Cork Skeptics

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


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What does it take?

Passive Impressions

There is a broadcaster in Cork, Neil Prendeville, who has no problem promoting pseudoscience and instilling fear into people during his radio programme. He regularly invites a guest, Michael O’Doherty, whom he calls a medical professional, onto his show to expound on vaccines and antibiotics. O’Doherty has no medical qualifications. He is a quack healer whose shtick seems to be that natural is good, that the body is capable of healing itself without the need for modern medicine.

This stuff is dangerous. It is simply not true to say that our bodies are able to deal with every illness that comes along. The flu, a common disease, kills millions of people every year. Before modern medicine, deaths from smallpox, measles and TB were common. They are much less so now because of vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals. Where is the evidence for the great natural panaceas they keep talking about? In…

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Anti-vaccination horror story

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Grieving woman / Martin / Flickr (CC Licensed)

From RawStory.com comes a horrific story of a baby dying from Meningitis, with the parents trying everything except the most sensible option – to go to a doctor and to seek medical help. If they had done that, it is probable that the baby would be alive today.

It’s easy to blame the parents in this case, but pointing the blame solely at them would be wrong. There are many within the alternative medicine industry who need to take a large share of the blame also.

Despite the messaging that alternative healthcare ‘complements’ medical healthcare, there are influential people within the alt-med industry who paint normal medicine as the enemy. They portray the industry as grasping and corrupt, medical practitioners as uncaring and deluded, and the modalities used as worse than useless. They will browbeat you into believing that vaccines are killing you and that all the cures are known, but they will not reveal them because there’s no money in it. A common meme, widely shared, is that they have no interest in making people better, in the totally mistaken belief that a healthier population is somehow a threat to the medical profession. If anything, it’s the opposite.

A direct result of these scare stories is that people like the family above cannot cope when presented with real medical emergencies. The result is needless suffering, needless death and charlatans making fortunes from the unwary. You cannot solve serious health problems with magic water, fruits, chakras, kale and thinking yourself better. If you or your family are sick, go see a doctor.

 


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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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Discovering Humanism with Brian Whiteside | Humanist Association of Ireland

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Brian Whiteside is the Director of Ceremonies for the Humanist Association of Ireland.

In this talk, Brian will speak from both a personal and general viewpoint about Humanism in Ireland, its history and its recent growth. He will also detail the different activities of the HAI, under the headings of community, campaigning and ceremonies. He hopes that his talk will lead to questions and answers and a lively discussion afterwards.

q5iyq7xeBrian “discovered” Humanism in 2002 following a career in business. Over the last 14 years he has been immersed in the Humanist Association of Ireland, both as Director of Ceremonies and leading various campaigns. He was central in achieving the change in legislation to give legal status for Humanist marriage ceremonies.

Brian lives in Dun Laoghaire where he recently started the South Dublin Humanist Community. Although he is from Dublin he is proud of his Cork roots where his grandfather was a Church of Ireland clergyman.

You can find him online @briandwhiteside

 


 

This talk begins at 8:00pm on Thursday 11 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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BAD PR – A Talk By Michael Marshall

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“You can’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

Everyone knows this, but few people realise this truism extends far beyond the celebrity pages and gossip columns, and spills into ‘real’ news. Here, the near-invisible influence of PR companies is often pivotal in deciding what news gets told, and how it gets reported.

By taking a brief look at the history of modern journalism, and using real examples taken from recent headlines, Michael Marshall will show why you really, really can’t believe everything you read in the papers.

10898340_10152935880787707_8605970139174959625_nMichael Marshall is the co-founder and vice-president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and appears on the “Skeptics with a K” and “Be Reasonable” podcasts. Besides organising national and international campaigns against homeopathy, he writes about the often-unsuspected role of PR in modern media at badpr.co.uk.

Michael has written for The Times, The Guardian and The New Statesman, and has lectured for Journalism students at Sheffield Hallam University. He was described by PR Week as ‘fucking brilliant’ and was also once rather amusingly called a series of very rude words by self-proclaimed psychic Joe Power.


 

This talk begins at 8:00pm on Friday 29 January. 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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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.