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Boston Skeptics in the Theater & Pub | Bill Nye: Science... Come join the Boston Skeptics at the Brattle Theatre on December 3, where we’ll be attending a screening of a new film about Bill Nye, aptly named “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” We’ll go somewhere nearby...

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October 2017 Organizational Meeting Updates Thanks again to everyone who attended our October 2017 organizational meeting. There were a few items we had drafted and captured more ideas around that we would love to open up for comment and feedback...

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SitP: Heina Dadabhoy from Islam to Atheism. [caption id="attachment_2139" align="alignright" width="239"] A ninja warrior welcomes guests to Convergence/Skepchickcon[/caption]Boston Skeptics welcomes our January guest speaker, atheist feminist secular...

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Book Club: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha... [caption id="attachment_2131" align="alignright" width="197"] The Emperor of All Maladies[/caption]This month's book is The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist...

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Boston Skeptics in the Pub: THE MOTHMAN COMETH!

Posted on : 26-08-2009 | By : Jared | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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The Mothman Prophecies

with Jeff Wagg and Barbara Mervine

WHEN
Monday, August 31, 2009
7:00pm – 10:00pm

WHERE
Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square (top floor)
96 Winthrop Street
Cambridge, MA

Facebook event page

Join the Boston Skeptics in our usual pub setting (Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square) for a special movie night!

We’ll be watching The Mothman Prophecies, a ridiculous Richard Gere vehicle about the supposedly TRUE STORY of a creepy supernatural being haunting rural West Virginia.

Jeff Wagg of the James Randi Educational Foundation and alien expert Barbara Mervine will join our very own Rebecca Watson in a panel discussion about the “real” Mothman and other mythical beasts.

We’ll also be playing the Mothman bingo drinking game during the movie!

Come watch a stupid movie with a smart crowd. Good times for all!

The movie will start at 7:00pm, but please feel free to arrive by 6:30 to get a good seat! We’ve had a dramatic rise in attendance the last few months, so don’t miss out on a CHAP-TASTIC night by showing up late!

No Really, Just Trust Us: Science Reporting & Citations

Posted on : 25-08-2009 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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Maybe I should cut Boston Globe some slack on this, since their entire science and medicine department got sacked due to budget cuts… except that every single newspaper makes exactly this mistake, including the Boston Globe when it still had a fully-staffed science department. Wait, shit, I’m burying the lede, aren’t I? Damn, maybe those journalists are good for something after all.

You may have noticed that whenever you read a science article in a newspaper, even when they’re just quoting from a press release, journalists will almost never give the title of the study they’re talking about. If you’re lucky, they’ll give the lead author’s name or the name of the journal in which the study was published.

I can kind of see how they might justify this. After all, most academic journals are subscription-only, so most newspaper readers wouldn’t be able to look up the article if they wanted to. But, even for the pay journals, usually an abstract is available online, as it is in the case of the New England Journal of Medicine article that the linked Boston Globe story references. However, failure to give citations is less about whether Joe Average has a subscription to NEJM and more about respecting the process of science. As Ben Goldacre writes here about the media’s propensity to treat science as “absolute truth statements from arbitrary authority figures in white coats, rather than clear descriptions of studies, and the reasons why people draw conclusions from them”.

You can certainly see that at work in the Boston Globe article on vetebroplasty. The writer sets up a tired old “he said, she said” frame, pitting the arbitrary authority of “two recent studies” against the anecdotal wisdom of “many patients – and their doctors”. It’s as if the study authors just randomly decided (is that what they mean by a “randomised trial”?) one day that vertebroplasty is crap, the experience (read: anecdotes) of real-world doctors and patients be damned! Ivory tower! Arrogance!

Of course, that’s not how it works. In reality, the authors of the vertebroplasty studies wanted to figure out whether this popular procedure has any effect, so they designed an experiment to figure it out. (I just picked one study I found in NEJM that was published this month. I have no idea whether it’s either of the studies Boston Globe is talking about, since they didn’t give the article titles, so I just have to assume it is. This is why the titles are fucking important to know.) As per the academic gold standard of the Randomised Controlled Trial, they collected volunteers to undergo either a sham surgery (the controlled part) or the real deal, selected at random (the random part). It’s unclear whether the surgeons were blinded, but that’s usually difficult to do with surgery.

The results? “Improvements in pain and pain-related disability associated with osteoporotic compression fractures in patients treated with vertebroplasty were similar to the improvements in a control group.” This is something we typically see, a non-significant difference between the treatment and the placebo drug or sham procedure. The abstract even includes exact numbers, for those with the statistical knowledge to interpret them.

An obvious criticism leaps out at me: the study has a sample size of 131, which is too small to be really conclusive. But note that this isn’t a criticism anybody makes in the Globe article. The Globe’s not interested in what the study actually says or what its actual flaws might be. It’s only interested in pitting authority versus authority, because that’s easy and doesn’t require any knowledge of the subject area or tedious investigation.

But, hey, it’s not for us plebes to go questioning authorities like academic medical researchers or some doctors or newspaper writers. Just sit back, relax, and take their word for it.

Boston Ghost Tour Follow-up

Posted on : 25-08-2009 | By : Rebecca | In : Blog Post

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(x-posted on Skepchick!)

Back in 2007, I took a ghost tour of Boston with Jim McCabe, an affable guy who agreed to let me record him for a segment for PRX’s Talent Quest. Jim was really sweet, and I tried to strike a balance between showing that side of him while still presenting the skeptical viewpoint on some of his more dubious claims.

Here’s a quick video of a portion of the tour, which I shot on my little point-and-shoot camera while holding a load of audio equipment:

The other day, Jim’s niece contacted me to let me know that he is extremely ill. She found the YouTube video and shared a laugh with him about it. Despite his current state, the way she sees Jim in the video is how she’ll remember him: “healthy and athletic, and one hell of a storyteller/bullshitter!”

Jim was a fantastic and sporting tour guide who really could spin a yarn. I wish nothing but the best for him and his family.

Here’s the final segment I created, with help from Richard Saunders (interviewee) and John Huntington (editor).

Look Around You: UFO!

Posted on : 23-08-2009 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post

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Hey, skeptics! Let’s play a game. I’m gonna post a photo, and you tell me what it is. I’ll try to do this on a semi-regular basis, since rants about abortion protesters and silly pop psych op-eds take too much out of me to be doing them all the time.

So yes, here’s the photo:

Look Around You UFO

What the heck is that? This should be an easy one… and those of you who were with me when I took it are disqualified. Post your guesses in the comments!

Predicting The Exchange of Money – Psychic Fairs

Posted on : 20-08-2009 | By : maggie | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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It’s time once again, ladies and gents, for the truth to set you free, for the dead to speak, the bones to talk and for you to peer into the spirit world and thwart its dastardly interference in your day-to-day dealings. That’s right, it’s psychic fair time in Bridgewater, MA. Or at least it was a couple of Saturdays ago and will be again the second Saturday of next month when the whole charade is played out again for the curious, gullible and/or those mired in something akin to false hope syndrome.

Throughout the year, events such as this entice people to pay a fee (the Bridgewater fair at Uplifting Connections is $1 per minute and runs for 7 hours) to sit and have someone tell you what you what they think you want to hear and, by way of some vague generalities, make you feel that they truly know the secrets to make your life better. And sometimes, to keep it mysterious and interesting, maybe giving you a little spook. For while these fairs, which resemble speed-dating more than anything, may be a recent phenomenon, the tricks of the trade have changed little from the hokey carnival mediums of old who were just as adept at taking your money.

The Woo Around Us: Dahn Yoga

Posted on : 18-08-2009 | By : Jared | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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Continuing our tour of local purveyors of woo, we come next to Dahn Yoga.  Now, aside from the fact that it often pushes certain woo-ish ideas, yoga can be a valid form of exercise. I’ve generally forgiven it for its excesses because of this, and would have done the same for the Dahn Yoga centers I see both near my job (in the Back Bay) and my home (in Cambridge), too.

But back in February, we were fortunate enough to get the inimitable Tim Farley, of WhatsTheHarm.net, as our speaker for Boston Skeptics in the Pub. Amongst other things, Tim talked about a woman named Julia Siverls who died during a Dahn-sponsored course. This piqued my curiosity and prompted me to look into things a bit more deeply.

Creationist in Boston: Recap!

Posted on : 17-08-2009 | By : Rebecca | In : Blog Post, Event, skepticism

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How does one adequately sum up a lecture delivered by a grown man who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, and who in an attempt to validate his absurd belief discounts centuries of astronomical and geological evidence with one Powerpoint slide each?

Such is the challenge I face this morning in attempting to describe for you the idiocy I and my fellow Boston Skeptics and Boston Atheists witnessed last night. Luckily, creationist and recent Harvard PhD Nathaniel Jeanson delivered identical lectures yesterday morning and evening, and Jeff Eyges, who attended the morning lecture, did a wonderful job of summing up the basics over on Pharyngula. There’s also a very nice overview from a member of Boston Atheists, and Boston Skeptic Andy Clayman gave a recap in the comments here. Read those, and in the meantime I’ll give you my own quickie recap:

So Tell Me About Your Mother

Posted on : 15-08-2009 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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If there’s one thing the world needs more of, apart from free baklava dispensers on every corner, it’s cheap Freudian pop psychoanalysis. Thankfully, Dr. Stephen Bergman, evidently a local author of some note, is here with precisely that.

I’m not about to question Dr. Bergman’s credentials. He got his MD from Harvard Medical School, where he’s now a professor, and was a Rhodes Scholar. I’m willing to grant that the dude knows what he’s talking about.

But credentials only get you so far, and they certainly don’t excuse you from writing crap op-eds. Even if the claims is based on the strongest of scientific evidence, what Dr. Bergman gives us are just anecdotes. Well, anecdotes and an off-hand reference to “work leading gender dialogues between thousands of men and women, boys and girls”. I bet there’s interesting research to be done there, but you won’t hear about it in this article. No, the methods here come straight from the “Austrian witch-doctor”, as Nabokov called him.

Step one: Take an anecdote from a patient.

When he was 6, he had been beaten up at school. He wasn’t hurt physically, but felt terrible. He walked home up the railroad tracks through the woods so no one would see him crying, and couldn’t wait to tell his mother. […] She turned around, saw the tears, and with concern asked, “What’s wrong, dear?’’ Despite wanting to tell her, he said, “Nothing,’’ turned away and walked back out.

Step two: Generalise like a motherfucker.

Although we all – boys and girls – come into the world with a primary desire for connection, there is an early fork in the path.

Step three: Find a way to work mothers in somehow.

Many boys are pushed by the culture to disconnect from their relationship with mother in order to grow, and become less valued for their relationships and more valued for themselves […]

Step four: ???

Step five: Profit! By which I mean collect a paycheck from the Boston Globe.

This is a guy who has, in his fiction books and in other op-eds, stressed the idea that patients are individuals and much be approached as such. Yet here he is painting with a broad brush and declaring that men — all men — have difficulty opening up in relationships because boys — all boys — are pushed by some magical force to not develop deep connections with their mothers. And you should trust him when he says so, because he has a story from a patient to prove it.

Creationist Lecture in Boston on Sunday!

Posted on : 14-08-2009 | By : Rebecca | In : Event

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Facebook Event Page Here

This Sunday, a Harvard phd will be delivering a talk called “Evolution: Bankrupt Science. Creationism: Science You Can Bank On” at 11AM and 7PM at the Longwood Galleria Conference Center.

This is a weekly church group hosting the talk. The Boston Atheists are attending the 7pm lecture, and the Boston Skeptics are also attending and/or distributing pro-evolution literature (plus perhaps literature explaining that evolution does not equal atheism).

Here’s the church’s event listing:
http://www.calvarychapelinthecity.com/index.php?page_id=2/

ALSO!

Prior to the lecture, many Boston Skeptics will be picnicking on Spectacle Island in the Boston Harbor Islands. We’ll take the 1pm ferry from Long Wharf (cheap and you can buy tickets online! ), snack, play games, maybe swim in the ocean, and head back by 4:30 or so. Everyone is invited!

Evite is here: http://tinyurl.com/twitnic

Video: Race to the Moon Q&A – Jonathan McDowell

Posted on : 14-08-2009 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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Q&A from the July 27th BSitP with Jonathan McDowell
(related: Race to the Moon).

Boston Skeptics in the Pub – Jonathan McDowell – July 27th, 2009 from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Q&A

Q&A with Jonathan McDowell (Race to the Moon) from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.