Cork Skeptics

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


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The Nocebo Effect: A Talk by Keir Liddle of Edinburgh Skeptics

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 20th October, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Keir Liddle of Edinburgh Skeptics, who will take a close look at the Nocebo Effect. Keir will join us from Scotland, via the sufficiently advanced technology* of Skype.

On the night, we will also have a short (live!) presentation from the editor of Walton Magazine, a new quarterly STEM publication based in Cork.

Most people are familiar with the placebo effect—where an inert substance appears to cause an improvement in a patient’s symptoms (or at least makes them believe things are getting better). But we may be less aware of it’s corollary, the nocebo effect.

In medicine, a nocebo reaction or response refers to harmful, unpleasant, or undesirable effects a subject manifests after receiving an inert dummy drug or placebo. Nocebo responses are not chemically generated and are due only to the subject’s pessimistic belief and expectation that the inert drug will produce negative consequences. In these cases, there is no “real” drug involved, but the actual negative consequences of the administration of the inert drug, which may be physiological, behavioural, emotional, and/or cognitive, are nonetheless real.

In this talk placebo and nocebo are explained and pitted against each other. Are they both real? How can we study nocebo effects? And what implications do nocebos have for modern clinical practice?

Keir Liddle is a PhD student at the University of Stirling, and on the Edinburgh Skeptics committee. He founded the longest free skeptical festival in the world (Skeptics On The Fringe) and has a longstanding interest in placebos, nocebos and their implications. In this talk he draws on recent and past research into nocebo effects to argue that they are really a lot more important than anyone seems to give them credit for.

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!


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Academic Freedom: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Academic Freedom, In theory and In Practice: A Talk by Dr. Tom Moore

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 22nd September, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Dr. Tom Moore, a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at UCC, and will examine the topic of academic freedom.

Academic freedom encapsulates the idea that academics must be able to freely research and discuss controversial or politically unpopular ideas without suffering repression, job loss, or imprisonment. There is an extensive history of repression of academics for expressing unpopular ideas, for example in the former Soviet Union. In contrast, in the United States, freedom of speech is to some extent guaranteed under the First Amendment. The breadth of academic freedom may be subject to various constraints where it intersects with employment law, commercialisation, religious freedom, and social responsibility. In Ireland, the 1997 Universities Act provides a robust statement of academic freedom.

This talk will outline some key historical cases and discuss how the Irish approach to academic freedom performs in practice.

Dr. Tom Moore teaches and researches the genetics and physiology of embryonic development and human pregnancy. A veterinary surgeon by training, he did his PhD studies at the University of London and postdoctoral research in Cambridge, UK. He is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, UCC.

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!


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The Industry of Modern Art: A Talk by Reg Murphy

August 18th 2012 — The Industry of Modern Art by Reg Murphy

Our next meeting will take place on Saturday 18th August, at Blackrock Castle Observatory, starting at 8.00pm. The talk is by Cork Skeptics member Reg Murphy, and promises to be a fascinating look behind the industry of modern art. Reg has a degree in Fine Art from Limerick School of Art and is an avid art enthusiast. Reg has supplied an outline of the talk below.

In this talk I won’t deal with lofty questions like: what is art? What is the meaning of art? etc.; these are subjective issues best left to philosophers and not truly accessible to skeptical analysis. What I will talk about is Modern Art’s essential relationship with Money, Prestige and Entertainment. Modern Art, for better or worse is a big worldwide industry which employs tens of thousands, entertains millions, generates billions (literally), and causes (occasionally) mass trauma and outrage. Decisions concerning it often go to the highest levels of Government and it is often used as branch of diplomacy.

In a heavily illustrated slide lecture, I hope to give a fun and irreverent (i.e. free of jargon) overview, providing a highly condensed history from French Impressionism to the current day, revealing:

The Artists: Where do I start?
The Collectors: Visionaries, fools or prudent investors?
The Dealers: Smarmy charlatans or the hand maidens of Culture?
The Critics: Vindictive failed artists or heroic cheerleaders?
The Media: Vulgarians or honesty reflecting public bafflement?
The Curators: Elitist snobs or a sincere desire to stimulate the public?
The State Galleries: A waste of public money or vastly important tourist draws?
Government: Arts spending; the role of Cultural heritage and national prestige.

Most importantly, and perhaps not widely appreciated: How visual art became a mass spectacle (a very modern phenomena).

All these elements will build up a picture of the current contemporary art scene and will show that despite stupidity, hubris and greed, the public are the winners and are in fact, greatly enriched.

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!

 


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Skeptics In The Castle Double Bill! The Science of Misunderstanding and Sense About Science – November 26th 2011

The next meeting of Cork Skeptics in the Castle on Saturday 26th of November will be a double bill, with talks from Dr. Brian Hughes, of NUI Galway, and Síle Lane, of Sense About Science.

The Science of Misunderstanding: How Our Brains are Programmed to Make Mistakes.

For centuries it was believed that human reasoning was distinguished by logical thinking, clarity, and general accuracy. More recent studies have shown that human reasoning is in fact characterised by repeated mistakes, errors and wrongheadedness. It is argued that reasoning errors are often side-effects of otherwise useful mental shortcuts that have been used in the wrong way. While such concepts are useful, they do not quite explain how audiences often find bogus information to be much more attractive than accurate information. It may even be the case that our tendency to make frequent mistakes has given us a considerable evolutionary advantage. This talk will look at biological, evolutionary, and socio-cultural research on how our tendency to misunderstand can help us, both as individuals and as a society. We will also look at research which suggests some unexpectedly negative effects of enhanced logical reasoning, on both mental and physical health.

Our speaker, Dr. Brian Hughes, is the director for the Centre for Research on Occupational and Life Stress (CROLS) in NUI Galway. He is the author of The Science Bit blog, where he writes frequently about science, pseudoscience and scepticism. He holds Ph.D. and B.A. degrees in psychology from NUI Galway, and an Ed.M. degree in public science education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He served as founding Head of the Psychology Department at Dublin Business School and as President of the Psychological Society of Ireland (2004-2005).

The Ask for Evidence Campaign

Sense About Science is a UK charity that works with scientists, the public and the media to challenge misinformation, whether about the age of the earth, the causes of cancer, wifi radiation or homeopathy for malaria. This is often very effective but no sooner is attention turned elsewhere than misleading claims creep back up again. Sense about Science run campaigns and produce documents to help equip people to make sense of evidence themselves, but to make a permanent difference, they need more members of the public to be evidence hunters. That’s why they launched a national campaign, Ask for Evidence, to encourage consumers, voters and patients to scrutinise every claim they see and to give people who come across dubious scientific claims somewhere to go with their questions. Organisations that seek to persuade people to try treatments or cures should expect questions about their evidence.

Cork native, Síle Lane is Campaigns Manager at Sense About Science. She joined Sense About Science in February 2009 from a career in stem cell research. Síle works with regulatory bodies, civic society organisations, patient groups, medical research charities, the media and policy makers in the UK to ensure the public always has access to the best science and evidence. Since June 2009 Síle has run the Keep Libel Laws out of Science campaign which this year led to the UK Government bringing forward legislation to reform the libel laws to protect scientific and medical discussion. Síle became Campaigns Manager in 2011 and is developing a new dedicated campaigns unit to popularise our approach to standing up for science, including launching a national campaign to Ask for evidence.

The talk will start at 8.00pm, on Saturday November 26th (please note that this is a change from our usual Friday night schedule). It is free to attend, and all are welcome. For directions to Blackrock Castle, see our Skeptics In The Castle information page.

We hope to see you there!


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Our June Talk by Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski

Science and Pseudoscience in the Treatment of Special Educational Needs

Friday 17th June at Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork

Some children experience significant difficulties in aspects of their psychological development, making it hard for them to achieve their full potential inside the mainstream school curriculum. Those developmental difficulties can be elusive—hard to diagnose or even define precisely—and hard to treat. Naturally, there is no shortage of those who claim to have found the solution—wonderfully simple and effective— and who try to sell it to (often desperate) parents, teachers, psychologists or speech therapists. What these consumers need is the ability to critically evaluate the therapeutic products that are being marketed to them.

In this talk, Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski of the UCC Applied Psychology department will offer a brief overview of special educational needs—their symptoms and causes—as currently understood by the mainstream scientific community. The talk will cover subjects such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism. He will then suggest some rules of thumb that will allow us to evaluate the competing therapeutic proposals, helping to differentiate those that are plausible from those that are almost certainly a waste of time.

The boundaries between evidence-based therapy and its dubious alternatives can be fuzzy. Even bona fide scientists are often guilty of over-selling the genuine remedies they offer. Dr. Szczerbinski will discuss the effectiveness of widely known therapies, such as Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym as part of the talk, questioning how effective they are in reality.

About The Speaker: Dr. Marcin Szczerbinski is a psychologist, a graduate of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, and University College London. He has taught psychology and research methods at the University of Sheffield, before moving to the UCC earlier this year. He researches developmental dyslexia, among other things.

Venue & Time: This talk will begin at 8.00pm on Friday 17th June, in Blackrock Castle Observatory. Everyone is welcome and the talk is free to attend. Please see our Skeptics In The Castle page for directions to the Castle.


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There’s a Dragon in my Garage! A talk by Dr. Niall Smith

I have a dragon in my garage. It’s an amazing fire-breathing, flying, immortal dragon. Amazing—except, of course, I’m the only one who can see it and no experiment that any of my friends devise are capable of detecting the dragon …

In this talk, Dr. Niall Smith will look at the importance of experiments in supporting claims that have been made, and continue to be made, in a wide range of areas, from UFO abductions to the claimed hyper-expansion phase of the early universe. How much should we “believe” claims that appear to defy the laws of the universe as we currently understand them? Are there actually times when the experiments we perform result in outputs that are so bizarre that we’d be right to be skeptical – and yet the experiments are reproducible and apparently true? Niall will demonstrate one such experiment—simple to perform, yet still a mystery after over 150 years of study…

About the speaker: Dr. Niall Smith received his PhD from UCD in the area of astrophysics in 1990. Since then he has maintained an active research group (currently at Blackrock Castle Observatory) that develops new techniques to support research into surveys for extrasolar planets and surveys of quasars (the most powerful continuously-emitting objects in the universe).

Niall is also a founder member of BCO and a passionate believer in the importance of quality science education. He is presently the Head of Research at CIT and chair of the Institute’s Research & Development Committee. Niall has 22 publications in international journals, a book chapter on astrophysical photometry, is a member of the National Committee for Astronomy and Space Science and also the International Astronomical Union.

The talk will begin at 8pm on Friday April 15th, in Blackrock Castle Observatory. Everyone is welcome and the talk is free to attend. Please see our Skeptics In The Castle page for directions to the Castle.