Cork Skeptics

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


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You Are What You Tweet with Niamh O’Connor

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Niamh O’Connor, a.k.a. the Nutri-Babble Slayer, Puts Online Health & Nutrition Claims Under The Microscope

8:00pm • Friday 24th November • Blackrock Castle Observatory

Having immersed herself in Twitter for the past 7 years, dietitian & consultant nutritionist Niamh O’Connor has seen first-hand the power of social media in healthcare. In that time, Niamh has become a leading voice on social media for Irish dietitians, as an unwavering nutribabble-slaying thorn in the side of opportunistic quacks, celebrities and charlatans, who post misleading, false and incorrect health and nutrition information online!

In this talk, Niamh will chronicle her online odyssey through the world of bogus health and nutrition claims and those that peddle them, as well as providing practical advice on what to look out for and how best to assess these claims.

About The Speaker: Niamh O’Connor qualified with BSc (Hons) in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from TCD & a Diploma in Dietetics from DIT in 1993.

In 1999 she founded Cork Nutrition Consultancy, which was the very first of its kind in Cork, and in 2012 she went on to launch NutriCount® Ireland, which provides professional nutritional analysis, allergen labelling, staff training & mentoring on health and nutrition claims for the hospitality sector.

Niamh is an active member of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI), the professional body for dietitians and clinical nutritionists in Ireland. She advocates for her patients and for her profession, and is a regular contributor to local and national radio, television, print media and social media on all things nutrition.

Niamh can be found on Twitter @CorkNutrition


This talk takes place at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork at 8:00pm on Friday 24th November. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend!

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Believe ET Or Not

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BELIEVE E.T. OR NOT

Colm Ryan of Cork Skeptics will discuss some of the stranger stories arising from our love affair with the cosmos.

Colm will take a sceptical look at astrology, the UFO phenomenon, and the popular conspiracy theories of our culture. In contrast to these are real, scientific quests to find life on planets and moons beyond the Earth.

Lastly, Colm will introduce a baloney detector kit, which may help distinguish outlandish claims from rational scientific discovery.

This talk is part of the Space On The Road! series of events taking place throughout Cork County Libraries this summer, and is one of many events comprising the Summer of Space at Blackrock Castle Observatory. For more information visit www.bco.ie/events or www.ssp17.ie  You can also follow along on social media using #SummerOfSpace #SSP17 #OurSpaceOurTime


This talk takes place in Youghal County Library, Cork at 6:30pm on Thursday 27th July. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend.


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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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The Baloney Detection Kit at Cork Culture Night 2015

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The BALONEY DETECTION KIT

@ Cork City Culture Night 2015

As part of Cork City Culture Night 2015, Cork Skeptics present “The Baloney Detection Kit” — a furiously fast-paced introduction to skepticism!

From 6pm (repeating every half hour) on the night of Friday 18th September, 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 on issues such as ghosts, nuclear power and financial scams.

The talk takes place in Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork City from 6pm on Friday 18th September. All are welcome.


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The Baloney Detection Kit • A Talk by Colm Ryan

BaloneyDetectionKit_2015_Advert_2 baloney_detection_kit_2015_650pxCork Skeptics present

The Baloney Detection Kit

A talk by Colm Ryan

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 on issues such as ghosts, nuclear power and financial scams.

The talk takes place in De Barra’s Folk Club, Clonakilty at 8pm, Tuesday 12th May. All are welcome.


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Should we be sceptical about Global Warming?

Scepticism, on the face of it, is all about not taking claims at face value. Sceptics are expected to dig deeper, to ask questions and challenge assertions. What then should we say about one of the great questions of the current times, namely whether the burning of fossil fuels is causing an alarming increase in world temperatures and incidences of severe weather; trends that may lead to catastrophic changes around the world if we do nothing about it?

A large section of society has taken the view that global warming is not happening, or if it is, it’s a result of natural cycles only, or if there is a human influence, it’s only for the good – the warming we will see will be a good thing for us all. These people describe themselves as global warming sceptics. They hear people making alarming claims and they react by demanding cast-iron evidence. If such evidence is not forthcoming, they take the view that the claims are bunk and that global warming is a myth.

But are they correct in their assertions? Is this true scepticism or a warped version of it?

There is a phenomenon known as hyper-scepticism or denialism, whereby no matter how much evidence is presented to support a claim, it is never enough. Denialism is apparent in the claims by some people that men never went to the Moon or that evolution doesn’t exist. It is apparent whenever evidence collides with ideology, in somewhat the same way as smokers might refute negative stories as a way of persisting with their habit.

The trouble with global warming scepticism is that the claims have been validated by the vast majority of scientists whose job it is to research these claims and understand their impacts. Solid links were made between atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming in the 19th Century. Over the past century and through thousands of peer-reviewed studies, the evidence has kept building up. Atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in 3 million years. Temperatures have been rising and not in a way that can be explained by natural phenomena, such as sunspots and volcanic activity. Direct links have been established between atmospheric carbon and fossil fuels. The data for these conclusions come from multiple sources including temperature records, atmospheric readings, tree-rings, ice-cores and deep sea sediments. The net effect is an overwhelming consensus among relevant scientists that global warming is real, that it is man-made and that it bodes badly for the future, if we continue to leave CO2 unchecked.

Yet thousands of self-proclaimed “experts” (who are nothing of the sort) deny all this. Seemingly, they know better. To them, the climate researchers are either badly deluded or part of some huge conspiracy to twist the evidence to their position. It’s a bizarre line-up of science versus ideology, spurred on by vested interests who believe they have a lot to lose if the worldwide demand for fossil fuels is reduced. While getting short shrift from the scientific community at large, the deniers have been successful in swaying public opinion. Many right wing political parties have made climate change denial a core part of their election platforms as they seek to attract and retain voters who parrot these views.

In the end, the deniers have launched a war against science, rife with misinformation and media strategies similar to those used by tobacco companies to deny any links to cancer.  Every day, climate scientists are faced with having to address the same canards no matter how many times they have been knocked down in the past. Attempts have been made to sabotage and misrepresent their work. Publicly available climate change data is selectively misused in order to counteract the accepted science.

On the face of it, many of the big oil companies such as BP, Shell and even Exxon accept man-made climate change and its implications. However, they are not doing enough to counteract those voices who would prefer to think that the whole issue is a barefaced lie. Ironically, climate change denial and its attendant war on scientists goes against the better interests of energy companies, who badly need to foster science education and attract the best scientific minds into their organisations to meet the challenges of the future.

Just as uncritical acceptance of a claim is a bad thing, being sceptical does not mean that you must be hyper-sceptical when overwhelming evidence exists to support the conclusions. This is, in fact, an irrational position, based more on faith than reality. Climate deniers have set up a damaging war against science that is in nobody’s interest. The science, in terms of its broad conclusions, is in. Now sensible political strategies need to be put in place to limit CO2 and wean the world over to alternative sources of energy.


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Identifying “baloney” in everyday life

We are beset, these days, with people making claims about products, services and viewpoints that have little or no scientific backing or evidence. Websites, advertisements and magazine articles sometimes contain extravagant claims about products and services that are guaranteed to change your life, make you rich, or provide therapies that are beyond the means of modern medicine. Often, clever persuasion techniques are used that sound convincing at first sight, but which do not make much logical sense on closer inspection. These techniques are called “Logical Fallacies”: flawed arguments used to persuade the unwary. Logical fallacies are often used simply to distract people away from a more rigorous examination of a claim. The following are some logical fallacies in common use.

Appeals to Emotion: Emotional appeals are the mainstay of many baloney merchants. By linking their ideas with pleasant, soothing imagery, or associating their opponents’ ideas with disgusting or threatening pictures, the expectation is that the reader is will be persuaded to accept the proponent’s point of view. There are many examples of this, particularly when the topic is a “hot button” one, such as abortion, childhood vaccinations, vivisection, climate change or nuclear power. Appeals to emotion are used throughout the advertising industry as a means to associate products with well-being and health.

Appeals to Celebrity: A key strategy among many advertisers of nonsense is to associate their products with well known personalities, both living and dead. A testimonial or photo-opportunity with a celebrity is hugely desirable, but where this is not possible, it can be just as effective to insert an image of Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi or a famous hollywood film star. Celebrities have huge public appeal and can drive enormous interest in products and services. They are rarely experts, however, and are prone to the same biases and mistakes as the rest of us. A celebrity endorsement does not necessarily indicate that a product or service is any good.

“Magic” words: Seemingly scientific words regularly appear in the the literature and websites of nonsense pedlars. These words include “vibrations”, “energy”, “life-force”, “quantum”, “magnetic” and “psychic”. While they are meant to convey a sense of how their procedures work, they are usually used in contexts that make no sense from a scientific perspective. Energy, magnetism, vibrations and quantum have very specific meanings for scientists. They are often used inappropriately when applied to the many healing or therapeutic solutions on offer in the mainstream media. Instead, the words are a short-hand for magic: a word used to describe the inexplicable.

Too Good To Be True: Some claims are breathtakingly sensational. According to some, a cure for all types of cancer is available right now, others promote get rich quick schemes, while yet others claim that free energy is in our grasp. These are extraordinary claims that sound almost too good to be true. While we would all like silver bullet solutions to our problems, the reality is often more difficult and complex. When great breakthroughs do take place, they come under heavy scrutiny and are surrounded by an enormous media fanfare, both positive and negative. In this context, claims by single proponents require extensive cross-checking and verification before they can ever be accepted. As the saying goes: “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

Black Or White: A Black Or White claim, also called a “false dilemma”, is one that limits alternative explanations to a very small number of possibilities, often just one or two. If a strange light is seen in the sky, it MUST be a UFO. If a strange object is seen on the road at night it MUST be a ghost. Other possible alternatives are not even mentioned. False dilemmas are also used to convince people of a viewpoint by presenting it as the only alternative to the mainstream view. An example is where homeopathy is promoted where normal medicines have significant side effects. Just because there are problems in mainstream medicine doesn’t mean that homeopathy is an effective alternative.

Conspiracy: Sometimes we hear proponents of strange claims make allegations about Big Medicine or government or a capitalist elite suppressing their ideas for their own nefarious purposes. While conspiracies do sometimes take place, it is almost trivially easy to resort to a conspiracy theory to explain a setback or an unforeseen circumstance. Other possibilities, such as misfortune, incompetence and indifference, are often more likely explanations.

None of these arguments, in themselves, can prove that a person is talking baloney. Indeed, worthwhile, serious ideas may also be supported by poor reasoning. However, if a proponent only uses logical fallacies to support their products or viewpoints, then you should be sceptical of the claims they are making.

This article appeared in the Cork Independent blog on 4 October 2012.