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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik's talk available on our

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SitP: Larry Gilbertson on GMOs and Biotech [caption id="attachment_2117" align="alignright" width="300"] Feeding the world[/caption]The population of the earth will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. Arable land is decreasing, dietary preferences...

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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik's talk available on our Vimeo channel. [embed]https://vimeo.com/131084499[/embed][caption id="attachment_2105" align="alignright"...

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Book Club: Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich [caption id="attachment_2096" align="alignright" width="193"] Our next book[/caption]Our book for May is Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara...

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SitP: Larry Gilbertson on GMOs and Biotech

Posted on : Jun-04-2015 | By : John | In : Skeptics in the Pub

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a field of growing grain

Feeding the world

The population of the earth will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. Arable land is decreasing, dietary preferences are shifting in the emerging economies of the world, and climate change will present further challenges to food production. Meeting the needs of the growing, changing planet will require new approaches and technologies. Biotechnology is an important approach to improve agricultural productivity that, combined with other practices, has the potential to solve some of these challenges. The commercialization of genetically modified plants began in the mid-1990s with launch of herbicide tolerant and insect protected crops, which were widely adopted by farmers in the US and other countries. More varieties with new and improved traits have been released since then, with a robust pipeline for the future.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Not so fast, say some. There is currently an ongoing, robust debate involving many sectors of society, include skeptics, over how agriculture and food production should work, the role of new and emerging technologies, including the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the role of multi-national corporations in agriculture.

Dr. Gilbertson in his lab

Dr. Larry Gilbertson

At this meeting of the Boston Skeptics, Dr. Larry Gilbertson will talk about the science of GMOs and the research at Monsanto Company. He will also answer questions collected from skeptics via social media, facilitated by Mary Mangan, a member of Boston Skeptics, as well as from the audience in the room.

Dr. Gilbertson is a Monsanto scientist in the company’s Biotechnology organization. He fell in love with basic research while taking biology courses as a pre-med major, and quickly changed plans to attend graduate school instead. He became so infatuated with lab work that he courted his girlfriend (now wife) with heart shaped pink and white Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) designs in petri plates.

Dr. Gilbertson joined Monsanto in 1995 as a post-doctoral researcher out of curiosity (and a bit of skepticism) about industrial career paths, and was won over within a week by the shared passion for science that he saw among his colleagues. He has worked on and led a variety of teams performing original research in plant transformation, gene expression, vector technology, and insect control, leading to 26 patents and breakthroughs that have enabled the advancement of the Biotechnology pipeline. He currently leads a Monsanto protein engineering team in Cambridge MA.

Dr. Gilbertson has been a Monsanto Science Fellow since 2004, and was recently recognized with the 2014 Monsanto Science and Technology Career Award.

Dr. Gilbertson is from the heart of the corn belt, Iowa, but rarely came close to corn plants until he joined Monsanto. He received a B.S degree in Biology from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Oregon. He has taught graduate courses plant biology and genomics at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and at Washington University in St. Louis.

Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, June 22, 2015 in the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

RSVP or leave questions for Dr. Gilbertson on our Facebook event page. You can also leave questions for Dr. Gilbertson on our Meetup page, at reddit/r/skeptic, or on the SGU forums, or tweet them to Mary (@mem_somerville).

SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap

Posted on : May-20-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik’s talk available on our Vimeo channel.

This month's speaker, Davic Ropeik

David Ropeik will be speaking on the gap between risk and risk perception

Our guest this month is David Ropeik, a writer, teacher, investigative journalist and consultant. Formerly a reporter for WCVB-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, he has taught journalism and the psychology of risk perception, communication and management for many years.

Mr. Ropeik is an Instructor at Harvard University, author, and consultant on the psychology of risk perception, risk communication, and risk management. He is author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match The Facts and co-author of RISK: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You.

He is a widely cited expert on risk perception in the general press and he blogs for BigThink.com, Psychology Today, Nature, Scientific American, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Huffington Post.

Mr. Ropeik was a television reporter in Boston from 1978 – 2000, where he twice won the DuPont Columbia Award, often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism, along many other awards. He wrote a science column for The Boston Globe 1998-2000. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT 1994-95.

He is creator and director of the program “Improving Media Coverage of Risk”, a training program for journalists.

He has taught journalism at Boston University, Tufts University, MIT, and Northwestern University.

Risk perception is a topic close to many skeptics, as we see our friends, neighbors, families and, despite our best intentions, ourselves, make poor self-destructive choices about vaccinations, health care, the environment, diet, consumer purchases, politics and many other avenues of life. David Ropeik has written and talked extensively on how to communicate an accurate assessment of risk to people, helping them better understand why their instincts and fears and doubts might be doing them more harm than good.

THE RISK PERCEPTION GAP

Why we worry too much about some things, not enough about others, the danger that poses, and what we can do about it.

As scientifically as many risks have been studied, so have the cognitive processes of risk perception. Research has revealed that risk perception is a fascinating, complex, and ultimately subjective system influenced more by instinct and feeling than intellect and fact. As a result it produces perceptions that sometimes fly in the face of the evidence and lead to judgments and behaviors that may feel right, but actually create risks all by themselves.

This presentation will summarize how subjective risk perception works and why the Risk Perception Gap occurs, which is the first step toward minimizing the risks our risk MISperceptions can cause.

New Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, May 25, 2015 in the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge. RSVP on our Facebook event page. This is our first meeting at the Hong Kong, so it is important that people register in advance so the restaurant will know what to expect and will have adequate staffing. Also, it would be good to arrive a little early if you possibly can to allow time for ordering dinner and/or drinks before the talk begins.

Note: links to Amazon are for informational purposes only. Please feel free to patronize your local library or bricks-and-mortar book store!

Book Club: “Bright-sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Posted on : May-06-2015 | By : John | In : Book Club

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book cover

Our next book

Our book for May is Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The first chapter describes Ehrenreich’s experience with breast cancer and all the useless, belittling advice she received from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people about how she could overcome it with a positive attitude and strength of character. Implicit in this advice is an enormous dose of victim-blaming. It’s her fault if she has cancer because she wasn’t positive enough, and if she doesn’t get on the program (of magical thinking with no, zero, nada, zip evidence of efficacy), it will be her fault if she doesn’t recover. This sounds to me like a perfect Republican health care plan: blame the victims and quickly get rid of all those annoying, expensive sick people. But that’s just me…

The second chapter describes her visit to a national convention of motivational speakers. Reminiscent of a Jon Ronson exploration, she finds the ultimate goal of becoming a motivational speaker is to motivate our people to become motivational speakers in some gigantic multilevel marketing scheme. Ever since the dawn of the self-help and positive thinking movements (which are deeply intertwined) in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), other people “are there only to nourish, praise and affirm”. (Sounds like a recipe for sociopathy, or at very least, libertarianism.) The whole edifice is built on a foundation of pseudoscientific principles, such as “The Law of Attraction”, pre-scientific understandings of magnets and gravity, and profound misunderstanding of simple oscillators (“vibrations”), and quantum. Its crowning achievements are The Secret and other forms of magical thinking.

If the rest of the book is as interesting (if disheartening) and as readable as the first two chapters, it will be well worth reading and discussing.

Please join us to discuss this book on Saturday, May 16 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary phaser blast. (Warning: I did remember to put new batteries in my phaser.)

Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (May 17) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be here!)

SitP: Dr Alessio Fasano and Gluten Freedom

Posted on : Mar-30-2015 | By : John | In : Event, local

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The structure of gluten

A little biochemistry…

Gluten is a protein structure found in wheat, barley and rye. It is the substance that gives bread its chewiness and because it is strong and stretchy, it helps bread dough trap the CO2 produced by yeast or baking powder, making it light and airy. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “Mmmm gluten, is there anything you can’t do?”

Gluten has become one of the most controversial topics in the modern diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by one of the components of gluten. It causes abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation and diarrhea, anemia and fatigue. It affects millions of people, and in extreme cases, especially in children, it can cause serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies because the inflamed small intestine doesn’t function properly. Long term, untreated celiac can lead to many serious complications. Celiac is distinct from wheat allergy, which also exists.

(Wheat allergies involve different components of the immune system reacting in different ways than what occurs in celiac, and are similar to other food allergies. Wheat allergies can be triggered by one or more of the many proteins in wheat, not just those in gluten.)

Many people who don’t have the classic symptoms of celiac or wheat allergies, or who were determined not to have those diseases by various diagnostic tests (which according to the Wikipedia articles appear to have very low false negative rates), none the less claim or suspect they have some sort of gluten sensitivity. Hence the enormous current interest in gluten-free foods. (“Gluten free” gets 107,000,000 hits on Google.)

So is wheat the staff of life, responsible for getting humanity out of the stone age, and in the top five discoveries ever (along with fire, the wheel, beer and video games), or is it the greatest evil ever perpetrated, responsible for more misery and death than cigarettes, automobiles, alcoholism and war combined?

our speaker, Dr Fasano The Boston Skeptics are fortunate to have as our guest for April’s Skeptics in the Pub world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, research scientist and entrepreneur Alessio Fasano, M.D., who is director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). His prevalence study published in 2003 established the rate of celiac disease at 1 in 133 Americans.

His visionary research has led to the awareness of celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders as a growing public health problem in the United States and worldwide. As Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at MGHfC, Dr. Fasano treats both children and adults for gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.

A passionate advocate for collaboration in research and clinical work, Dr. Fasano recently authored Gluten Freedom to provide patients, healthcare providers and general readers an evidence-based yet entertaining book to dispel some of the current confusion about gluten and how it can affect your health.

Dr Fasano will tell us about his research, the causes and treatment for celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity, and I’m sure we have many questions on these topics.

We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, April 6, 2015 in the back room at The Burren, 247 Elm St. in Davis Square, Somerville. RSVP on our Facebook event page. If enough people say they will attend in advance, the Burren will provide us with our own wait staff and/or bartender, which will avoid a crush of people trying to get food or drinks. Also, it might be a good idea to arrive a little early if you possibly can.

BTW, someone asked if the Burren has any gluten-free items on their menu. I am informed that the Cod Espanola, the Balsamic Chicken, the veggie shepherds pie and nachos are all gluten free.

Hopefully, we won’t have yet another blizzard!

UPDATE Dr Fasano’s talk is now available on Vimeo:


Dr. Alessio Fasano speaks at the Boston Skeptics in the Pub, April 6, 2015

SitP: Vitamin K Refusal with Clay Jones

Posted on : Feb-26-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Newborn receiving a vitamin K shot

Newborn receiving a vitamin K shot


The Boston Skeptics are lucky to have members like Clay Jones, pediatrician and Science Based Medicine blogger. Clay will be joining us on Monday, March 2 for our next Skeptics in the Pub, to discuss yet another case of people ignoring the best scientific evidence for a medical treatment, to the detriment of their children. Tragically, several children have recently died and many more have suffered serious brain injury from internal bleeding that can easily be prevented by a vitamin K injection shortly after birth.

As Clay ably explains in a post on SBM, most or all newborns suffer from vitamin K deficiency. This is due to a variety of causes, ranging from an immature digestive system that can’t readily absorb vitamin K, an immature liver that doesn’t process vitamin K efficiently, lack of gut bacteria that help digest foods and release the vitamin K in them, and the low levels of vitamin K in human breast milk. (Infant formula is fortified with vitamin K, so deficiency is less a problem but not eliminated in formula-fed babies.) The first three causes are significantly worse in premature babies.

Vitamin K is essential to several processes involved in forming blood clots, and people with vitamin K deficiency are much more likely to suffer from bruising and bleeding, both external and internal. Early vitamin K-deficient bleeding (VKDB) occurs in the first week after birth. It is fairly common, about 1.7% of all babies experience it (or would if vitamin K injections weren’t SOP since 1961), usually in the form of bleeding under the skin or (more scarily) under the membrane that covers bones. The latter can result in disturbing lumps on the skull and terrified parents, but usually resolves itself fairly quickly. Much more serious, but much rarer, is late VKDB, which occurs between 2 and 12 weeks. This can result in serious internal bleeding into the gut and the brain. Brain bleeds can cause serious brain injuries or even death. Babies not given vitamin K suffer late VKDB at the rate of about 4.4 to 7.2 per 100,000 children, 20% of them die and half the remainder suffer long term problems. Before vitamin K treatment became routine, VKDB was an important cause of infant mortality.

Fortunately, both forms of VKDB can be virtually completely eliminated by a simple, single intramuscular vitamin K injection

Vitamin K being administered to a newborn

Vitamin K being administered to a newborn

within a few hours of birth. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, and is retained in the babies muscle and slowly released for several months, long enough for the baby’s digestive system and internal organs to mature sufficiently to process vitamin K from food on their own. Oral vitamin K also works, but not quite as well, and requires daily or weekly doses of liquid vitamin K over several weeks or months, and it is difficult for harried parents to stick to the schedule. Oral vitamin K is standard treatment in some countries, but many of them are switching to (or switching back to) injections.

Increasingly, and frighteningly, more parents are refusing consent for their babies to receive the injection. This seems to be correlated with the anti-vax movement, though their objections are much more tenuous. Similar to the bogus autism-vaccine link espoused by Andrew Wakefield and others, there was a tiny, poorly done study (since thoroughly refuted) that claimed to link vitamin K to childhood leukemia. The anti-K movement lacks the prominent purveyors of nonsense that keeps the anti-vax movement alive. (Even Dr. Joeseph Mercola doesn’t believe vitamin K shots cause leukemia, but he does prefer oral doses, of course.) Clay will tell us, we hope, about other motivations parents have for refusing the vitamin K jab.

The problem of vitamin K rejection is receiving increased media attention. Chris Mooney wrote about it last summer in his Mother Jones blog, and Mooney and Indre Viskontas interviewed Clay about it on the Inquiring Minds podcast. (Interview starts about 6 minutes in.)

We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, March 2, 2015 in the back room at The Burren, 247 Elm St. in Davis Square, Somerville. Please RSVP* on our Facebook event page. If enough people say they will attend in advance, the Burren will provide us with our own wait staff and/or bartender, which will avoid a crush of people trying to get food or drinks. Also, it might be a good idea to arrive a little early if you possibly can.

Hopefully, we won’t have yet another blizzard!

[*] Yes, I know “Please RSVP” is redundant.

Darwin Day Brunch

Posted on : Feb-09-2015 | By : John | In : Event, local

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WEATHER UPDATE: Due to the impending 4th Blizzard, Darwin Day has been postponed one week, to Feb. 22.

Thursday, Feb 12 is Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. The Birthday Boy

We’re celebrating with Oodles of Noodlesnoodles and Modern Dinosaurs dinosaurs.

Join us at 11 AM Sunday, Feb 15 Feb 22 at Santouka Ramen in Harvard Square for brunch, followed by a The Voyage of HMS Beaglevoyage† to the Hominids at the Museum of Natural History Harvard Museum of Natural History.

RSVP on our Facebook event page.

Date: Sunday, Feb 15 Feb 22, 2015
Brunch Time: 11 AM
Place: Santouka Ramen
1 Bow Street
Cambridge MA

Museum Time: 1 PM
Place: Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge MA

[†] Boat not provided‡.
[‡] Boat not needed, since it’s just a 10 minute walk, not a 5 year circumnavigation. Spaceship not needed either.

Getting Invited!

Posted on : Jan-29-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post

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Chuck

Our Friend Charles Beagleson with a Tortoise and Finches


Facebook no longer automatically invites all members of a group to group events, if the group has more than 250 members. The Boston Skeptics group currently has 557 members, so most of you aren’t getting notified of events unless you check the page (or here) frequently.

But Facebook members can invite their friends! Go to the event page, click on Invite, pick Choose Friends on the menu, and then an Invite window will pop up with a list of suggestions on the left side. Pick Boston Skeptics under MY GROUPS (you might have to scroll down) and a list of your friends who are members of the Boston Skeptics will appear in the middle column. Click on Select All at the top and all your Skeptical Friends will get selected (except those who have already been invited by someone else, so they won’t get spammed.) Of course, you can also invite people who aren’t members, since all (AFIAK) our events are public!

There’s more! We’ve invented a Facebook user, Charles Beagleson, who is a friend to everyone. (At least, to everyone who has accepted a friend request from him.) Charlie will probably be sending you a friend request soon, or you can send him one. Chuck will be sending invites to all his friends for all future events. (If you don’t want to be inundated by the average of 2 events per month, just don’t accept his friendship, or unfriend him if you’ve already accepted. He won’t be insulted. ;-(

SitP: Invisible Threat

Posted on : Jan-25-2015 | By : John | In : Event, movie, Skeptics in the Pub

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Re-opening announcement

Grand Re-re-re-opening


Good News, everybody! We have a new home for Skeptics in the Pub. Our first event will be watching a DVD about the immune system, the threat of communicable diseases, how vaccines work, why some people choose not to vaccinate, and what the public health consequences of that choice are.

Invisible Threat is a 40-minute documentary made by a group of students at the Carlsbad High School in Southern California. Judging by the trailer and reviews (and the anti-vax reactions to it), it is very well done and informative. Their scientific technical adviser was Dr. Paul Offit, pediatrician and vaccine developer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and author of several books about vaccines, alternative medicine.

Before the video was released, and unseen by its critics, the students making it received bullying and threats from the anti-vax and conspiracy theory communities. Some of the teachers and adult advisers wanted to pull out of the project, but fortunately for us, the students persevered. Still the intimidation continued and anti-vax propaganda was aired unchallenged on a Teach the Controversy report on local TV.

Following the film, we will have a discussion led by some members of our group with an interest in and knowledge of vaccines, communicable diseases and autism.

Our new location is The Burren, located at 247 Elm Street in Davis Square, Somerville. We will be meeting in the back room at 7PM on the first Monday of every month. If you want to familiarize yourself with the Burren, please come to our Getting Acquainted event on Monday January 26.

You can RSVP on Facebook. The Burren wants a preliminary estimate of attendance so they can decide whether to assign a bartender and/or wait staff to the back room for that night. It would make it easier, quicker and less disruptive for us to get food and drinks if they do, so please sign up ASAP if you are planning to attend. (But if you aren’t sure or don’t sign up, no worries. There is plenty of room, and we want to see you again.)

Summary:

  • When: February 2, 2015 at 7:00 PM
  • Where: The Burren, 247 Elm St, Davis Square, Somerville
  • What: Invisible Threat video and discussion

  • (The official starting time is 7PM, but if people arrive early, they can order dinner and/or drinks. The Burren said they could open up the room to us earlier than 7 if there is demand.)

    SitP: Getting Acquainted with the Burren

    Posted on : Jan-22-2015 | By : John | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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    We are having one final “Last Monday” Skeptics in the Pub, next Monday, January 26, at the Burren in Davis Square, Somerville.

    There is no formal program.

    Please come if you would like to meet folks, check out the menu and beer list, practice urban navigation skills, or help us organize, pick speakers, or just rant on your favorite skeptical topic.

    This is a prequel to the Big News: We have a new home for Boston Skeptics Skeptics in the Pub! Starting Monday, February 2, 2015, and the first (no longer last) Monday of every month thereafter, we will be meeting in the back room of the Burren for our regular monthly program of speakers, writers, musicians, magicians, movies, trivia contests, or whatever strikes our fancy! (By attending this Monday, you can help us decide future events and speakers.)

    If you’re like me and like to lurk investigate a bit before joining in some activity, this is a perfect opportunity. We promise not to force you to participate in any organizational activities unless you want to.

    We will be meeting at 7 PM at the Burren in Davis Sq, Somerville on Monday, January 26.

    The Burren is located at 247 Elm Street, just a 2 minute walk from the Davis Square T stop. There is loads of parking in the area (the municipal lots seem to be free after 8 PM), though the streets are narrow and car-filled. Detailed directions are on the Burren’s map page.

    The Burren is an Irish pub with a strong focus on Irish, traditional American, folk and acoustic music as well as poetry slams and comedy. The Boston Science by the Pint group meets there on the second Monday of each month, so I think we’ll fit right in.

    Best of all, the event is FREE!

    Please RSVP on the event Facebook page. If enough people sign up in advance, the Burren will reserve us a table or area so we can all sit together.

    Book Club: “1491” by Charles C. Mann

    Posted on : Jan-20-2015 | By : John | In : Book Club

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    IMPORTANT UPDATE: We have postponed until Feb 7 due to bad weather.

    Political Map of Pre-invasion America

    America in 1491

    People have lived in the Americas for at least 13,000 years, more likely 20 or even 30,000 years according to the latest archeological evidence. Only the last 500 years, the last 2%, of this history is well known to modern Americans. There are many reasons for this. The native cultures, artifacts and written records were systematically destroyed by the people Kurt Vonnegut calls the Sea Pirates, who arrived here in force starting in 1492. In addition to cultural imperialism and instigating total war (in the 20th Century sense), in places like New England, they brought diseases, plagues of measles, smallpox, hepatitis and other diseases you’ve probably never heard of. The population was decimated, not literally, but figuratively, which is much worse. For example, in central Mexico, the population declined from 25.2 million to 700,000 (97%) between 1518 (when Cortes arrived) and 1623.

    Despite the destruction, some historical sources survived. Many of the Indian societies were literate, and even in places where most of the books were destroyed, stone monuments and buildings still exist. There are oral traditions of the survivors, early European records and written accounts by the children and grandchildren of the the survivors, and archeology, linguistic evidence, DNA evidence (both human and of domesticated plants and animals), epidemiology, patterns of trade and the spread of agriculture, and more. This book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by by Charles C. Mann, explores all this evidence to fill a huge gap in the knowledge of most Americans of their own history, and dispels many myths.

    For example, the Americas were not sparsely populated before the Europeans arrived and some of the largest cities, road and trade networks in the world in the 15th century were in Central and South America, rivaling the largest in Europe and China at the time. There were vast engineering projects, ranging from mound building in the Midwest to water and irrigation projects in Central America and the Andes. Some of the projects were not so beneficial, but exhibit highly sophisticated organization, such as the when the Inkas forced migrations of thousands of people to achieve political ends.

    Charles C. Mann is not a former defensive lineman for (ironically) the Washington Redskins. He is a science writer and contributing editor for Science, The Atlantic Monthly and Wired.

    Please join us to discuss this book on Saturday, February 7 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary phaser blast. (Warning: I did remember to put new batteries in my phaser.)

    Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (January 25) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be there!)