Cork Skeptics

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


Leave a comment

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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

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.

 


Leave a comment

February links and follow-ups

Here are a few links to the stories we talked about last week:

Russia Meteor

News over the past 2 weeks have been dominated by the extraordinary event of the Chebarkul Lake meteor that tore through the skies above southern Russia at 9.30 am on February 15th. The meteor, weighing in at 10,000 tonnes, is believed to be the largest meteor to enter our atmosphere since the Tunguska event of 1908. Amazingly, the meteor entry was recorded on video by a large number of dashboard cameras, as was the intense shockwave that shattered thousands of windows across the city of Chelyabinsk. Needless to say, conspiracy theories surfaced quickly. Some believed it was a US missile test. Others thought it was a sign from God. The better ones postulated a crashing alien spaceship or an extraterrestrial Trojan Horse carrying a deadly space virus.

“My Poodles are Psychic”

Linda Lancashire from Heanor in the UK claims that her poodles have psychic abilities. According to Linda they can “detect relationship issues” and determine if clients have “money or relationship problems”. Linda herself works as a clairvoyant, which implies that a large proportion of her clients will have money or relationship problems in the first place.

Creationism in Louisiana

Science teaching in the US is under attack by biblically minded creationists, who wish to to introduce their dogmas into the classroom as “an alternative” to evolution. As more direct attempts have failed over the past decades, creationists are attempting to get creationism taught through indirect means. They have opened or exploited loopholes in local state legislation, thus allowing fundamentalist science teachers to water down the science curriculum according to their own religious beliefs. Now, Zach Kopplin, a 19 year old former high-school student, is going head-to-head with them in the courts. Below are some extraordinary episodes from the hearings, as science promoters square up against their deluded opponents.

Can e-Coli evolve into a human?

“Little letters”

Creationism in Turkey

In Turkey, the teaching of evolution is also under attack, this time from Islamic creationists. Recently, Turkey’s main funding agency, responsible for translating hundreds of science books into Turkish, made the decision to withdraw books such as The Blind Watchmaker and The Double Helix from sale. They cite funding and copyright issues, but it’s curious that the main targets are books on evolution. In 2006, Turkey was placed behind the US regarding the teaching of evolution.

Acupuncture Beads

The latest fad in Hollywood is “Auriculotherapy”, a variation on Acupuncture, where needles are inserted into the ear and later replaced by gold beads to “potentiate” the treatment. The treatment is claimed to fight stress, pain and infertility. Actors such as Penelope Cruz were recently seen sporting these beads. Where would skeptics be without Hollywood?


Leave a comment

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

burzynski_cancer_poster_ruff

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!


Leave a comment

And yet, planes fly

Passive Impressions

Jet Trails over Canberra-1

And yet, planes fly.

This is a phrase that often comes to mind when people question the value and utility of science, or diminish its importance in the world today.

It cuts through the objections: that science can be biased, or imperfect, or financially driven, or chaotic, or fraudulent, or philosophically unsound, or just one idea among many.

Sometimes, these criticisms are valid. There are many instances where science has been hampered by fraudulent and unethical behaviour, where scientists have taken appalling short cuts and or adjusted data because it didn’t fit preconceived notions, where bullying and a dogmatic over-reliance on unsound theories has hampered progress. You could write a book on it.

And yet, planes fly.

Big ones too. Gigantic 300 tonne planes, travelling at 900 kilometres per hour, at 40,000 feet above the ground. Right now, a few of them are routinely ploughing their way through the stratosphere en…

View original post 440 more words


2 Comments

Witch hunts, the demise of UFOlogy, earthquake prediction and ash die-back – our roundup for November

Witch Trials in Ireland

At our November meeting, we were delighted to host a Skype call from Dr. Andrew Sneddon of the University of Ulster. He gave us a fascinating talk on witch-hunting and witch-trials in Ireland. Although witch-hunting was nowhere near as widespread in Ireland as it was in Scotland and parts of central Europe, there were a number of celebrated cases in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The best documented case in Ireland was the Islandmagee witch trials in Co. Down in 1711. Eight women were put on trial and subsequently subjected to imprisonment and public pillorying. Andrew discussed the background to the case, and gave us an understanding of the mind-sets and motivations of the accusers.

Because of the legal framework in Ireland and England and a lack of solid evidence, it was never easy to convict people of witchcraft in these countries. By the mid 18th century, trials for witchcraft had effectively died out. Widespread belief in witches persisted well into the 19th century in many parts of Europe and America, however. Dr. Sneddon asserts that the belief in fairies in Ireland took precedence over witchcraft, and as a result it never became quite as ingrained in the public psyche as it did in other regions.

Andrew gave us a fascinating talk. His forthcoming book on Irish witches and witch trials will be published in the summer of 2013.

Man Finds His Doppelgänger In A 16Th Century Italian Painting

Doppelgänger lore holds that an exact simile of an person can exist, and is capable of evil or mischievous deeds, often unbeknownst to the original person.

Max Galluppo got quite a shock when he discovered his “doppelgänger” in a painting while walking through the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“The area that the painting is from in Italy, that area is actually where my grandparents are from. I might check out Ancestry.com to see if there’s a relationship,” Galuppo commented.

http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/11/16th-century-lookalike/

“UFOs” In Denver

Fox News in Denver have serious egg on their face after publishing a news report claiming strange UFO activity in the vicinity of the city. The report claimed that numerous fast moving objects were seen on camera, confounding an aviation expert who could not establish what they were.

Numerous commenters, including a group of local paranormal research enthusiasts, were able to clarify what the “objects” really were: insects flying close to the camera lens.

The news report itself is hugely entertaining, demonstrating the power of belief over more conventional explanations.

http://doubtfulnews.com/2012/11/denver-ufos-bugs-outsmart-aviation-expert/

Is the End in Sight For UFOlogy?

Over the past few years, people who investigate the existence of UFOs have become increasingly frustrated by the predominance of false sightings and conspiracy related ideologies in their area of study. Coupled with this is an overall decline in UFO sightings, with the best documented cases having taken place many decades ago. This has lead some prominent researchers to conclude that the field is now in terminal decline and that there is no strong case for the presence of UFOs.

http://www.channel4.com/news/soul-searching-for-ufo-watchers-after-a-decline-in-sightings

Italian Earthquake Scientists Convicted for Not Communicating Risk

A number of scientists in Italy were found guilty of miscommunication after having made statements to the effect that people should not be too worried about earthquakes in an area that subsequently suffered a large and devastating earthquake in 2009. This ruling has prompted outrage in the scientific community, which sees it as hampering how scientific findings can be communicated to the public. Earthquakes are notoriously unpredictable, and it appears to be a case of an angry populace determined to find someone responsible, no matter what. The judgement is being appealed.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/23/italian-scientist-earthquake-condemns-court?newsfeed=true

Homeopathy For Ash Tree Dieback

Hot on the heels of a an article that claimed that homeopathy could help to resolve domestic violence comes another article that advises the use of homeopathy to cure Ash Dieback, a disease afflicting trees all over mainland Europe. Instead of diverting money into anti-fungal treatment, they have come up with a novel cure: water. How could our scientific community have not thought of this? The scoundrels.

http://safe-medicine.blogspot.ie/2012/11/ash-tree-die-back-can-homeopathy-help.html

Two years!

We have just celebrated our second anniversary as a skeptics club in Cork, with (more or less) regular monthly meetings in Blackrock Castle. Our big thanks to Clair, Dee and all the staff of CIT Blackrock Castle over the past two years. It’s been a lot of fun, not to mention deeply fascinating to hear speakers from everything from body part ownership to ghosts and Scientology. We’ve already got a number of great talks lined up over the coming months. Watch this space!