Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond

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Ill Communication – A talk by Dr David Robert Grimes


How The Media Gets Science Coverage Wrong (And How We Can Make It Better)

Science and medicine have transformed our lives immeasurably, and never in history have they been more central to our lives and well-being.

Yet despite this, there is often a glaring disconnect between the findings of actual science and the media reporting of such topics. Consequently there is often a needless chasm between public perception and the evidence on many contentious topics. This can lead to needlessly adversarial and counter-productive discourse of everything from vaccination to climate-change.

headshotdaveIn this talk, physicist and science journalist Dr. David Robert Grimes discusses the frequent problems in reporting science – from misunderstandings to bad statistics to false balance, and discusses the factors that influence this and how such problems can be remedied.

Dr. David Robert Grimes (@drg1985) is a physicist and writes regular opinion and analysis pieces on scientific issues for the Irish Times and the Guardian Science. He keeps a blog on these topics at


This talk begins at 8:00pm on Friday 4 December. The venue is Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork.

It is free to attend and all are welcome—we look forward to seeing you there!

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The Baloney Detection Kit at Science Week 2015


The BALONEY DETECTION KIT @ Science Week 2015

As part of Science Week 2015, Cork Skeptics present “The Baloney Detection Kit” — a furiously fast-paced introduction to skepticism!

From 6 – 7pm on Saturday 14th November, at Blackrock Castle Observatory.

UFOs. Ghosts. Astrology. Homeopathy. Telepathy. Miracle Cancer Cures. People all around the world fervently believe they exist and yet there isn’t a shred of good evidence that they are real in any sense of the word. On the other hand, there is strong scientific support for evolution, climate change and vaccines, yet millions reject the evidence entirely, preferring long debunked ideas instead.

In a wide-ranging talk, Colm Ryan of Cork Skeptics explores the world of strange beliefs and discusses some ways to distinguish between good and bad ideas. Colm will talk about logical fallacies, brain flaws and other tricks that persuade us of things that aren’t so. He will also examine the crucial role that science plays in distinguishing fact from fiction.

Colm is the co-founder of Cork Skeptics, a group dedicated to the promotion of good science while challenging strange claims. Founded in 2010 in Blackrock Castle, we host regular public talks with topics ranging from ghosts to nuclear power and financial scams.

This event takes place in Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork City from 6pm on Saturday 14th November. It is free to attend, and all are welcome.

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Fiona O’Leary and The Autism Wars

Originally posted on Sunny Spells:

Fiona O'LearyWe were delighted to host Fiona O’Leary last Friday in Blackrock Castle. Fiona is a prominent campaigner on the issue of childhood autism. Over the past few years, she has proven to be a thorn in the side of groups who profess to be able to ‘cure’ the condition. She has been the major force behind a number of exposés and media investigations across Europe and the US, resulting in the closing down of lucrative illegal operations selling highly dangerous medications to the parents of autistic children. Fiona is tireless in her energy, passion and dedication. She attributes this to her own experience on the autistic spectrum – almost unable to anything in half measures.

Fiona gave a great talk – lucid, wide-ranging and often shocking. She gave us an insight into the activities of organisations such as the Genesis II Church, who claim that industrial bleach can cure Autism, or David Noakes, who sells a blood…

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Hard To Swallow — Autism & The “Miracle Mineral Supplement”

About the Talk:  Fiona O’Leary is a prominent autism advocate and prolific campaigner against the use of dangerous, unproven and unregulated ‘treatments and cures’ for autism — a growing worldwide industry, operating through the use of pseudo-science, “Big Pharma” conspiracy and the negative stigma with which autism and autistic people are so often labelled.

Having been diagnosed as autistic herself in 2013, Fiona quickly became immersed in the world of autistic rights and in particular the issues and obstacles faced by females on the spectrum. Her discovery of the Genesis II Church and their claim of a cure for autism (in the form of Chlorine Dioxide, described as the “Miracle Mineral Supplement”) galvanised Fiona into action, resulting in a worldwide campaign to expose the actions and false claims of the Church and its ilk.

In this talk, Fiona will recount her own personal experiences of autism, and detail the many campaigns she has spearheaded or participated in, from her first appearance on national TV, to her lobbying of the Government to enact legislation that would effectively put an end to the damage – both physical and psychological – that these charlatans are causing to vulnerable people.

Fiona’s campaigning has garnered national and international attention, including  documentaries for RTE, BBC, ITV and NBC, as well as articles in the Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and more.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 23.47.05About the Speaker: Fiona’s many accomplishments include co-founding the Autistic Rights Together organisation, and administrating the Female Aspergers / Autism Support Ireland Facebook group.

Fiona studied Autism as a mature student in University College Cork (UCC). She and two of her five children are on the autistic spectrum.

She blogs at

This talk begins at 8:00pm on Saturday 17 October. The venue is Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork.

It is free to attend and all are welcome—we look forward to seeing you there!

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Insipid and Unsettling: The Joe Power Psychic Show


We visited Joe Power’s psychic show in Cork over the weekend. Here’s what we learned.

Originally posted on Sunny Spells:

A few weeks ago, myself and some friends decided to go to the Joe Power show when he was in Cork. We were curious to know what went on at such events, so we purchased a cheapo voucher and headed along to his show in the Metropole Hotel last Friday night.

The audience was quite large: maybe as much as 200 people. It was a mixed bag of people, old, young, men and women. Certainly more women than men with more older people in attendance.

Joe started late. One of his first questions to the audience was whether any of them had been to a psychic show before. Very few people in the audience had been to one.

Joe got stuck in straight away, happening on one of the most serious of subjects imaginable: suicide. The manner and some circumstances to do with the death were discussed with family members. A troubling line of questioning, to…

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So, those Irish Poltergeist videos….

There is a video doing the rounds at the moment that purports to show a poltergeist haunting the kitchen of a house in Cork. At the time of posting, this video has garnered 10 million views on various social media platforms.

Actually, there are two videos. Another one was uploaded the week before this.

Both videos are hoaxes.

It’s instructive to look at both videos because some of the differences give the game away.

In the first video, the camera moves around to the phenomenon before it begins. This is clear sign that the people involved are in control of what is happening. This is slightly less obvious in the second video – a sign that they have taken this on board.

In the second video, a fridge has moved to a different, rather strange place – right beside the back door. This, presumably, had been placed to conceal one of the people who is conducting events.

Nobody appears to be too frightened, not even the dogs.

So how was it done? Fishing lines. By scrolling to various points in the video, you can see them clearly. In one scene, you can even see the hand of the person at the other side of the door.

First Video 16 September

Manipulation is taking place outside the house, with lines being pulled through one of the windows.
  1. 1.03 something snags on a bottle by the window (the same effect is apparent in both videos)
  2. 1.49 someone appears behind the door – you can see his hands.
  3. 1.28 fishing line attached to the light
  4. 1.34 you can see the fishing line clearly by the radio speakers.

Second video 22 September

Manipulation is from behind the fridge and behind the person taking the video.
  1. Wire clearly visible at 1.05 at the end of the video
  2. Likely fishing wire at 0.34.
  3. 0.53 Bottle on window moves again.

Finally, here’s a phenomenon I videoed in my kitchen last night…

Nice try, Ashy.

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The Baloney Detection Kit – Further Reading


Colm here! I think I must have spoken to over 200 people last night over the 4 hours. Thanks to everyone for coming along. I hope you found it interesting.

Attached are some links for further reading:

Logical Fallacies

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A core skill in critical thinking is identifying logical fallacies when they occur. Logical fallacies are poor arguments that are used to convince people of your point of view. You might be telling the truth, but such arguments, by themselves, will not make your viewpoint true. They often serve only to mislead others or to allow emotions to override your sense of reason. The website “Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies” gives an introduction to the most common fallacies. A more in-depth description can be found at

Human Biases

Our brains, while remarkable, contain pretty serious flaws that affect how we absorb experiences, process information and remember things accurately. Optical Illusions show that our brains can see crooked lines lines when lines are straight, or moving images when the same pictures are static. Memories are malleable, while critical information is filtered out while other aspects gain far more prominence than they deserve. Three books / e-books are worthwhile reading to understand how badly our brains work:

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You Are Not So Smart, by David Mc Raney covers all the ways our brain gets it wrong. There is also a website and a podcast.

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris, talks about Cognitive Dissonance, and what happens when people have to reconcile two opposing concepts in their heads at the same time.

Paranormality, by Prof. Richard Wiseman, is an entertaining introduction to the reasons why people report anomalous experiences such as UFO’s, ghosts and strange creatures.

Medical Websites

If someone is guiding you towards YouTube or Facebook or an unknown site for medical information, the chances are you are being hoodwinked. The following sites will give you better information that is in line with the best medical knowledge. Remember, if in doubt, talk to your doctor.

Mayo Clinic (USA)

Centers for Disease Control (USA)

World Heath Organisation (WHO)


HSE (Ireland)


Alternative Medicine (“alt-med”) refers to practices and concoctions that have either not been proven medically effective, or have been proven to be not medically effective for various health conditions. Typically, if there is an evidence base, it becomes part of the medical corpus. For this reason, alt-med requires a considerable degree of scepticism. For some excellent discussions on Alternative Medicine, the website Science Based Medicine is well worth checking out.

Particularly bad sources of medical information are Natural News,, Infowars, Age of Autism and Foodbabe. All of them are sensationalist conspiracy mongering sites run by motivated fanatics whose primary aim is to inspire fear and distrust in people for their own financial advantage. Avoid at all costs.

Other Useful Websites

If you come across a suspect or “too good to be true” claim on Facebook, there is a good chance that has the inside story on it. It’s well worth checking out.

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Sense about Science is a UK charity designed to communicate science to the public, particularly where there is a considerable degree of controversy in the media about the science. It aims to communicate the facts around topics such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), Nuclear Power, Climate Change, Vaccines, Antibiotics and other subjects in a clear and understandable way. They have pioneered the Ask For Evidence campaign, and for teachers, they have recently published a lesson plan to teach core critical thinking in schools.

In Conclusion

All that remains is for me to thank Blackrock Castle as always for all the help, and my comrade in arms, Alan B, for his truly excellent posters.


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