience. Such reflexes – when it feels like someone ‘gets’ exactly how you felt – are when the mirror cells are working away. Mirror cells help us connect to one another because they let us ‘see ourselves’ in those moments.

We’re Programmed to Care for Each Other In Marco Iacoboni’s book Mirroring People:

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STOP COPYING ME! mirror cells! That smiling-at-a-baby experiment works the same way with speech, except that speakers must try to step back and consider how the audience will be thinking. The speaker must be looking into the mirror and the reflection: at first copying the audience, then leading them. Ancient rhetoricians, like Plutarch, called this technique flattery and cautioned individuals to be on the lookout for too much

We’re Programmed to be Easily Persuaded! Now, for some of the more challenging stuff: How is it that we are so easily persuaded?

of it (hence the saying, “imitation is the best form of flattery”!) We buy into certain ideas because we literally see ourselves in them. That new advertisement? Oh, yeah, I would look just like those models! Why should I vote for that candidate? Because they hold the same ideals as I do! Mirror cells hold the key for the human capacity to empathize, and empathy helps us persuade and be swayed. So maybe your parents were right after all – it’s best to treat others how you’d like to be treated! Have your say at

Blame it on those little

References Iacoboni, M. (2008) Mirroring People: the Science of Empathy and How we Connect with Others. New York: Picador

Image: Flickr • laffy4k / Chris Metcalf

With a PhD from Detroit’s Wayne State University, Kim Lacey from Detroit, USA knows a thing or two about memory studies, digital media and digital humanities. She also has a serious addiction to combo plates at restaurants. You can read about Kim at or follow her on Twitter at @kimlacey.

Plutarch image: Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others, he calls the tendency of humans to mimic what others are doing reciprocal imitation. Like the baby in our earlier experiment, just watch two toddlers in a room full of duplicate toys if you want to get a feel for this idea. Iacoboni explains, “When one child puts on a hat, the other child puts on the second hat; when the first child adds sunglasses to the outfit, the other follows suit.”

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MIND GURU Kim Lacey The more camp, the better! I’m not one for gore, but I love a good cheese-fest! For instance, Paranormal Activity was billed as this crazy, psychological, don’tturn-out-the-lights flick, but c’mon. Tracking the monster’s footprints with baby powder? Really? And Human Centipede, while pretty gross, was pretty tacky. Wouldn’t you run as soon as that creepy man answered the door? I sure wouldn’t stick around!

FOOD GURU Natasha Agabalyan

SCIENCE GURU Stuart Farrimond Like any genre, there’s a lot of dross out there – but you can’t beat the visceral thrill of watching the onscreen hero being chased by a ravenous axe-wielding zombie in a derelict warehouse in the dark without any shoes. Not every day, of course, but an occasional dose of Saw, Blair Witch Project, The Descent or 28 Days Later can make you feel alive (or rather thankful to be alive)! Verdict: LOVE IT!

I steer clear of most modern horror films – they usually tend to pile on the fake blood and cheap thrills to make up for their lack of plot (I’m looking at you, Saw and Hostel). There are some great horror films out there though, away from the Hollywood machine. Two recent faves are the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In and the South Korean version of Hansel & Gretel: both are completely gripping, beautifully shot and intelligent to boot.

Until recently, my answer would be a simple NO. NO, I don’t like hiding under cushions whilst hearing screaming on TV. NO, I don’t like walking out of cinemas half way through a movie. NO, I don’t like sleeping with the light on or making my boyfriend check the bed and attic before going to sleep. However, my lack of backbone has taken an about turn: after a tentative screening of Alien (“we can turn it off if I don’t like it, right?!”), I found out scary films can be fun! And some actually have a good plot. So I’m working my way into enjoying scary films. I can’t handle possession though: it freaks me out. NO to The Exorcist, YES to The Thing.

SCEPTIC GURU Daryl Ilbury As a true sceptic, I’m more of a fan of films based on true events; and given there are no such things as ghosts and the supernatural, I therefore find most so-called ‘horror’ movies not particularly scary. What I would find scary and worth watching would be movies based on true events that would force people to confront their real demons. Imagine the horror of Audit and its sequel Audit 2: Taxman’s Revenge. Or what about a film centred on a particularly blood-curdling period in political history, like Return of the Iron Lady? That would make people pee themselves!






The Media Guru gives us his lowdown on Horror Films... so turn over, if you dare...

Image: Flickr • patrickreza

MWAHAHAHAAA! If you’re not out trick-or-treating with a sheet over your head, then perhaps you’re staying with a scary movie this Halloween. Are horror movies tasteless gore-fests or nerve-jangling delights? We put it to our Gurus...



What a

Image: Flickr • jurvetson / Steve Jurvetson



WHAT A SCREAM! Film addict and resident Media Guru,Ben Veal prides himself in being one of the biggest movie-buffs outside of LA. This issue, he explores some silver screen creepiness to compile his bucket list of horror movies... As the seasons change and autumn arrives, I find myself drawn to horror movies. With a chill in the air and the nights drawing in (for us Northern hemisphere folk), the prospect of Halloween and scary movies seems like just the right combination. Let’s face it - it’s just not the same during the summer!

1996, dIr. Wes Craven



Partly based on the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper, who murdered five students in Florida in 1990, Scream redefined the ‘slasher’ movie. It brought a previously popular genre up-to-date through a wry, self-referential look at past films, sending up slasher clichés that left knowledgeable audiences smiling between killings. Directed by horror stalwart Wes Craven and penned by Kevin Williamson, Scream was a huge success, spawning a host of sequels over the next decade. A few were good, most were absolutely dire. The franchise has been so popular that, earlier this year, the original cast – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox Arqu...(correction: just Cox now...) – reunited for Scre4m, the fourth in the series. And despite disappointing box office sales, it’s nevertheless rumoured that future instalments may be on the way... To see its influence on pop culture alone, watch the original Scream. And 2 and 4, if you fancy. But trust me – leave the third one well alone.

1998, dir. Hideo Nakata

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e •H Sadly, the marketing campaign used to build anticipation for ickr Image: Fl The Blair Witch Project would never work in today’s social-media savvy world, where spoilers are the order of the day. But back in 1999, the team behind BWP used online viral marketing to sublime effect, suggesting for months prior to release that the film footage was, in fact, real. I saw Blair Witch at the movie theatre, and the result of the online publicity was magical – never before had I been so drawn into a film and so scared by the slightest on-screen ‘action’ (terrified by twigs snapping in the distance – I mean, really?!) The Blair Witch Project made for a marvellous work of fiction and a terrifically influential film. It also demonstrated that creating an effective scary story didn’t need a big budget: with a meagre outlay of around US$22,500, it netted US$249 million worldwide. Who says investing in gold is the way to make money?!

Adapted from the novel by Japanese author Koji Suzuki, the premise of The Ring is frighteningly simple: a videotape is doing the rounds, and if you watch it, you will die exactly one week later. Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking – “how ridiculous!” I couldn’t agree more. I mean, who really watches videotapes these days? The highest grossing horror film of all time in Japan, The Ring is truly terrifying. It culminates in arguably one of the most grotesque final scenes ever witnessed (I won’t spoil it) and the success of the original spawned an inevitable American remake. Ignore that one: the Japanese version is the one to watch. I’d love to know if you agree... if you survive the week. r• Image: Flick

the ring



blair witch project

1999, dir. Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sánchez

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From all the films I’ve watched in my lifetime (a rather unhealthy amount), horror movies have always been a personal favourite. So it is with some fiendish relish that I present to Guru Magazine my (very subjective) ten best horror movies of all time. Read on, if you dare...

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You watch a horror movie to get scared, right? If you could design the ultimate scary movie, what would be in it? One in five of us have a phobia of some sort. So, if we were to take a scientific approach to constructing a horror flick by tapping into our deepest insecurities, the most common phobias in both men and women are:

Closed Spaces

Spiders Injuries Flying

So, the perfect scary movie would be a combination of these. Let’s think of some ideas: “People stuck in a box on the top of a cliff” No, I can’t see the story progressing well... “OK, how about: a killer spider attack at the top of a skyscraper”? That sounds pretty daft. Plane Snakes on a Scientifically, “Got it! Killer snakes unleashed in the tight confines isn’t. it y, dl Sa y. ry scar ould be very, ve sh of an airliner whilst at high altitude!” Sounds great! Wait, I think it’s already been done… Link to the hardcore science stuff Fredrikson, M.; Annas, P.; Fischer, H.; Wik, G. (1996). Gender and age differences in the prevalence of specific fears and phobias. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34(1):33-9

1984, dir. Wes Craven

Possibly the definitive ‘slasher’ movie, the original Nightmare On Elm Street is also notable for being the debut film for a young Johnny Depp (who’s not done too badly for himself since). Nightmare was to become the first in a long franchise of mostly terrible and borderline comedic films; but the original Nightmare is tense stuff – a group of teenagers terrorised by a demented monster, killing them viciously in their dreams. Nightmare’s Freddie Kreuger proved to be one of the most iconic horror monsters of the last century. Much of the film’s success is owed to actor Robert Englund, who manages to mix horror with the blackest of comedy to terrific effect. Oh dear – I’m starting to feel sleepy...

Image: Flickr • Mr

a nightmare on elm street


Poster image: Flickr • Lee Cohen

Heights Snakes

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1922, dir. F.W. Murnau

Murnau’s German Expressionist flick Nosferatu was the first cinematic depiction of Dracula (except officially it wasn’t – the studio couldn’t obtain the rights to the novel). Since its original release, this all-time classic has been pastiched dozens of times. Starring Max Schrenk as Count Orlock, the film follows Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), sent to Transylvania by his employer to visit a new client – the mysterious Orlock. On his travels, Hutter finds The Book of the Vampires, a book he initially dismisses. But, as he spends time with Orlock, he realises it may come in handy after all... Almost a century after its original theatrical release, Nosferatu still packs a punch through Murnau’s masterful use of shadows and suspense. Whilst more sophisticated audiences may now scoff at the acting and pace, it’s easy to imagine how truly terrified 1920s audiences would have been. nik vor or D UN> / Gab


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Yet another terrific horror film to receive the unnecessary Hollywood remake treatment (sigh). The original Swedish Let The Right One In is difficult to define – part horror, part romance. With a screenplay written by original novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist, the film centres on the relationship between a bullied schoolboy and a young girl whom he befriends in Stockholm. Unaware that his new chum is, in fact, a vampire (it’s fairly obvious, to be honest), the two develop a great friendship bordering on romance. With terrific performances from 11-year-old leads Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, the macabre ending of Let The Right One In ultimately leaves the viewer conflicted in terms of how to feel.

2008, dir. Tomas Alfredson

let the right one in


1960, dir. Michael Powell

peeping tom


1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock

the birds


In my opinion, a far stronger film than Psycho (with which it often draws comparisons), Michael Powell’s exploration of voyeurism is simply frightening. Peeping Tom focuses on a serial killer who murders women. But there’s a twist: he derives pleasure from filming them and capturing their final moments and expressions on film. A terrifying premise, the success of the film lies in Powell’s cinematography - through the then-innovative use of point of view cinematography which puts the audience in the eyes of the killer, the director creates an uncomfortable but compelling experience.

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Hitchcock has a lot to answer for. Thanks to The Birds, I go into a mild panic every time I see a group of more than ten birds in one place. I grant you, it’s not very manly. Based on a Daphne du Maurier novella, The Birds stars Tippi Hedren (one of Hitchcock’s many beautiful, blonde leading ladies) as a wealthy socialite who falls for a lawyer she meets in a pet shop whilst purchasing a pair of lovebirds. What follows is a barrage of avian attacks, each increasing in intensity, and culminating in an incredibly violent conclusion. The effects may now seem very dated in comparison to the sleek CGI that we have become accustomed to, but the premise has more than stood the test of time. Image: Flickr • MrsMinifig / Nicola Jones

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! ! l r i g a e scream lik Are girls really the biggest wimps?

When the killer is lurking behind the door – come on, admit it ladies – how could you cope without a hunky man to hold on to (or, failing that, the nearest trouser-wearing dweeb)? It’s not very politically correct, but this stereotype could have some scientific backing: surveys show that women have a tendency to admit to getting more scared than men. An Italian team of researchers found that women said they felt much more repulsed by watching gruesome movie scenes than men. And in separate study of 1,000 adults, women had significantly higher rates of being scared by spiders, heights and closed spaces than men. So at first glance, the evidence is clear: women get scared more easily (and need men to look after them)!

But there may be an alternative... what if men just don’t admit to getting scared? Our lab-coat wearing friends might also have the answer to that question. By strapping pulse, blood pressure monitors (and various other medical-type regalia) to men and women whilst watching horror movies, our academically-inclined filmresearchers discovered that men and women’s bodies react in almost exactly the same way to onscreen frights: pulse, blood pressure, skin reactions were pretty much identical. The conclusion? Men and women (physically at least) get just as frightened – men just don’t admit it! There you have it: women are more honest than men when it comes to bangs and bumps in the night. As if you needed research to discover that...

Link to the research Codispoti, M.; Surcinelli, P.; Baldaro, B. (2008) Watching emotional movies: Affective reactions and gender differences. International Journal of Psychophysiology, Vol 69(2), Aug 2008, 90-95. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.03.004

1973, dir. William Friedkin

Almost everyone knows the story of, and myths surrounding The Exorcist. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ve probably heard about the on-screen incidents and controversy. Allegedly the movie was cursed, with stories of priests blessing the set, the studio catching on fire, and actors – including lead Linda Blair – seriously injuring themselves due to harnesses breaking during filming. And even if you didn’t know about the film’s dark side, chances are you’ll still instantly think of the film whenever you hear Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Despite the hype, the film isn’t actually that frightening at all – in fact, at times, it’s rather amusing (if you, like me, have a very dark sense of humour). The Exorcist is, however, one of the most renowned horror flicks of the 20th century; stories about the making of the movie help to secure its place in urban legend, and thus ensure that this film will be seen by new generations of thrill-seekers. Image: Flickr • Mo

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1973, dir. Robin Hardy

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Background image: Flickr • notsogoodphotography / Ibrahim Iujaz


CONTINUED PAGE TITLE 1973 might have been the year of The Exorcist, but ask any true horror aficionado and they will agree that there was only one true horror triumph from that year: Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man. For me, horror simply doesn’t get any better than this. Edward Woodward puts on an acting tour de force playing police sergeant and devout Christian Neil Howie, who arrives ar on on the small island of Summerisle to investigate Lo ga n the disappearance of a missing girl. As Howie hunts for the missing girl, he is confronted by locals who claim that the girl never existed. The eccentric Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee at his very best), and endless temptations threaten to compromise Howie’s faith. The Wicker Man is a fascinating mystery that slowly unravels culminates in a gripping finale. The way in which it ultimately triumphs in managing to be truly terrifying by eschewing typical horror conventions. There is a distinct lack of night time scenes and there’s no filling of the screen with blood, guts and severed limbs. Rather, the film is shot almost entirely during the day and features no on-screen violence whatsoever until... well... that would be telling. Sadly, it was remade in 2006 with Nicolas Cage in a version that completely failed to deliver the subtle nuances of the classic. I only hope that audiences seek out the superb original and boycott the terrible ‘updated’ version. I cannot recommend the original The Wicker Man highly enough.

what’s yroyurmovie? a c s e it r u o v a f This is my top ten – but it’s by no means definitive.

Guru readers on Facebook voted for Let The Right One In as their best ever horror movie! Agree or disagree? Join in the discussion at

Ben Veal works in PR and lives in Wiltshire, UK. You can read Ben’s blog at, and, of course, follow his tweets at @BenVealPR.

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THE RANDOM IMAGE Image: Flickr • Bekathwia / Becky Stern


Every issue, we pick a photograph that makes us smile. Behold the glory that is the Laptop Compubody Sock – in flight! Finally, a little privacy from those dratted folk who insist on watching your screen from three rows back (er... like me). If you have a great picture you’d like to share, why not email it to us at – we may even feature it in the next issue.

DEPARTURE LOUNGE Congratulations, you survived the zombies, demons and serial killers! At Guru, we’re delighted with what Guru has achieved in such a short space of time. We exist to provide a new kind of reading experience – science lifestyle – a unique blend of interesting and entertaining content. Our philosophy is that everyone can play and so we encourage anyone – young, old, experienced or not – to apply to get involved. But in order to keep improving, we need your feedback and support. We are a small team with a big vision, so if you have something to offer or want to support Guru – please get in touch. Next issue will be delightfully festive and released 1st December. If two months seems a long time to wait – be sure to bookmark and keep dropping by as the site is continually updated with news, competitions and interesting titbits. Who knows, we may even have some exclusive Guru seasonal gifts! Until next time, keep Guru-ing...

Image: Flickr • laihiu



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