Cork Skeptics

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


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Eye To The Ground: A Talk by Eoin Lettice for Cork Culture Night

CorkSkeptics_Plants_Poster_450px“Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together” – Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)

Humans exist because plants exist. Plants have shaped our world, allowing animal life to evolve and they continue to have an overriding influence on our society. From the food we eat, the medicines we take, the beer we drink and the clothes we wear; plants make life possible on Earth. Indeed, Ireland has built two of its largest industries – agriculture and tourism – on its green image.

In this talk, Eoin Lettice—lecturer in Plant Science at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork —will examine the importance of plants in society and even unearth some intriguing mysteries which can be solved with a knowledge of plants. What caused the Salem witch trials? Why are the British a nation of tea-drinkers? And what caused the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’?

Eoin will discuss the present place of plants in culture and society and discuss the idea of ‘plant blindness’ – the inability to see or notice plants (and their importance) around us. Given the crucial importance of plants to critical global problems like food security and climate change, we ignore plant blindness at our peril.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 23.24.14About The Speaker: Eoin is a lecturer in plant science at the School of BEES, University College Cork where he teaches a diverse range of subjects including plant biotechnology, plant pathology, soil science, biological control and organic horticulture.

His main research focus is the biocontrol of plant pests using sustainable approaches. He’s also interested in science communication, running the Communicate Science blog and novel methods in teaching and learning.

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This talk is part of Culture Night Cork 2013. It is open to the public, and free to attend. It starts at 7:00pm on Friday 20th September.

Please note that this talk will take place in the Lee Rowing Club, which is a change from our usual venue. Directions and more information can be found here: http://culturenightcork.ie/events/129/lee-rowing-club-cork-skeptics/

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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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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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Academic Freedom: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Academic Freedom, In theory and In Practice: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 22nd September, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Dr. Tom Moore, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at UCC, and will examine the topic of academic freedom.

Academic freedom encapsulates the idea that academics must be able to freely research and discuss controversial or politically unpopular ideas without suffering repression, job loss, or imprisonment. There is an extensive history of repression of academics for expressing unpopular ideas, for example in the former Soviet Union. In contrast, in the United States, freedom of speech is to some extent guaranteed under the First Amendment. The breadth of academic freedom may be subject to various constraints where it intersects with employment law, commercialisation, religious freedom, and social responsibility. In Ireland, the 1997 Universities Act provides a robust statement of academic freedom.

This talk will outline some key historical cases and discuss how the Irish approach to academic freedom performs in practice.

Dr. Tom Moore teaches and researches the genetics and physiology of embryonic development and human pregnancy. A veterinary surgeon by training, he did his PhD studies at the University of London and postdoctoral research in Cambridge, UK. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, UCC.

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!