Cork Skeptics

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


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The View From The Watchtower: A Former Believer’s Experience as a Jehovah’s Witness

CorkSkeptics_Watchtower_Poster_650pxMost people at some time or other—usually on the doorstep—have had a brief conversation with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It probably went something like this: “Isn’t the world in a mess? Do you think things will ever get better? Do you know that the Bible promises that God will make it possible for good people to live forever right here, on an earth that will be transformed into a paradise?” Then often some literature is left that cites Bible texts to support this belief.

The Witness worldview that underpins this theology is quite surprising. What is Armageddon and what will happen to most of the world’s population when it comes?  How do Witnesses view other religions? How do members regard higher education? What is wrong with having a birthday party, celebrating Christmas or voting in elections?

Our speaker for this event was for many years a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness community in Cork. In this talk, he will briefly outline the history of the religion, summarise the key beliefs and recount his own experience as a member.

There will be plenty of time for questions and answers, and all are welcome at this free event. This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory at 8pm — directions can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!

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Martin Gardner — Personal Reminiscences and Irish Connections

Our next talk takes place on Friday 12th July, and we are delighted to host Mathematics Professor Colm Mulcahy who will be discussing the life and legacy of renowned American writer and sceptic Martin Gardner. Details below.

mgard1About The Talk: American man of letters and numbers—and patterns and puzzles—Martin Gardner (1914-2010) wrote about 100 books, starting with “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science” over sixty years ago.

That lead to his playing a founding role in CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), and the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.  He was most well-known for the 300 columns he wrote for Scientific American, mostly on recreational maths, and the huge body of magic he created.

We’ll survey his legacy and touch on his little known professional Irish interests and connections.

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 12.31.31About The Speaker: Dubliner “Card Colm” Mulcahy is Professor of Mathematics at Spelman College, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he’s been teaching since 1988. He was fortunate to know Martin Gardner for the last decade of his life. He is the author of the upcoming book “Mathematical Card Magic” (AK Peters).

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This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. It begins at 8:00pm and we hope to see you there!


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The Little Atoms Road Trip featuring Neil Denny!

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Our next meeting is The Little Atoms Road Trip, featuring Neil Denny! The talk begins at 8pm in Blackrock Castle on Friday 5th April.

Neil Denny 02Neil Denny is the producer and presenter of the Little Atoms Radio Show and podcast. Neil was the recipient of a Travelling Fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, and in May 2012 he embarked upon a month long, 6614 mile road trip across America.

The aim of the trip was to produce a series of podcasts which present a wide-ranging overview of science and skepticism from an American perspective. Driving from San Francisco to Boston and calling in at Phoenix, Santa Fe, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York along the way, Neil recorded 39 interviews with scientists and science writers including Ann Druyan, Leonard Susskind, Kip Thorne, Priya Natarajan, Paul Davies, George Church, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Mary Roach, Edward Stone and Sara Seager.

He recorded interviews at some major sites of scientific interest, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Los Alamos National Laboratory, and The American Museum of Natural History. He also spent a less scientific day visiting Kentucky’s Creation Museum.

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This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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All In The Genes? — A Talk On Genetics and the Puzzles of Heritability by Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski

All In The Genes? w/ Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski

Our next meeting takes place on Saturday 23rd February at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm.

This talk by Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski, Lecturer in Applied Psychology at UCC, will explore genetics and the puzzles of heritability. What does it mean to say that a trait is heritable? Is there a gene for schizophrenia or a “gay gene”? What can we learn from looking at cases of identical twins raised apart, or indeed from adopted children raised together? And does genetic actually mean immutable?

These and similar questions will be addressed during what promises to be a truly insightful talk.

Dr. Marcin SzczerbinskiAbout the speaker: Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski is a Psychology graduate of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and of the Department of Human Communication Science, University College London. From 2001 until 2011 he was a lecturer at the Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield, where he contributed to a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, particularly in Speech and Language Therapy. He joined UCC in January 2011.

This will be Dr. Szczerbinski’s second talk for us, following his talk on Special Educational Needs in June of 2011.

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This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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January Skeptics In The Castle: Jennifer Keane Examines the Burzynski Clinic & Its Purported Cure For Cancer

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Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 19th January at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm.

This talk by Jennifer Keane will examine the Burzynski Clinic and its purported side-effect free cure for cancer. Jen has kindly supplied the following summary of her talk:

Stanislaw Burzynski has a cheap, effective, and side-effect free cure for cancer, and the FDA don’t want you to know about it. For over 30 years, Burzynski claims he has treated cancer patients who had no other options, and given them back their lives. In the past, most of Burzynski’s patients have been in America, though recently, a surge of celebrity-led publicity surrounding some UK patients and their fundraising efforts means that Burzynski has well and truly crossed the pond. Increasing numbers of UK, and now Irish patients are signing up for treatment, and while some patients are claiming shrinking or disappearing brain tumours, many more seem a lot further from success.

In this talk, I hope to shine a critical light on Burzynski’s treatment, the financial burden that it represents for those who sign up for it, and whether or not he is really offering a cure, or just expensive false hope.

About the speaker: Jen became interested in scepticism and science investigation while in college, when a group project on clinical trials ended up highlighting the problems with trials, and the inconsistency in their quality, execution, etc. The group project sparked an enduring interest in clinical trials, and science communication, which would ultimately culminate in her winning the Whittaker Award, twice consecutively, for talks on the TGN1412 clinical trials, and on biofuels. She graduated from NUI Maynooth with a double honours degree in Biology and Computer Science, and is currently pursuing a MSc with the Open University.

Jen blogs and tweets as Zenbuffy, and began writing about about science and scepticism in 2009, and has covered topics such as homoeopathy, psychics, miracle cures, and science reporting, to name but a few. Though always an area of interest, her father’s battle with cancer has made the area of cancer cures and quackery a particularly important one for her.

This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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Pointing Fingers: A History & Analysis of Ireland’s Last Witchcraft Trial with Dr Andrew Sneddon

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 17th November at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Dr. Andrew Sneddon, lecturer in International History at the University of Ulster.

This talk will re-examine Ireland’s last prosecution for witchcraft at Carrickfergus Assize Court in Co. Antrim in March 1711. It will explore the reasons why eight women found themselves in the dock accused of causing the possession, by means of witchcraft, of a young woman, Mary Dunbar. It will also explore why, in a period of increasing scepticism towards ‘proving’ the crime of witchcraft all over Europe, the women were found guilty under the sixteenth-century, Irish Witchcraft Act. This will all be placed in its theological, intellectual and legal context by exploring the European ‘witch-craze’ of the early modern period.

About the speaker: Dr Andrew Sneddon is lecturer in history at the University of Ulster, specialising in social and intellectual history, exploring through this the religious, legal, medical, and ‘supernatural’ histories of Britain, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Europe. He has published widely in these fields and in 2008 published a biography of the sceptical witchcraft theorist and bishop of Down and Connor, Francis Hutchinson (1660-1739). He is currently writing an account of the Islandmagee trial, to be published in early 2013 and entitled, Possessed by the Devil, as well as a tome that will explore witchcraft and magic in Ireland, 1586-1949, which is due to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!


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The Nocebo Effect: A Talk by Keir Liddle of Edinburgh Skeptics

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 20th October, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Keir Liddle of Edinburgh Skeptics, who will take a close look at the Nocebo Effect. Keir will join us from Scotland, via the sufficiently advanced technology* of Skype.

On the night, we will also have a short (live!) presentation from the editor of Walton Magazine, a new quarterly STEM publication based in Cork.

Most people are familiar with the placebo effect—where an inert substance appears to cause an improvement in a patient’s symptoms (or at least makes them believe things are getting better). But we may be less aware of it’s corollary, the nocebo effect.

In medicine, a nocebo reaction or response refers to harmful, unpleasant, or undesirable effects a subject manifests after receiving an inert dummy drug or placebo. Nocebo responses are not chemically generated and are due only to the subject’s pessimistic belief and expectation that the inert drug will produce negative consequences. In these cases, there is no “real” drug involved, but the actual negative consequences of the administration of the inert drug, which may be physiological, behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive, are nonetheless real.

In this talk placebo and nocebo are explained and pitted against each other. Are they both real? How can we study nocebo effects? And what implications do nocebos have for modern clinical practice?

Keir Liddle is a PhD student at the University of Stirling, and on the Edinburgh Skeptics committee. He founded the longest free skeptical festival in the world (Skeptics On The Fringe) and has a longstanding interest in placebos, nocebos and their implications. In this talk he draws on recent and past research into nocebo effects to argue that they are really a lot more important than anyone seems to give them credit for.

This talk is open to the public, and is free to attend. Directions to Blackrock Castle Observatory can be found on our information page. We hope to see you there!