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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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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So, those Irish Poltergeist videos….

There is a video doing the rounds at the moment that purports to show a poltergeist haunting the kitchen of a house in Cork. At the time of posting, this video has garnered 10 million views on various social media platforms.

Actually, there are two videos. Another one was uploaded the week before this.

Both videos are hoaxes.

It’s instructive to look at both videos because some of the differences give the game away.

In the first video, the camera moves around to the phenomenon before it begins. This is clear sign that the people involved are in control of what is happening. This is slightly less obvious in the second video – a sign that they have taken this on board.

In the second video, a fridge has moved to a different, rather strange place – right beside the back door. This, presumably, had been placed to conceal one of the people who is conducting events.

Nobody appears to be too frightened, not even the dogs.

So how was it done? Fishing lines. By scrolling to various points in the video, you can see them clearly. In one scene, you can even see the hand of the person at the other side of the door.

First Video 16 September

Manipulation is taking place outside the house, with lines being pulled through one of the windows.
  1. 1.03 something snags on a bottle by the window (the same effect is apparent in both videos)
  2. 1.49 someone appears behind the door – you can see his hands.
  3. 1.28 fishing line attached to the light
  4. 1.34 you can see the fishing line clearly by the radio speakers.

Second video 22 September

Manipulation is from behind the fridge and behind the person taking the video.
  1. Wire clearly visible at 1.05 at the end of the video
  2. Likely fishing wire at 0.34.
  3. 0.53 Bottle on window moves again.

Finally, here’s a phenomenon I videoed in my kitchen last night…

Nice try, Ashy.


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The Baloney Detection Kit – Further Reading

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Colm here! I think I must have spoken to over 200 people last night over the 4 hours. Thanks to everyone for coming along. I hope you found it interesting.

Attached are some links for further reading:

Logical Fallacies

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A core skill in critical thinking is identifying logical fallacies when they occur. Logical fallacies are poor arguments that are used to convince people of your point of view. You might be telling the truth, but such arguments, by themselves, will not make your viewpoint true. They often serve only to mislead others or to allow emotions to override your sense of reason. The website “Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies” gives an introduction to the most common fallacies. A more in-depth description can be found at logicalfallacies.info.

Human Biases

Our brains, while remarkable, contain pretty serious flaws that affect how we absorb experiences, process information and remember things accurately. Optical Illusions show that our brains can see crooked lines lines when lines are straight, or moving images when the same pictures are static. Memories are malleable, while critical information is filtered out while other aspects gain far more prominence than they deserve. Three books / e-books are worthwhile reading to understand how badly our brains work:

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You Are Not So Smart, by David Mc Raney covers all the ways our brain gets it wrong. There is also a website and a podcast.

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris, talks about Cognitive Dissonance, and what happens when people have to reconcile two opposing concepts in their heads at the same time.

Paranormality, by Prof. Richard Wiseman, is an entertaining introduction to the reasons why people report anomalous experiences such as UFO’s, ghosts and strange creatures.

Medical Websites

If someone is guiding you towards YouTube or Facebook or an unknown site for medical information, the chances are you are being hoodwinked. The following sites will give you better information that is in line with the best medical knowledge. Remember, if in doubt, talk to your doctor.

Mayo Clinic (USA)

Centers for Disease Control (USA)

World Heath Organisation (WHO)

WebMD

HSE (Ireland)

NHS (UK)

Alternative Medicine (“alt-med”) refers to practices and concoctions that have either not been proven medically effective, or have been proven to be not medically effective for various health conditions. Typically, if there is an evidence base, it becomes part of the medical corpus. For this reason, alt-med requires a considerable degree of scepticism. For some excellent discussions on Alternative Medicine, the website Science Based Medicine is well worth checking out.

Particularly bad sources of medical information are Natural News, Mercola.com, Infowars, Age of Autism and Foodbabe. All of them are sensationalist conspiracy mongering sites run by motivated fanatics whose primary aim is to inspire fear and distrust in people for their own financial advantage. Avoid at all costs.

Other Useful Websites

If you come across a suspect or “too good to be true” claim on Facebook, there is a good chance that Snopes.com has the inside story on it. It’s well worth checking out.

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Sense about Science is a UK charity designed to communicate science to the public, particularly where there is a considerable degree of controversy in the media about the science. It aims to communicate the facts around topics such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), Nuclear Power, Climate Change, Vaccines, Antibiotics and other subjects in a clear and understandable way. They have pioneered the Ask For Evidence campaign, and for teachers, they have recently published a lesson plan to teach core critical thinking in schools.

In Conclusion

All that remains is for me to thank Blackrock Castle as always for all the help, and my comrade in arms, Alan B, for his truly excellent posters.


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Climate Change with John Gibbons

Our next talk features environmental writer and commentator John Gibbons who will discuss the global climate change crisis, with a focus on the role Ireland has played.

About The Talk: An unprecedented global crisis involving biodiversity collapse, water and soil depletion, planetary climate destabilisation and pollution of land, sea and atmosphere threatens to reverse the dramatic gains in wealth, health and well being that humanity has enjoyed over the past two centuries. We live in dangerous times.

But what is truly extraordinary is how this existential crisis has been studiously ignored by our politicians, business and social leaders as well as our media. How this has come to pass is itself one of the most extraordinary stories of our times. In this talk, John Gibbons will attempt to shine some light into the dark corners of the greatest communications failure in human history.
John Gibbons

John Gibbons

About the Speaker: John Gibbons is a specialist environmental writer and commentator with a special focus on Climate Change. He wrote a weekly column in the Irish Times on climate change for nearly three years, and is now a regular contributor on TV, radio and in print on environment, energy and climate-related issues. He maintains a blog at ThinkorSwim.ie

A graduate of UCC and DCU, he is also MD of healthcare publishing and communications organisation MedMedia Group which he co-founded 24 years ago. Married, he has two daughters in primary school and lives in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.


This talk begins at 8:00pm on Friday 17 April. 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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How To Find Love On The Internet • Dr Martin Graff

MartinGraff_CorkSkeptics_650pxFriday 2 May at Blackrock Castle Observatory

Are there gender differences in attraction?  Can you really find true love on the Internet?  How do people actually portray themselves online?  Can you have a virtual affair?

In this talk, Dr Martin Graff will examine all of these issues and will draw on current empirical studies on online relationships.  He will cover some of the major research work on the online disinhibition effect, which suggest that we disclose more personal information, and do this more quickly in online environments.

Dr Graff will also give some factual advice on how to construct dating site profiles, and the way to approach an online liaison with a potential dating partner.  With the explosion in the provision of online dating sites, including those dedicated to finding partners for affairs, this will also draw on some of the speaker’s own research on online infidelity, asking whether it is possible to have a virtual affair.

 

About The Speaker:

Dr Martin Graff is Reader in Psychology at the University of South Wales. He is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Chartered Psychologist.

Over the years he has carried out research in the areas of cognitive processes in web-based learning, individual differences in website navigation, online interaction and the formation and dissolution of romantic relationships online and offline. He has also carried out research in the areas of online persuasion, and online disinhibition, and has supervised several doctoral degrees in this area.

He is a member of the British Psychological Society Undergraduate Education Committee, which oversees the running of Psychology degree programmes at British Universities.  In April 2013, he was invited as a visiting research professor to Cortland University, New York, USA April 2013.

Dr Graff has published widely in the field of Internet behaviour, and has also written for The Psychologist in the area of Online Infidelity.  He has also presented this work at numerous International Conferences.


 

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