Cork Skeptics

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


Leave a comment

BAD PR – A Talk By Michael Marshall

BadPR_Poster_650

“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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

The Baloney Detection Kit – Further Reading

BDK_CultureNight_2015_800px

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 22.16.26

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:

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 21.13.47

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 22.13.14

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.


Leave a comment

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!


1 Comment

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!

 


1 Comment

The View From The Watchtower: A Former Believer’s Experience as a Jehovah’s Witness

CorkSkeptics_Watchtower_Poster_650pxMost people at some time or other—usually on the doorstep—have had a brief conversation with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It probably went something like this: “Isn’t the world in a mess? Do you think things will ever get better? Do you know that the Bible promises that God will make it possible for good people to live forever right here, on an earth that will be transformed into a paradise?” Then often some literature is left that cites Bible texts to support this belief.

The Witness worldview that underpins this theology is quite surprising. What is Armageddon and what will happen to most of the world’s population when it comes?  How do Witnesses view other religions? How do members regard higher education? What is wrong with having a birthday party, celebrating Christmas or voting in elections?

Our speaker for this event was for many years a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness community in Cork. In this talk, he will briefly outline the history of the religion, summarise the key beliefs and recount his own experience as a member.

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


3 Comments

Water Fluoridation and leukaemia – the missing connection

Over the past day, The Girl Against Fluoride, Aisling Fitzgibbon, posted this message in Facebook, where she attempted to link water fluoridation to leukaemia incidence in Ireland.

20131218-043602.jpg

A pity she didn’t read on. The Irish Cancer Atlas contains a ton of information about the incidences of all sorts of cancers in Ireland. Leukaemia incidence is one of only a small number of cancers that shows a convenient distinction between north and south.

20131218-053047.jpg20131218-053101.jpg20131218-053240.jpg

The leukaemia risk factors mentioned make no reference to water fluoridation. Ionising radiation is a strong risk factor, as are certain types of drugs or viruses.

20131218-052615.jpg

The map itself even contradicts the thesis that fluoridation is linked to leukaemia. While fluoride is added to water schemes in Donegal, it has just as low a risk of leukaemia as Northern Ireland. In addition, the relative risk in the Republic does not seem to distinguish between state water schemes and wells or group schemes, where fluoridation levels may be different or absent altogether.

Other diagrams from the anti-fluoride lobby attempt to show similar linkages for prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and brain cancer, however in none of these cases is water fluoridation listed as a probable or even possible risk factor.

Whatever the causes of these cancers (and there can be multiple causes), they have nothing to do with water fluoridation. The geographical distribution of these cancers was carefully cherry picked by them, because they seemed to bolster their case. It doesn’t take much effort to show how mistaken this approach is.

More on The Girl Against Fluoride and her strange views on Geoff Short’s blog.

Update: Geoff has pointed me to this post from the National Cancer Registry, which supports my analysis here.