Cork Skeptics

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


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Cruise Control • Friday 3 August

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A Talk with Ex-Scientologist John Duignan

8:00pm • Friday 3rd August • Blackrock Castle Observatory

John Duignan (born 1963) grew up in both Stirling in Scotland and in Carrigaline County Cork. He had a difficult and troubled childhood thanks in part to a mentally ill father, an ill and abused mother and the chaotic home life that resulted.

Following the untimely death of his parents in 1974, he and his siblings were fostered by family members on his mother’s side in both County Cork and Wicklow. He left school at the age of 17 and joined an American Christian Evangelical drama group and spent three years traveling Europe and North America forwarding this unique brand of Christian ministry. In 1983, he was operating a branch of this ministry in Vancouver Canada and came to see that much of the Christian message simply did not add up. He moved to Halifax Nova Scotia to live with a group of atheist humanists and to work on an old North German built schooner. About a year later, he found himself in Stuttgart, Germany and during a period of dark depression was recruited by The Church of Scientology.

In 2008 he wrote and published The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology. In this non-fiction book he describes his 22 years in the organization and his eventual awaking partly as a result of attending an event where actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise was given the award of “Most Dedicated Follower”. Duignan began to examine the organization more closely and had doubts about remaining. He left the organization in 2006, after taking measures to avoid investigation by Scientology’s intelligence agency the Office of Special Affairs.

The Church of Scientology responded to the publication of The Complex by sending legal letters to several bookstore retailers that were selling the book, claiming the book contains libelous statements about a member of the organization. His publisher Merlin Publishing, “emphatically denied” these allegations, and an editorial director at the publishing company called Scientology’s claim “vexatious”. The United Kingdom branch of Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, stopped selling copies of the book after receiving legal letters from the Church of Scientology through internationally feared libel firm, Carter Ruck; booksellers Waterstone’s and W H Smith and Borders Books were “warned off” selling the book as well. However the book remained in broad publication here in Ireland and has been stocked in all Irish retailers for a number of years.

Following the publishing of The Complex, John returned to education completing a BA in Engljohn_headshot_350pxish and Italian Literature and Italian language at University College Cork.

John counts Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell and A.S. Byatt among his most important intellectual influences. He no longer considers himself to be a religious person.

 


This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork at 8:00pm on Friday 3rd August. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend!

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Paranoia For The People • Friday 22 June

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Dr David Robert Grimes presents Conspiracy Theories in the 21st Century

8:00pm • Friday 22nd June • Blackrock Castle Observatory

Conspiratorial ideation (e.g., the moon landings were faked; climate-change is a hoax; vaccination is dangerous) is the tendency of individuals to believe that events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organizations. Public acceptance of these ostensibly explanatory conjectures remains high, even when they are non-falsifiable, lacking in evidence, or demonstrably false.

To exacerbate the problem, social media provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories to rapidly propagate, and dedicated echo-chambers can insulate these beliefs from critical examination.

In this talk, we’ll examine what makes conspiracy theories so virile, including recent mathematical models that aim to understand the viability of such beliefs, and models of how they spread. And we’ll see how much damage such claims can cause, and why in our hyper-connected era its more imperative than ever before to combat false narratives.

DRG_headshotAbout The Speaker: Dr David Robert Grimes is a physicist and cancer researcher, currently based at the Queens University Belfast and a visiting researcher at University of Oxford. His research focuses chiefly on the application of radiotherapy physics, and oxygen modelling, and academic work on factors influencing public perception and understanding of science.

He is also a science writer and frequently contributes to the Guardian, Irish Times and BBC on a wide spectrum of science, society and philosophical topics. He was joint recipient of the 2014 Nature / Sense about Science Maddox Prize for Standing Up for Science.

David can be found on Twitter @drg1985


This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork at 8:00pm on Friday 22nd June. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend!


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Odd Numbers with Darren Dahly

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Darren Dahly, Principal Statistician of the Clinical Research Facility Cork, Presents A Skeptic’s Guide To Common Statistical Paradoxes & Biases

8:00pm • Friday 8th June • Blackrock Castle Observatory

There are lots of ways to fool ourselves with data. This talk will help you defend yourself against the most common statistical paradoxes and biases. Examples will include how regression to the mean can explain most placebo effects, and how collider bias can lead us to think that smoking during pregnancy is actually good for small babies.

Darren_Headshot_350pxAbout The Speaker: Darren Dahly is the Principal Statistician of the Clinical Research Facility Cork, and a Senior Lecturer in Research Methods at UCC.

Darren can be found on Twitter @statsepi

 


This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork at 8:00pm on Friday 8th June. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend!


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Homeopathy in Organic Farming

Name a country where the Law prioritises Homeopathy over Medicine?

Answer: Ireland (and the UK … and everywhere else in the EU.)

European Council Regulation 834/2007 (Organic Production) Article 14 Clause 1 (e) (ii) states

‘disease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary and under strict conditions, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate. In particular restrictions with respect to courses of treatment and withdrawal periods shall be defined;’

This Regulation requires that ‘phytotherapeutic (plant remedies), homeopathic (like cures like) and other products (insert whatever takes your fancy)’ must be used by Organic Farmers in the first instance and thereafter, unless they are ‘inappropriate’. Presumably, only when they have failed may medicinal products be applied though it is especially nonsensical to try to determine when homeopathy, etc becomes ‘inappropriate’ for an animal.

Anyone seeking training in the use Homeopathy on Organic Farms could sign up for the 4-day European Advanced Course on ‘Quantum Agriculture’ currently promoted by Ireland’s National Organic Training Skillnet. In addition to homeopathy this course also covers biodynamics (the incorporation of astrological and spiritual principles into farming) and radionics (disease can be diagnosed and treated using ‘energy’/’frequencies’).  Fortunately, the €460 course fees (along with full board €90/day) is 25% subsidised by Skillnets, funded from the National Training Fund (NTF), funded through a levy on Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI).

A few thoughts ….

1. Why was Organic Farming singled out by the EU for this special measure as Homeopathy and Organic are not related?

2. How was Homeopathy levered into the EU Organic Farming Regulations?

3. If this is such a good idea then why should Non-Organic Farmers not be subject to a similar stipulation?

4. On observing symptoms of Tuberculosis (TB) in cattle should Organic Farmers apply a homeopathic remedy such as Tuberculinum (C12 should do it, no need to go mad!) and wait for it to take effect?

5. What pseudoscience is being contemplated for the next revision of the Regulations?

Author: Vic.


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Help needed: Proposed bill to crack down on fake cancer treatments

Irish patients have completely inadequate legal protection from fake cancer treatments or quack “cures”. Many people have fallen foul of snake-oil peddlers and alternative medicine healers, promising to cure them of their ailments in a “natural” or “side effect free” manner. Such promises rarely work, and vulnerable patients can be diverted down costly blind-alleys, while time ticks away on their treatment options.

Ireland is a hotbed of phoney healers luring vulnerable people into alternative medicine

A new bill is being proposed by Kate O’Connell TD to address this problem. She is getting a huge amount of push-back from various alternative medicine lobby groups, who are  raising all kinds of spurious objections to the proposed bill. Some of the methods used verge on intimidation and bullying. They are clearly worried.

TD says she has received ‘stratospheric’ levels of online abuse after new law proposal

For instance, we have heard that Claire Byrne Live will be discussing the new proposed anti-quack bill tomorrow (Monday) night on RTE1 at 1030pm. We have learned that the Irish Society of Homeopaths are appealing to their members to attend the show and to tweet during the show, so as to make it seem that homeopathy is a legitimate treatment, when it is nothing of the sort. We are asking our skeptically minded friends to please see if they can attend in person or if they can tweet during it to show support for evidence based medicine and a degree of legal protection that may help to alleviate the pressures that affect people with cancer.

Alternatively, please call or email your TD or local representative to show your support for this proposed bill.

Please feel free to share this message. While alternative cancer-cure practitioners have many supporters in Ireland, they work under loose or non-existent regulatory regimes. We are also aware that many people’s lives have been turned upside-down by the actions of unscrupulous healers and alternative practitioners. Now is a chance to take action and to address the imbalance this has caused.

Claire Byrne Live contact details:

  • To book your seat….. CALL the office on 01-2083494 or E-MAIL us on ClaireByrneLive@rte.ie
  • Web page : https://www.rte.ie/tv/programmes/913596-claire-byrne-live/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireByrneLive

 

 


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You Are What You Tweet with Niamh O’Connor

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Niamh O’Connor, a.k.a. the Nutri-Babble Slayer, Puts Online Health & Nutrition Claims Under The Microscope

8:00pm • Friday 24th November • Blackrock Castle Observatory

Having immersed herself in Twitter for the past 7 years, dietitian & consultant nutritionist Niamh O’Connor has seen first-hand the power of social media in healthcare. In that time, Niamh has become a leading voice on social media for Irish dietitians, as an unwavering nutribabble-slaying thorn in the side of opportunistic quacks, celebrities and charlatans, who post misleading, false and incorrect health and nutrition information online!

In this talk, Niamh will chronicle her online odyssey through the world of bogus health and nutrition claims and those that peddle them, as well as providing practical advice on what to look out for and how best to assess these claims.

About The Speaker: Niamh O’Connor qualified with BSc (Hons) in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from TCD & a Diploma in Dietetics from DIT in 1993.

In 1999 she founded Cork Nutrition Consultancy, which was the very first of its kind in Cork, and in 2012 she went on to launch NutriCount® Ireland, which provides professional nutritional analysis, allergen labelling, staff training & mentoring on health and nutrition claims for the hospitality sector.

Niamh is an active member of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI), the professional body for dietitians and clinical nutritionists in Ireland. She advocates for her patients and for her profession, and is a regular contributor to local and national radio, television, print media and social media on all things nutrition.

Niamh can be found on Twitter @CorkNutrition


This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork at 8:00pm on Friday 24th November. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend!


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Who are the Family Hope Center?

Yesterday, George Hook hosted an interesting discussion on Newstalk Radio. His guests were Michelle McKeever, a mother from Northern Ireland, and Terence Cosgrave, a PR professional based in Dublin. Michelle spoke about her son, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. She described how her experience with the Irish Health Services Executive was unsatisfactory, then she talked about a US based group who had helped her. This group is the Family Hope Center

Following her interview, Hook then spoke to Cosgrave. Cosgrave also talked  forcefully about the dysfunction of the HSE. He referred to the Family Hope Center as an option for parents in such circumstances. 

I have some questions. 

Who are the Family Hope Center? What do they offer? Why was yesterday chosen to come on the programme? And what was a PR consultant doing sitting in on a piece about childhood autism?

Let’s answer the last question first. I looked up Cosgrave’s LinkedIn page. His clients include the Family Hope Center and he has an article from the Wexford People about the Family Hope Center and how they can achieve ‘real, measurable results in children with brain disorders or impairments’. So, there’s that. Cosgrave has a business connection with the Family Hope Center. It would have been good if Hook had mentioned this explicitly on the radio show. Full disclosure, etc.


Who are the Family Hope Center? Well, from their webpage, they offer ‘a practical scientific approach’, striving to ‘educate and help parents promote functional improvement improvement in their children’. Sounds great. They say they can help with a large number of ailments, from ADD to Autism to Down’s Syndrome. 

They describe a Scandinavian observational study “Important Real World Evidence of Neurological Development in Disabled Children” the aim of which is to show that their methods are making an improvement with children with moderate or severe learning problems. Given no details about controls, correlations or methods used to avoid bias, no peer review and no submission to any international journals, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this at all. It’s strange. 

They detail big improvements along the WeeFIM scale compared to national results, but it’s unclear how they determined this or whether this was validated by an independent agency. I would love a doctor’s opinion on this in terms of how meaningful these improvements are. They don’t seem to corellate much with the above  Scandinavian study.

The Meet Our Team section is also interesting. The director Matthew Newell has years of experience in this field, but I couldn’t find any relevant medical qualifications. The International Academy for Child Brain Development is mentioned, but it appears defunct. Carol Newell has a certification as a nursery nurse, but how this translates into an international lecturer in all phases of development and brain neuroplasticity is unclear.
Kristin Clague Reihman is a certified medical doctor, with a diplomate in Integrative medicine plus training in acupuncture. She also has published material on Facebook promoting Kerri Rivera and her Chlorine Dioxide protocols. This is the  MMS bleach product that has hit the news in multiple countries, easily one of the great alt-med scandals of recent years. For a medical doctor to be associated with this in any way is surprising and disappointing, to say the least.

Barry Gillespie is a periodontist with a keen interest in cranio sacral therapy and fascial therapy – how this translates to working with severe childhood development disorders is anyone’s guess.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but it seems that the Family Hope Center are somewhat ill-equipped for the challenge of tackling major childhood brain disorders. If, as was said on the George Hook show, they are an option for parents who cannot get satisfaction through conventional approaches, then they have a pretty enormous burden of proof on their shoulders. This is not a burden that website testimonials and “success stories” will adequately address.

And why was Cosgrave on the show yesterday? It wouldn’t be because the Family Hope Center are in Kilkenny over the weekend? 


According to some blogs, the costs of these seminars are pretty expensive, so you would need to be sure you are making the right decision and that the evidence is there. From what I have seen, this evidence is thin on the ground. Buyer beware.