Cork Skeptics

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


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A misleading article on faith healing

In an article entitled “Are miracles happening on the streets of Coleraine“, Finola Meredith wrote a largely uncritical piece about Mark Marx, a self-described street healer who claims he can channel the spirit of God to heal people of various different ailments. Particularly worryingly, claims were made that his ministry helped rid a woman of paralysis and helped to eliminate a young man’s cancer. Both claims went unchallenged.

Marx cited a “leg lengthening” technique that has long been debunked by professional magicians. Using this technique, so-called healers use sleight-of-hand to convince the unwary that a miracle has been performed, when all that’s usually required is a simple repositioning of the shoes being worn by the subject. In this case, we do not know the effect that chemotherapy had on the young man’s recovery. It appears that Ms Meredith did not seek corroboration for the claims made.

In cases of cancer, because treatment regimes are often difficult and outcomes uncertain, people can come to a conclusion that there are easier solutions out there. Combined with unscrupulous people who claim they can cure without evidence, it is a breeding ground for false hope and avoidable suffering. The utmost scepticism must be applied. Irrespective of whether sceptics have “never encountered the reality of knowing God”, any claim to cure cancer must stand on its own merits. Anecdotes are insufficient as they are often self-serving, selective and fail to account for the many biases we are all subject to.

Evangelical faith healing has a long pedigree of making extravagant claims despite any clinical evidence. The area is fraught with examples of brazen charlatanry and most worryingly, there have been plenty of cases of serious harm caused to people who have abandoned medical treatment in favour of faith based treatments. We need to be extremely wary of the claims of faith healers, even when the healers themselves seem sincere in their beliefs.


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Ill Communication – A talk by Dr David Robert Grimes

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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 www.davidrobertgrimes.com


 

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

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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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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 fionao71.tumblr.com


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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Ongoing Adventures In the World of Pseudoscience with Michael Marshall

Marsh_Pseudoscience_Poster_600pxOur next talk will feature Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics Society recounting his ongoing adventures in the world of pseudoscience! This talk will take place on Thursday 5th February at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork.

About the Talk:  It’s easy to think of pseudoscience as existing in a glass case at a museum – something to be examined and critiqued from a safe distance, but not something to touch and to play with. Using examples taken from his own personal experiences in skepticism, Michael Marshall will show what happens when you begin to crack the surface of the pseudosciences that surround us – revealing the surprising, sometimes shocking, and often comic, adventures that lie beneath.

About the Speaker: Michael Marshall is the Vice-President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and Project Director of the Good Thinking Society. He regularly speaks with proponents of pseudoscience for the Be Reasonable podcast, as well as co-hosting the Skeptics with a K podcast. His work with the MSS has seen him organising international homeopathy protests and co-founding the popular QED Conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.


This talk begins at 8:00pm on Thursday 5 February. 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 12 Steps with Danny Strickland

On Saturday 20th September we are hosting Danny Strickland, co-founder of Newcastle Skeptics, who will deliver a first-hand critical examination of the 12-Step Programme of addiction counselling.

With millions of members and over 200 organisations world wide, the 12-step programme of recovery has been used to help people recover from addiction and dependence since 1935. The most well known of the 12-step groups is Alcoholics Anonymous, which claims to have in excess of 2 million members.

In his talk, Danny will discuss what exactly the 12 steps are, what they really mean and just how effective they are in tackling addiction.  He will also explore questions such as are 12-step groups cults, is a belief in “God” central to the 12-step programme and if so, can atheists really use the 12-steps?

Danny spent almost three years as a member of a 12-step fellowship. Six years after attending his last 12-step meeting, Danny remains free from addiction. Just for today.

Danny was co-founder of Newcastle Skeptics and helped run it for four years. You can follow him on Twitter: @dts1970

 


This talk will begin at 8:00pm on Saturday 20 September. The venue is Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork. It is free to attend and all are welcome.


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Autism and Autism Treatments (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly)

Autism is a fascinating subject, steeped in rumour, mystery, misconceptions and myths. Tannice Pendegrass firstly aims to take you through different definitions of autism, cultural representations and the results of her survey, asking over 700 people about their perceptions of what causes and treats autism (spoiler: we don’t know and, currently, nothing).

The second part of the talk focuses on ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly’. The part most skeptics will probably be most interested in. Tannice will briefly cover the MMR scandal, but this is not the main focus of her ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ section: the subject that Tannice reserves the most ire for is the toxic and sometimes downright dangerous treatments many children must endure. Asking the question ‘what’s the harm?’ has never been more important.

The third part of the talk is for ‘the good’ – it focuses on ABA or Applied Behavioural Analysis; the gold standard in Autism treatment. Through a whirlwind journey (to fit in the format of a SitP talk) Tannice will explain what ABA is, how it’s used and the evidence behind it. From Kim Peek (the inspiration for rain man) to Jenny McCarthy (an anti-vaccination campaigner), this talk will give you a broad overview of Autism, Autism treatments and why cultural representations of Autism are usually wrong. You’ll also find out why a horse died when he was being treated in a chamber normally reserved for divers suffering from the bends.”

Bio:

Tannice Pendegrass is the Assistant Editor of The Skeptic Magazine (UK) and responsible for running Guildford Skeptics in the Pub with a Cesium fist. Tannice’s brand of skepticism is focused around alternative medicine and false claims of an ability to converse with the dead. Her specialist Credible Hulk subject is the bogus link between Autism and the MMR vaccine. Tannice is also the Treasurer and the Press Officer for the newly formed South East Skeptics’ society.

 

Our meeting:

This meeting takes place at 8pm in Blackrock Castle, Saturday March 16th. The call will take place over Skype.